Open scholarly content will become more commonplace in higher education in the next year as online universities and textbook companies organize and harness the internet’s mass of educational material, according to a report that predicts campus technology advances within the next five years.
The 2010 Horizon Report, released this week by education technology advocacy group EDUCAUSE and the New Media Consortium, describes technological changes that will have the greatest impact on college students and faculty.
The seventh annual report’s short-term prediction focuses on open content—a trend buoyed by MIT’s Open Courseware Initiative and the Open Knowledge Foundation, among others.
Rather than releasing educational material into free online repositories, some colleges and universities have embraced open content as a “social responsibility,” according to the report, compiled by decision makers in technology, business, and education.
The rising popularity of open-content programs is “a response to the rising costs of education, the desire for access to learning in areas where such access is difficult, and an expression of student choice about when and how to learn,” according to the Horizon Report.
Institutions such as Tufts University have launched open courseware initiatives in the past year. Tufts now makes all learning material available online for free. The free program doesn’t require registration, and completing the classes doesn’t contribute to a college degree.
“The general public may glimpse the depth and breadth of what leading universities are offering and benefit from reading lists and lectures,” the school’s web site says.
The acceptance of open content has led to a handful of open universities, including University of the People, a free, non-accredited online school that does not charge for its course content.
Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU) is another venture that has grabbed the attention of open-source advocates over the past year. Like University of the People, P2PU is not accredited, but officials and advisers said they are researching ways to secure accreditation for students.
P2PU students are placed into groups of 8-14 people for six-week college courses hosted by what the university calls a “sense maker,” a class facilitator present to answer student questions, identify essential readings and assignments, and ask overarching questions.
P2PU invites experts and graduate students to pitch ideas for new courses and how they should be taught to online students.
The Horizon Report peers deeper into education technology’s future and sees widespread use of hand gestures to use computers. Mouses and keyboards may be considered antiquated by 2015, the report says, as college students become accustomed to human movements to control what they see on a screen.
Devices like the iPhone and Nintendo Wii already use “gesture-based systems,” instead of clacking on keys or clicking and double-clicking a mouse.
“The idea that natural, comfortable motions can be used to control computers is opening a way to a host of input devices that look and feel very different from the keyboard and mouse,” the report says, adding that the coming release of Sony’s Gem gaming system will reveal the next step in gesture-based interaction. “Instead of learning where to point and click … we are beginning to be able to expect our computers to respond to natural movements that make sense to us.”
Augmented reality is a technology that the Horizon Report’s authors expect to take hold in the next two to three years. Mixing “virtual data” with the real world could enhance college lessons in ways a textbook—or even a computer—could not.
Overlay maps will let students view a historical site, for example, and see what it looked like at different points throughout history with the help of augmented reality.
The European Union is funding a project called iTacitus that will someday allow students to see the Greek Coliseum and what it might have looked like with athletes in action and onlookers cheering, according to the report.
A German company has already developed a book that uses augmented reality, the report says, and the results could add a new dimension to reading. Users install software, point a webcam at a standard textbook, and watch as 3D globes and geographic locations pop up.
The University of Canterbury in New Zealand developed a high-tech tool that “translates sketches into 3D objects,” perhaps allowing for building designers to create and present a complex architectural proposal.
“Students receive immediate visual feedback about their designs and ideas in a way that allows them to spot inconsistencies or problems that need to be addressed,” the report says.
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