Monday, March 07, 2005

Change, Disruptive Technologies, e-Learning

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We want students to succeed with technology. We also have no choice but to help them succeed. In order to retain students, they have to be able to use the technology.

However, what happens when disruptive technologies occur at ever-increasing frequencies? The technologies will evolve – some will disrupt our lives, and others will sustain further innovation. Either way, it represents change. We have to jump on board, or else, be left behind.

In hybrid courses and e-learning, disruptive technology occurs in the following forms:

Technology changes – miniaturization and wireless: Portability and access are accomplished in many different ways. What we’re seeing more than ever is the way that individuals don’t want to be chained to their desktop computer and a high-speed modem in order to do their distance courses. They’d like to be able to bring their work with them, to work on courses whenever and wherever they can.

Nature of people’s lives: Not everyone is ready, willing, or able to move to a university town and take up lodging in a college dorm for four years. If it’s a graduate degree, the situation is even more pronounced. How many people want to relocate to the university where one has been accepted, move into grad-student housing (or lease a place in a Victorian house converted into off-campus rentals), to try to make it by on a graduate student stipend? While this option is still appealing to many, it’s just not possible for others. Students come from all walks of life, and in all geographic locations. They are mobile, career-focused, and interested in being able to take their education as far as they can, with resources available at one’s fingertips.

With online and hybrid education’s focus on planning, review, and instructional strategy, face-to-face instruction is feeling the heat. For some instructors – the highly performative ones – face to face is still a student favorite. But, we’re starting to be able to see the rips and tears in the fabric, and it’s clear that face-to-face instruction is difficult to standardize or make uniformly high-quality.

Changing ideas about the role and nature of education: Do you remember when you expected a college professor to be a “sage on the stage” and you went to class prepared to take as many notes as possible so you could regurgitate the wisdom back on a test? Do you remember when you thought less about what you were getting out of a class, and more about just getting through it, so you could “check the box” and make progress toward the degree? A college experience used to be as much a rite of passage and a way to network as a place to gain useful knowledge about one’s chosen career.

Now, a college education signifies that, and much more. Students are often life-long learners. They have choices that they never had before. Without going as far as to say that a student is a customer, it’s possible to say that students can and will complain when their needs are not satisfied. Good relations are critical.

What do students expect of a high-quality education? Certainly, they expect flexibility with respect to delivery. They want to be able to take a class in a way that corresponds to their real-life situations – with work, family, and personal issues.

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