What’s the Next Big Thing in Higher Education Technology?

Emerging technology could shake education all over again.

The New Media Consortium (NMC) has released its annual report, detailing emerging technology in higher education. To create the report, members of an advisory board track several new technologies and imagines their potential impact over the next five years. Widespread adoption of tablets and massive open online courses (MOOCs) is anticipated in the next 12 months, while game-based learning and learning analytics is expected to take two to three years to catch on in higher education. Those are technologies that have already caught the interest of the higher education community and are in the process of being implemented at colleges around the country.

Although mobile devices and cloud technology seem to be reaching critical mass, some technologists believe we need to understand how to use our current technology before moving on to something new. Have we maxed out our use of devices? Certainly not, but that doesn’t prevent people from getting excited about the next big thing. The report gets very interesting, as it looks four to five years into the future. By then, NMC suggests, 3D printing and wearable technology will be the norm on campus, creating a wave of new hardware and software that will revolutionize education (again).

3D Printing

Known in industrial circles as rapid prototyping, 3D printing refers to technologies that construct physical objects from three-dimensional (3D) digital content, such as computer-aided design (CAD), computer aided tomography (CAT), and X-ray crystallography. A 3D printer builds a tangible model or prototype from the file, one layer at a time, using an inkjet-like process to spray a bonding agent onto a very thin layer of fixable powder. The bonding agent can be applied very accurately to build an object from the bottom up, layer by layer. The process even accommodates moving parts within the object.

Wearable Technology

Wearable technology refers to devices that can be worn by users, taking the form of an accessory such as jewelry, sunglasses, a backpack, or even actual items of clothing like shoes or a jacket. The benefit of wearable technology is that it can conveniently integrate tools, devices, power needs, and connectivity within a user’s everyday life and movements. Google's Project Glass features one of the most talked about current examples — the device resembles a pair of glasses but with a single lens. A user can see information about their surroundings displayed in front of them, such as the names of friends who are in close proximity, or nearby places to access data that would be relevant to a research project. Wearable technology is still very new, but one can easily imagine accessories such as gloves that enhance the user’s ability to feel or control something they are not directly touching. Wearable technology already in the market includes clothing that charges batteries via decorative solar cells, allows interactions with a user’s devices via sewn-in controls or touch pads, or collects data on a person's exercise regimen from sensors embedded in the heels of their shoes.

Download the NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition.

<p>Stockbyte/Thinkstock</p>
Feb 19 2013

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