BY DANIKA KIMBALL
It’s clear that technology will have a prominent role to play in the future of higher education in the United States. Students of all ages have found technology to be a powerful tool in the classroom, both as a means of delving deeper into the material, as well as forming relationships with peers and professors from all over the world–a trend that will only continue to manifest in years to come.
In recent years, the way we gain information has changed drastically, in part due to the development of online learning platforms. Though brick and mortar campuses are still very much a part of the higher education experience, the ways people can earn a degree are vastly different from the ways that early educators initially envisioned.
Personal computers, mobile phones, and internet access have made higher education drastically more accessible to a larger variety of students. Today, students don’t have to travel miles to campus, live in dormitories, or study from textbooks in order to glean meaningful knowledge and experiences from their college years.
The accessibility of mobile devices has helped to ensure that busy individuals can keep up with their coursework throughout the day; online learning platforms have made it easier for students all over the world to access high quality college courses; and educators have more tools at their disposal to engage in high quality research and teaching tools.
Online learning has become popular, in part, because of the flexibility that remote learning brings to students’ lives. But the benefits of technology in the classroom may be more impactful than one would initially think.
Courses that are delivered in an online environment may be more conducive to individual students’ personal learning styles. Additionally, students have the flexibility to work full time, have extra time to absorb the material, and have more productive discussions about course material.
Less obvious, however, are the ways in which technology continues to change the educational environment. Gamification is rapidly changing the way that students experience their coursework, allowing them to explore advanced concepts in an active, adaptive learning environment. Interactive videos and recorded lectures allow students to experience new information in an accessible way.
With the use of technology, even the quietest students can become active members of group discussions. Online course forums give students the unique opportunity to create dialogues with their classmates, providing links to videos, studies, and think pieces to further move discussion forward.
“They’re very dynamic discussions,” explains Paul Ventura, Acting Director of the School of Business at Marylhurst University. “In a class of 12 people, we might have a discussion question on reading a particular article of how a business has developed a sustainability plan . . . And out of 12 students, there’ll be a hundred different comments . . . they’re extensive. Our students are literally talking books. They’re bringing in resources. They’re bringing in links to videos–things that you can’t do in a spontaneous classroom.”
In fact, some professors note that they have a stronger connection with their online students.
“Some our faculty will even say with the online program that they have such a strong connection with the online students because of the weekly and sometimes day to day interaction that they have with them in the way courses are structured,” says Enrollment Adviser Robin Nathan of Case Western University.
As this technology continues to evolve, students may be able to experience education in a richer and more immersive manner. New technologies will soon allow students to experience the classroom in virtual and augmented reality, creating a dynamic learning environment that will only enhance the learning experience for students of all ages.
Danika is a writer and musician from the Northwest who sometimes takes a 30 minute break from feminism to enjoy a tv show. You can follow her on Twitter @sadwhitegrrl