Virtual worlds, emerging forms of publication, and “massively multiplayer educational gaming” are among the emerging trends expected to have a huge impact on educational technology over the next few years, according to a recent report from the New Media Consortium and the nonprofit group EDUCAUSE.

The groups’ “Horizon Report” identifies six technology trends they predict will have a significant impact on education within the next one to five years. The report is part of an annual series aimed at helping school leaders understand the emerging trends they should be paying attention to.

The six trends identified in this year’s report are:

•User-created content;

•Social networking;

•Mobile phones;

•Virtual worlds;

•New scholarship and emerging forms of publication; and

•Massively multiplayer educational gaming.

User-created content and social networking already are common on campus–but their significance to education is just being realized by many school leaders, the report notes.

User-created content “is all around us, from blogs and photostreams to wikibooks,” the report says. Inexpensive tools and easy access to technology have “opened the doors for almost anyone to become an author, a creator, or a filmmaker.”

These tools allow students to express their creativity and encourage shared responsibility for developing course resources, links, and materials. They also allow for asynchronous public feedback on assignments. Photography students at Rowan University, for example, use Flickr to post, organize, share, and critique their colleagues’ work for each assignment.

Social networking is not limited only to Facebook or MySpace. “We are seeing more and more professionals use social networks to find colleagues and experts in different fields,” says Diana Oblinger, EDUCAUSE vice president. “There is so much information out there that we don’t know for ourselves. We need to be a part of a network that can help point us to the top information.”

Social networking might be a key way for schools to increase student access to, and participation in, course activities, according to the report. Campus-based social networking sites also offer a safe, convenient space for students to build ties with community members and experiment with developing a “public self.” The University of Pennsylvania, for instance, offers incoming freshmen membership in “Pennster,” its social-networking site, so they can get to know their classmates before arriving on campus.

In the past few years, mobile phones–which also appeared on last year’s list–have gone from simply being used to make phone calls to being what Oblinger calls a “personal life remote control.” Today’s mobile phones are now mobile devices, and a growing number of schools are using them to deliver schedules, emergency updates, and other information. But how this technology is used in the classroom remains to be seen.

“There are examples outside the U.S. where people are using mobile phones as way of letting students take quick quizzes to self-access whether they’re ready for certain things,” says Oblinger. “The attractiveness is that mobile phones are pretty ubiquitous. It’s a way of making learning accessible whenever and wherever you have two minutes.”

With the rise of applications such as Second Life, many schools have begun experimenting with how virtual worlds can be used to support instruction. Many colleges, universities, and high schools are forming classes within these virtual worlds. While the report states that virtual worlds can be used to create effective online classrooms, Oblinger says this trend is only just beginning to be explored.

“A year ago, you wouldn’t see the conversation about [virtual worlds] the way that you’ve seen in the last six months,” she says. “I think we’re still figuring out & what is the most productive use of virtual worlds like Second Life.”

Farther out on the horizon, according to the report, are emerging forms of scholarship and publication and massively multiplayer educational gaming.

“The nature and practice of scholarship is changing,” the report says. “New tools and new ways to create, critique, and publish are influencing new and old scholars alike.” When his 1999 book Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace needed an update, for example, author Lawrence Lessig set up a wiki and invited the public to help him write the second edition, Codev2, now available in both print and electronic formats. New forms of publication can control costs and allow scholars to reach wider audiences–and online textbooks can incorporate features such as video interviews and graphs that respond to user input.

Like their counterparts in the entertainment industry, massively multiplayer educational games “are engaging and absorbing,” the report says. “They are still quite difficult to produce, and examples are rare; but steps are being taken toward making it easier to develop this type of game.” In the coming year, the report says, “open-source gaming engines will lower the barrier to entry for developers, and we are likely to see educational titles along with commercial ones.”

Links:

2007 Horizon Report
http://www.nmc.org/horizon

New Media Consortium
http://www.nmc.org

EDUCAUSE
http://www.educause.edu