Horizon Report for K12 – Meet Elroy Jetson

It is 2016. We are shadowing a fourteen year-old student in a suburb of a major metropolitan city. His name is Elroy.

Elroy wakes up, gets dressed, eats breakfast, and brushes his teeth just like any teen would today. That’s when Elroy’s day diverges dramatically from that of anyone who attended school in 2011.

Instead of trudging off to make first bell, Elroy plugs-in to unschool. Unschool is a personalized learning environment (ple) consisting of experiences both real and virtual, catered specifically to the abilities and interests of Elroy. A learning facilitator (the term teacher is so passe in 2016), call her Jane, has helped Elroy to craft a routine that draws upon a curated mosaic of virtual resources, freeing up Elroy to spend most of his time on projects that keep him both intellectually and emotionally engaged.

Adaptive learning software platforms have made obsolete traditional instruction in foreign language and mathematics. The flipped classroom movement has shifted how science, language arts, and social studies are taught; leaving all of the rote study of definitions and basic concepts for Elroy to learn independently in the virtual environment. The latter two subjects are now viewed as interdisciplinary studies typically approached in a project-based method. Jane usually structures this for Elroy in small groups.

Science and other practical arts still require time with materials that necessitate a laboratory experience. This happens twice a week for Elroy at a warehouse space retrofitted for this purpose by a couple of retired aerospace engineers.

Jane checks-in with Elroy throughout the day online as she monitors his progress in all of his pursuits through his shared learning dashboard. Jane is becoming an expert on Elroy’s strengths and weaknesses and is learning, with the aid of data analytics, where to push and where to support him in his development.

Elroy’s afternoon includes two group meetings with other students and community members. Jane has booked a room for the first one at the local library. An older peer, Leti, has agreed to mentor Elroy and another boy in Jane’s learning network as they both assume junior associate roles in Leti’s blog focussed on 3D texturing. Leti, at seventeen, has accumulated enough badges for her academic work to transition into specialization. Her texturing projects have been earning her a modest income for nearly a year and Jane is pushing Leti to develop her leadership skills in the field.

Elroy’s second meeting is in a classroom on the old high school campus. A parent volunteer is hosting a planning meeting for Elroy’s ultimate frisbee team. They recently won the regional championship and have decided to put on a car wash to deflect some of the travel costs of going to the nationals in Austin, Texas. By the time the meeting is over, a location has been booked, nearly three thousand people have been invited to attend, and fourteen community members have signed-up for time slots to have their cars washed. Eight of them were moms of the team members – some things haven’t changed. At fourteen, the kids have already mastered how to use their mobiles to access their social networks, in real time, to organize such an event.

I could go on, and maybe I will off-line because this fantasy creation is a lot of fun, but I would like to contextualize this fiction before I crest the 1000 word mark on this second of two posts examining the New Media Consortium’s  (NMC) Horizon Report for 2011.

As explained in the first post, the Horizon Report predicts trends in education technology. The K12 version of the report identifies the six technologies below as likely to see “mainstream use” within the timelines indicated.

There was so much to digest in the report that I had to find some better way to represent the findings of the collaborative than my typical blog post. Hence, the fiction narrative above. If all of the technologies reviewed in the Horizon K!2 report mature within the timeframes the NMC suggests, Elroy’s world will be a reality by 2016. In my prior post, reviewing the Horizon Post-secondary Report, I examined the report’s historical accuracy to give these predictions some context.

Here are the predictions, in bold, together with my notes.

Near term (within 12 months)
1. Cloud Computing – This is a no brainer. It is rumored that more than 50% of K12 teachers already use Google Docs. I know all of my students use it.
2. Mobiles – includes smartphones, laptops, tablets. There is a lot of potential here, but also big hurdles to jump over. As identified in the critical challenges section of the report, there is a lot of resistance to the use of student mobile devices in most schools. I will be addressing this in future posts as my own school struggles with re-writing our digital device policy this year (they are currently banned).

Medium Term (2 to 3 years)
3. Game-Based Learning (GBL) – One of the examples in the report is Brainpop’s videos and follow up questions. If the NMC collaborative thinks this is game-based learning, then sure, we are well on our way. But my understanding of gamification is not what Brainpop does. And the only significant GBL that is showing any evidence of improving student achievement is happening in K-6 math. As I have written before, I am skeptical, but hopeful about the potential of GBL.
4. Open Content – some limited, but interesting open content resources are listed in the report.

Far term (4 to 5 years)
5. Learning Analytics – Largely hypothetical as discussed in the report, learning analytics could help instructors to individualize instruction for their students or at least better understand their individual strengths and weaknesses. The data dashboard is certainly one manifestation of this. Teachscape, mentioned in the report is a resource for school leaders to gather and analyze data they collect with mobiles during classroom walkthroughs. I asked my principal to take a look, and will let you know what she thinks if she decides to use it.
6. Personal Learning Environments (PLE) – Think Spock in his hemishperical learning pod from the most recent Star Trek movie. But maybe take away the standing in an inverted hemisphere with a virtual surround screen. This is most definitely still theoretical, but some would argue that PLE’s are already created for every child to some extent. An eight year-old is rarely scheduled into Calculus, for example. My fiction at the start of this post takes personalization to a Utopian extreme.

The Horizon K12 Report is so chock full of links to case studies, web tools, and articles examining the above trends that it is a must-read for policy makers, teacher leaders, and edtech investors. 2016 may not bring the personal robot that the real (fictitious?) Elroy Jetson enjoyed, but it might just mark the beginning of our next education revolution.

Selected Resources from the report:

Here is the K12 report wiki that the team used to build consensus on their findings.


A short, but weak argument that WoW has educational value.

A better argument from Fox News of all places, that video games have educational value

World Without Oil that was an alternate reality game with the tag line, “Play it – before you live it.”

Open Content

Free High School Science Textbooks from South Africa – text heavy, image poor, devoid of links to any resources, but entirely free and the text is understandable.

WikiBooks suffers from the same flat presentation aesthetic, but I cannot comment on the quality of the writing, having not read any of them. Interestingly, in skimming their offerings, I came across this Wikibook on blended learning. If you have read any of it, let me know what you think.


The report identified social bookmarking sites and personalized dashboard site, Netvibes, as potentially useful tools in the personalized classroom. My critique would be that the open content is not quite there yet for the high school and middle school learner. But once it is, game-on.

Symbaloo is an example of another resource aggregator that allows the user to create a dashboard of icons to important links within a given collection. I’d be curious to hear if this has been used as a stand-alone resource for teaching a class or if it is primarily used as a resource for teachers to organize their own resources. Once again, I found the quality of the content lacking when I examined their algebra example. Dead text, image poor, without a central voice to the narrative of the course.

About Jack West

Consultant, writer, analyst, teacher, coach, maker.

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