Education in the Information Age

This entry is part 8 of 21 in the series Fall - 2015

Education in the Information Age

by Emily Beard

Colorado State University Communications Intern Emily Beard recalls how technology has transformed her experience as a student – as well as the pieces that remain in place.

In the fall of 1999, I started kindergarten. I learned my ABC’s on a chalkboard in a classroom that held a single Macintosh computer. Its clunky body sat in the back collecting dust, and I don’t remember using it once.

Sixteen years later, it’s 2015 and I am starting my senior year of college. That old Mac in the corner has been replaced with a sleek MacBook Pro laptop on which my educational success depends. With all of my classes requiring a technological involvement absent for much of education’s history, it is clear that students today learn in a very different environment than previous generations. As CSU has transformed its campus and classrooms to support student success, the university has had to grapple with these sorts of changes and rely on the best available knowledge to assess how students of my generation really learn.

The biggest transformation in how students learn today is obvious: Education is now saturated with technology. Some of my classes are conducted solely online, and almost all include their own mini-websites through which I have access to grades, discussion forums, and links to supplemental information. As a result, my peers and I have become incredibly savvy in multi-tasking our education. I no longer have to seek out my professors during their office hours because I can communicate with them at just a click of the button. The online learning experience compels its participants to master technological tools to their advantage, but it also can create a dependency on its limited resources. Students today are also bombarded with information coming from a multitude of channels at a rate that makes our parents’ and grandparents’ heads spin. In many ways, this growth in technology has improved education by making the consumption of information quicker and more well-rounded. The fact that I can re-watch my professors’ lectures online or write a research paper without ever opening a book is a feat unimaginable to a previous generation. (But whether this is an accomplishment, some may argue otherwise.)

Even with transformed classrooms and expanded use of technology, some things haven’t changed. No matter how much education evolves, the relationship between teacher and student remains at the heart of learning. Even with so much dependency on technology, the best educational experiences result from forging strong relationships with those committed to the education. I can use the technological tools familiar to my generation to aid in my learning process, but true success in my education comes when both my professors and I are committed to my learning success. When professors go out of their way to support my education, I feel like I am more than just a name on their roster or another tuition bill, like I am a person worthy of helping, with an education worthy of encouraging. This inspires me to commit even more to my education, when I know that others are committed to it as well.

When I consider those most influential in my college education, one professor always comes to mind. Heather taught Intro to Philosophy, and was as encouraging as she was unconventional. She streaked her hair with pink, wore matching glasses, and insisted that we call her by her first name. Having never delved into the canons of Aristotle or Plato, my head was soon swimming with the Allegory of the Cave and the Essence of Things. I remember lingering nervously by the door when my pink-haired professor asked me to stay after a class mid-September. In my pursuit of truth (and good grades), had I failed? Imagine my surprise when she peered over her quirky glasses and said, “Emily, you are good at this. Have you ever considered philosophy as a major?” The rest of the semester, Heather pushed me to the limits of my philosophical capacity with a strong, kind hand. She believed in me and my academic abilities so unswervingly, that I couldn’t help but believe in myself as well. And even though I’ve remained a writing major, the philosophy I learned in this professor’s class has changed the way I think and write and see the world. But even more than Aristotle and Plato, Heather instilled a fire in me to fight for my educational success. It is a fire that has yet to be extinguished.

How students learn today is drastically different than any other time in history, and this can create difficulties in the classroom when the students and their teachers are on completely different pages of understanding. But when the teachers – and by extension, the universities entrusted to equip students with a quality education – commit to understanding these new methods of learning and transform classes and facilities to meet students’ needs, then students simultaneously will commit to their education and their professors. Education today may be completely driven by technology, but technology will not ensure a quality, meaningful education. As much as I love my MacBook Pro, it might as well collect dust just like that old Macintosh if I don’t personally believe in my own education and commit to earning it. Thankfully, with the support of my professors and my
entire university, I can confidently say that my education is worth the fight.

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