Harnessing the Upside of Technology in Higher Education

Achieving Student Engagement in the Digital Age

How will technology change the college-going experience over the next decade? Can the plugged-in generation harness their proclivity for technology in ways that their professors can understand? Can professors move from teaching and telling to coaching and facilitating? Can faculty across the disciplines understand enough about technology to give their students the reigns they need to craft and deliver their own interactive learning? Can students have the self-reflection, judgment, and personal discipline  to create the boundaries they need to aggregate and create the content from which they can learn? Can they resist the temptations to camp on Facebook or play video games to join on-line class discussions and make meaningful, thoughtful contributions to their fellow classmates while juggling reading and other self-paced class responsibilities?

Seton Hall University Gives Smartphones to their Freshmen Class

At Seton Hall University in New Jersey, each student in the incoming freshmen class is receiving a free smartphone at orientation. The school wants to provide students with a device that they are likely to keep with them at all times, so schools can stay connected with students even when they leave campus. The Seton Hall University also hopes freshmen will use the app that was developed for them to connect with other freshmen and academic advisors. Seton Hall University should be congratulated for taking the risk to explore this learning option. Colleges who sit still without risking in these new realms can lose students over time simply because they are not investigating the learning alternatives that technology provides.

The smartphone decision is receiving mixed reviews from officials and faculty at Seton Hall University. Many officials support the move, while some faculty argue the phones will be a distraction that could potentially do more harm than good to student engagement in class. However, other faculty members see the value of giving smartphones to students to use in school, saying that it will teach them how to use the devices in a professional setting. Without exploring this option, how will professors and students ever know?

It’s no question that technology is making its way into colleges, whether its using a smartphone as a learning tool, an ebook for a class, a laptop to take notes, or participating in an on-line or hybrid class. However, as unavoidable as the infiltration of technology is in schools, workplace, and home, there are still skeptics that think it is taking over too quickly and without merit.    We can’t stop the river from flowing, but we can ask ourselves how we can facilitate the opportunity which technology affords us at a time when many would argue we are not serving most college students, especially those from minority and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Technology Is Here, But Not Well-Received as a Learning Tool 

In a recent survey by Pew Research Center and Elon University, sixty percent of 1,021 surveyors said they believe technology will have a “powerful influence” on education in the next decade. Thirty-nine percent predict technology will be included in higher education without any change in educational paradigms. Across the board, almost all those surveyed believe technology will have some influence on education, but that doesn’t mean they’re embracing the digital classroom. What are the costs to faculty and colleges who are slow to harness this opportunity?  What are the costs to students, their learning and their future job options?  In the Pew study, no matter how respondents thought technology would effect the college classroom over the next decade, they were “doubtful” technology was best for students. Interesting.

For many, whether parents, professionals, students, or educators, technology still elicits “experimental” when spoken in tandem with education. A lot of new technology-based initiatives will make it into the classroom that don’t come with the same sense of security we get from using tried-and-true – though often outdated and some would say ineffective — methods of teaching. Just because we have technology doesn’t mean we can’t teach students the judgment to avoid hiding in technology—avoiding a difficult conversation by writing an email, avoiding a connection with a classmate by being efficient on-line at the expense of the relationship, developing a virtual life and world without the courage to show up in the world.

Technology can be distracting, mind-numbing, and addicting. It can also be engaging, inspiring, and motivating. Like most opportunities in life, technology has its pros and cons and needs creativity, imagination, and interaction to make meaning of individual and group learning whether in isolation on the computer or as a springboard for the personal interaction which cannot be replaced.



“Free Cell Phones for College Students,” by Ryan Lytle. 19 July 2012. U.S. News. Accessed on 31 July 2012. http://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/2012/07/19/free-cell-phones-for-college-students

“Experts Predict More Remote Learning, Despite Concerns About Its Effects,” by Beth Mole. 27 July 2012. The Chronicle. Accessed on 31 July 2012. http://chronicle.com/article/Experts-Predict-More-Remote/133177/


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