College Success 101: The Massive Technology Shift Taking Place in College Today
In this article, Dr. David Wyld, who has been a business professor for over two decades, shares tips and tricks that college students should know in order to maximize your grade in any course. This article is actually part of a series, written to provide students with an overview of what it takes to succeed in college classes, whether the setting is a “real” classroom or a virtual one. In this article, Professor Wyld addresses the massive technological shift that is taking place in college classrooms today – coming in the form of the number of “screens” – on phones, tablets, laptops, etc. – both available to, and more importantly, being used by students.
If you have been out of college for a decade of more, or if you are a parent of a current and/or prospective college student, today’s college classroom might be summed-up in one word: shocking! Yes, times have changed. The students AND the technology available to them are combining to make for a much different learning environment than in the past. And we’re not talking about a comparison to how things were in 1983 or 1993, but just in contrast to the classroom environment was way back in say 2010. Indeed, after two decades as a professor, I would say that the classroom experience has changed more over the past 5 years than in any other similar time-frame.
The Typical Tech-laden College Classroom Today
If you took Michael J. Fox-like time travel trip “Back to the Future” style (well, actually it would be “Back to the Future II” style to be precise as it would be going forward in time) from 2003 to 2013, one thing would stand-out to you more than any other. And that is the sheer number of – and attention to – the “screens” that surround us.
Cover of Back to the Future Part II
Today, whenever you are in a public place of any kind and anywhere that may be, whether that be a coffee place, an airport, a retail store, or even an outdoor park, what you are struck by are the sheer number of folks on “screens” – of all types. The majority of people that you see today have a screen of some type – mostly on their phones – open in front of them. And indeed, some will have multiple screens open at once – their phones – often plural (a work device and a personal handset), their laptops, their tablets, their iPads, etc.
One may question why this is – how did we get to such a point that we have become so connected to, so dependent on, and some would argue, so “addicted to” – our technology? And whether we have a better society because we can work and communicate anytime, anywhere, and never truly be out of touch can indeed be questioned. We may shake our heads when we see a Mom or Dad apparently paying more attention to what’s on their iPhone than her/his toddler on the playground. We may laugh at – and share – viral videos of a teenager at a shopping mall who walks into a fountain because she was texting and not paying attention to her surroundings. However, this is our techno-reality in 2013, and as they say in the clichés that fit, we’ve already turned the page and we’re never going to put the toothpaste back in the tube on this one.
And today’s college classroom is simply -as it always has been – a microcosm of our larger society. And if anything, the college classroom is like “society-squared” – with “technology on steroids” – taken to the next-level.
Today’s students still typically have a base of operations, and most often, that’s their backpack or satchel. What is in there though is far different today than what it was just a few short years ago. Today’s student typically carries multiple screens with them. A smart-phone is now an essential, and laptops are everywhere today. And as textbooks migrate more and more from the bulky paper variety to ebooks and apps and other online resources for education proliferate, tablets are becoming the choice de jour for reading and much, much more. As all of these tech tools (some would still argue toys) proliferate and students find new ways to communicate online – yes, via platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, etc. – these devices are out, on and competing for – and often commanding – the student’s attention.
Image via CrunchBase
Yes, much of this communication may be purely social – and arguably to no real, demonstrable, constructive “end.” Yet, more and more, students are indeed finding ways to use social media for productive reasons in their classes. For instance, students – quite outside the formal channels set-up by their professors, their college, or their university, are setting-up and participating in social networks that serve as study groups, class chats, interest groups of majors/clubs/diversity status, etc.
So, when you walk into a college classroom today, what you are immediately struck by are the number of screens that are open at any one time. Now, while there are still “Luddites” amongst my colleagues who maintain a “no electronics” policy in their classrooms, they are becoming fewer and fewer today. More and more, the view from the front of the classroom is of students having one or more screens open to compete for the professor’s attention. The screen may be on the desktop, or it may be cleverly and discreetly hidden under the desk, but the screen in “on.”
Now again, whether the omnipresence of screens is a good or bad thing is indeed open to various opinions. And this author has previously addressed the idea of being “tech-smart” (and polite) with such devices (see: “College Success 101: How to be Tech Smart” at http://david-c-wyld-southeastern-louisiana-university.quazen.com/kids-and-teens/college-life/college-success-101-how-to-be-tech-smart/). Yet, the reality is that today’s students are tech-savvy – and tech-dependent. So, the challenge for us in academia – particularly those of us with gray in our hair and needing glasses to see what’s on our own screens – is how to first, how to adapt our attitudes to accept this new reality, and secondly, figure-out ways to make the technology work for you AND for the students.
For me personally, I do several things to cater to the new student mindset. Principally, this means more – and more effective – use of the Web – and increasingly social media – as a primary communication channel with students. This includes: