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What's on the Horizon? Clouds, of Course


from "The Gazette," 9 March 2009


The 2009 Horizon Report has just been released, the result of a collaboration between the New Media Consortium (NMC) and EDUCAUSE. The Horizon Report "seeks to identify and describe emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on teaching, learning, research or creative expression within learning-focused organizations." Each annual Horizon Report identifies six emerging technologies or practices anticipated to enter the mainstream of academic institutions within the next five years. This year's report pinpoints mobiles and cloud computing as the two key technology trends that are likely to be widely adopted in teaching and learning environments within a year's time.


Mobile devices have been around for a number of years, but what they can do has grown by leaps and bounds. Making phone calls, taking pictures, recording audio and video, storing data, music and movies, connecting to the Internet - these features have long been standard. Within the last year, the mobile device has undergone yet another significant shift in functionality. The newest mobiles have multi-touch displays, access the Internet at increasingly higher speeds, feature GPS (global positioning systems), and run third-party applications. And, since not having a mobile is the exception rather than the rule these days, expanding their use in teaching and learning environments only makes sense. Delivering content, capturing data and utilizing third-party applications to learn languages, music, math and more, are all helping to define the mobile as a universal communication tool.


The other technology trend anticipated to have a significant impact in teaching and learning environments within the next year is known as cloud computing. For many years, an image of a cloud has traditionally been the metaphor used to depict the Internet, primarily because it's not tied to any particular location or owner. The term cloud computing has more recently emerged, referring to the trend of accessing applications, processing power and storage solutions over the Internet instead of on your personal computer. Common examples include such web-based applications as Google Docs, YouTube and Gmail. Cloud computing has a number of advantages for the end user, including accessibility from virtually any location, inexpensive data storage, and no requirement to maintain or even understand the technology that drives it. On the flip side, users must take the leap of faith of entrusting their data to an outside entity, raising issues of both privacy and security.


Cloud computing is become increasingly popular in educational settings as it overcomes many of the challenges of site licensing, installation and maintenance of individual software packages. It also eases the expense of having to invest in and maintain personal computers possessing lightning-fast processors and an abundance of storage. Instead, cloud computing lets you access email, word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, collaboration tools and more within a web browser, while all the software and files are stored in the cloud.


If you would like to learn more about these and other innovative technologies being used in teaching and learning environments, visit the Emerging Technology Centre (ETC) in Mackintosh-Corry Hall. The ETC is open to Queen's faculty, staff and students. It provides a showcase of multimedia resources for the Queen's community, and serves as a gathering space for experimentation with new technologies for teaching and learning. Staff in the ETC is available for consultation, advice and recommendations on the use of emerging technologies in teaching and learning environments, and open house events and workshops are scheduled regularly to showcase new technologies. 


Queen's is a proud member of both the NMC and EDUCAUSE.

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