On “The Perils of Stargazing” and the NMC Horizon Report


Catherine Howell writes (and Stephen Downes secondsstill no RSS feed in GReader today, Stephen, and how about some permalinks the rest of the world can understand) of the time lag and conservative nature of this year’s NMC Horizon Report choices for technologies that will have a significant impact on teaching and learning. [Disclosure: I was one of the 30 wannabe prognosticators on this year’s Advisory Board members.]

First off, the assertion that “this years� list have already achieved significant impact” I think belies a bit of a rarefied view of actual technology practices in higher ed. My own expeience is that for every edublogger, for ever teacher using a wiki in their class or sharing podcasts on iTunes or publishing Creative Commons, I meet 30 others who still squint funny at the word wiki or have NEVER heard of the Creative Commons. I wish it were different. I often act like it is. But I know its not.

But don’t get me wrong – I actually agree that the list is small ‘c’ conservative, but that’s because I’m mostly off in left field anticipating the coming revolutions in AI, robotics and 80 Core chips! That’s why I actually found the process we went through quite fascinating, and the fact that NMC documented it, all out in the open on the Horizon Report wiki, to be an exemplary practice.

If you actually want to see where the advisory board started from, check out the answers to the 5 research questions, especially Question 3, where I think you’ll find all of the alternatives suggested by Downes and Howell, and more.

What was fascinating (and maybe a bit frustrating, but in a good way) about the process was how we went from these sprawling lists down to a list of 6 that actually seem to bear some resemblance to conceivable futures, not ‘wished for’ futures, not ‘if only everyone would listen to me’ futures, but ones that bear some resemblance to where these slow moving beasts called post-secondary institutions will get to. Now the frustrating part is how this doesn’t really deal well with discontinuous or disruptive innovations, but hey, that’s kind of their nature, to disrupt and not be so easily assimilated.

So, is this my list? No; mine included amongst other things Intelligent Tutoring, Internet-wide User-centric Identity Systems and Real-Time Language Translation. But is it a list I can get behind. Yeah, definitely; if 5 years from now all of these are significantly adopted in higher ed, that will represent a positive shift from where we are today, and in many cases, however lamentable, a large one. – SWL

2 thoughts on “On “The Perils of Stargazing” and the NMC Horizon Report”

  1. One of projects that I’ve never gotten around to doing is to take the whole pile of horizon reports and see what they got right and what they got wrong. They’ve started this process a bit on their wiki, but it does seem to be a useful exercise to regularly poke at predictions to figure out why they didn’t quite work out as we thought they might.

  2. Hi Mike, yeah, I had the same thought. I didn’t do it as a formal exercise, but I did go over the last 4 years reports, and my impression was that as the timeframe increaed (from 1 year to 5 years), the accuracy of the speculation generally lessened (kind of obviously). But what’s more interesting, I think, is to look at the progress over the 4 years. The first year, 2004 – Learning Objects, Scalable Vector Graphics, Rapid Prototyping, Multimodal Interfaces, Context-Aware Computing and Knowledge Webs? Even the language belies how ‘buzzy’ some of these were and I think in comparison, this year’s is much more based on probable futures. I also like the fact that each year they’ve produced a “Where are they now?” section (cf. http://www.nmc.org/horizon/wiki/Where_Are_They_Now_2006) looking back at last year’s predicitions.

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