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Technology and Higher Education

Technology and Higher Education

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Updated on Mar 14, 2013

These days, teens adapt to new technologies like fish take to water. But many educators have been slow to adopt the trend of accompanying lectures with multimedia and other 21st century technologies. What's standing between old habits and new technologies, and how can students and teachers begin to revolutionize education using new tools?

An ethical obligation?

According to Curtis Bonk, Ph.D., professor of Instructional Systems Technology at Indiana University, educators have an ethical obligation to consider using technology to enable students’ learning. Bonks, who has penned several widely used books, including The World Is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education, says it’s not as simple as responding to students’ expectations that courses will have a Web component.

“It’s a global phenomenon,” he says. “Today, because storage is cheaper and because we’ve been doing this for more than a decade, there are more ways in which people are taking advantage of this to learn. Not only are students expecting us to because they’re on the Web all the time, but also because it’s possible—the possibilities are there.” Bonk goes so far as to say that professors have almost no excuse not to start experimenting with multimedia, podcasts, YouTube clips, iPhone applications, etc.

Teaching teachers technology

His enthusiasm for new technologies and their possible applications in the classroom is contagious. Bonk admits, though, that the main excuse for many professors is a reasonable one: It’s simply overwhelming to learn about these new technologies. Though many 5-year-olds today can operate an iPhone with ease, it may not be so easy for the 50-year-old professor who is accustomed to standing behind a podium and interacting with the students in the standard lecture or discussion format.

Another of Bonk’s recent books, Empowering Online Learning, helps teachers meet the challenge of creating engaging educational experiences that incorporate technology. “I’ve tried to create frameworks to help teachers,” Bonk says. The book walks the reader through what Bonk calls the “R2D2 framework”—Read, Reflect, Display, and Do—and it offers more than 100 practical activities that can be used in higher learning and K-12 education. “Without a framework, teachers can get overwhelmed if they’re not accustomed to using technology in the classroom,” Bonk says. “But we have to remember, teachers were overwhelmed with the technology in the 1950s—with film projectors!”

Integrating technology into student-teacher relationship

Randy Garrison, Ed.D., education professor and director of the Teaching & Learning Centre at the University of Calgary in Canada, understands professors’ frustration with this new open world. “I have a lot of sympathy for professors who are struggling to integrate the technology, because they actually need a lot of support,” he says. “It’s an enormous challenge to sit back and rethink and redesign your course, which is really what you need to do to take advantage of technology.”

Ultimately, Garrison says, fully taking advantage of the technology allows professors to engage students in meaningful ways. “What you don’t want to do is just add technology on top of what you’re already doing,” he says. “Students will never do the optional activities. What you have to do is fully integrate technology into the goals of the course—that way you end up with a much more effective and coherent course.”

The Internet and online technologies and programs, Bonk says, open up the world of learning and exploration into opportunities that didn’t exist a decade ago. “Teachers should be embracing this,” he says. “It’s really very exciting.” One of the exciting aspects of the new open world is the idea that students can communicate online—create online communities of learning. Online learning is distinguished from distance education, according to Garrison, in that it is typically not self-directed and it is typically interactive.

Ron Owston, Ph.D., professor of education and director of the Institute for Research on Learning Technologies (IRLT) at York University in Canada, explains that though most undergraduate students are looking for technology in education, they do not want a fully online learning experience. “They want to meet their professors and fellow students,” Owston says. “What seems to be appealing to students is this idea of blended course, where there is a fair amount of technology in the course but they still have some face-to-face contact.”

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