NMC Keynote: Jason Ohler on “Trends that Bend”

Dr. Jason Ohler gave the Wednesday morning keynote, in which he identified five technology trends of the near future. He believes that these technologies will help all of us cope with the information flood that only increases as we get further and further into living lives that blend the virtual and the real. To give an idea of how much information we now receive and can’t process, Dr. Ohler estimated that it would take between thirty and forty days for him to process all of the information that he receives in one twenty-four hour span. He went through each of the five trends and discussed how each of them might apply to education. I’ll discuss the trends first and then discuss all of the education-related impacts at the end. Here are the trends, in order:

Trend 1: Big Data

Google collects 24 petabytes of data every day. We really don’t have any way to keep ourselves away from the big data juggernaut, but this has both good and bad elements. Text analyzers and predictive data analytics are rapidly improving and can help us make sense of this data. But we need to think about the kinds of data that we’re collecting, especially in educational contexts, and make sure that we are clearly articulating the goals of big data and shaping its future course.

Trend 2: Immersion

Augmented reality is becoming mainstream. Virtual worlds and the real world are becoming increasingly blurry and interconnected. Immersion is the antidote to spam: when two pieces of data are meaningfully connected – like location and reviews, let’s say – then relevance is increasingly assured. This contextualization has demonstrable impacts on our ability to sort through information.

Trend 3: The Semantic Web

It used to be the case that links were page by page, that they linked one large container for or chunk of data to another container or chunk. This is changing, such that very specific pieces of data are being linked to one another to create relationships that augment intelligence. This is increasing alongside another web technology, the internet of things, that will see an even further leap in the connections between machines, data, and people. It is important to realize that now that camera that keeps an eye on the subway station is not just a camera – it is also an application platform that can run apps. These innovations will continue to make the over-abundance of information connected and intelligible, but obviously comes with other risks as well.

Trend 4: Extreme BYOD

Bring-Your-Own-Device has been around for a while, but in the new version expressed here by Dr. Ohler, the customization and personalization of these technologies will continue to test the flexibility of our IT infrastructures. This increased personalization will continue to be a boon to workers, who will increasingly be able to customize their devices to work exactly how they would like to work, allowing some additional filtering of the information flood.

Trend 5: Transmedia

Transmedia storytelling is huge everywhere except education. Rather than telling a linear story through text or bullet points, transmedia enables multiple media types and different transmission methods to coexist to tell a single story. We need to be able to communicate in new ways, especially with visual media, and bridge the gap between creative thinking and critical thinking – leading to Dr. Ohler’s neologism “creatical thinking.”

Educational Impacts

Taking all of this together, it seems clear that these trends are helping to make the amazing amount of information that we encounter more manageable. But what do these technologies mean for education? The big takeaway is that we need to be teaching students how to become active and responsible digital citizens. This can’t be confined to the closed environments of the “school web” either – they must be robust experiences with open technologies that actually model the kinds of meaning-making that students will continue to engage in throughout their lives. Creatical thinking, transmedia, augmented reality, customized devices, and the semantic web all point to the types of skills that students should be building. Moreover, students should be brought into the discussion about responsible use of these technologies and the directions that each technology should point.

There are also very good opportunities for customized learning, akin to digital tutors, that work with students on a more individual level. As algorithms for speech processing and text analysis continue to improve, the Clayton Christensen-style disruption that many in the higher-ed and K-12 space have been talking about for so long may finally be here.


cross-posted at http://nmc14portland.tumblr.com/