The Net Generation Goes to College

Turn on your monitor and boot up your computer, because class is in session. Many college students now raised on the Internet and mobile devices will not be limited to sitting in traditional “brick-and-mortar” classrooms as schools look to the latest offerings in virtual technology and Internet broadcasting to update education.

New developments have made it easier and cheaper for professors to expand their lectures in directions beyond posting electronic message boards and broadcasting archived lectures. Innovative concepts enable professors to put white boards, virtual classrooms and interactive class presentations to more creative uses, both on and off the Internet.

These standard practices that use the Internet for offering video lesson archives and podcasts are morphing into newer methods that college students now expect from their classes.

“We see students wanting the most cutting-edge technology. It is now seen as critical in selecting a college. In the past, a few schools did a phenomenal job with technology. Now, more campuses are improving their use of technology in the classroom,” Luke Skurman, CEO and publisher of The College Prowler, told TechNewsWorld.

Business Classes Get a Second Life

Business students at Iowa State University can experience performing US$2 million worth of daily transactions, thanks to virtual situations created through a software program by Linden Lab.

Brian Mennecke, an ISU associate professor and dean’s faculty fellow in management information systems, uses the virtual world technology, also known as Second Life, to engage students in hands-on learning.

For Mennecke’s electronic commerce strategy course this past semester, students set up free Second Life accounts to assess potential entrepreneurial opportunities within the virtual world, then developed models for their fictional businesses.

“Second Life is trying to simulate the real world, so you get all the facets of the real world,” said Mennecke. “You get the breadth of human activity. It presents opportunity for people to make money.”

Mennecke plans to teach the course again with Second Life this summer in a virtual classroom. While teaching students, they will appear as avatars, or digital persons, in the virtual world. More institutions are offering courses through this growing online community, the professor said.

Student Reaction

The College Prowler has been surveying student reactions to innovative instructional technology for the last few years. The publication tracks 233 college campuses and bases its student ratings from A to F. The results are published by College Prowler guidebooks.

Skurman was surprised to see students were concerned if their colleges’ computers were Mac-centric or Windows-centric.

Student postings on the College Prowler board show a school’s use of technology is more important to them than it used to be, suggesting that this will likely help a high school graduate select a higher learning institute, Skurman said.

Responses also showed students are looking for colleges that provide various media outlets to receive content, he noted. Among these demands, many colleges and universities are still slow to adapt.

“I see many universities taking a follow-the-leader approach to technology in the classroom. Schools tend to be risk averse and move very slowly with changes,” Skurman said.

Live Classrooms

At Concord Law School, professors teach classes during real time that is broadcast over the Internet in what is called “virtual classrooms.” Students tune in and respond by texting the instructors in real time. The professor moderates the discussion by either selecting to post all the responses immediately, delay some, or order them in a manner that takes the discussion in a specific direction.

This system elicits far more responses from students than face-to-face interactions in a physical classroom. Professors use Flash technology to conduct a live class through the Internet in the same way he would conduct one in person, said Greg Brandes, dean of faculty at Concord Law School.

The increased number of responses gives professors a better understanding of the students’ comprehension, thus helping them design their lessons. Furthermore, students say they like participating in this format because it’s more color- and gender-blind than a traditional classroom.

Concord created this proprietary technology for its own use in law school education. Unlike a similar product called Illuminate in use by other online schools, Concord’s live classroom technology does not require a 12 MB download. Instead, its 250 KB application footprint is easier to download on a student’s computer.

Students have more opportunities to get feedback from the instructor than they do in the traditional model, Brandes explained. Also, pupils can view video lectures, do practice exercises and receive reading assignments as part of their studies. Live classes are recorded and archived so that students use them for review and, of course, also to make up classes they missed.

The live classroom technology Concord developed, noted Brandes, is inclusive and open, drawing people into the discussion in a way that face-to-face law classes often don’t accomplish. Many schools have focused on recreating the live classroom, with two-way audio and video, as they have tried to build a classroom for the Internet.

“We can do that, too, and will, where it is appropriate. But this classroom has some unique advantages that are the result of its design and technology,” Brandes noted.

Lesson Capture

Accordent Technologies offers the webcast presentation product Capture Station, which is tailored to high-tech college instruction. The hardware and capture software combination takes video feeds from a camera or VGA (video graphics array) source in a classroom.

The software synchronizes the video package for a complete hands-off finished product — professors don’t have to do anything. The recorded product can be edited or used in its original form, then stored in an archive.

“Adoption is being driven by student readiness coupled with the attractions of video experiences on YouTube. Also, the availability of better bandwidth has been a strong influence. Technology today makes this easy to do,” explained Marc Haimsohn, vice president of business development for Accordent Technologies.

Ultimate Solution?

This capture technology is highly coveted by many schools, according to Haimsohn. There is no limitation on the number of classrooms involved. Automated cameras can eliminate the need for operators, and the recording process can be preset to automatically start and stop at scheduled times all semester.

Accordent started this concept before podcasting caught on, he said, explaining that the Capture Station is different than podcasting because it is highly portable.

“Another big difference is that our method replicates the classroom experience. “Podcasting is just for audience playback,” he noted.

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