2009 Horizon Report: what you already knew and perhaps what you didn’t

EDUCAUSE and the New Media Consortium have released the 2009 edition of the Horizon Report.

Here is something you probably already knew:

There is a growing need for formal instruction in key new
skills, including information literacy, visual literacy, and
technological literacy.
The skills involved in writing and
research have changed from those required even a few years ago.
Students need to be technologically adept, to be able to collaborate
with peers all over the world, to understand basic content and media
design, and to understand the relationship between apparent function
and underlying code in the applications they use daily.

Ya think? The Advisory Board lists this as the primary "critical challenge" facing higher education. So where does this begin for rhetoric and composition? We might have some sense of where the discipline stands overall by looking at the primary journals or attending CCCC or reading the recently-added technology plank to the WPA Outcomes Statement for FYC. What you'll find in the latter is fairly vague, which is understandable since it needs to be flexible enough to meet many institutional contexts. Hopefully, that flexibility will extend to meeting the kinds of emerging technologies discussed in the Horizon Report.

As you probably know, the Report identifies six technologies divided into three temporal categories: one year or less, two to three years, and four to five years. In the most immediate category are "mobiles" and "cloud computing." These are technologies that are already at work at many universities and in many rhetoric/composition/writing classrooms, though they are far, far, far from being recognized as integral components to rhet/comp instruction, as the report's "critical challenge" quoted above would suggest.

Part of the challenge with the mobile business lies in what technology students have. Most students, at least at Cortland, have mobile phones and mp3 players. That means mobile access to a variety of media consumption (e.g. iTunesU), communication (texting, microblogging, email, Facebook), and media production (audio, photo, and video). Given the differences in student access, right now, it seems mostly a matter of making material and interaction available over mobile networks.

To me, cloud computing is even more prevalent. The Report uses this term to cover everything from Flickr and YouTube to blogs and wikis. Basically it is the move to put applications, services, and data on the network. So in a class you may have FTF time and books, but beyond those ever other interaction is taking place in the "clouds." Even the traditional CMS might be understood in these terms. Certainly this networked workspace corresponds with increasingly mobile access.

So those are things you probably do know…

Of course, you're probably also familiar with geo-tagging. It's the next piece of business in the Report, but as they note, recent technologies have made geolocation a much more broadly employed technology. Obviously this offers a whole new way to write about place. In fact not only is it an offer; it is likely a necessity. Geolocation gives us a new way of thinking about the intersection of media. Take a look at www.hypercities.com for an excellent example of how this might work.

"Personal Webs" is fourth on the list and is an interesting take on our increasing ability to customize our access to media. As they write

The ability to tag, categorize, and publish work online, instantly,
without the need to understand or even touch the underlying
technologies provides a host of opportunities for faculty and students.
By organizing online information with tags and web feeds, it is a
simple matter to create richly personal resource collections that are
easily searchable, annotated, and that support any interest.

I think this is something our students might actually understand. In my view, this is akin to what we are doing all the time on Facebook. Analogous practices can be developed for research purposes, but I think there is clearly a space, if not a need, for rhetorical instruction in understanding how these practices might develop.

In the four-to-five year category are "semantic aware applications" and "smart objects." These are clearly inter-related. The smart objects will gather the data that will be collected by the semantic aware applications. It's fundamentally a matter of every thing getting smarter and more connected. I think about Bruce Sterling's "spime" in this context, and I see it as clearly connected to the tasks of the humanities and rhetoric and composition. For one this, spimes are compositional technologies, always writing their own stories, sending perpetual staus updates. Composers in spime networks will certainly recognize that the compositional process is not "inside." Research will mean intelligent search agents pushing data toward you.

Just as a side note, if you go back to the 2004 Horizon Report, you'll find the two long-term technologies were knowledge webs and context aware computing. Knowledge webs was defined as "a term that describes a dynamic concept of individual and group
knowledge generation and sharing, with technology used to make
connections between knowledge elements clear, to distribute knowledge
over multiple pathways, and to represent knowledge in ways that
facilitate its use." Context aware computing represents an ability to "interpret contextual information and use it to aid decision-making and influence interactions." I think these things are fairly obvious in the mobile and cloud computing trends that are upon us now.

So given the reasonable assumption that semantic aware applications and smart objects might be upon us in four-five years, what do we do? How do we address incoming graduate students in rhet/comp who will be hitting the job market in four-five years at a time when the ability to interact with "smart objects" will perhaps be as desired as the ability to make use of cloud computing applications?