The NMC, New Media Consortium, Horizon Project Short list, K-12,  was published earlier this year, and is a handy, thought-provoking guide to where we are headed.   I can’t say I know a lot about NMC, but I think I ought to know more about them– and they at least at a surface level seem a very impressive, open source, resource for the future direction of educational technology.   As a 501 (c)3, they appear to relatively freer of corporate control or influence than some of the other actors in this arena.

From Wikipedia:

The New Media Consortium (NMC) is an international 501(c)3 not-for-profit consortium of more than 250 colleges, universities, museums, corporations, and other learning-focused organizations dedicated to the exploration and use of new media and new technologies….The consortium serves as a catalyst for the development of new applications of technology to support learning and creative expression, and sponsors programs and activities designed to stimulate innovation, encourage collaboration, and recognize excellence among its member institutions.

My post here is in response to the Short List document.

There are three sections in the Short List, based on time horizons: One Year, Two to Three Years, and Four to Five Years.  Each has four predicted developments, and each development is summarized, with note on its relevance, examples of it in practice, and suggested further readings.

In the One year section, we find Cloud Commuting, Collaborative Environments, Mobiles and Apps, and Tablet Computers.

1. It is great to see the emphasis on collaborative online environments, where so much contemporary work is now taking place and where our students need more practice.   The tools to support them are free and easily available, and as a huge fan of “The New World of Learning,” I appreciate the “relevance” outlined here: Large scale collaborative environments can facilitate an almost spontaneous development of communities of people who share similar interests.

Examples of collaboration in practice include the fascinating Badgestack Project, the widely recognized Flat Classroom project, and something new to me, an eLanguages project for language teacher and classroom collaboration, which strikes me as a terrific resource.

Both suggested readings intrigue me, including an HBR article on Collaboration as an Intangible Asset.

Most intangible assets are real but invisible, and the most important invisible ability is the ability (or, perhaps better said, the probability) to collaborate. After all, it’s the willingness on the part of people to work together to solve problems when they could just as easily pass them along to someone else that forms the core of most things we call collaboration.

It’s the decision that someone makes to share an idea or to spend the extra hour helping out — not the regulation or contract that requires it — that usually means the difference between “good enough” and “outstanding.”

2.  The Mobiles and Apps section in the Short List report reads to me as a bit muddled– it is in part an endorsement of smart phones, IPads and apps, and in part a discussion of the rising BYOD trend.  I am a fan of both, but I don’t intermingle them in my thinking as this short piece does. Using iPads and associated apps doesn’t seem to me to be at the heart of BYOD programs; they seem very different to me, in that many students will bring their own Device which isn’t an iPad.   In any case, they are right to see both as looming right now as fast-emerging trends.

The examples don’t grab me; the suggested readings are useful, including the excellent Lisa Nielsen piece on BYOD myths debunked.

Confusingly, the following section on Tablets repeats focus on iPads, and argues that as a one-to-one solution they are engaging, adaptable, economical, and flexible.  I’d agree with most of these assertions, but not all.    I was intrigued by the video referenced in the section:

The Two to Three Year section features Digital Identity, Game-based Learning, Learning Analytics, and Personal Learning Environments.

3. With the exception of my reading Jane McGonigal’s Reality is Broken (and seeing her speak), I’ve been slow to focus upon game-based learning  it is an area I have much more to learn about.   The NMC is clearly enthusiastic about the prospects:

Developers and researchers are working in every area of game-based  learning, including games that are goal-oriented; social game environments; non-digital games that  are easy to construct and play; games developed expressly for education; and commercial games that  lend themselves to refining team and group skills.

Role-playing, collaborative problem solving, and other forms of simulated experiences are recognized for having broad applicability across a wide range of disciplines.

I am all for simulations, so long as they don’t get in the way of actual experiences, and I think role-playing has a long history in learning.   Gaming can enhance these things, and it is getting more sophisticated all the time.

One emphasis here is game-design: learning not by playing games but by building them.   I’m all for this: I see my own sons respond eagerly, and I see their creativity and their manipulation increase as they discuss and plan the games they will build.  Two sites are suggested for game-design learning, Globaloria and the Learning Games Network Design Corps, in video below.

Several interesting articles are also suggested here, including When Gaming is Good for You in the Wall Street Journal and Kids and Video Games: Why Children Should Play More. 

4. Learning Analytics fascinates me: I can’t seem to decide if it perpetuates and worsens our viewing students as assembly line widgets to process and manipulate, or if it is a great breakthrough in differentiation and individualizing instruction.      NMC is fairly enthusiastic about the prospects, and provides a few resources to explore.

The goal of learning analytics is to enable teachers and schools to tailor educational opportunities to each student’s level of need and ability. Learning analytics promises to harness the power of advances in data mining, interpretation, and modeling to improve understanding of teaching and learning, and to tailor education to individual students more effectively.

Socrative is the highlighted tool in this section, and schools ought to be test-driving tools like Socrative in the coming year or two, I would think– but as pilots, exploring with open minds the pros and cons.

Suggested articles for more about learning analytics seem worthwhile:

5.  Personal Learning Environments are an exciting development: I love the student-centered philosophy underpinning them.   Last year I did a short post about PLE’s, sharing the work of Wendy Drexler, and to my surprise it became one of my most viewed post ever.  Clearly there is a growing fascination with the idea.  I am sorry Drexler’s valuable work isn’t referenced in this piece.

While the concept of PLEs is still fairly fluid, it does seem to be clear that a PLE is not simply a technology but an approach or process that is individualized by design, and thus different from person to person. Widespread adoption of PLEs may  require shifts in policy, as well as attitudes, toward technology for teaching, and learning.

Mindtap is a suggested resource that is new to me, but is worth considering by those schools who want to advance in this direction.

This Time It’s Personal is a recommended article, from THE Journal, and it is a strong piece.

In any personalized learning model, the student–not the teacher–is the central figure. In a technophilic view of a personalized learning environment, students have access to traditional learning resources like books and hands-on materials, and time-honored support from people like teachers, parents, mentors, coaches, and schoolmates.

But, critically, they have ubiquitous access to technology, which allows them to connect to learning communities, information management and communication tools, personal learning networks, information and data, expertise and authoritative sources, online tutoring and guided sources tailored to their needs, knowledge-building tools, and peers with common interests.

Also recommended is Will Richardson’s ASCD piece: Preparing Students to Learn Without Us. 

Next Up is the Four to Five year time horizon, with again four sections: Augmented Reality, Natural User Interfaces, Semantic Applications, and Tools for Assessing 21st century skills.

6. Semantic Applications is a term that I don’t use on a regular basis, but perhaps can be best understood as the next generation of search.    It goes further than traditional search in the degree to which is uses Artificial intelligence to assist in producing high quality search results.

Semantic applications have the potential to be immensely powerful educational resources that enable students to more effectively sift, query, and gather relevant information. To maximize their potential, semantic applications can be used in conjunction with federated content repositories or open institutions.

Applications suggested as being among the early wave of semantics include Apple’s Siri, which we all see on TV commercials these days, a search engine called TrueKnowledge which is now Evi, and Wolfram Alpha.   I am struck by the notation in this section from the authors that:

A detailed review of the literature has found almost no current activity in this area that has direct implications for K-12, as well as a dearth of practical examples for primary and secondary schools.

If only they had asked me!   Though the section fails to share any examples of semantic application search tools such as Wolfram Alpha in practice, I am happy to share one for them, from our St. Gregory Chemistry Class.

And the teacher’s explanation of how he uses Wolfram-Alpha:

Like this NMC report, I think schools everywhere need to be thinking about the many implications high powered semantic search has for teaching and learning, and as I often emphasize here, one of those implications is a rethinking of the kinds of tests we administer, with a move toward open network testing being seriously explored.

One of the suggested articles for here is Learning in the Semantic Web. 

7.  Last among the 12 outlined areas of development is a favorite of mine, Tools for Assessing 21st century learning skills.   This is a very important area– in an era where ever-increasingly demonstrated results matter, if we want to have 21st century skills among the key results for our students, we must have tools to assess and measure our success at them– and soon.

The authors here point to several valuable resources, but I believe they also overlook important options.  Their list includes P-21’s Assessment of 21st century skills, and new resources coming from Australia  and from   Both look fascinating, and I want to explore them further.

I am sorry, and regular readers will be unsurprised, to see ignored or overlooked the CWRA, the College Work Readiness Assessment, which Tony Wagner proclaimed back in 2008 as a key tool for assessing 21st century skills.   It seems a glaring omission, and, if they had chosen to use it, then they would indeed have found exemplary uses of it in schools, contrary to their statement on this page that they instead found a “paucity of examples or demonstration projects.”

The next section calls out the key trends for the coming years, and let me share a few of them with short comments.

1. The abundance of resources and relationships made easily accessible via the Internet is increasingly challenging us to revisit our roles as educators.

Absolutely– our roles and responsibilities as educators are changing and we have to change with them.

2. As the cost of technology drops and school districts revise and open up their access policies, it is becoming increasingly common for students to bring their own mobile devices. Many schools are launching BYOD programs so that students can use the devices they already have as learning tools within a traditional classroom setting in addition to informal and out-of-school environments.

This is happening partly because of how BYOD impacts budgets; schools can spend less money on technology if students use their own, which frees up the school-supplied technology for students who cannot afford to buy devices.

Terrific: I am a great fan of this development, and think it is so important to embrace and wisely implement.

3. One-to-one computing is spreading to a large number of countries and regions. Providing students constant access to computers and the Internet is an education game-changer. Current studies have been tracking and analyzing the ways in which one-to-one computing is impacting student achievement in class, and the early results are promising.

A key driver behind the adoption of this model is how well it complements both project- and challenge-based learning, which already have proven correlations to increasing student engagement.

This is great all around– that this spread is now happening so much faster and faster, and that “early results are promising.”  I added the bold, because it is especially important– it is not just having the digital tools in the classroom, but how we use them, and are we using them with challenge and project based learning?

4. There is a new emphasis in the classroom on more challenge-based and active learning.  Challenge-based learning and similar methods foster more active learning experiences, both inside  and outside the classroom. As technologies such as tablets and smartphones now have proven applications in higher education institutions, educators are leveraging these tools, which students  already use, to connect the curriculum with real life issues.

The active learning approaches are decidedly more student-centered, allowing them to take control of how they engage with a subject and to brainstorm and implement solutions to pressing local and global problems. Studies of challenge-based learning in practice, including two authored by the NMC, depict an increase in the uptake of 21st Century Skills among learners, including leadership and creativity.

As with the previous, the technological transformation will only reap its full rewards if it is paired with a pedagogical transformation, and we know what that is.    Studies are showing, increasingly, that student learning and skills increase when we teach this way, with the right tools in place.

Finally, the report concludes with a section on Significant Challenges, and I want to highlight a few of them:

1. Digital media literacy continues its rise in importance as a key skill in every discipline and profession. This challenge, driven by a related trend, appears here because despite the widespread agreement on the importance of digital media literacy, training in the supporting skills and techniques is rare in teacher education.  

As classroom professionals begin to realize that they are limiting their students by not helping them to develop and use digital media literacy skills across the curriculum, the lack of formal training is being offset through professional development or informal learning, but we are far from seeing digital media literacy as a norm.

Our teachers don’t know well enough yet how to teach digital media literacy and related skills, and yet their students must learn these critical skills.   Every school has to ask itself: what is it doing to support this professional learning among its educators.

2.  K-12 must tackle the increased blending of formal and informal learning. Traditional lectures and subsequent testing are still dominant learning vehicles in schools. In order for students to get a well-rounded education with real world experience, they must also engage in more informal in-class activities as well as learning outside the classroom.

Schools should encourage students to experiment and take risks without the fear of formal consequences. A new model, called the “flipped classroom,” has students watching teacher-created instructional videos at home, and using class time to collaborate with classmates and problem-solve.

Great to see this recognition here in the report, that blending is the future and flipping a powerful technique.    Mindset matters: we all must experiment and innovate iteratively to find our way to the best match for our schools individually.

3. Learning that incorporates real life experiences is not occurring enough and is undervalued when it does take place. This challenge is an important one in K-12 schools, because it results in a lack of engagement in learning on the part of students who are seeking some connection between their own lives and their experience in school.

Use of technology tools that are already familiar to students, project-based learning practices that incorporate real-life experiences, and mentoring from community members are a few practices that support increased engagement.

It is not happening enough, true, but it is happening more, I believe, and we need to use reports and research like this to continue to expand the momentum behind 21st century teaching and learning.

4. We are not using digital media for formative assessment the way we could and should. Assessment is an important driver for educational practice and change, and over the last years we have seen a welcome rise in the use of formative assessment in educational practice.

However, there is still an assessment gap in how changes in curricula and new skill demands are implemented in  education; schools do not always make necessary adjustments in assessment practices as a consequence of these changes. Another assessment gap is related to the lack of innovative uses of digital media in formative assessment. Many tools are still tied to outdated LMS and do not have the ability to assess critical data sets, such as 21st Century Skills acquisition.

We have to continue the focus on assessment, and it is my personal quest to continue my learning and sharing on this.   At St. Gregory, this was among my highest priorities, and I will add, as an administrator it offered me a significant area of latitude.  I couldn’t, or certainly chose not to, direct teachers on exactly how to teach, but I could exercise considerable administrative authority in choosing and employing new assessments, including both 21st century skills assessments (CWRA), and formative, computer adaptive, skills assessments like MAP.    School-leaders ought to place a great focus and priority on what and how they are assessing as they lead their schools forward.

There is more in the excellent, exciting, NMC Horizon report; I have chosen to highlight only about half of the sections and key points, but it is short enough and worthwhile reading by strategic planning committees, administrative teams, and perhaps academic department leaders.