Beyond the Horizon Report: towards a new project

The Horizon Report, produced by the New Media Consortium, seems to be ending with that group’s liquidation.  (To learn more about the NMC’s sudden demise read here and here.)

What’s next?

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.

Dawn on Australia's Gold Coast

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.

Delphi from RAND

RAND’s graphic for Delphi.

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.

NMC Horizon wiki screenshot for 2017

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.

Phoenix from Harry Potter wiki

For Harry Potter fans.

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?

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17 Responses to Beyond the Horizon Report: towards a new project

  1. Jonathan N says:

    Love your summarising and championing of the community that has chosen to continue on Bryan 🙂 Thanks again and again for that. Your thinking here also lines up so well with how I have stated visioning the move forward in my sketch etc at https://medium.com/future-u/beyond-horizons-35242bfcb79e.
    I was thinking Phoenix tho is more about rebirth now rather than the future of education? Perhaps just keep any new project streamlined and synced with the slack group as ‘Beyond Horizons’ Report (or even use Herald, Bulletin, Sitrep etc?)

    I’d also suggest a clean break from the NMC board of late 2017 – basically to keep maximum distance from trustee/ legal happenings and from those tied up with them (who will naturally have different priorities as creditors than a new group), and so its a clean break seen as separate from whatever parts of the old NMC do eventually get sold and find a seperate home somewhere else.

  2. A new project might also take better advantage of new media options as time goes on, including video/AR/VR to help learners and participants explore/discover. It would be nice if any new “trend” discussed in an Annual report were given a permanent home so its development could be tracked over multiple years. So when “Redesigning Learning Spaces” appeared in 2017, a permanent home for the ongoing tracking and discussion of that would be created (maybe a multimedia wiki or reddit like community, with news/research links). This might also allow for periodic reflections back on whether or not earlier reports were too optimistic or pessimistic about any given topic.

    Balancing expert review with the modern trend toward mass-inclusion is still required. An “upvote” from one person simply doesn’t always carry the same weight (expertise, bias, etc).

  3. Seth says:

    I agree with Michael about periodic reflections. I think one of the great opportunities in rebooting this report is to address Audrey Watter’s critique that the reports perhaps didn’t build and reflect on previous years.

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  5. Kay Oddone says:

    I have been following this sad story on your blog with interest. I’d love to be involved in any future iterations that are developed.I really like the idea of ‘permanent homes’ that may be developed over time described by Michael Flood (above). Here are my thoughts. http://www.linkinglearning.com.au/new-horizons/

  6. cljennings says:

    Bryan, Thank you for this. I appreciate your efforts to help a stunned community learn what really happened…and to help is find a way forward. (I especially appreciate your kindness and empathy so clearly communicated in this writing and elsewhere with regard to the real human toll this closing is exacting).
    I have read your post 3 times now…I’m thinking about where/if I can contribute. Aside from just generally hoping for a HR alternative to take hold (and the community that will draw from and attract)…Fwiw…here are some things that stand out for me when I review it again:
    1. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE that you open with the idea of a “…new project…that explores the future of education and technology…” NOT the future of education technology. Truly, the only way forward imho is to focus less and less on the tech and more and more on the education – and the people.
    2. “actionable intelligence”. Yes. That’s what the HR was to many. It had “street cred” because of the mutual respect we all had for the process and the individuals involved in its annual creation (no small achievement). I would hope for the same with any new effort.
    3. “a more fluid and continuous object” Hmmm… I like that. Also, the idea of “digital permanence” is interesting. I know they are “old school”, but I rather like the idea of a wiki – where “expertise” occurs on equal footing and contributions are open and easy. I don’t know what that looks like over time…maybe like the mother of all wikis. IDK.
    My last thoughts (for now)…I wonder if there is a place for “fails”. For writers to say “futures” that came to them, they tried, and they failed. As an example, I appreciate the Teaching Fails sections in JITP: https://jitp.commons.gc.cuny.edu/category/teaching-fails/ Where can we talk about predictions/future forecasting that does not come to pass, or happens in a completely unexpected way?
    Thanks again for the forum recording, for this post and especially for caring enough to redirect attention in more productive ways.

  7. The results can of course be presented in various forms and it’s important to have global involvement but to have real clout with decision and policy makers it needs to be endorsed and supported by a credible international educational organisation. Many people use Horizon to help pitch the case for educational technology to often skeptical bosses and in cases like this a crowdsourced effort would not impress them. A rigorously researched report, backed by credible organisations and with truly global coverage is essential for this target group.
    That doesn’t of course rule out more innovative formats as proposed above but we need to stay traditional as well.

  8. maulett says:

    Hi Bryan,

    Apologies for the delay getting back to you on this. It’s not for lack of excitement, but these are busy days putting together the business plan, monetization strategy, and starting to get developers working on the project. It’s all very exciting to be moving forward quickly on this project!

    Concerning your email about a new project… I wanted to start by saying how sad it is that NMC collapsed into itself like a dying star. The Horizon Report is just one of the many aspects of NMC that will be missed. That said, I am a huge advocate for the idea that within every crisis there is an opportunity to change for the better in much more dramatic ways than would have otherwise been possible. And I believe that is the case here, and you are the person perfectly positioned to lead us to a new and improved Futures in Education project.

    Let me start by clarifying how the Horizon Report impacted me. Specifically, these reports were particularly valuable to get me up to speed with the top trends in educational design and education technology (mostly the latter)—though I think educational design is a technology…so….they’re philosophically they’re all EdTech to me. That’s to say that for a relatively junior person working in the education technology space, these reports—alongside FTTE—gave me a huge leg up in terms of spending a few hours of reading and then being relatively cognizant of the major trends across the sector. Reading back through several FTTEs and Horizon Reports, I was able to piece together a relatively coherent 5 year view of the changes in EdTech. The horizon report was invaluable for working on the Academic Technology Strategic Plan at Pacific, and it was with these reports at hand that I wrote that plan. The report was also valuable

    Concerning the future, as stated I think you should move forward leading a new project that can carry forward some of the work done on the Horizon Report in conjunction with much more if possible. As you indicated, we have the chance to design the report that we’ll need in the 2020s. I will say that there is something nice about the Delphi Method mixed with your trends analysis in FTTE. Depending on the extent to which you would like to keep FTTE as a separately branded product that you offer, an integrated project with yearly forecasts and monthly trends could be hugely valuable.

    As it relates to the technologies used to create and communicate the project, I imagine different technologies will be useful for creating versus disseminating. There are a variety of tools that are available for working collaboratively on a project like this, and I think the technology for creating the project should be geared towards whatever the needs are of the teams that produce the report. The structures of a Delphi method may be beautifully suited to wikis for creation, but perhaps trends would be different. In terms of communication, I think video would be outstanding, but not on its own. I don’t print much, but I do print the horizon report because it is so valuable to go back to repeatedly over the year. Videos are less valuable for returning to that information. Though perhaps there could be something akin to a mixture between the horizon report and your FTTE shindigs. I can imagine an expert-led webinar on each one of the topics in the horizon report would be incredibly valuable, and perhaps those could take place over the course of the year. That would spread out the information over time and allow people to participate. I can also imagine a podcast version of the webinars being valuable for people too. So long as key visuals are uploaded as mobile-friendly pdfs that are easily clickable in the podcast description, then the podcast version of the webinars could also have value for those pod-minded people out there.

    While I am a HUGE fan of blockchain, I’m not sure that that particular technology is needed in this case. Though I do like the idea of digital permanence for these findings, and having the findings being housed in a non-centralized manner would be good. Because, I imagine one of the concerns over the NMC implosion is the loss of information and research housed within that organization. That is, indeed, a problem that could be avoided through advanced planning and making sure the information is permanently available to all. That said, the blockchain presents a wide variety of cool options for individuals to financially support the project through the acquisition of tokens that house all of the historical information of the project. There are a variety of non-profits that are using tokenization quite effectively. I’ll be happy to lend my thoughts to this approach if it becomes an idea worth pursing in depth.

    I love the idea of scenarios being made into VR games or experiences. That could be genuinely very cool, though extremely time consuming. If there was a way to create VR experiences of some of the trends, it could be great for people who want to implement these innovations into their schools or facilities. The Horizon Report is valuable for insights, but often times it would not be clear to everyone what these trends are. That seems especially true with the trends and technologies that are further out on the horizon. For example, drawing from the last report, I can imagine that many people really didn’t fully understand what AI in education or Natural User Interfaces looks like in terms of transforming education. So there is much more work that can be done at creating not only a report for the future but also more explanatory content that shows people what these transformations look like.

    Concerning the criticisms of the Horizon Report, I agree that you/we should include those criticisms into the new project. Focusing on the tech is good, but there are a variety of ways that these technologies and trends impact the future of what work looks like in education. So separating out some of the learning science trends from the tech trends, and examining some of the ways in which those technologies are changing the nature of educational work could be valuable. Though I imagine a few of the criticisms stem, perhaps, from some resistance to the types of changes indicated in the report. Admittedly, for many universities or people working in universities, the report is somewhat grim news because their institutions are so ill-prepared to handle the changes that are sweeping across the industry. Perhaps connecting the trends more directly to the organizations and resources needed to make those changes could be valuable for people who want to implement these ideas, not just see what is coming next.

    Concerning how we create a new project, I agree that it almost surely needs to become a group effort. If it seems impossible to have this be a group effort, then you should definitely consider creating a project on your own that could carry forward some of that work. Indeed, the result will be better with a group effort, though, given the scope of a project like this. While I am not a heavy hitting expert in the area, I would certainly offer any support that I can provide to a project of this nature. One of my goals for the company I’m building is to create a platform to experiment and push the future of online learning forward. Though it’ll be for a specific group of leaders in healthcare, not in higher ed, the underlying platform will be designed as a space to push learning innovation forward. As such, contributing to a project like this one could also be valuable to me personally and professionally, and I like to think I have something to offer even if I’m not working for a university. As things shape up, keep me in mind in case I can be of use to the efforts.

    Not sure how much of that will be useful for you as you think through the generation of a new project like this. I figure you are gathering information, and so this is a bit more information for you…Another datapoint.

    Unfortunately I have a meeting that overlaps this FTTE this week, so I will be absent. Though I’ll be eager to watch the video on youtube when it is available.

    Wishing you well & looking forward to learning about what’s next for a new futures project.

    Warmly, Mark

    >

    • My dear Mark, many, many thanks for such a rich and thoughtful response. This is a post on its own, or an essay. It’s far more than a single datapoint.

      Great thoughts on tech for production versus publication, on criticism, on VR, on the old Horizon Report.

      “tokenization” – can you flesh this out a bit?

      I really appreciate your offer. Noted!

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  10. Michael Young says:

    I would second 2 important possibilities arising from criticism. While I found the NMC Horizon Reports of high value for teacher development for technology coaching, it was a bit frustrating that trend data on previous year’s predictions was not included.

    And the 2nd possibility is to argue against the separation of Learning Science trends from tech trends. In the the Report’s own 2018 findings it is the rise in new forms of interdisciplinary studies that may mark the future. Why suggest we once again silo the trends, when in fact it is the nexus of learning science, learning theory, and the affordances of tech that have practical value (see TPACK.org for example)

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