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Published September 14, 2020 | Multidisciplinary

Horizon Report 2020 versus COVID-19

On March 2nd, 2020, this year’s installment of the Teaching and Learning Edition of the EDUCAUSE Horizon Report landed on the Internet. The WHO was less than 2 weeks away from announcing that the propagation of COVID-19 had reached global pandemic status. This crisis would go on to shift the educational context in a major way and one might argue that it has actually accelerated the timeframe for multiple trends and practices identified in this report.

Each year, the Horizon Report looks at the higher education landscape to see what technologies and trends will impact the development of colleges and universities. Profweb has filed articles on past editions of the Horizon Report in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018.

For the 2020 edition, the Horizon Expert Panel, which included 3 educators from Canada, named 15 social, technological, economic, higher education, and political trends that “signal departures from the past, that are influencing the present, and that will almost certainly help shape the future.” (p.4) A number of technologies and practices that are emerging or increasingly prevalent in higher education are also identified.

Information excerpted from: 2020 EDUCAUSE Horizon Report, Teaching and Learning Edition (Louisville, CO: EDUCAUSE, 2020)

Less crystal ball, more focus

This year’s report marked a break with the traditional approach to the Horizon Report, whose authors stated that they will stop trying to predict when technologies will come into force. They were notably called out by Canadian researcher Stephen Downes in 2019 in a publication about the usefulness of these timelines. According to the authors, they had “striven to break the mold of the classic Horizon Report without losing its essential purpose.” (p. 4)

This year, the report introduced a couple of new features, like brief essays from international panelists on the implications of the report findings for their country or region of the world. While the new report abandons the timeframe for adoption of technology, the authors chose to add an interesting section with fictitious essays that address possible scenarios for growth, constraint, collapse or transformation of higher education based on the trends identified in this year’s report.

Online education

A pervasive trend in the 2020 report is the expected impact of online education, since it is seen as “a scalable means to provide courses to an increasingly nontraditional student population.” (p. 11) According to the report, “faculty must be prepared to teach in online, blended, and face-to-face modes.”

Little did the authors know that the COVID-19 crisis would force colleges to retool in record time to save the Winter 2020 semester. In the fictional “Constraint” essay in the Horizon Report which was authored from the perspective of an educator in the future, various factors in this pessimistic scenario foretold that “online education has become the default mode for course delivery. Higher Education has adopted a culture of operating and accomplishing more with less.” (p.34). Many students and college teachers were constrained to work with whatever technology they could get their hands on during the Winter 2020 crisis. Fortunately the Ministère de l'Enseignement supérieur announced a series of additional financial measures in September 2020 to bolster the efforts of the CEGEPs to continue to support faculty, staff and students.

The scenarios are fictional essays on growth, constraint, collapse and transformation in higher education written from the perspective of an educator in the future looking back on the recent evolution of higher education from a variety of perspectives. Online education figured prominently in each of these scenarios.

Interestingly, online education is also seen in the Horizon Report as a way of reducing higher education’s impact on climate change. “More institutions will focus on online learning as a sustainable educational model as students and faculty become less willing or able to commute. “ (p. 10) Bryan Alexander, a senior scholar from Georgetown University, stated that “campuses most at risk of climate change face major strategic challenges […] Expanding their online teaching offerings is a way for them to continue conducting their instructional mission, even when their brick and mortar facilities are compromised.” (p.46) These eerily foreshadowing words would ring true during the COVID-19 crisis and more recently with the wildfires that are ravaging California and Oregon in September 2020. Indeed, the report called out conditions of risk: “Extreme global weather events and droughts will impact students’ well-being and educational attainment, particularly in rural and/or under-resourced communities." (p.10)

Open Education Resources (OERs)

As the Horizon Report covers the trends of change in student populations, alternative pathways to education, online education, and the development of adaptive learning technologies, we should not be surprised to see OERs in their emerging technologies category.

According to UNESCO, “Open Educational Resources (OER) are teaching, learning and research materials in any medium – digital or otherwise – that reside in the public domain or have been released under an open license that permits no-cost access, use, adaptation and redistribution by others with no or limited restrictions.” OERs encompass a wide array of material, from lesson plans, to open textbooks to reusable graphics and audio and even entire MOOCs (check out a MOOC on Digital Accessibility at Ryerson University cited in this year’s Horizon Report).

During the COVID-19 crisis, many students were not allowed to return to their colleges to access their learning material and many teachers had to source digital content on the Internet to continue their semester. Some members of the SALTISE active learning community openly shared revisions of their lesson plans using the CourseFlow web app during the Winter 2020 semester.

A Canadian’s perspective

Canadian Horizon Report panelist George Veletsianos, a Professor from Royal Roads University writes that “in Canada, it is broadly understood that an educated and skilled citizenry is key to social, political, cultural and economic prosperity.” (p. 41) This is not only true for students, and Georges Veletsianos emphasizes the need to train faculty, near faculty and senior leaders on educational technology and its implications. This will help them to make “evidence informed decisions around the use, adoption and even rejection of emerging technology and practices in their efforts to enhance learning, teaching, equity, diversity, inclusion and student success.”(p. 41).

The 2020 edition of the Horizon Report is a solid read! As we navigate the hybrid delivery of the Fall 2020 semester, let us remind ourselves that we have come a long way in a very short period of time! While we may continue to experience adversity and frustration, let’s continue to explore, innovate and support each other, since it is often in these moments that we learn our greatest lessons.

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