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Technology in the College Classroom: Here to Stay?

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Laptops and smart phones are the norm among today’s college students, young adults who can’t even fathom the thought of life without internet access, cell phones, email and text messages. The entire college experience has undergone a complete overhaul since the current batch of students’ parents were in college—in addition to the easy availability of online college programs that allow people to earn degrees from home, professors are using multiple types of technology in the classroom.

Podcasts and PowerPoint Presentations Make Lectures Available 24/7

It’s common practice for today’s professors to record their lectures and post them online in the form of podcasts, which are downloadable audio or video files that students can listen to at a later date. Podcasts make great study tools because students can go over things again in their own time, pausing the lecture when they need to. Podcasts also make sleeping late and skipping class extremely tempting—students know that they can easily download and listen to everything they miss.

Key points of class lectures are often displayed on PowerPoint slides during class, and some professors take things a step further and post them online, giving students the ability to print out notes. The use of PowerPoint in the classroom is extremely popular because it gives instructors the opportunity to skip out on writing on the board during class—and students can attest that many of them have bad handwriting that is difficult to read anyway.

Clickers Help Judge Comprehension in Class

Clickers are also gaining popularity on college campuses across the country. Clickers, which resemble miniature television remotes, are used in class to answer questions. Professors ask multiple-choice questions about the material being presented. Students can select an answer by pressing a button on their clicker, which helps professors gauge what percentage of students have a grasp on the material being presented and what needs to be gone over in greater depth.

YouTube and Facebook Provide Additional Support

College instructors are now using YouTube and Facebook to provide information outside of class. Some professors post short clips from movies or instructional videos on YouTube, and others create Facebook groups where students can discuss key points of the course.

Will iPads Become the Norm?

Oregon Live reported on August 29, 2010 that incoming freshmen at George Fox University—a small private Christian college located in Newberg, Oregon—were given their choice of a MacBook laptop computer or an Apple iPad this past Thursday. Ten percent of the students opted for iPads as they already owned laptops, and technology experts feel that the tablet device may be the biggest new force affecting the academic lives of college and university students across the country because it can be used as an electronic book reader that may one day replace eventually replace paper textbooks.

George Fox appears to be the only private university in Oregon that is handing out iPads but colleges in other areas of the country, such as Seton Hall University in New Jersey are also giving them out. College technology experts say that the iPad and other electronic devices like it may put paper textbooks into the same category as typewriters.

Embracing Technology or Avoiding It?

As more and more technology becomes available in the college classroom, are professors becoming better instructors? Colleges across the country have tried several different approaches over the years to improve teaching innovation, but holdouts remain among instructors who feel that they do not need to change their teaching styles to meet the technological needs of today’s student.

Chris Dede, a professor of learning technologies at Harvard University feels that outdated teaching techniques have serious consequences. Students often fall behind in classes or drop out of school because of boring lectures.

The July 2010 Chronicle of Higher Education article which provides information about Mr. Dede reports that each semester, a lot of professors’ lectures are “re-runs” because they are too busy to update their classroom methods.

Transforming American Education with Technology

A new National Educational Technology Plan was issued in draft form this past March by the U.S. Department of Education. The title of the report is “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology,” which suggests that America’s teaching methods need improvement.

Partially written by Mr. Deed, the plan believes that "The challenge for our education system is to leverage the learning sciences and modern technology to create engaging, relevant, and personalized learning experiences for all learners that mirror students’ daily lives and the reality of their futures.”

Although most colleges are quick to point out the technological teaching tools on their campus— such as George Fox University’s freshmen iPad program— the recent Faculty Survey of Student Engagement, which surveyed 4,600 professors nationwide, suggests that ”old-school instruction” is widespread:

  • 13% of professors surveyed said they used blogs in teaching
  • 12% had tried videoconferencing
  • 13% gave interactive quizzes using clickers

The survey did not ask about podcasts, PowerPoint, YouTube, or Facebook.

Summer School for Professors

Summer workshops are often provided for professors to learn the new “tricks of the trade” in regards to the latest technology tools. Although teaching experts hope that professors think of their craft as something to be nurtured and improved as the needs of students change, many instructors simply attend the workshops because they’re being forced to.


Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.

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