Gone are the days when your standard blackboard and chalk were the primary tools educators used to visually convey information in the classroom. In fact, for decades, teachers have had an array of options available to use in assisting with the learning process (think overhead projectors and other basic audio-visual equipment).
Today, however, technological advancements have made what once may have seemed impossible into a reality in the classroom. Particularly at the college level, technology is transforming the educational process and expanding opportunities for teachers and students alike. The following information highlights some of the most exciting innovations that educators and students benefit from today, as well as some of the promising developments that are on the horizon.
Online Course Management Systems
Course management systems are software applications designed to consolidate and manage various aspects of the educational process. Let’s say you’re a history professor and you have a small seminar-style class. You can use a course management system as an online forum to publish and organize class materials, including the course syllabus, assignments, and reading materials. However, you can also post messages and make announcements for students, allow students to share ideas with the entire class or a subset of students through chat functions or email messages, let students submit assignments online, and professors can maintain an online automated grading system. In this way, course management systems function as a sort of “home base” to connect students and instructors, and the various options available provide endless possibilities for introducing web-based interaction in the learning process.
Interactive Quizzes and Surveys
Getting students in large lecture classes engaged in the material is one of the biggest challenges college professors face. When you’re dealing with several hundred students, one-on-one interaction is simply not possible. However, requiring each student to use an electronic clicker, which typically resembles a small television remote control, can help give each person in the lecture hall a voice. For example, professors can pose questions for the class and require students to register their answers with the click of a button. That information can be immediately compiled and the results displayed to the entire class. Teachers can administer quizzes, polls, and surveys in this way as well, and students get instant feedback. While this technique alone won’t completely transform the educational process, it can certainly enliven the material and make students become active participants in the instruction.
Geographic distances are much less limiting in the era of video conferencing. Instead of just reading about what experts in your field of study may have to say about a topic, get them on a video conference and let students ask them their own questions, even if they live halfway around the world. Students can also take virtual “field trips” with video conferencing. So, if you’re studying marine biology but aren’t close to the ocean, you can bring the ocean into the classroom. And if you’re studying ancient civilizations, you can bring those worlds to life without leaving campus.
Offering courses online is nothing new, but until recently, lesser-known educational institutions and for-profit schools had that market cornered. Today, however, the biggest names in higher education are experimenting with academic courses conducted completely online. Critics charge that completely eliminating face-to-face contact between students and teachers leaves a void in the overall educational experience.
On the other hand, proponents of distance learning argue that schools offering online courses can reach more people (some of whom wouldn’t otherwise have such educational opportunities) and still provide ample means of student-teacher interaction. In any event, it appears that distance education is here to stay. Not only do many of the most prominent colleges and universities in the nation currently offer individual courses online, some institutions have complete degree programs that require little or no presence on a physical campus.
Perhaps the most important insight emerging from years of research concerning technology in the classroom is that, while electronic modes of communication and fancy gadgets can significantly enhance the educational process when introduced in a meaningful way, they are not substitutes for thoughtful preparation and compelling content. Therefore, experts encourage college professors to utilize technology when it would naturally add to the dynamic in the classroom, rather than forcing it upon students arbitrarily.
Author info: Author of this post is Lizzie Wann. Lizzie is the Content Director for Bridgepoint Education. She oversees all website content and works closely with New Media, Career Services, and Student Services for Ashford University.