More than just AI—Kathe Pelletier of EDUCAUSE on the 2023 Horizon Report

Results of the 2023 Horizon Report reveal tech trends in the higher ed space

Key points:

  • Expert panelists identified AI as a trend and key technology in higher ed, all before ChatGPT exploded
  • Beyond AI, however, are trends around students demanding more flexibility, plus political or environmental trends that might influence campus operations
  • See related article: IT leaders are critical for a positive student experience

Who knew this century could see an acronym as pervasive, and scary, as COVID-19? Congratulations AI (let’s assume I don’t have to spell that out for you). Its advent has taken over society’s consciousness—for better or worse. And the education space is front and center as either the greatest benefactor or the first victim of our new AI overlords.

Thankfully, the experts involved with the EDUCAUSE 2023 Horizon Report are on the case, clarifying and specifying the potential and pitfalls of not only AI but other ascending models of higher ed learning like Hyperflex. Their methodology as described in the report:

The [report] is grounded in the perspectives and knowledge of an expert panel of practitioners and thought leaders from around the world who represent the higher education, teaching and learning, and technology fields. This year’s group included returning and first-time Horizon panelists, all sought out for their unique viewpoints, as well as for their contributions and leadership within their respective domains. The panel represents a balance of global contexts, with members contributing from North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia. We also sought balances in gender, ethnicity, and institutional size and type. Dependent as the Horizon Report is on the voices of its panel, every effort was made to ensure those voices were diverse and that each could uniquely enrich the group’s work. 

The report itself is not a light lift. You may want to save it for plane or weekend reading. But even a brief scroll should be insightful for any higher ed administrator. I had the pleasure of discussing the background and results of this year’s report with Kathe Pelletier, Director of Teaching and Learning Program at EDUCAUSE. Scroll below for highlights of the transcript.

ECN: Can you give us the origin story for the Horizon Report?

KP: We inherited the report in 2019. Since then, we have taken a step back and looked at the approach to the research, the approach to the panel, and the approach to the content of the report and we have been making refinements over the last several years. We’ve added a second report that comes out annually, that rotates. The first one we added was related to cybersecurity. The second one that we added was related to data and analytics. And then we’re actually working with a panel right now for a third one on supporting the holistic student experience. We might see a fourth flavor of report coming out in the future, too.

ECN: And surprise, surprise, AI seems to be the elephant in the edtech room this year.

KP: Actually, we finished the whole manuscript of the Horizon Report before the ChatGPT explosion happened. And so it was really interesting to actually look at the expert panelists’ contributions to identify AI as both a trend and key technology and practice. 

And it’s also interesting to note that, right now, we’re so focused on generative AI with ChatGPT and other generative AI mechanisms that are coming to the market. And we seem to see an acceleration of these various tools happening just before our very eyes. One of the other flavors that we saw on the report is predictive AI, which is a different approach to artificial intelligence that uses the data to inform really personalized and proactive interventions for students so that they can get the right information, whether it’s learning information, or whether it’s support information, right when they need it. So it’s interesting that generative AI has really pushed beyond the predictive AI models in at least capturing the attention of the higher ed field.

ECN: So should we believe the AI hype?

KP: Well, again, the report was published before ChatGPT hit the fan, so to speak, so you wouldn’t have seen that I’m in the report itself, but I will share that EDUCAUSE is really invested in making sure that we have a balanced and appropriate level of innovation as well as caution when it comes to generative AI. I’m actually heading up a different panel, an expert panel, just to look at AI as a topic for EDUCAUSE and make sure that we really hit the highest priority dimensions of AI for our members so that they can be prepared to use it effectively.

ECN: There’s much more than just AI to digest in the higher ed space, right?

Yes—high flex and more over all the attention that our panelists are placing on hybrid learning modalities and digital learning modalities—I think that’s really been something that has been taking shape really, since even before 2020. There’s this kind of shake-up when you’re combining digital tools and in-person experiences. What do we even call that? Because there are so many different ways that institutions are doing this, within one campus, much less, you know, across campuses. 

ECN: So what can readers expect to take away from this year’s report?

KP: The Horizon Report is not intended to be a prediction of the future. And institutions really need to consider their own mission and culture and, then model their operations both now and as they see that in the future. 

Try to contextualize using the inputs from the report. You might be a residential campus and you actually have decided after the pandemic has slowed down that you really want to return to that residential experience, and you may not want to invest in hybrid or digital modalities. That’s okay because that’s the mission and the culture of your institution. So you might elect to pay attention less to some of the trends or technologies and practices that relate to that. But with that example in mind, I think that as an institutional leader, you need to be aware that there are trends where students are expecting more flexibility. We haven’t even talked about the political or environmental trends that may not be directly related to higher education but might inform how a campus operates or invests, that being aware that those trends are out there might allow you to take a measured approach, or at least an informed approach to, to making decisions. 

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Kevin Hogan

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