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3D Printing, Gamification To Impact STEM Education Within 3 Years

A new report from the Horizon Project has identified the 12 technologies will have a significant impact on STEM+ education over the next five years.

The use of big data, instruction through mobile devices, online learning (including MOOCs), and virtual and remote laboratories that emulate real ones are the technologies that will have the greatest impact on "STEM+" education over the next year. These are the findings of a group of global experts who weighed in on emerging technologies that will most influence education over the next five years. STEM+ covers the disciplines of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) as well as additional skills for applying knowledge of those subjects in the real world.

A report compiled by a consortium of organizations identified 12 technologies that will dominate conversations in education through 2018, as well as the top trends and challenges that will affect these shifts as they unfold.

The 28-page "Technology Outlook for STEM+ Education 2013-2018: An NMC Horizon Project Sector Analysis" was released as a collaborative effort among four organizations: the Austin, TX-based New Media Consortium (NMC); Madrid-based Centro Superior para la Enseñanza Virtual (CSEV); the Departamento de Ingeniería Eléctrica, Electrónica y de Control at the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED), an international distance education university based in Spain; and IEEE, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Education Society.

As with previous NMC Horizon Projects, this one called on "acknowledged experts" — 39 of them to be precise — to review and comment on dozens of articles, reports, essays, RSS feeds, and other materials pertaining to emerging technology. Then the participants used a wiki to address research questions. That input drove a consensus-building process where selections were then prioritized through an iterative ranking system to derive the final results.

The Project declared that four technologies would enter mainstream use in the next year:

  • Learning analytics, the use of data to improve student retention and provide more personalized instruction;
  • Mobile learning, facilitating education through mobile devices;
  • Online learning, which is undergoing massive "experimentation" to uncover "solutions [for] assessment and learning at scale that are completely fresh and new"; and
  • Virtual and remote laboratories, Web applications that emulate the operation of real labs to allow students to "practice" experiments without the use of physical components.

Over the next two to three years, four additional technologies will come to the forefront:

  • 3D printing, for modeling and prototyping;
  • Games and gamification, to motivate and train students;
  • Immersive learning environments, to mimic realistic situations in training students and providing new ways for them to practice their skills; and
  • Wearable technology, such as Google Glass, to generate new kinds of data that can be integrated into learning experiences.

Within four to five years, the following technologies will emerge:

  • Flexible displays, such as screens that are pliable and can be folded or wrapped around curved surfaces;
  • The Internet of Things, in which objects can communicate information about themselves through a network;
  • Machine learning, computers that can "act and react without being explicitly programmed to do so"; and
  • Virtual assistants, new ways of interacting with computing devices.

According to NMC CEO Larry Johnson, the Horizon Project is used by campus and school leaders and others in the education segment as a "springboard" for discussions around emerging technology. "By examining these technologies through a STEM+ lens, the report will help educators to think more critically about how emerging technology can engage learners in the sciences, engineering, and mathematics and push the boundaries on how they relate to the world around them.

"It is clear that many technologies that for other areas of learning are further away from mainstream use, are being integrated much faster into STEM disciplines. Learning analytics is an excellent example, as is the cluster of interesting ideas within wearable computing. For many of the technologies on our watch lists, STEM teachers are at the leading edge of innovation and experimentation."

Added IEEE's Russ Meier, "The report provides a roadmap toward a near future where ubiquitous computing technologies cultivate learning both in and outside of the classroom. Working together, researchers and teachers can use the report as a guide to focus their energy on the technological areas that are mature enough to support enriched educational environments today."

The report offered 10 trends that over the next five years are expected to influence technology decisions both in education and the wider world:

  1. Education is moving away from traditional face-to-face instruction to include online learning, hybrid learning, and collaborative models;
  2. Citizen science projects are becoming much more common, providing students with opportunities to participate "in real STEM projects";
  3. The role of the educator is evolving in a context where information is available everywhere;
  4. Students want to use their own technology for learning;
  5. The "maker" movement is permeating STEM education;
  6. Cloud-based services such as Google Apps and YouTube are allowing sharing of media and projects for innovations in education;
  7. Computer-based assessment is becoming increasingly integrated into learning environments;
  8. Education is adapting to new sources of "open" — open content, open data, and open resources;
  9. Learning and studying takes place anywhere and anytime; and
  10. MOOCs are on the rise, especially in STEM subjects, as alternatives or supplements to traditional courses.

The report also enumerated 10 challenges that are expected to be the most significant barriers in STEM+ education over that same period:

  1. Current technology and practices can't adequately keep up with growing demands for personalized learning;
  2. New forms of academic publishing and research aren't well understood or fully accepted by academic decision-makers;
  3. Teachers and faculty don't always use new technologies in their instruction or research;
  4. The digital literacy of students isn't fully acknowledged as a vital skill by STEM teachers or faculty;
  5. Attempts at cross-institutional collaboration face hurdles of authentication and access policies;
  6. Traditional models of education are facing fierce competition from new models;
  7. While MOOCs are showing how open learning happens, what's less well understood is how open teaching and open research can be done through similar efforts;
  8. The STEM fields are still taught as "a set of facts" instead of as a way to interpret the subject matter, dampening the drive for students to become continuously curious;
  9. Education organizations are structured to leave little room for experimentation or innovation; and
  10. Math needs to be redesigned to incorporate computer science skills, including coding.

The report is freely available for on NMC's site.