Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Keeping an eye fixed on the far horizon

The 2011 Horizon Report is a document to be read and contemplated by librarians everywhere. It will cause one to think about the future technology that education and educational institutions like colleges, universities, museums and libraries will need to utilize.

Last year’s report listed the following major technology trends:
  1. Mobile computing and Social Media.
  2. Open Content
  3. Electronic Books
  4. Augmented reality and location based services
  5. Gesture based computing, and the Semantic Web
  6. Visual Data Analysis
This year’s report identifies:
  1. Electronic books
  2. Mobiles
  3. Augmented reality
  4. Game-based learning
  5. Gesture-based computing
  6. Learning analytics
The major change in the last year between the two lists is that “open content” was replaced with “game-based learning.” Interesting, but certainly not alarming.

The Executive Summary lists some Key Trends that are certainly applicable to libraries:
  1. “The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators in sense-making, coaching and credentialing.”
  2. “People expect to be able to work, learn and study whenever and wherever they want.”
  3. "The world of work is increasingly collaborative, giving rise to reflection about the way student projects are structured.”
  4. "The technologies we use are increasingly cloud-based, and our notions of IT support are decentralized.”
These are accompanied by “Critical Challenges” which included (and again are equally applicable to libraries):

  1. “Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession.”
  2. “Appropriate metrics of evaluation lag behind the emergence of new scholarly forms of authoring, publishing and researching.”
  3. “Economic pressures and new models of education are presenting unprecedented competition to traditional models of the university.”
  4. “Keeping pace with the rapid proliferation of information, software tools and devices is challenging for students and teachers alike."
The sections that detail the emerging technologies are also worthy reading. While much of what is described for e-books is well known to librarians, the section on mobiles contains information that deserves serious consideration including:

"By 2015, 80% of people accessing the Internet will be doing so from mobile devices. Perhaps more important for education, Internet capable devices will outnumber computers within the next year or so.”

“Specialized apps are available that, for many, replace a standard web browser for mobile access. It is not unusual to use several different applications to access online financial information, read and contribute to social networking sites, check email, browse and upload media, and so on. Tasks that were once gathered into a single piece of software – the web browser – are now distributed among many specialized [and optimized] applications”.
The section on Augmented Reality builds on last year’s report but again, contains new information. Clearly this technology is continuing its penetration. As stated:
“It can be used for visual and highly interactive forms of learning, allowing the overlay of data onto the real world as easily as it simulates dynamic processes… This interactivity confers significant potential for learning and assessment.”
Just think what we as librarians could teach people about using using data in a learning environment with technology like this! Next, is the section on Game based learning, which is very similar to the augmented reality section and the results are as well.

However, the section on Gesture-Based Computing helps one to realize how deep we already are in using this technology today. Any user of an iPhone, iPad or mult-touch Surface from Microsoft is already using this technology. Even as I type this post, I find myself increasingly interacting directly with a screen, rather than keyboard and mouse -- gesture based computing in action. Yet, it is only the beginning of what is to come. As the report says, this technology will be “transformative and disruptive” and “will require intensive interdisciplinary collaborations and innovative thinking about the very nature of teaching, learning and communicating.”

Which is an excellent segue to a conclusion. As librarians, this report helps underscore the need for us to be increasingly externally focused and to build broad collaborative arrangements among our educational peers wherein we can embrace and utilize these new technologies. By so doing we’ll help inform them and our end-users on ways that libraries and librarians can provide value through services that transcend technology and remain as applicable to end-user needs in 2015 as they are today.

Now certainly in these challenging economic times and conditions, the very thought of engaging in such forward thinking as is outlined in this report might seem like wasteful, if not wishful thinking. Ideas that won’t be realized for a very long-time to come. But that’s simply not true. The report lists at the end of each section on an emerging technology trend, sites (including libraries) that are doing these things today. I suspect these are organizations that regularly evaluate the use of their resources in light of the value generated. When they see that greater value can be generated by reallocation of those resources, I’m betting they make a change. I’m also betting these are libraries that will be doing fine in 2015. It is the only way forward.

So before you say this is wishful thinking, ask yourself how you think you’re library will be doing in 2015? It’s only 5 years from now. Will your library be on the leading edge in utilizing these technologies? If not, maybe reading this report and thinking about how you can lead your library forward might be a very worthwhile effort. Then call us at Ex Libris and we’ll help your library get started using cloud-computing solutions and we’ll show you what is coming with regard to decisions that benefit from analytic derived data. We can get you on your way.

Finally, let me close with a quote from the Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskj├Âld who said: “Only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find his right road.” It just seems appropriate.