Group Looks for New Ways to Peer Over the Edtech Horizon

Digital Learning

Group Looks for New Ways to Peer Over the Edtech Horizon

By Jeffrey R. Young     Jun 15, 2018

Group Looks for New Ways to Peer Over the Edtech Horizon

A group of educators trying to get a handle on what’s coming next in technology are working to build a new type of organization to track edtech trends.

The effort isn’t backed by any college, major philanthropy or membership organization. Rather it’s a loose group of volunteers with a website and a notion that a digital collaboration might fill a gap and offer new kinds of insights.

The effort is tentatively called the Future of Education and Everything community, or FOEcast (think 'focused,' or 'fauxcast'). It’s partly a commentary against the usual kind of breathless futuristic predictions that grab headlines, with a tinge of irony as the group intends to make its own predictions about the future.

According to the group’s website, “it aims to enable the positive conversations and solutions that learners from K-12, Higher Ed, Vocational Ed and workplaces need so we can thrive no matter what comes our way…”

The idea for the effort was first proposed by Bryan Alexander, a consultant and self-described “futurist” of edtech, in response to the sudden end last year of the New Media Consortium, a nonprofit known for its series of Horizon Reports on the future of edtech. NMC had served as an annual convener of a group of volunteers, including Alexander, who took to wikis and online meetings to come up with the reports which aimed at helping college leaders prepare for the technologies they guessed would rise to swift prominence next. Then, in December, the consortium declared bankruptcy and closed, due to financial problems leaders have not fully explained.

As Alexander and others wondered what would happen to the Horizon Report, they also talked online about things that always bugged them about those reports they had helped create. The idea for FOEcast came out of those discussions, which have centered both on how to make better predictions about the future of tech, and how to create a new kind of community to fill the void of the NMC.

“What if we produce a toolkit for how to have these conversations,” said Alexander.

The organizers of FOEcast have now met a few times online and in person, most recently at the Emerging Learning Design conference in New Jersey last month, to plan and brainstorm.

Tom Haymes has been one of those planners. He’s a tech consultant, and he had also been active in past Horizon Reports. “One of the criticisms of the Horizon Report was it was a little bit too tech-focused and it was a little bit too schlocky about how it portrayed the impact of technology,” he says. His hope is for something that would focus less on painting a picture of future technology, and more on, the major issues that higher ed is going to have to deal with because we’ve adopted this technology.”

“There’s not a lot of thought given to, ‘OK, now what,’” he says. “There’s a clear gap between the digital world on one side where people see the possibilities of reshaping pretty much everything, and the analog world where this is the classroom we’ve had since 1870.” (He expanded on the idea in a blog post.)

As FOEcast was forming, Educause, a major edtech association in higher ed, bought the assets of the New Media Consortium and pledged to continue the Horizon Report for higher education. A few weeks ago it released a “preview” of the 2018 report, which was nearly finished when NMC closed, and which is now scheduled to come out later this year.

Haymes says he’s open to continue working on the Horizon Report, but that he feels there’s room for something different as well.

He says that Educause, which often focuses on high-level technology leadership, “tends to look at the technology first and then work their way backward to instruction.” Many of those involved in FOEcast, meanwhile, “tend to look at instruction first and work our way back to tech,” he says.

The goal is not to replace Educause or NMC, he adds, but to do something new, with a “decentralized organization.” The hope is to include educators from both K-12 and higher education, and from institutions around the world. “We’re not hearing enough voices from the rest of the world, and there’s also a diversity aspect, in that some of the organizations have tended to be male and less people of color,” he says. “We want to make sure we have our ears everywhere.”

The first report could come as soon as September, he says, with a batch of 1,000-word essays on different edtech themes. He plans to write one on “systemic barriers to empowering learning,” and he says it will include contributions from people in China, Brazil and Egypt.

Leaders from Educause could not be reached for comment, though its president, John O’Brien, issued a statement when it bought the NMC assets saying it planned to “connect and consult with community leaders as we determine the next steps forward—and to do so with the care and thoughtfulness that this community has come to expect.”

Alexander says he’s not worried about potential redundancy between what Educause plans to do with the Horizon report and whatever FOEcast becomes. There’s always room for more ideas, he says, just as you can’t have too many blogs or too much scholarship.

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