Higher education in the United States dates back almost 400 years to Harvard University, the well-known model of the traditional brick-and-mortar institutions. In the four centuries since, technological advances have changed the way education is delivered and received.
Alex Solis, an English instructor at East Los Angeles, has been teaching at the community college level for the past seven years. She shared the level of changes in teaching strategies she has experienced due to technology have been “massive.”
Here are a few ways technology is impacting learning in higher education, in both traditional and online settings.
1. Interaction with Instructors
The movie Raiders of the Lost Ark has a scene where the protagonist, an archeology professor, tells his students that he is available for office hours on certain days and at certain times. Another scene has him leaving his office via the window to escape the throng of students. According to Solis, technology has opened different avenues with students.
“Video chat and instant messaging are now being used for online office hours as well as online tutoring at some colleges,” she said. “This allows students to supplement the one-on-one instruction they get in office hours with ease.”
2. Companion pieces
Whether through a traditional or online setting, Solis said a trend of using technology to supplement courses is developing.
“Online sites like Moodle, eTudes, and Blackboard have opened up huge changes in education. Students can see pictures and videos uploaded by instructors, and upload their own when they think they have something that contributes to the academic discourse,” Solis said.
3. Extended classrooms
Solis said technology has aided instructors by using web-based platforms to interact with students and help students interact with each other outside of the classroom.
“Students can give each others' papers online peer reviews, saving on classroom time and eliminating the tentativeness that comes with the fear of hurting someone's feelings by giving suggestions,” she said. “Teachers upload lectures after they've been given for review, and they often ask for student reflections online as a way to allow students more time to digest material before they respond to it.”
4. Changing the format
While online learners are used to not sitting in a classroom or auditorium, Solis said online platforms allow students to attend class – and learn – remotely.
“Because the lectures are uploaded and available at any time, teachers can spend more time in the class adding to what was covered in the lectures,” she said. “Many of my students are more engaged and it is easier to start a discussion. And it lets me know who has done the work one their own and who hasn’t.”
5. Disappearing textbooks and easier organization
According to the latest annual survey conducted by CourseSmart and Wakefield Research (1), of the students surveyed at 500 enrolled college students across the country, the most useful technological tool was the interactive textbook. Nearly 30% of the students surveyed listed their laptop as the most important item in their bag, as opposed to just 10% who listed their physical textbook.
According to the survey, 31% of the students felt e-texts made lessons easier to understand; 23% reported e-texts helping complete assignments quicker and 21% felt digital textbooks helped them stay more organized. In addition to disappearing textbooks, Solis said she has noticed that students aren’t carrying around large binders or taking hand-written notes in class as much.
“More and more students are taking notes with their laptops and tablets,” she said. “There are lots of apps that make it easier for students to stay organized, like Evernote or LiveBinders.”
—Alex Solis, English instructor at East Los Angeles
6. Better ratios
Attending a brick-and-mortar institution can offer students an opportunity to physically interact with other students and instructors. However, the instructor-to-student ratios can be extremely high, excluding instances when a course is taught by a teaching assistant.
At many online universities, the ratio is lower. However, at Northcentral University it is a uniquely advantageous one-to-one ratio — with every course being a class size of one. In fact, each student is paired with a professor who serves not only as an instructor but as a mentor.
7. Wider audience
Online classrooms have expanded the walls of the institutions of learning. Through the Internet and social media, students can take part in the same class from around the globe.
“Classes that are held completely online are still a little contentious among some brick-and-mortar educators in terms of effectiveness,” Solis said. “But the audience has greatly expanded.
Instead of going to the campus library to do research, students are utilizing online libraries more today for research. “Nearly everything is available online, provided students have access to the right database. No one goes through the archives, looks at microfiche, or checks out a book anymore,” Solis said. “Unfortunately, this also means students often come to college without strong reading backgrounds.”
Solis shared that because so much information is readily available via the Internet, she has seen more plagiarism over the years. “Plagiarism is a huge problem in education because of the tremendous number of cheating sites,” she said.
“Plagiarism check sites like TurnItIn.com are becoming essential for instructors because students have easy access to papers online.”
10. Time saver
The latest annual survey conducted by CourseSmart and Wakefield Research , reported that nearly 70% of the students surveyed reported technology in and out of the classroom helped them save at least two hours a day when working in class, doing homework or studying.
“There have been so many adjustments teachers and students have had to make with the changes in technology,” Solis said. “Some of it is amazing because it has changed the way teachers teach and students learn in such a short amount of time.”
—Alex Solis, English instructor at East Los Angeles