Trends & Issues

If you are interested in trends in instructional technology, we’d like to recommend a few sources of information.

ProfHacker is a blog connected with the Chronicle of Higher Education that deals with current topics in instructional technology. Geared to faculty, it is updated often and informative.

WiredCampus, also affiliated with the Chronicle, provides news on campus technology developments. Its scope is wider than instructional technology and is of interest to IT professionals, librarians, college administrators as well as faculty.

Mind/Shift, a blog affiliated with PBS/KQED in San Francisco, is a good source of information on tech trends in education. Although there is considerable focus on K-12, there is much that is relevant for higher education.

All Tech Considered from NPR deals with all things technology-related.

EdTech Magazine has facts and figures on campus technology with plenty of lists and infographics.

Educause and its northeastern division NERCOMP offer programing on the use of technology in higher education. NERCOMP sessions are frequently held in the Greater Boston area and the annual conference takes place in Providence.

Educause has released a number of reports that document student technology use. See the ECAR Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology, 2012.

The influential NMC Horizon Report identifies emerging tech trends in education and offers predictions on when they are likely to become widespread.

Download the full report (2.2MB): 2013-horizon-report-HE. Here is a video overview:


What follows is a quick overview of some of the trends highlighted in the NMC report.

MOOCs (Massively Open Online Courses) such as those offered by edX and Coursera are a major innovation in higher education with enormous transformative potential. These open enrollment courses allow millions around the globe to pursue online education often at no cost. An offshoot of MOOCs is the Flipped Classroom in which students participate in online education in their own time and then do homework projects with an instructor in the classroom. Proponents of MOOCs herald their promise to democratize higher education through open access and the way they can make learning a collaborative venture with millions of participants interacting. They liken the advent of the MOOC to Gutenberg’s printing press which made the written word available to the masses. There is a lot of hype about MOOCs but also skepticism. Some argue that the grading practices they use are not rigorous enough and that much pedagogical value is lost with the disappearance of the classroom. Others charge that the majority of MOOCs duplicate the traditional lecture format and that the medium as a whole has so far done little to make learning active and collaborative. It also remains to be seen whether major universities that have embraced the MOOC movement such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford will continue to offer free access or whether they will eventually monetize the technology. Here is a comparison of the big three MOOC providers: edX, Coursera, and Udacity.

Tablets and Smartphones are becoming ever more ubiquitous as costs plummet. Students increasingly expect to access course materials on a mobile device, which means that faculty need to consider how their materials display on small screens. The staggering proliferation of mobile apps offers educators myriad ways to share material, organize notes and lectures, and do research.

Natural User Interfaces (NUI) and Wearable Technology refer to computer interfaces that go beyond the now familiar Graphic User Interface but integrate with the human body through kinetic motion, touch, voice, etc. Touch screens, Wii remotes, Siri-style voice activation are familiar examples of NUI. (For a showcase of NUI products, check out Vimeo’s NUI channel.) Wearable technologies include Google Glass and the Pebble, a Dick Traceyesque smartwatch, as well as the anticipated iWatch from Apple. In the future, technology will be more closely or even seamlessly integrated into the experience of reality and this will inevitably spill into the classroom.

The Maker Movement has come about as people can increasingly make physical things using relatively low-cost computer-based methods. A prime example is 3-D printing which is now becoming widespread. An excellent source of information on DIY grassroots manufacturing is Make:. Closely related is the emergence of the Maker Space. The global network of Fab Labs, developed by MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms, are community-oriented maker spaces. At MassArt Lee McDonald, studio manager for ID and Architecture, oversees a maker space with 3-D printers and a laser cutter.

Games and Gamification refer to learning that involves actual computer games or, in the case of gamification, that incorporates ideas and elements from games. In some cases, professors have actually used simulation games like Second Life as delivery systems for their courses. More often, however, they have drawn inspiration from games in, for example, replacing traditional letter grades with Experience Points or by presenting exams as monsters that have to be battled. Advocates for games and gamification point to the need to engage contemporary students who have grown up with Xboxes and to the desirability of tapping into the deep psychological qualities that make games compelling such as the way they respond to human needs for rewards, mastery, closure, etc. You can get a good presentation of the topic from Kevin Werbach of UPenn on Coursera.

Privacy and Confidentiality are jeopardized when we invite technology into our lives whether for the sake of convenience, social interaction, or pedagogy. Benefits and dangers are intertwined within the educational use of blogs, wikis, or any tool enabling online discussion. The Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) was enacted in 1974 to provide students control over their own records, but unforeseen consequences became evident in 2011 when Georgia Tech, pioneers in the educational use of technology, decided that the law required them to take down all of their course wikis. The Chronicle of Higher Education covered the furor that ensued as well as a subsequent effort to define a more balanced approach to the challenge, one that protects a broad range of student rights.  That effort produced the Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age, a handy treatise on progressive use of educational tech.

If you are interested in digital privacy issues in general, an excellent source of information is the watchdog organization, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).