|by James L.
[Note: This is a re-formatted manuscript that was originally published in
On the Horizon, 1998, 6(2), 2-4. It is posted here with permission
from Jossey Bass
Last fall, Jossey-Bass Publishers issued a call for Horizon List
subscribers to respond to a number of questions about On the Horizon (OTH).
Respondents were selected on the basis of their position (administrative or faculty roles)
and type of organization (community college, university, or public school). Respondents
received all issues in volume four and were asked to comment on such aspects as the
quality and usefulness of articles and which departments (lead articles, STEEP sector
articles) were most valuable, and to suggest topics for future issues.
My colleagues at Jossey-Bass summarized the responses and made recommendations as follows:
- The lead articles received the highest ratings. Those that elicited the most interest
were lead articles by nationally recognized names (such as O'Banion and Keller).
Recommendation: Include two lead articles.
- The majority of reviewers did not value the environmental section. Recommendation:
Although the environment is a vital sector of a comprehensive scan, make it an occasional
instead of regular column, perhaps appearing twice a year or as important environmental
issues arise. Alternatively, continue a regularly appearing column, but in a shortened
format (for example, bulleted summaries of various environmental issues affecting
- The technology, tools, and Net columns received mixed reviews. While some valued and
enjoyed them, others said that they were too technical, and still others said they were
not technical enough. Technology-literate people generally look elsewhere (for example, in
trade journals) for details. Other readers tend to be interested in the larger issues that
spark consideration and debate across the organization, not technical details.
Recommendation: Articles must be reader-friendly enough for nontechnical readers, yet
technical enough to facilitate discussion and action. It may be desirable to shift the
format on one of the technology, tools, or Net columns to a reference list, instructing
readers where to get more details (for example, specific trade journals or books).
- The political column, although an important component of scanning, was not popular.
Recommendation: Consider altering the thrust of the column, looking at particular events,
legislation, trends (for example, backing away from affirmative action); connect specific
political events with day-to-day educational practice. Identify the relationship of
political events with specific institutions. Select contributors from diverse backgrounds,
and diverse points of view.
- The K12 respondents did not think that OTH is providing information
relevant to their work. Recommendation: Devote a specific section to this audience or have
two lead articles, one geared to higher education and one to K12.
- With respect to content, reviewers requested more hard facts, statistics, case studies,
and real-life examples of things that occurred in other educational organizations.
Recommendation: Consider shaping the articles to emphasize the translation of theory into
practiceideas plus concrete solutions. Authors should discuss the implications and
ramifications of an idea for different types of institutions (for example, four-year state
college, community college, private university, and public school).
With respect to structure, my
colleagues recommended that we consider shortening some of the STEEP sections and instead
have two lead articles (a few panelists suggested this, and the lead articles definitely
received the highest ratings).
I posted the complete set of survey
questions, responses, and the analysis by my colleagues at Jossey-Bass to a Web page on
the Horizon Web site and invited Horizon List subscribers to review and comment on this
thoughtful and thorough review.
One of the first responses was by two
editorial board members, David Snyder and Gregg Edwards, who proposed substantially
revising the OTH scanning format to an in-depth forum discussing specific trends
or issues affecting the future of education. Each issue would include three to five
articles addressing a specific topic from different points of view, with several shorter
articles critiquing the longer ones. Snyder and Edwards further proposed that the first
issue of the volume year be organized around the STEEP sectors, with each column
consisting of brief status reports on important trend developments and benchmark events in
that sector. Thus the JanuaryFebruary issue would be headlined "RE-Viewing the
Future," and would constitute a comprehensive punch-list of the important
externalities that are on the horizon for education. This punch-list of issues could serve
to designate the forum topics for the volume year. The actual topics would be selected
after subscribers had an opportunity to provide their input via Horizon List. Having the
topics designated well in advance would provide the basis for naturally evolving
exploratory on-line dialogues. Snyder and Edwards felt that an on-line review and
discussion of each issue would produce a higher quality and more useful publication.
Although they noted that the original
STEEP format provided an appealing organizing logic for mobilizing OTH's
writership and readership, they concluded, "If we are seriously interested in
provoking leveraged individuals into taking action, the scanning format is less likely to
entice the reader's intellectual engagement and insightful reflection than is a lively,
thoughtfully articulated debate. Now is the time to move on!"
Other board members disagreed. Ian Wilson
argued that there is still a need to fulfill the original intent of OTH to serve
as a comprehensive scanning publication to provide individuals and institutions with
"early warning signs" of developing trends and thus "prime the pump"
of readers' own thinking and efforts to learn from, and act on, the future. He liked the
idea of devoting one issue each year to a synoptic look at the future, but argued that the
value of turning OTH into a debating forum for issues affecting education is
questionable; OTH cannot be both a scanning periodical and a forum for debate. OTH
can and should deal with different interpretations of trends, and with the interpretation
of different (that is, conflicting) trends. We should not renege on our original
commitment to provide educators with a greatly needed "early warning system."
Bill Halal suggested that we examine the
response to the NovemberDecember 1997 special issue on virtual education and,
perhaps, try another special issue on one specific topic during the current volume year.
Halal suggested that the format evolve in response to demand, the needs of education, new
technology, and all the other factors that will require change.
Rick Slaughter, a futurist based in
Australia, argued that we should focus more on scanning with less emphasis on what is
happening in (mainly U.S.-centered) educational systems. Although scanning is a
methodology that plays a pivotal role in reorienting systems from the past toward the
emerging future, few educational organizations use it. He stated: "There is a lot of
work to do here and On the Horizon is well placed to help."
We appreciate the thought and concern
expressed by the panel of reviewers and by Horizon List participants. We have archived the
survey questions, responses, analysis of the responses, and the Horizon List discussion on
the Inside Horizon page in OTH On-Line at http://horizon.unc.edu/horizon/online/inside/review/.
What does this discussion and analysis
mean for the future of On the Horizon? For the immediate issues in this volume
year, we will retain our format. The advent of OTH On-Line allows us to take
advantage of the almost unlimited space provided by both the Internet and our new server
to invite debate and discussion of the emerging trends and issues identified in the
print publication since 1992. The software we use for OTH On-Line
(Microsoft's FrontPage) contains a discussion forum option that allows browsers to make
comments about each article, including those that have been submitted for publication
consideration. These comments will be available not only to authors but to all subscribers
for review and, if they wish, for adding their response and observations.
Through Microsofts NetMeeting we
will sponsor synchronous chat rooms exclusively for subscribers. We will announce on the
Horizon Web page and in On the Horizon print issues that on a certain date and time,
particular authors will be available to respond to questions about the topics of their
articles. This kind of interaction will go far in meeting the objectives that David Snyder
and Gregg Edwards expressed in their post arguing that we change the format of On the
Horizon. By the way, NetMeeting is free software available for downloading from
Microsoft's home page at http://www.microsoft.com/netmeeting.
We will also retain our focus on education
as a social institution, and therefore will not restrict our commentary to any one segment
(such as higher education or K12 education). We need to view education as one
system, as the parts of this system are so interconnected. Too, we need to view education
in the context of the interconnected global village, not just education in the United
States. Our authors, in describing the signals of change in the larger environment, will
address their implications for all elements of the educational enterprise, including
lifelong learning. Including educators and people concerned about education in all levels
and segments of the enterprise discussing emerging trends and issues challenging education
is a fruitful way for us to expend our time and resources. Too, On the Horizon fills a
unique niche in the periodical literature by focusing on the external macroenvironment
(instead of the market environment, which is well covered by association periodicals, The
Chronicle of Higher Education, and Education Week).
As always, we are interested in your ideas as to how we can do a better job.
Please do not hesitate to write, phone, or e-mail me your questions and suggestions.