Today’s guest post is by Claire Perlman, who is a senior at UC Berkeley and is majoring in English literature. She worked at her college’s student newspaper, The Daily Californian, for two years as a science reporter and news editor. She is currently working at UC Berkeley’s Mark Twain Project transcribing Twain’s letters and unpublished manuscripts.
The results of the study — conducted by CourseSmart, the largest provider of digital course materials in the world — show what most college students already know. Professors are increasingly relying on technology to post syllabi, deliver class announcements, collect assignments and papers and even to facilitate discussion. Fifty-one percent of the students surveyed said that they would be more likely to do their reading if it were available electronically. Seventy-nine percent reported checking information on a smart phone or tablet right before a quiz or test. And only a startling 5 percent of students said that their textbooks were the most important thing in their backpacks.
As anyone who has stepped foot in a college classroom in the last few years knows, technology has drastically changed the higher education scene. It was inevitable once smart phones became the norm and all the internet’s knowledge was just a swipe away. But instead of acting as a surrogate for real learning as many educators feared, such technology could very well encourage the eager learner. An avid reader, intrigued by a topic mentioned in class, can immediately take to her phone and learn more. And the student who is taking a subject for the first time can look up unfamiliar words and concepts in the time it takes him to say “dictionary.” In some areas, phones and tablets go where other educational tools cannot. There’s an app to help study a foreign language, an app for the periodic table, even an app to organize your study schedule. As professors learn to integrate technology in their teaching (and I’m not just talking about a PowerPoint), the educational benefits will be even greater.
Many already have. At UC Berkeley, classes are frequently so ginormous that I can go the entire semester without saying a word to my professor. Leading a traditional discussion with 700 people is often impossible, but some professors have looked to technology make it happen. In her gender and women’s studies class, lecturer Jacqueline Asher facilitated her class’s discussion of the 18th century novel, The Coquette, through an unlikely medium: Twitter. Her students tweeted their thoughts on the book at a handle created especially for the discussion, which she projected on the large screen during class so that students who didn’t feel comfortable raising their hands could still participate in the discussion.
Technology has the potential to democratize the classroom in ways that would not have been possible even five years ago, and teachers have the rare opportunity to decide just how it does that.