College Technology: Decade in Review

Everyone took a deep breath of relief seconds after the New Year’s ball dropped in New York City on January 1st, 2000. Computer servers across the world were still fully functional and there were no mass blackouts to quiet an otherwise rowdy night of celebration. The year 2000 ushered in a new age of digital development, especially in the realm of college education where technology has a powerful influence on how students aggregate and use information.

Online Research

Like it or not, online research is a complex landscape that has embedded itself in college life permanently. Whether writing a paper on the intricacies of moral realism or brainstorming ideas for a research project on the Pythagorean theorem, Google is a primary go-to for students looking to find information of all kinds. The ubiquity of online data has prompted a necessity for learning how to actually navigate through this information to weed out sources that aren’t credible. In general, students are advised to stick to purely academic databases when it comes to research.

Universities have addressed the issue of muddied online information by creating comprehensive online library resources for their students, where they can find filtered scholastic information. Unfortunately, children today grow up doing online research as early as middle school, so there’s no denying a need to promote “clean” online education early on in a child’s studies.

Word Processing

The first word processers were developed around the late ‘70s and have since grown into powerful software suites that allow students to create digital presentations and write reports, among other things. You won’t find many college classes today that allow essays to be hand-written, which in itself is a testament to the sheer influence that word processing software has had on the educational process. With things like spell-checkers, dictionaries and academic citation templates built in, word processers streamline the process of writing a paper in a way that is efficient and useful on multiple different levels.

E-Readers

A presentation put together by Dr. Mark R. Nelson claimed that in 2010 only eight percent of college students had purchased an iPad or e-reader. This is a pretty low statistic to date, but it does show that these technologies are slowly but surely proliferating in the educational sphere. Lots of professors use iPads today to grade papers and cut down on the heavy load of printed material that they need to carry around at a given time. E-readers offer the same types of benefits to students who can find e-book copies of the textbooks they use to study. Imagine if you could carry all of your textbooks in a single device instead of having to lug five pounds of reading in your backpack—sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Still, this technology has a long way to go before it completely matrixes itself into educational culture. On the downside, e-readers make highlighting a difficult process and take away the “personal” experience of annotating information within a paper textbook. Furthermore, if a person reading about genetics through an iPad gets bored, it’s pretty easy to switch off and play a few games until that boredom is quenched. iPads especially offer more distractions than the paper pages of a textbook.

E-book publishers like Elsevier and Kirkwood have collaborated with colleges to improve and increase the volume of academic material that is available to students, but the future of this device in the classroom is still speculative.

Addressing Technology on Campus

In 2010 the University of Missouri conducted an extensive survey of how teachers and pupils use technology on campus. Their findings are worth noting because it is likely that these trends permeate colleges worldwide. The study showed that 81 percent of students thought Internet communication had a positive influence on their educational experience and that 63 percent communicate electronically with their instructors at least once a week. For larger universities, these numbers show that online communication is certainly an important part of student-teacher interaction.

In response to the need for a resource dedicated to teaching students how to use new educational technology effectively, Kansas State University has created a program called TechBytes . The university says that TechBytes is designed to “educate the campus community about existing information technology tools and services, and to share future innovations.”

TechBytes features streaming tutorials that can be viewed from anywhere, including information about anything from PowerPoint basics to the use of digital media and web-based collaboration tools.

Web 2.0

Interactivity and a do-it-yourself attitude encompass the main ideas of second generation Internet usage. Whereas Web sites used to be passive experiences where web-surfers could only view content, today they can interact with and even contribute to the creation of online material. Academic blogs and other Internet venues for student collaboration have created a unique educational space all their own—one that promotes idea sharing, debate and the cross-pollination of scholarly opinions.

As the Internet continues to evolve so too will its interaction with education branch off in ways that nobody can foresee. Technology will continue to challenge teachers’ modes of interaction with their students and vice versa. Social media will certainly continue to play a large role in the development of online academic communities. Who knows—perhaps one day the paradigm of education will become a virtual experience completely. Only time will tell.

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