6 Emerging Educational Technologies and How They Are Being Used Across the Globe

Each spring the New Media Consortium (NMC) and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative release a list of emerging technologies forecast to have a significant impact on higher education in the next one-to-five years. The NMC Horizon Report, now in its 14th edition, aims to “identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have an impact on learning, teaching, and creative inquiry in education.” This year, the following six edtech trends were identified by NMC’s expert panel as having “the potential to foster real changes in education, particularly in the development of progressive pedagogies and learning strategies, the organisation of teachers’ work, and the arrangement and delivery of content.” We’ve featured some of the trendsetters in each category as well. As you’ll see, there’s inspiring work being done all over the globe.

1. Adaptive Learning Technologies (One Year or Less)

Adaptive learning technologies use machine-driven data to measure student progress, dynamically adjusting to the level or type of course content based on an individual’s abilities or skill attainment “in ways that accelerate a learner’s performance with both automated and instructor interventions.”

According to the report, “advocates for adaptive learning believe that it can be a solution for the ‘iron triangle’ of educational challenges: cost, access, and quality.” One study included in the report found that adaptive learning technologies improved student success rates at Arizona State University from 76% to 94% and reduced the dropout rate from 15% to 1.5%.

University of Wollongong, Australia: Uses SNAPP (Social Networks Adapting Pedagogical Practice Initiative) software to track the dynamics of group discussions. SNAPP software visualises participant relationships in online discussion forums in real time, as a network diagram, thereby helping instructors identify students who are isolated from the main discussion or to see how the overall discussion is progressing (Are a few students dominating? What is the extent of peer discussion?).

The New York Institute of Technology, USA: Developed its own model and dashboard to identify at-risk students, showing whether each student was predicted to return to their studies the following year, the percentage of confidence in that prediction, and the reasons for that prediction, which could then be discussed with the student. Recall of the model was 74%, meaning three of every four students who did not return to their studies the following year had been predicted as at-risk by the model. For perspective: a similar model, developed independently at Western Kentucky University, only had a 30% recall.

Nottingham Trent University, UK: The NTU Student Dashboard measures students’ engagement with their course based on Virtual Learning Environment access, library usage, card swipes, and assignment submissions. Tutors discuss engagement with students based on data. The Dashboard “has seen widespread uptake, positive impacts on student engagement, and a change in organizational culture towards a more data driven approach across the University’s business.” The initiative was awarded the 2014 Times Higher Education Award for Outstanding Student Support.

2. Mobile Learning (One Year or Less)

In 2016, 51.3% of web browsing worldwide took place via mobiles and tablets, overtaking desktop browsing for the first time. Mobile devices allow for deeper, more connected learning and greater access to education in general. They have become “the gateways to personalised working and learning environments that facilitate the exploration of new subjects at each user’s pace.” There’s some impressive work being done in this field, as evidenced below.

Kent State University, USA: The SpedApps project aims to 1) develop a catalog of existing apps for special education as well as any studies that document the use of mobile learning in special education; 2) conduct additional research studies with apps given current gaps in the literature; and 3) develop new apps for mobile learning within special education, specifically focusing on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) content.

Colorado Technical University, USA: CTU Mobile is a higher education app designed with students, for students, “making them an integral part of design, development, beta testing, ongoing testing, feedback collection, and IT planning.” Features of the app include location-independent access to lectures, assignments, and discussion boards; status updates on grades and upcoming assignments; one-touch support from faculty and advisors; time management tools like calendars and to-do lists; and daily motivation in the form of encouragement and quotes from staff and CTU grads.

Purdue University, USA: Hotseat is a mobile app that allows learners to post questions and comments using whatever technology they have available—SMS texting, iOS and Android mobile apps, and desktop and mobile websites. Students can post anonymously to maintain privacy. Instructors can poll the class in real time to check for student understanding.

3. The Internet of Things (IoT) (2-3 Years)

The Internet of Things (IoT) consists of “objects endowed with computing power through processors or embedded sensors that are capable of transmitting information across networks.” When applied to student learning and campus activity, it can inform the direction of content delivery and institutional planning: “Institutions are partnering with industry to provide students with hands-on experiences designing and building IoT devices, equipping them with the skills to meet workforce needs.”

University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA: The Internet of Things System Research Center is a “hub for university-industry collaboration focused on learning, research, and hands-on investigation to foster deeper understanding, accelerated innovation and development, and successful deployment and adoption of IoT technologies and applications.” Companies have joined forces with the Center to offer students business development support for their ideas.

University of Texas at Arlington LINK Lab, USA: Researchers are investigating how emotions influence learning, using wearables to “monitor biological factors that correspond to emotional states.” Students fill out a questionnaire about general levels of attention and self-regulation in everyday life, report how they are feeling, and then complete an attention and self-regulation task on an iPad. They wear a wristband to track their heart rate and skin activity, which indicate how calm and engaged they are. The data can tell instructors whether students might not be ready to sit still and listen to a lecture, for example, or engage in certain types of learning activities.

University of New South Wales, Australia: As part of an ongoing IoT project, UNSW plans to deploy a network of sensors across its main Kensington campus. The sensors “are also expected to allow UNSW to manage energy consumption in campus buildings and ensure that workshops [are] equipped with the consumables and connectivity needed to meet student requirements and create a seamless the learning experience.”

4. Next-Generation LMS (2-3 Years)

“We have adopted the term next generation digital learning environment (NGDLE) for what should come next—after the LMS. The term pulls together several key themes. What comes next must be informed by the new learning-centered model that increasingly characterizes higher education practice (hence next generation). It must be digital, given that digital technology has become a component of virtually all teaching and learning practice. It must be about learning, since learning ties together learner and instructor. Finally, it must be an environment or ecosystem—a dynamic, interconnected, ever-evolving community of learners, instructors, tools, and content.” —Malcolm Brown, EDUCAUSE

University of Mary Washington, USA: UMW’s Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies developed a project called Domain of One’s Own to “enable faculty, staff, and students to register their own domain name and freely associate it with a hosted university webspace. The Division works closely with faculty to ensure the domains are well integrated into course activities.”

Salt Lake City Community College, USA: Salt Lake is among a handful of institutions that have adopted Lumen Learning’s MyOpenMath, an OER-based learning solution that has “significantly increased the affordability of course materials for students and helped bolster student success in developmental and college math courses.”

Johns Hopkins University, USA: JHU uses Osmosis, a LMS designed to help medical students learn the extensive content needed to navigate medical school. “Supported by a mobile app, the collaborative learning framework has led to higher success for users. The project team is also developing Open Osmosis, a crowdsourcing model for anyone to contribute content through open access models.”

5. Artificial Intelligence (4-5 Years)

From the report: “As institutions gather an increasing amount of data on student learning, they also need tools to mine and analyse it at scale; machine learning enterprise software including Jenzabar and IBM SPSS to help colleges and universities interpret the data to support student retention, improve financial aid programs, and predict future enrollment.”

“As the underlying technologies continue to develop, AI has the potential to enhance online learning, adaptive learning software, and research processes in ways that more intuitively respond to and engage with students.”

University of Michigan, USA: UM’s Artificial Intelligence Lab researches and develops assistive technology for those with physical and cognitive impairments. One of these projects involves designing a computer interface that automatically adjusts to anticipate the needs of the visually impaired.

National School of Engineers of Sousse, Tunisia: This school is investigating an AI tutoring system that recognises facial expressions as students engage in science experiments in remote and virtual labs. Called Remote Laboratory, the system provides a computer-based learning environment that allows students from anywhere to access and perform experiments on real laboratory equipment from a distance via the Internet.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA: MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab recently created a deep learning algorithm that observes still images and creates brief videos that simulate likely future events.

6. Natural User Interfaces (4-5 Years)

From the report: “Tablets and smartphones were among the first devices to allow computers to recognise and interpret physical gestures as a means of control. These NUIs enable users to engage in virtual activities with movements similar to what they would use in the real world, manipulating content intuitively. There is a rising level of interactive fidelity in systems that understand gestures, facial expressions, and their nuances, as well as the convergence of gesture-sensing technology with voice recognition. While there are many applications of gesture and voice recognition already, developments in haptic technology, tactile sensations that convey information to the user, are creating new areas of scientific inquiry and application in education.”

A&M University, USA: “A mechanical research project at Prairie View A&M University is combining freeform shape modeling with virtual reality techniques to improve aerospace, automobile, and model prototyping. The virtual sculpting process uses a PowerWall VR system and a haptic controller.”

Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong: Nursing students are using a haptic feedback system for medical procedures such as nasogastric tube placement training: “Inserting a plastic tube into the stomach for feeding or drainage is important in nursing training as misplacement could lead to complications or even death; using a computer-simulated virtual environment mitigates risk and allows for greater accuracy.”

University of Leon & University of Salamanca, Spain: Engineering researchers have developed a framework for building haptic feedback simulators in education. Simulators give students in fields such as civil engineering education, electronic engineering education, and surgery the opportunity to virtually interact with infrastructure, critical devices, and body tissues and organs, respectively. “Their goal is to provide a simulated environment where students can practice real tasks in a safer way and with no real consequences in fields as engineering or surgery.”


Saga Briggs is an author at InformED. You can follow her on Twitter@sagamilena or read more of her writing here.

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