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Monthly Archives: June 2011

New technology challenges traditional teaching

I came across a blog article titled Changes in education hurt actual learning skills and am concerned with the narrow-mindedness displayed by the professor who wrote it. Concerns over new technology and its affect on society are nothing new and occur with each ground-breaking development.

The article begins by opening up the discussion about the impact of new technology on the Standards of Learning Tests:

“Colleges are now receiving the first crops of students who have been indoctrinated from kindergarten for SOL testing. The educational issues, however, delve deeper into our culture. Additional factors include parents, cellular telephones, grade inflation, and the social media to which students are addicted.”

The professor then continues the article without again mentioning SOL testing, only having used it as a loose introduction to a tirade that attacks today’s youth and their parents.

“Cellular phones make it too easy to call home to ever-willing parents for problem-solving. A generation ago, high school students typically waited until suppertime to report daily activities to their parents. College students called home once a week and paid by the minute — or wrote letters. By then, the inane issues were worked out and forgotten.”

This attitude is in direct opposition to today’s widespread adoption of instant communication. Technology allows us to post updates through the real-time social web and communicate with close friends through text and instant messaging. This is the world in which we live—almost everyone is connected ubiquitously to one another through mobile technology and a world of information is at your fingertips. The professor is also forgetting this generation of students has never known a life without computers.

bored students in lecture

“Attention spans are shorter. Few students are driven by a passion for learning; instead, most want the bottom line”

Firstly, attention spans are shorter with all generations, it’s not exclusive to youth. Secondly, it’s called the recession and it’s had a devastating impact on young people worldwide. Some students’ passion for learning may be replaced with a goal of being employed and earning money, but they’re seeing professionals in the workforce lose their jobs regardless of their passion for them.

Wanting the ‘bottom line’ is forced on students, beginning in high school as they strive for entry into their top universities. Look at college entrance scores, the difference between an 89.2 and an 89.9 can result in an offer to your first-choice program or a rejection letter and loss of hope. This is ‘bottom line’ and it is drilled into teenagers’ heads when studying toward and applying to universities.

The professor mentions “the immense challenges of educating this new generation”. Her article implies she’s not up to that challenge. Old-school educators cannot hide behind their dusty Encyclopedia Britannica collection and deeply rooted philosophies. New media will hold them accountable. Take a look at what students have to say about this professor on ratemyprofessors.com.

Effective professors are adapting to their students’ need to learn in new ways. Sam Scalise, CIO of Sonoma State University, says, “The professor’s role is evolving from instructor to mentor … Homework, quizzes and projects will have to be designed in such a way as to require genuine thoughtfulness on the part of the student. That paradigm shift offers enormous potential for advancing educational quality.”

Educational quality is made possible with enlightened, well-informed educators, who stay up-to-date with the latest in teaching methods, technology and expectations of this new generation. It’s not about being ‘popular’ with students, it’s about connecting education with the real-world.

Other professions involve keeping up with industry trends to remain relevant and provide value to those you support—designers, developers, personal trainers, construction workers. Educators are responsible for providing quality tertiary teaching. This may challenge ideas of traditional teaching, however, universities will come to expect more from professors as they look to improve transition and retention rates.

Old school is out

Classes should not be taught in the way they were fifty years ago and universities are recognising this. Polley Ann McClure, CIO of Cornell University in Ithaca, New York says, “Teaching will become more outcome-based and student-centred … To be truly transformative instructional paradigms will have to shift.” Memorisation is a thing of the past. Students now want to apply what they learn in the classroom to real-world situations and won’t accept instructors who teach courses straight from text books.

The professor and author of Changes in education hurt actual learning skills should not hold students, their parents and technology entirely responsible for lack of attention in class and commitment to learning. Students should respect their professors, but it’s a failure on the professor’s part if they don’t attempt to earn that respect by recognising and accommodating the learning needs of today’s youth and the shift in societal norms.

 

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The online debate

‘Online versus on campus degrees’ seems to be a recurring topic in higher education. It shouldn’t be a case of ‘one or the other’. To coincide with changing behaviours, such as shorter attention spans and a higher importance placed on self-fulfillment and flexibility, there must be room for both formats.

Just as companies are exploring new methods of recruiting and retaining workers with features like ‘job flexibility’, many universities are now offering blended degrees to attract students.

My mixed bag education

A little about me—I studied a bachelor’s on an Australian campus, a certificate through distance learning and am taking my master’s fully online while living in Canada. Do I feel one delivery method is superior? Not at all! They each have their merits.

Studying a bachelor’s on campus was the right choice for me. Fresh out of school, I wanted the ‘university experience’, also, it was a design degree and included tactile classes; life drawing, black and white photography and visits to the bar.

It turned out the design field wasn’t my scene and I continued my educational journey with a certificate in public relations by distance education. Griffith University offers students the flexibility to study toward a certificate, diploma or degree, which was perfect since I wasn’t sure what I was aiming toward. Students post each assignment and need a Justice of the Peace (or similar) to oversee exams, but in return Griffith mail you printed and bound course materials.

I’m currently studying a Master of Marketing Communication online with the University of Canberra. I have learned from incredible professors and alongside professionals in my field. Assignments and exams are submitted online, class forums attract thoughtful group discussion, convenors are contactable and quick to respond and they regularly enter the portal to answer questions and upload content. One of my recent units included recorded lectures, which I streamed at my leisure. The entire experience so far has been blissful.

Suit yourself

With advancing technology, shifting lifestyles and people’s need to make their personal lives suit them, more universities will need to offer online degrees and blended degrees with a combination of on campus and online classes. Degrees with workshops and labs may, of course, require some on campus delivery, though there is room for theory-based classes to transfer to the online format.

Living and education costs are increasing the appeal of online degrees as a convenient way to improve careers while still continuing to earn reasonable paychecks. The knowledge and skills I take from my master’s is something I immediately apply to my job and when choosing assignment topics, I combine my work and degree where possible.

Benefits of an online master’s

  • Many reputable universities are offering online master’s programs
  • Some programs are less expensive than their on-campus counterparts
  • You won’t necessarily have to give up a full-time salary
  • You aren’t physically tied to a campus and can relocate during your program
  • You may be self-motivated, highly productive on your own and prefer the virtual course structure
  • You may have studied a bachelor’s on campus and feel those ‘campus life’ days are behind you

Facing reality

Being involved in face-to-face group work with classmates is invaluable and helped me ease into online group work situations. My initial on campus degree made the transition to distance and online programs painless. It may come with age, self-awareness and confidence in career direction, but I felt more prepared switching to the online course structure after having first studied on campus.

In my late teens and early twenties, I grew as a person during my time at university in a way I’m not sure could be replicated with a 100% online degree. What format works best for others (whether it’s on campus, online or a mixture of both), will depend entirely on that individual’s expectations, life-stage and past experience.

 
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Posted by on June 9, 2011 in in the classroom

 

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