The Future of Technology in Education (Part 2: How The 2014 K-12 Horizon Report Gets it Wrong)


The Future of Technology in Education (Part 2: How The 2014 K-12 Horizon Report Gets it Wrong)

Please see my previous post titled ‘The Future of Technology in Education (Part 1: How The K-12 Horizon Report 2014 Gets it Right.)’ for an introduction to the NMC Horizon Report: 2014 K-12 Edition (HR14) in which I summarize the many exciting findings of HR14. In this post I will only be considering the oversights and misconstructions contained in the report.

  • What’s This?


The introductory section of HR14 contains this graphic showing Innovative Pedagogical Practices. And although I realise the HR14 is mainly about emerging technologies and their potential effect on education, pedagogy is closely intertwined with these technologies. HR14 hardly ever expands on this pedagogy wheel at all, and I cannot help but think that they’ve missed an opportunity to spread the word about these important teaching, learning and management practices. Simply listing them is not enough. For teachers who become inspired by the content of HR14, a section (perhaps as an appendix) expanding on these pedagogical practices would be a wonderful opportunity to explore twenty-first century education in even greater depth. (As near as I can tell, the graphic comes from here.)

A few points in particular I would like have had addressed include:

  • How exactly can emotional intelligence be developed by means of classroom technology?
  • What are some recommended ways of moving towards cross- and trans-disciplinary integration? Are there any applications and technologies which would facilitate this?
  • What are some examples of ‘engaging assessment formats’? What are the best practices in this regard?
  • How exactly do we ‘recognize’ informal and non-formal learning? What is the difference between these two terms? Can technology aid the process of integration in any way?
  • I would have loved for the panel to have expanded on teaching to multiple intelligences and multiple modalities, especially in the light that researchers Cedar Riener and Daniel Willingham have (erroneously, in my humble opinion) found that ‘there is no credible evidence that learning styles exist’ HR14 missed a great opportunity to set things right here.

The Organization and Leadership categories could also have been expanded significantly – perhaps also as a separate appendix because, as any teacher knows, management types prefer bite-sized nuggets to take away. A quick summary and some practical suggestions around monitoring quality, creating innovative timetables and services would have been of great value here – as would more detail on encouraging social inclusion and equity.

Finally, ICT infrastructure is a huge consideration in implementing and integrating technology in schools. Recommendations as to best practice (in terms of physical infrastructure, management systems and the like) would have been of value.

  • Digital Citizenship and Safety Online

HR14 addresses the issue of the security of students’ data particularly as it relates to cloud storage. But it misses out entirely on one of the major concerns we should all be addressing as more and more of our students do more and more of their learning on-line: how do we keep them safe? To my mind, schools must place the highest priority on the following aspects of digital citizenship before a single one of them is allowed to use the internet for learning:

  • What personal details to share and what not to share online.
  • How to create hackproof passwords.
  • How to conduct themselves online – the basics of good netiquette.
  • How to filter, block and otherwise avoid nefarious companies, groups and individuals.
  • How to evaluate the potential pitfalls of downloading and installing software from the internet.
  • Taking care to establish a good internet identity.
  • How to conduct themselves on social media (including how to respond to cyberbullying).
  • How to avoid inappropriate and / or untrustworthy content online.
  • How to avoid plagiarizing content.
  • Separate Critical Thinking From Complex Thinking

HR 14 states that

The term “complex thinking” refers … to the ability to understand complexity, a skill that is needed to comprehend how systems work in order to solve problems. Complex thinking could be described as an application of systems thinking, which is the capacity to decipher how individual components work together as part of a whole, dynamic unit that creates patterns over time. Computational thinking, too, is related to the notion of complex thinking. Computational thinking entails logical analysis and organization of data; modeling (sic), abstractions, and simulations; and identifying, testing, and implementing possible solutions. Emphasis on these approaches in education helps learners understand how the world works and equips them with skills deemed essential in solving complex problems.

This is so jumbled as to be almost unintelligible. And this is my greatest criticism of the HR14: They’ve missed the opportunity to discuss the value of nurturing critical thinking by conflating it with complex / computational thinking. What they should be talking about is the value of the adopting the scientific method in teaching kids to find, evaluate, analyse and synthesize information. Why call it ‘computational thinking’? This is a wretched and obfuscatory term which I can only think was added to appease certain members of the panel.

Critical thinking is not a ‘difficult challenge’ at all. It is one that is relatively simple to teach and implement. Teacher must realize, though, that it is not just ‘thinking for yourself’, it is a systematic, scientific and logical methodology which needs to be taught.

  • Overlooked Emerging Technologies & Strategies

The following technologies were not discussed in enough depth in the HR14 report. I do feel that they will begin making an impact in education inside the next five years, and thus were worthy of more in-depth exploration:

  • 3D Video
  • Location Intelligence
  • Makerspaces
  • Crowdsourcing
  • Augmented Reality
  • Affective Computing
  • Electrovibration


  • Uncomfortable Technologies: Learning Analytics and The Internet of Things

HR14 does focus on two technologies which I feel are out of place in the report.

The first, ‘Learning Analytics’ is described by the Report as:

… a process of gathering and analyzing large amounts of detail about individual student interactions in online learning activities. The goal is to build better pedagogies, empower students to take an active part in their learning, target at-risk student populations, and assess factors affecting completion and student success.

All of this makes my liberal soul deeply uncomfortable. It all seems a little too ‘Big Brother’ to me. I prefer the direction in which students become more responsible for their own learning by being training in the skills of meta-cognition and reflection. This is what leads to student empowerment – more monitoring and top-down control. There are better, more student-friendly, less high-handed ways to diagnose program effectiveness, personalize education and to diagnose those students in need of remedial help. I have written about the problems I have with ‘learning analytics’ and big data here.

The second emerging technology which receives focus is the ‘Internet of Things’. This might be cool and nifty, but I simply do not see it having any kind of meaningful effect on education. The only possible use I can see in having connected ‘things’ on campus is, as the report suggests, smart monitoring systems where ‘students are recognized as soon as they step foot on campus’ – and presumably monitored throughout their day. Again, this smacks of the kind of ‘Big Brotherism’ I despise.

  • Conclusion

After all of this, you might think the Horizon Report 2014 is riddled with problems. But it really isn’t! The bits that are good are fantastic and hit home. Please see my previous post to have a look at some of the many ways that HR14 gets it right.


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