Published on 2018/10/18

Unpacking A Vision for the Future with the 2018 NMC Horizon Report

The EvoLLLution | Unpacking A Vision for the Future with the 2018 NMC Horizon Report
By sharing examples of innovation and technological trends across the higher education industry, EDUCAUSE’s 2018 NMC Horizon Report is a resource for forward-thinking administrative leaders who want to position their institutions for change.
In August, EDUCAUSE released the 2018 NMC Horizon Report, which identifies and describes the higher education trends, challenges and developments in educational technology which are likely to have an impact on learning, teaching and creative inquiry in the coming years. Shortly after the report was released, The EvoLLLution sat down with Noreen Barajas Murphy to discuss its findings on the short-, mid- and long-term trends and challenges pertaining to technology adoption in higher education.

The EvoLLLution (Evo): The long-term trends section of the NMC Horizon Report identifies how important building cultures of innovation and increasing cross-institutional collaboration is to advancing technology adoption in higher education—yet these are both trends that can present significant cultural shifts in a change-averse industry. How can institutional leaders work to create environments on their campuses that are open to increased collaboration and innovation? 

Noreen Barajas-Murphy (NBM): This is one of the major challenges facing leaders on campuses, and yet it’s also an identified solution for creating more well-rounded students and citizens. A lot of the research we conducted around institutional innovators was about entrepreneurial thinking: encouraging students to not just think about inventing things, but to actually invent, using the institution as an incubator space. That way, when a student leaves the campus, they are ready to participate at a high creative level in society and the workforce.

Some of the trends identified in the report address the fact that making that space for collaboration and innovation is challenging, because there’s a scarcity of funding in higher education. That said, leaders are creating real added value by taking innovative approaches and collaborating outside of the institution. Those who invest in such initiatives strengthen the value proposition for students, and strengthen the purpose and goal of the college.

Evo: It’s interesting to hear you frame a culture of innovation as an institutional differentiator. How can institutions, colleges and universities make sure that they’re signaling to students that they are innovative centers?

NBM: To give you some context, EDUCAUSE took over the Horizon Report from the former New Media Consortium this year, so we’re carrying on the report as a legacy and as a resource for the future. In the past, the report had exemplars from institutions demonstrating their commitment to innovation, and we put out a similar call when we were developing this year’s Horizon Report. We had over a hundred different institutions submit exemplars, which showed us that there are many institutional leaders out there who are walking the walk when it comes to innovation.

Over 50 percent of the exemplars that were submitted were in a maturing makerspace. For example, there is an institution in Western Australia that has a distance-oriented program, and it is building a makerspace culture through the mail. Rather than build a single makerspace that people would have to go a great distance to get to physically, they developed small maker kits in a variety of subjects that can be distributed by mail. We thought that was a really interesting instance of expanding access to innovation, and we included it in our report.

We were also pleased to see the response to the call-out from community colleges. In one instance, a community college submitted an exemplar of an innovation program that was open not just to the students, but to faculty and the broader community.

A third exemplar in the makerspace area that really resonated for me was a mini-grant program, where grant recipients get a $300 Visa card, a sponsor from the campus, such as a faculty member or subject-matter expert, and a student mentee who works with the grant recipient in the makerspace. We saw that as a real instance of putting your money where your mouth is: an investment in creativity and innovation through a comprehensive program that allows the student to be an entrepreneur or innovator.

Evo: The Horizon Report highlighted the problem of institutional scaling–that is, the difficulty in scaling up technological solutions to institutional problems. To your mind, what can be done to overcome this challenge of scaling?

NBM: That’s the three-million-dollar question. We know a lot about barriers to technology adoption. We can identify them and make recommendations for bite-sized improvements to overcome them, but barriers and the factors that create them differ from institution to institution. Trying to scale adapted courseware is definitely one of the barriers we identified. We know that adapted technology can have a positive impact on students, but it’s difficult to scale, and it’s difficult to scale at different institutions for different reasons. At some institutions, this comes down to faculty barriers. At EDUCAUSE, we try to help people understand how faculty development and faculty incentives can help institutions successfully scale an initiative that has student success as its goal.

That said, institutions with a larger faculty pool might have different scaling issues. Through the Horizon Report, we hope to find recurring themes about scaling innovation, and we hope that some of the exemplars we provide can help other institutions figure out their own ways to grow.

Evo: What were some of the most surprising findings of this year’s report?

NBM: There were a couple of really exciting findings. Mostly, we were excited about the response to the call for exemplars. We had such a large response, and it was really exciting to see what people are doing.

The Horizon Report is often misinterpreted as EDUCAUSE predicting the future of higher education, but that’s not really its purpose. Rather, it’s something to help educators, higher ed leaders and industry leaders get a snapshot of what’s trending in any given year.

The report is made up of three sections: Key Trends Accelerating Technology Adoption in Higher Education; Significant Challenges Impeding Technology Adoption in Higher Education; and Important Developments in Educational Technology for Higher Education. It became really clear to us how different the third section is from the other two. The first two sections are more straightforward.

The third section discusses broad developments in technology which could have an impact on higher education. It’s where the report is most powerful in its creative thinking and forecasting. It’s where many of the expert panelists come to their conclusions through research and dialogue and voting.

As this is our first year producing this report, I think our depth of appreciation for how this work has flourished under NMC’s lead and how important it is for us to continue this through our investment of people and time has really come to light. EDUCAUSE is committed to and impressed by the quality of the Horizon Report, and we’re delighted to be able to continue it in the future.

Evo: As the Horizon Report’s findings become more publicized, how do you hope to see post-secondary leaders leverage its insights and findings?

NBM: In previous years, the Horizon Report showed the trends, challenges and developments across the report’s timeline. Last year, it looked at the broader impact areas for the first time, which readers can use as lenses through which to interpret different topics. For example, you can read the report through the lens of expanding access and equity, and see how certain initiatives we point to in the exemplars are trying to expand access and equity to students.

Another impact area that we thought was important involved leveraging data. Looking at the report through the lens of leveraging data, you can find different examples of leadership and useful recommendations. We hope that higher ed leaders can find additional resources to help them leverage data at their own institutions.

We had a lot of input from higher ed leaders who told us that the biggest impact the report has had on their practices is that it empowers them to make a case for a pilot project, or to pivot a project that is already being implemented. We thought that was very interesting that the report is being used as a resource when they need to make a case for investment.

Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about EDUCAUSE’s work on the Horizon Report?

NBM: We have every intention of producing a 2019 Horizon Report. We are going to continue with the methodology that was established by the NMC. There’s a really useful tool that was developed by the NMC team which takes the expert panel through the research and voting process, so we’ll be using that tool again. We’re planning to retain the same focus on content, but look at implementing a formatting change that was already being developed by NMC, which would make the report less a series of essays, and more a series of themes, trends and challenges.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Key Takeaways

  • While funding in higher education is at a premium, institutions that invest in innovative practices and policies are creating a “value add” for students that differentiates them from competitors.
  • Given its comprehensive overview of technological trends and their likely impacts on the industry over the short, medium and long term, the Horizon Report is useful for administrators looking to make logical cases for investment in innovative practices.
  • While many see the Horizon Report as a predictor of the academic industry’s future, its writers view it as a snapshot of the current moment, and as a real-time resource for today’s administrative leaders.