Will the Horizon project become a historical artifact and recede into the past?
Or can we create a new project, one that explores the future of education and technology, using some of Horizon’s strengths while building a fundamentally new effort? Put another way, if we wanted to create a new project from scratch in 2018, what would it look like?
With this post I’d like to kick off a process that could lead to a prototype or even a new publication. I hope interested parties can take part as they see fit, and that as many people partake as possible. I plan on following up with the effort through the blog, other technologies, and in person meetings.
On a personal note, Horizon meant a lot to me, professionally, as it did for thousands of others. I’d like to respect its history and memory by creating something new. To that end I will devote my professional expertise and some (scant!) resources to development.
To be clear, in this post I am not talking about the 2018 Horizon Report for higher education. That one is roughly half done, and its fate will be decided by the bankruptcy process. Here I’m referring to what we can do beyond that. I am also not writing to represent the NMC, as I am not an employee, creditor, or debtor; I am writing as an independent, thinking about a different project.
Let’s begin with questions. I’ll supply some answers that might look like a FAQ, but are really designed to take the questions further.
And let’s creatively open our minds to the full range of possibilities. This could be fun.
Q: What was the value of the Horizon Report?
A: Some institutional decision-makers found it useful for strategizing their next moves (hiring, purchasing, organization, etc.). Others saw inspiration in creating new projects. Perhaps the key aspect was getting ahead of the present, anticipating what could be coming down the pike. Some referred to it as actionable intelligence. One appreciative observer adds that
the report is a great corpus to analyze recurring conversations and singular topics in the edtech community.
In my experience, the value of trend forecasts like the Horizon Report lies less in offering correct prognosis about the future and more in inspiring discourse within the community by depicting alternative futures for educational technology adoption…
Q: What methods should a new project use, if it wants to provide that value?
A: Horizon used a version of the Delphi method, which is a process for getting experts to forecast the future of their domain specialty. It’s a classic, invented by RAND in the 1950s, and has well known strengths and weaknesses. A new project could easily adopt a form of Delphi, configuring it strategically.
There are other methods out there as well. The futures world has an established toolbox, which I’ve sketched out here and here. Scenario creation is a popular one, combining imagination with role-playing and a somewhat detailed vision of a possible future (examples). There is trends analysis, which identifies present-day trends then extrapolates them into the future; my FTTE report is an example of this. Prediction markets bring in gaming and different social dynamics (I used to run one for the National Institute of Technology in Liberal Education; alas, there is no archive; I did publish an article about the project).
There are others. A new project could pick up one or more of these.
Q: What form should a new research project take?
A: Horizon was a report, a clearly demarcated, identifiable, and short pdf document, often appearing on an annual basis. In 2018, is that the best way to communicate such research? Would a more fluid and continuous object be better, such as a wiki or Google Doc? Would a series of short bursts work for more people than a single bundle of findings? Conversely, should a research project have multiple dimensions, combining different production and release modalities?
Are there other and/or newer technologies we could use? (Let’s talk about specific technologies in the next question.) Should face-to-face discussions play a role?
Q: What technologies should people use to produce and consume it?
A: Horizon has grown in web pages (wikis, a browser-based voting tool) and appeared in published form through pdfs.
In 2018, are other platforms better suited for producing and sharing such research?
For example, video continues to dominate the digital world in all kinds of ways. Should a new research project appear as one or more video files? Or consider podcasting, a decade and a half old technology that now enjoys a new renaissance. Would a new futures effort be better communicated through a podcast series? Can we use big data and new analytics to learn and/or publish more? The Shaping Tomorrow project is a fascinating example of this.
Other alternatives come easily to mind. Imagine storing findings in a blockchain, giving them a kind of digital permanence so subsequent researchers can return to them. A team could produce a virtual or mixed reality experience, such as a scenario or presentation. Another group might build an augmented reality layer superimposed over a campus, overlaying a future on top of the present. (For my money the great experts to consult on this are Maya Georgievna and Emory Craig) We could use or create a game to stir the imagination, like the one built by Canisius College students, or the old Virtual-U computer game, possibly updated, or a version of The Thing from the Future.
Q: What about criticisms of Horizon?
A: People have criticized Horizon since the beginning (one example) (another) and for many reasons (too focused on tech to the exclusion of non-tech dimensions; not enough rigor about actual technology adoption; no looking back at previous iterations; too commercial; etc.). From my view, I think we should aggregate these criticisms to see how they can shape and temper a new project. I’d love to include critics in the process as well.
Q: What should we call such a project?
A: I like “Prospect”. Ceredwyn recommends “Phoenix”. We crowd-sourced this question during the holidays and saw a ton of other terms: edge, parallax, genesis, ambit, and more (check this post).
Q: How could we actually create a new project?
A: Looking ahead, this seems to require a group effort. I could produce one myself, but don’t have the time, and think the result would be better if it drew on a variety of backgrounds and imaginations.
Such a team should be diverse along many axes: gender, race, geography (yes, this should be international or transnational), and profession (think librarian, IT leader, faculty member, museum administrator, start-up founder, foundation staffer…). It could be physically colocated, but a distributed team seems more likely to come together. The team should be able to tap into multiple networks for intelligence and feedback. We should reach out to global leaders and experts for feedback and participation, depending on availability. Horizon veterans and NMC staff could be sought, ditto.
We could follow a design thinking process, starting from ideas and developing a prototype. This could occur in a face-to-face meeting, or online, or a series of such events. The prototype could be unveiled the world as a proof of concept, and a calling card for support.
Phoenix/Prospect/whatever-we-call-it would need support beyond the goodwill of participants and fans. The Horizon Project used to draw on NMC staff resources, enhanced by support from the EDUCAUSE ELI group. Would a new project arise within another institution, or would it be independent? Would it require a board and multiple sponsors? Could crowdfunding suffice to keep it going? Should it sell results and/or associated products?
Would the project maintain a group of experts over time, or cycle some off to keep things fresh? What kind of assessment mechanism would work best?
Should the new project be conducted in the open, with content available for all, like an open source software build? Or should some or all of it occur offline, like the way the Horizon Report was written (as opposed to the Delphi derivation of findings), perhaps to allow privacy for participants in a challenging online environment, at least in certain nations?
Q: Should we do this?
A: I think so. Please share your thoughts.
Q: What questions and answers do you have?