Forecasting Long Term Future Events, Conditions and Developments in Technology

The Jisc has recently announced a job vacancy for a Futurologist. The details provided on the Jisc web site are worth publishing in full:

This role will forecast long term future events, conditions, or developments in technology and analytics that will allow Jisc to plan, present and develop innovation in support of research, education and skills.

They will develop a vision and generate high-quality intelligence to inform Jisc long-range strategic planning that creates/meets the needs of our customers and their customers.

The prime purpose is to track developments across the whole field of technology, analytics and society as they come over the horizon, figuring out where it is all going next, and how that will affect our customers.

CETIS white paper on “ MOOCs and Open education: implications for higher education”

The rapid development of MOOCs has generated significant interest in the new form of online learning model from governments, venture capitalists and institutions, due to their key attractions of scaled up ‘massive’ open access to online courses for anyone, anywhere in the world. It has also created a great deal of debate around how MOOCs will have impact on conventional HE providers and whether it will disrupt existing business models in Higher Education.

The phenomena of MOOCs has surfaced many questions about the role of universities in society and has challenged traditional views about teaching, learning and assessment. A key question surrounds how institutions can develop a cohesive strategy in responding to the opportunities and challenges posed by MOOCs and other forms of openness in higher education.

The CETIS white paper on “MOOCs and Open Education” seeks to raise awareness of MOOCs in higher education institutions. It offers a framework for thinking about MOOCs issues and challenges as disruptive innovations and for stimulating future thinking on open education. This report was largely informed by various commentators’ and practitioners’ thinking on MOOCs from their blogs and press releases, with additional intelligence from openly available reports. It has also been shaped by various activities that CETIS have been involved in, for example in promoting openness and supporting innovation in UK institutions.

The report is written from a UK higher education perspective and takes into account current changes on funding and fee structures in the UK higher education and the desire for more accessible, cheaper and flexible HE provisions from traditional institutions and private providers. We hope this report will help decision makers in institutions gain both a better understanding of the phenomenon of MOOCs and trends towards greater openness in higher education and a framework to think about the implications for their institutions.

Snapshots on the Changing Landscape of “Open …”

A little bit of text mining on a fairly large number of blogs with an educational technology (or technology enhanced learning…) makes a neat set of snapshots on “open …”.

Considering the words following “open” from January 2009 to the end of October 2012 shows the following distribution (where words with a relative frequency of <2% are ignored, as are low-value words like “and”). Hence it shows a share of the dominant themes.

Share of "Open ..." from Jan 2009 to Oct 2012

Share of "Open ..." from Jan 2009 to Oct 2012

The share for “online+course” is largely attributable to MOOCs and similar, although some of it is likely to be the use of “open online” referring to something else. This probably confirms the guesswork of followers of Ed Tech fashion but it may be a bit more of a surprise to see that open educational/content has taken such a tumble. I wonder whether some of the “open education” share has been diverted into “open online/course”. I’m also pleased to see “open standards” gaining more of a foothold but a left with a feeling that “open data” got a bit over-hyped in 2011.

About the data: 28116 blog posts were harvested and these contained 13723 uses of “open”. The blog post harvesting was done by the Mediabase and the analysis was done by the author, both as part of the EC funded TELMap project.

A wordle for technologies in 2012


This wordle was generated from texts abstracted from mentions of key technologies in a collection of more than 20 articles and blogs on technology predictions for 2012, which I gathered through Google search recently. These predictions were produced mainly by individuals and organisations from the IT and business sectors.

First, I extracted the main topics from each article and blog as the basis for creating the wordle. Then I did a bit editing work in order to create a more accurate wordle presentation. For example, I added “-” between two or three words (e.g. cloud computing as cloud-computing) or “s” to words in the singular (e.g. tablet as tablets) and using a common name for same technology that has appeared in different forms (e.g. using cloud-computing instead of cloud service or cloud based technologies).

It probably comes as no surprise for most people to see which technologies appeared and their order in the wordle. However, there are several themes repeatedly mentioned in those articles and blogs. On the one hand these reflected the most popular technology trends in 2012 predictions and on the other hand they signal potentially important implications of these technological development in education, teaching and learning contexts. These themes are summarised:

1. Mobile and tablets are continuing to grow and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) is increasing as more people use their own devices for work. Organisations will embrace that trend and proactively develop a stance and policies on BYOD to better manage, secure, maintain, and deploy mobile devices and applications within their organisations.

2. TV is being integrated with other devices to make it “mobile, local and social”, e.g. controlling your TV with smartphones, tablets and Microsoft’s Kinect. Internet TV and IP TV become embedded into the mainstream. Apple will launch Apple iTV to provide the next generation of television experiences.

3. Cloud computing continues to be the top IT investment priority for organizations; the scalability, flexibility and IT cost benefits of cloud computing become more apparent.

4. Big data and analytics are going mainstream. Businesses and government agencies alike are adopting big data and advanced analytics technologies to build innovative new services, improve service levels, and drive greater efficiency to provide better service for customers, open new markets and reduce costs.

5. A massively connected world: The Internet of things, Near Field Communications (NFC) and Context-aware computing are making a seamless link between data and various applications and services around us, e.g. remote health monitoring and diagnosis, mobile wallet, augmented reality (AR);

6. The next generation of social networks, e.g.  Facebook, Google+ and Twitter, will continue to redefine how we interact with each other online. Advanced social networking technologies will be widely used in business to enhance collaboration between employees and improve efficiency and overall service levels in organisations.

7. Desktop 3D printing has caught the attention of the public. There will be cheaper and improved 3D printers, innovative user interfaces for model manipulation which make it possible for them to be used at home, schools and universities.

8. Others: image search and voice recognition goes mainstream; apps become an essential tool for businesses; HTML5 becomes important, etc …

This work intends to provide a quick update to the 2011 JISC Observatory’s “Technology Forecasting Literature Review”. Although we have covered most of the topics in the report, several technology trends appearing in the wordle might be worth further investigating, e.g. Big Data, 3D Printers, the next generation of TV, etc. For more detailed analysis of the technology predictions in 2012 and onwards from the IT and business sectors, please go to the google docs to see all the topics extracted from the articles and blogs and follow the links to the original websites. It is also worth noting that the NMC has just released its NMC 2012 Horizon HE Report, which identified mobile apps and tablet computing as technologies expected to enter HE mainstream in one year or less.

Big Data and Analytics in Education and Learning

With the growth of the internet, mobile technologies, multimedia, social media and the ever increasing Internet of Things, the data we can mine effectively as well as the types of information we can process from that data are evolving rapidly. In a recent report, McKinsey Global Institute estimated that the amount of data increase globally is roughly 40%. The term “Big data” has emerged to describe “datasets whose size is beyond the ability of typical database software tools to capture, store, manage and analyse” (McKinsey, 2011). Big data represents data sets that can no longer be easily managed or analysed with traditional or common data management tools, methods and infrastructures. According to Gartner, the challenges of Big data come from three dimensions:

Volume: means the increase in data volumes within enterprise systems will cause a storage issue and a massive analysis issue.

Variety: means different types of information from various sources are available and need to be analysed, including databases, documents, e-mail, video, still images, audio, financial transactions, etc.

Velocity: means both how fast data is being produced and how fast the data must be processed to meet demand. This involves streams of data, structured record creation, and availability for access and delivery. (Gartner, 2011)

These characteristics bring new challenges to traditional Business Intelligence (BI) and analytics and require new approaches, new software tools, and new skill sets to manage and extract value from new, complex, unstructured and voluminous data sources.

Big Data has made its way onto the Gartner Hype Cycle for 2011 for mainstream adoption in 2 to 5 years. According to Gartner, “By 2015, companies that have adopted big data and extreme information management will begin to outperform unprepared competitors by 20% in every available financial metric”. It is predictable that big data will provide new opportunities for data service providers, content/information publishers, and software companies to offer optimized services and platforms that help organizations make better business decisions. For example, Oracle has developed a comprehensive Big data strategy, which includes releasing Hadoop data-management software, a NoSQL database and R analytics. IBM has also unveiled InfoSphere BigInsights platform for big data analysis. Many governments, sectors and corporations have seen Big data as a key strategic business asset of the future development and have started to experiment with Big data technologies as a complementary or alternative form to traditional data management and analysis.

How will HE institutions address the opportunities and challenges for Big data in education? According to MGI Big Data report, Education in the US is the tenth largest data sector, which stores and manages approximately 267 petabytes of information. However, compared to other sectors, Education faces higher hurdles because of the lack of a data-driven mind-set and available data. With an increased focus on such issues as data-informed accountability and transparency, emphasising student retentions and academic achievements, teacher performance and added value and productivity in education, big data will play an important role in guiding education reform, helping institutions to develop business strategies and assisting educators to improve teaching and learning. Predictably, while all sectors are facing the challenges of making effective use big data, several general development trends for big data in education can be detected for the future, for example:

  • One of the key challenges for big data in education is to develop data informed mind–sets and to make sure that educational data are effectively managed and available for end users. It is clear that the use of Big data is different from traditional data mining, and it requires new approaches, new tools, and new skills to deliver the promise of BI and analytics. In order to optimise the use of big data, institutions will need not only to put the right talent and technology in place but must also structure their workflows and incentives to promote data informed decisions at all levels.
  • One of the real opportunities for big data in education is to integrate information from multiple data sources. This means working with significantly greater data sets to store and mine all the unstructured and structured data to which institutions have access. These will include scientific research, library resources and administrative information, as well as data sets collected via LMS platforms and other sources to help institutions make smart decisions that lead to real success on e.g. development strategies and organisation management, student recruitment, international markets and intelligent curricula.
  • A shift from data collecting to data connecting. The potential of big data and analytics in education is to connect the unstructured and structured data effectively to identify and leverage the real learning patterns that lead to student success. Mining unstructured and informal connections and information produced by students in this way, including blogs, social media networks, machine sensors and location-based data, will allow educators to uncover facts and patterns they weren’t able to recognise in the past.
  • A new way to manage and use much larger sets of real-time student data. The real-time, contextual data could be used to provide real-time intelligence about learners and their collective/connected learning environments and contribute to open-ended and student-directed learning. For example, mobile analytics can be used to take advantage of the contextual data including tracking learner attention, behaviour management, truancy, teacher performance evaluation and school dashboards, etc.

Big data related technologies and applications:

  • Cloud computing,
  • Linked data
  • Metadata
  • Mashup
  • Stream processing
  • Visualization
  • Google’s MapReduce and Google File System
  • MapReduce & Hadoop
  • InfoSphere &BigInsights

Further reading:

Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity.

“Big data” prep: 5 things IT should do now.

Big Data and Education.

Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies, 2011,,

Penetrating the Fog: Analytics in Learning and Education.

Can the flipped classroom disrupt the existing lecture-based teaching model in institutions?

HE institutions, from architecture and business to pedagogy and content delivery, have been designed for the classroom-based lecture model. However, rapid technological change now means that lecture capture technology is becoming widely available and lecturers can easily record their presentations so that students may view them anywhere, anytime. Millions of audios and videos of OERs have been produced by subject experts and are freely available at iTunes U for teachers and students to use and re-use in their teaching and learning. And students can search and find most of the information they need on Google, YouTube and social networks via their mobile phones or laptops. As a result of this ever-increasing student access to technology and online learning content, institutions and educators are being forced to rethink how student learning can be facilitated to make class time and activities as relevant and valuable as possible. A term “flipped classroom” has been articulated by some education practitioners, to describe a reversal of the traditional teaching method that gives students video lectures to watch in their own time at their own pace at home and then go to their classrooms for discussions, coaching and interaction with teachers and between peers. The idea of the “flipped classroom” has been brought to the public by the popularity of Khan Academy and its founder, Salman Khan’s TED Talk on reinventing education via using videos.

There is an ongoing debate on the concept of “flipped classroom” and its implications for education, in particular, most recently in the US school sector. A growing number of success stories have been shared by advocators and practitioners but some confusion, critique, and hype also need to be addressed. As with any technology related educational practices, technology itself is only a tool that can be used to address some problems and challenges in education. In this case, the flipped approach offers a simple solution, for using technology in teaching and learning, that helps educators move from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘side-by-side learners’ in the classroom. To many educators, however, the idea behind “flipped classrooms” may not be new and it could be interpreted and implemented in different ways in different learning contexts.

In general, it could be argued that technology has failed in its promise to transform education, especially, when PowerPoint and whiteboards have come to dominate classrooms, reinforcing the lectured–based class model. However, the “flipped classroom” may provide a new way to think about the role and relationship between technology, teacher and students. In essence it would allow the classroom to be used for interactive discussions and collaborative activities while using technology before, after and outside of the classroom. In this way, technology can be employed in radically different ways to support educators to explore new pedagogical approaches to meet individual student needs.

Eventually, the rapid and continuing developments in the areas of lecture capture technologies, OER, digital textbooks, search, social network tools and mobile devices will change students’ learning experience within and outside the classroom. The flipped approach provides a good example of how technology might be used to disrupt the existing education model and traditional education practice. However, to make real change for a better education system we need also to ‘flip thinking’ at all levels of education sector, from practice, method to process and business models, in order to take full advantage of these disruptive technologies in institutions .