Are Classrooms Becoming Obsolete?

Education analysts are continually examining the impact of technology on colleges. At a recent meeting of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, an association promoting IT integration in higher ed, one speaker questioned whether technology might totally eliminate the need for traditional courses.

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship technology classroom learning environment online computers IT pedagogy students engagement real world skills

Questioning the Status Quo

At Georgetown University, the Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship provides faculty and grad students with IT resources they can use to create dynamic new learning environments. The Center, created in 2000 to bring together pedagogy and technology, includes a teaching and learning lab with state-of-the-art facilities and tools.

Randy Bass, executive director of the Center, sees limitless possibility when it comes to integrating technology and education. Speaking at a recent gathering of the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, Bass proposed that radically altering - or even eliminating - traditional courses had the potential to improve student experiences and outcomes in college.

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship technology classroom learning environment online computers IT pedagogy students engagement real world skills

Eschewing Convention

As part of his presentation, Bass provided information on studies showing the extent to which many present-day classes fail to engage students. For instance, the most 'high-impact' learning activities identified on a 'National Survey of Student Engagement,' Bass notes, don't require a classroom at all. Among these were internships, senior thesis or capstone projects and undergraduate research.

While there remains a need for more direct instruction, Randy Bass suggested that traditional teaching modes like lectures, reading assignments and classroom discussion could benefit from a twist of technological innovation. A typical blog, for example, represents one tool many educators are already using to produce deeper learning. Encouraging students to debate classroom topics on individual or class-wide forums can increase engagement. At the same time students are reinforcing learning, they are developing tech literacy skills so important in many areas of work.

EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative Center for New Designs in Learning and Scholarship technology classroom learning environment online computers IT pedagogy students engagement real world skills

Evolution, Not Revolution

While the idea of technology transforming education causes some traditionalists discomfort, the logical extension that Bass and some others see is not the elimination of classrooms or traditional courses. Rather, the belief among many from the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative is that technology should help transform academic experiences so that they feature engaging activities that connect classroom concepts with real-world skills and problem solving.

Project-based learning is one very effective teaching model that many college programs already utilize to engage students and produce authentic learning. One immersion program in place at Worcester Polytechnic Institute eliminates lectures entirely in favor of a model where students work full-time in groups on community projects, begging the question as to whether the classroom is necessary.

However, this example demonstrates an extreme that isn't likely to be emulated in all higher ed classes. Instead, analysts suggest educators will likely continue to look for ways to infuse teaching with new tech components, while retaining the best of the old. Blended learning is only one demonstration of how this transformation is taking place in colleges across the country.

Learn about the efforts of traditional colleges to provide online classes for students.

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