Horizon 2010 report mostly wrong

At least this year’s EDUCAUSE Horizon report on emerging IT doesn’t predict the tremendous growth of Second Life. But it has plenty of misjudgments in what it predicts will be Big Higher-Ed IT in the near and medium term. Below are my quick judgments of what Horizon 2010 thinks will be big:

  • Semi-correct: the impact of “mobile computing.” The sloppy use of the term indicates that the report writers have bought into the hype. There is just too much fragmentation of operating systems and too many students of moderate means who cannot afford smartphones for this prediction to be anything but wishful thinking. Mobile computing will work for certain professional programs, largely at graduate levels, where either there is a reasonable expectation that students will buy equipment as demanded or where there is support for a specific set of devices. My guess for the most common application of mobile devices today? Clickers. Maybe some company will figure out how to combine clicker technology with prepaid (term-length) cell service for specific purposes. Until then, mobile computing will generally be project-specific.
  • Semi-correct: the likely impact of ebooks. Again, this is going to be more selective than the report indicates (and I say this as a relatively early adopter). What ebook readers may provide is more flexibility to read generally-formatted text documents (such as PDF), rather than expansion of types of formats (such as multimedia).
  • Largely incorrect: expansion of open content. In a few subsidized areas this will continue, but we’ve already seen the shuttering of one major open-content project. The reality of open content is that it requires resources to create and maintain; witness Valley of the Shadow Project, a wonderful online history project that is now officially “archived.” Obvious sign of the report’s failure to connect with reality: no discussion of the shutting down of Utah State’s OCW project. Ouch.
  • Largely incorrect: gesture-based computing. These applications will be quite complicated and expensive, and they will be limited to disciplines where the investment pays off. 
  • Philosophically problematic: the hype of “visual data analysis.” I use graphs in teaching. I do not assume that because I use graphs, students can competently conduct data mining just by looking at pictures. For some reason I cannot fathom, the report highlights Wordle; a tag cloud is the humanistic equivalent of USA Today “infographics.” Horrid. Kill this idea now, please, before you do more damage.
  • Major goofball hype: augmented reality. Yeah, right, in the same way that Second Life took off and CAD is used in English courses. Whenever the most obvious use of a particular tool is in the field of architecture, you know that you’re not talking about a tool that is going to be used widely across higher ed.

I need to return to my Sunday copyediting task (a wonderful but very long and editing-needy article MS). Maybe my focus on copyediting today is making me a bit grouchy with the Horizon report; I know that since I’ve criticized the report, I should probably provide
an alternative perspective, and I’ll think about that over the next week. In a year or five, you’ll be able to see who was correct.