As students increasingly learn on the go, they demand that their colleges and universities stay up to date on the latest technology.
"Technology's like the golden goose, and it's improving at this rate that's unprecedented, but I'm concerned that the academy will fall behind," said Adrian Sannier, vice president, university technology officer and professor of computing studies at Arizona State University.
That's where the 2010 Horizon Report comes in. The annual report of the New Media Consortium's Horizon Project describes up-and-coming technologies that college campuses will likely mainstream within the next five years, as well as key trends they are experiencing and critical challenges that they will face.
When campuses may adopt them: one year or less:
1. Mobile Computing
Smartphones, netbooks, laptops and other devices that access the Internet through cellular-based, portable hotspots and mobile broadband cards have already become mainstream on many campuses.
At Georgetown University, the administration texts short messages to students, and professors use screen recording software to create podcasts of their lectures that can be downloaded onto mobile phones, said Betsy Page Sigman, a professor who teaches management information systems, databases and electronic commerce at the university's McDonough School of Business.
2. Open Content
As textbook prices have soared over the years, educational resources have popped up online at no cost to the students and faculty who want to use them. Open content has had a huge impact on the way colleges do business, said Brian Parish, the president of iData Inc., a higher education technology consulting and software firm based in Virginia.
However, some educators resist open content because they want to protect their intellectual property, not because they don't like the technology.
"A lot of people want to use open content on the faculty and staff side, but they don't want to make their stuff open content," Parish said.
When campuses may adopt them: two to three years:
3. Electronic Books
Consumers have already mainstreamed electronic readers, including the Kindle, which was Amazon.com's best-selling product in 2009. Campuses have not adapted the readers as quickly, but as more academic titles become available, they are piloting e-books.
Eight colleges and universities are currently in a pilot program with the Kindle DX, a larger-format version of the reader that is designed for academic texts, newspapers and journals. Those schools include Arizona State University, Ball State University, Case Western Reserve University, Pace University, Princeton, Reed College, Syracuse University and the University of Virginia Darden School of Business.
And they're not the only ones. Northwest Missouri State University and Penn State have started pilot programs with the Sony Reader.
4. Simple Augmented Reality
When Sannier was researching augmented reality eight or nine years ago, it seemed far flung, but now it's right around the corner. Through mobile computing and cameras, people can fuse the digital world and the physical world, which is really cool, he said.
The technology allows someone to point a smartphone at an object and find out information about it. For example, Sigman could take her smartphone to a place with a lot of plants, hold the camera up to one of them, and find out what kind of plant she was looking at.
Within a week of seeing a Droid phone, university President Michael M. Crow asked Sannier if he could create an augmented reality layer over the campus so that people could find out what things are, what's going on inside buildings and find their way around.
"For a university president to be as in touch with an emerging trend as that, I think it really speaks to how central technology is becoming on the academic side," Sannier said.
When campuses may adopt them: four to five years
5. Gesture-Based Computing
The iPhone, iPod Touch, Nintendo Wii and other gesture-based systems have become popular in the consumer industry because they let users control what the device does with their body movements. Devices with these systems could make the Internet come alive and "very likely lead to new kinds of teaching or training simulations that look, feel and operate almost exactly like their real-world counterparts," the report stated.
"It's clear that people have become more open to interacting with devices in a lot of different ways," Sannier said. "I think the challenge there is less technology than it is practice."
6. Visual Data Analysis
This technology basically combines advanced computational methods with sophisticated graphics engines. Oftentimes when someone looks at a straight list of data, it's hard to see the outliers, which are the points that are farther away, Sigman said. But with visual data analysis technology, that person can put the data in a 3-D chart that will make it easy to see where the outliers are.
While universities may have an easier time replacing pens and notebooks with laptops, they will have a tougher time as they integrate technologies such as gesture-based computing, which represent a completely new way of providing information, Sannier said. These technologies will challenge the existing university structure, and universities need to respond to by accepting the idea that they don't have to control or provide these technologies.
At Arizona State University, Sannier is preparing for this switch by taking the following steps:
Move away from directly providing the network and allow an outside company to provide that network at a larger scale. The university now uses Google Gmail and is working with cloud computing providers.
Make both wired and wireless networks easily accessible.
Integrate technology in a functional way. The university is working with Facebook to bring one of its applications onto the social networking site and is also working with Google to offer Google Apps for Education to their students, which will give them a new way to create and view material.
Shift the focus from direct provisioning to applying commercial technologies to the academy.
Preparing for the challenges that new technologies bring will require more than just a change in mindset.
"The real challenge is to change the culture of the academy," Sannier said. "We need some lighthouse institutions to do some amazing things with these technologies in classrooms and change them, and then to propagate those."
Academies can change their culture by sharing best practices among each other and looking at how for-profit colleges and universities are able to succeed, he said. The success of the for-profit institutions will put competitive pressure on the universities for possibly the first time, and that could be a powerful change agent for universities.
That's not the only change that universities will have to make. They also have bring their faculty and staff up to speed on the latest technologies because students will bring devices to school and already know how to use them, Sannier said. Parish from iData agreed.
"They expect to be able to use their mobile phone, they expect open content, they expect to use their e-books," Parish said. "It's the staff and the organization of the university that need to be prepared to provide that to them, and that's the real challenge."
At Arizona State University, Sannier is focusing on making the consumer technologies that are coming on campus easy to use instead of trying to train people how to use them. The university is also deploying online resources that allow people to push a button that will make the technology work.
Back at Georgetown University, Sigman plans on experimenting with any technology that comes along, and she sees possibilities in these emerging technologies.
"What an exciting time we live in, and what an exciting time it is for professors to be teaching," Sigman said. "There are just so many wonderful tools that we have at our fingertips."