Oct 31 2006

Technology on Campus Helps Both Professors and Counselors

From IM to podcasting, technology is enhancing higher education.

If I want to communicate with my high school junior and my college senior, there are two alternatives: First, I can ask them a question face to face or call them on their cell phones. At best, I may receive a combination of grunts and nods that serve as answers to my question. Second, I can ask the same question via e-mail, instant message or text message, and they'll respond in actual words, sentences or even paragraphs. And sometimes an actual conversation takes place!

I spoke with a college administrator about the preferred modes of conversation with students today, and she told me of an incident in which instant messaging (IM) saved a freshman from dropping out.

The student was stressed out and had been going to counseling occasionally but was reluctant to really open up. Late one night, the counselor decided to IM the student and, with a simple “How are you doing?” the floodgates opened, and the student poured out her fears, angst and problems. They agreed to meet the next day. The previous night's IM conversation helped the counselor address the student's issues – and she stayed in school.

The counselor was astute enough to know that the most stressful time for freshmen is late at night, when the day's anxieties become more prominent and may seem insurmountable. They are alone, maybe lonely or homesick. The counselor also knows that sometimes students are more open to discussing problems via technology rather than face to face. In fact, it is their preferred mode of communication.

14th Century Model

In his book The Quiet Crisis: How Higher Education Is Failing America (www.ankerpub.com), Peter Smith wrote that “virtually all our schools, from nursery schools to post-graduate institutes, reflect an educational model (scholar-professor standing in front of students lecturing) that has been in place since the 14th century.”

Well, that model is fast crumbling for a number of reasons. Students today have been nourished on technology from a young age and use it extensively in all aspects of their lives. They understand that in a global 24 x 7 economy, the use of technology is paramount to the success of their future careers – no matter what the field.

On the other hand, there are still many pockets of resistance from faculty members who view technology as ancillary, faddish or a distraction from the traditional 14th century model of instruction.

But those silos of faculty opposition are slowly fading away as technology success stories and peer reviews highlight the positive aspects of incorporating technology into the classroom and as positive results are measured over time.

In this issue, for example, we report on the growing use of podcasting for diverse educational applications. (See “The Value of Campus Podcasting ” on page 26.) It was only recently that podcasting was derided as a gimmick or a distraction in the classroom. Now, podcasting is being viewed as a valuable way to enhance lectures and provide ancillary content to the curriculum.

Whether it's IM to help a distraught freshman stay in school or developing a podcast to broaden a student's grasp of the subject matter, technology is catapulting higher education into the 21st century.

Tom Halligan is editorial director of EdTech.