A higher-education study released this week highlighted six technologies that soon could change college campuses–including mobile devices with abundant applications, cloud computing that bolsters data accessibility, and web tools that could make campus-based research faster and more thorough.
The sixth annual Horizon Report, created and published by the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, profiles six technologies that will have a prominent role on college campuses in the next one to five years.
The six trends outlined in the 32-page 2009 report are smart objects, semantic-aware software, mobile devices, geotagging, the personal web, and cloud computing. Last year’s emerging trends included data mashups, mobile broadband, collective intelligence, and social operating systems.
Identifying trends that could alter campus policy in the coming decade stimulates conversation among IT administrators and decision makers who control universities’ purse strings, said officials responsible for the report.
"Campus leaders and practitioners alike use the report as a springboard for discussion around emerging technology," said Larry Johnson, CEO of the New Media Consortium, an international nonprofit consisting of about 300 education organizations that focus on educational technology.
Mobile devices have become ubiquitous on college campuses, and the authors of the Horizon Report say IT departments should take advantage of this trend by making more varied applications available. For instance, math programs–such as QuickGraph or SpaceTime–for devices such as iPhones transform the phones into advanced calculators. These applications let students see graphs in three dimensions and allow for customized computation.
New musical instrument simulators also are available for students’ mobile devices. These programs allow users to play guitar, drums, and other instruments virtually while composing musical arrangements. Music students can also mix and record tracks using loops and voice recordings, making the technology available outside of computer labs that were once the only place to use such software.
The Horizon Reports says mobile devices can be a critical tool for language learners, who can "practice listening, speaking, and writing" and comparing pronunciations of foreign languages. The report says this trend should become commonplace in the next year.
Applications for mobile devices also can help students become acquainted with their new surroundings. Programs focused on campus life often include suggestions for restaurants, movie theatres, and other nearby attractions where students can spend their free time. Abilene Christian University in Texas gave iPhones and iPods to 900 freshmen last fall, and a university official said a campus life application has helped new students adapt to life away from home.
"It definitely has helped them feel more comfortable," said Bill Rankin, Abilene’s director of educational innovation. "It’s been a help for them."
Cloud computing is not exclusive to higher education, but its advantages could help colleges and universities save space and money and operate more efficiently as budgets stagnate in a down economy. Cloud computing–expected to take hold on college campuses in the next year–refers to a network of computers that distributes software and applications instead of having them reside on a single computer or platform.
One cloud-computing project has helped scientific researchers in recent months. Science Clouds is a project launched in early 2008 that provides resources for researchers on a limited basis. The best known example of cloud computing is YouTube, which is used by Onondaga Community College in Syracuse, N.Y. to "host media that cannot be hosted using resources on campus," according to the Horizon Report. Media Culture professors at Pitzer College in Claremont, Calif., use YouTube to track the latest in cultural trends by viewing up-to-the-minute news clips from around the world.
"We are just beginning to see direct applications for teaching and learning other than the simple availability of platform-independent tools and scalable data storage," the report says. "This set of technologies has clear potential to … greatly reduce the overall cost of computing."
Tools that make "connections between concepts or people"–known as semantic-aware applications–are also outlined in the Horizon Report. These tools are in very early stages and are projected to impact higher education in four to five years, according to the report.
This technology eventually could aid campus-based research by using keywords on web sites to suggest what researchers should link to. A list of "highly relevant" results displayed on a researcher’s computer screen could speed research by limiting the number of irrelevant links that steer a project off-course, even if it’s for a few minutes.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is one of several schools studying semantic-aware technologies, and researchers there have created prototypes that, for example, assembles contextual information for web-based photographs "based on text that appears near similar photographs," streamlining the research of such images.