Considerations of a 21st Century College Education
In our fast-paced world which is driven by technological innovations, it is not difficult to see how they affect different aspects of society. One realm in particular, that of the college education, has seen some drastic changes that have altered both its function and form. Many students are increasingly turning to online classes, online lectures that are webcasted, and even completing their assignments without ever touching a textbook in hard copy. This change obviously brings many benefits to the students, but with change always comes compromise. To what degree do these new mediums that students interact with affect their comprehension and learning abilities? As a college degree is often the last stop before beginning a career, it is important to consider how these new devices are affecting the graduates of our universities before they are inserted into the workforce.
College students today are the direct beneficiaries of the digital revolution. Students have access to an almost infinite amount of supplemental materials such as online lectures and databases. A student majoring in mathematics can find extra problems to help him or her further understand a concept. A philosophy student can find a professor from another university lecturing on the complexities and nuances of Plato’s work. Any student can skip the trek to his classroom in person and opt for webcasted lectures. All of this activity taking place online is shaping the new college experience. As Minakshi Lahiri and James L. Moseley note in their article “Is Mobile Learning the Future of 21st Century Education?,” we will increasingly “have learners as the focus of the education system, partnering and collaborating with teachers and peers in creating their own knowledge sources. The emerging learning culture will be a shared project between learners and educators.” As this new synthesis between a college education and technology continues, it is worth examining the effects this change will have on the young minds of our nation.
There is no doubt that contemporary devices in technology such as the iPad, the laptop computer, or the smartphone provide numerous advantages for the college student. However, many of these perks provided by the convenience and speed of technology are coupled with detrimental effects. Perhaps the best illustration of this comes from a student’s ability to comprehend written text on a computer and in print. In her article “A Textbook Dilemma: Digital or Paper?,” author Claudia Wallis points out the disparities in results of various studies which conclude that while reading texts on the computer is fine to gloss over the main points of a short article, the printed word should be used for anything longer, since students are better able to comprehend and remember key details. Students were also better able to pick up on the nuisances of written texts through these printed texts. This ability to understand a text is crucial, for the goal of reading assignments in a college setting is to force students to critically evaluate whether they agree with the author’s argument. Being able to understand a concept or book in depth is a valued skill in the workforce that is losing ground in the college landscape.
As more and more students turn away from the traditional crowded lecture hall experience in favor of webcasted lectures or learning the materials elsewhere online, interpersonal interactions between students are suffering a sharp decline. At many universities, it is not uncommon for some students to only attend classes that have test review sessions scheduled or to sit for an exam. The technology boom in the classroom also has implications outside of the classroom, as many students are socializing far less. In Allie Bidwell’s article “College Freshmen Socialize Less, Feel Depressed More,” she points to the increasing trend of social isolation in college freshmen and the correlation with rising rates of depression among this group. In a job market that will be dictated by the progress in AI, it is safe to assume that interpersonal skills and other human cognitive abilities, like negotiation skills, will be determining factors in the hiring process. Although technology may enable a student to skip a long commute to a lecture, it might be worth considering the costs of the ever-changing college landscape.
While technology is a great asset to the world and no doubt has many tangible benefits in the college classroom, it does also present a series of compromises that occur with the introduction of a new element into society. College students are socializing less and spending less time getting to understand course material and concepts in depth. Even professors, with the advent of the internet archive of practice questions, online tutors, and databases, are seeing their role shift into more of a supervisory mode. While this change is a positive byproduct of modern times, we should also consider the maladies of technology and perhaps attempt to remedy them.
Lahiri, Minakshi, and James L. Moseley. “Is Mobile Learning the Future of 21st Century Education? Educational Considerations from Various Perspectives.” Educational Technology, vol. 52, no. 4, 2012, pp. 3–13. JSTOR.
Wallis, Claudia. “A Textbook Dilemma: Digital or Paper?” The Hechinger Report, 23 August 2017. https://hechingerreport.org/textbook-dilemma-digital-paper/