Ideas for the 2020 Horizon Report

How might emerging technologies ameliorate, or exacerbate, the challenges facing higher ed?

June 9, 2019

How should EDUCAUSE reinvent the Horizon Report?

That is the question that I’ve been pondering while reading through the 2019 Higher Education Edition, released at the end of April.

Each year, I find myself eagerly anticipating reading the Horizon Report, as it is good fun to think about the technologies that we will be using on campus in 5 years.  And then, each year the Horizon Report leaves me disappointed, as I come away from reading the document thinking that the Report thinking that it is asking the wrong questions.

The flaw in the Horizon Report, as I see it, is that technology is treated as an end -  rather than a means.

The most exciting part of the Report, the time to adoption section, is also the most problematic.  The 2019 Report forecasts one year for mobile learning and analytics technologies, two to three year for mixed reality and artificial intelligence, and four to five year time horizons for the adoption of blockchain and virtual assistants.

What is left unanalyzed in the Horizon Report is the question of what these technologies might mean for postsecondary outcomes such as institutional viability and resilience, faculty labor market practices, or student costs?

A list of expected dates of when technologies will mature does little to inform the strategic thinking of educational leaders. A better approach for future Horizon Reports may be to start with a problem and then work backward to analyze how emerging educational technologies may be deployed or utilized to that challenge.

We would likely have little difficulty brainstorming a list of challenges in higher education. A few suggestions might include:

  • Rapidly declining institutional revenues due to demographic shifts and lower levels of public funding, in conjunction with rising costs.
  • Continued erosion of the quality of faculty career opportunities, including growing levels of adjunctification and threats to faculty autonomy and job security.
  • The likelihood that the demand for residential master’s programs will rapidly decline.
  • The growing debate about the role of for-profit providers (OPMs) playing a larger role in the core educational function of institutions, and the question of how institutional leaders should evaluate and manage potential partnerships.
  • The challenge of finding a path to economic sustainability for tuition-dependent residential institutions.

Those are only five challenges faced within the higher ed ecosystem.  No doubt we could brainstorm others.

Once we identify the challenges, the interesting question is, how might emerging technologies (on the horizon) play a role?

How might brave, risk-taking, and forward-thinking college and university leaders push the adoption and use of new methods and technologies to meet the next set of challenges faced by their institution? This is not to argue that technology is ever the only or even the correct, solution for the problems faced by colleges and universities.

What we can argue is that the role of emerging technologies should be thought about, evaluated, and considered in relation to the range of critical challenges in higher ed. It is fine for the 2020 Horizon Report to keep a focus on technology.  This focus, however, should be contextualized within the set of higher ed challenges that are most on the minds the broader higher ed community.

What are the significant challenges that you see for your institution over the next five years?

Once you identify some of those issues, what role do you see emerging technologies playing in either ameliorating or exacerbating those challenges?

How might you reinvent the Horizon Report?

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Joshua Kim

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