Monday, April 3, 2017

Why Does Higher Ed = Lower Tech? Will Colleges & Universities Catch Up to K-12 Tech Integration?

Last week I took time off to visit colleges in New England with my oldest daughter, a high school junior. She has looked at schools close to home as well but is also interested in going to school in the Northeast. We attended overview programs and went on tours at seven different campuses in five states at public, private, and an ivy league school. It sounds like a lot of traveling, but since states are small in the Northeast you can easily drive between them in an hour or two.

I thoroughly enjoyed the time with my daughter and doubt I'll ever have another week with just her on a trip. We had a lot of time to talk, drove around five additional campuses, stopped at area sites, skied in Vermont, and went to some Diners, Drive Ins, and Dives, a favorite way to experience new restaurants. This is an exciting time for us as parents--exciting to think about the next chapter in our daughter's future--as well as scary to think about her leaving home and how we will pay for it!  The programs I heard about, campus life in general, dining options, recreational facilities, and many of the buildings we toured were amazing and made me want to go back to college myself! There are even apps now to let you know when your dorm's washer or dryer is available or how long the line is at the coffee shop!

Most of the schools we toured had one or more newer facilities that were designed with collaborative workspaces in mind and flexible furniture. This was good to see. It's promising that these latest best practices in teaching and learning are being incorporated in higher ed, too. It did seem to be pretty rare and for the most part, limited to newer buildings and not the normal setup for most buildings with classrooms we toured.

A typical classroom with desks in rows.
The projector was in use for a PPT lecture.
Most students had a device on so I took a picture.
One of the most surprising things to me was the traditional looking classrooms with rows of desks or anchored seats and tables in lecture halls, and lots of chalkboards! I haven't seen a chalkboard in our schools for a long time, yet they are still in use in higher ed! I did see dry erase whiteboards and often saw classrooms with projectors and a screen that could be pulled down. We saw very few projectors turned on during classes in session as we walked through buildings. Even more surprising was the number of students who I saw with paper notebooks, pens and no technology on their desk. It wasn't banned--many students had a device, but not everyone. There were a few classrooms where every student had a device in use, but that seemed rare. Overall, it seemed like it wasn't necessary for many classes. Two schools mentioned using a student response "clicker" system, although both said professors varied in their use of them and one guide said it was just to take attendance in the large lecture halls.

I know that you can learn with paper and pencil, and I also know that a lot of school is still lecture-based. I realize that I didn't see every classroom or spend time attending classes to understand exactly what was being taught. I don't know what had happened before we walked by or would happen afterwards. Yet a lot can be learned on a walk-through that is pretty telling of the classroom learning environment, patterns, and normal/typical use. I found it shocking how absent technology was in the teaching and learning at the colleges and universities we toured. I have heard similar stories from former Minnetonka grads and some college age relatives: our use of technology in K-12 education is above and beyond what many post secondary students experience.

When I asked our student guides questions about whether their professors assigned and collected work electronically, I learned that most of the schools do use a learning management system. I heard comments from students that some professors only post their syllabus while some stated that professors use it quite extensively. One of the schools we toured had networked printers with a line of students who scanned their ID to pick up a paper they had sent to be printed. Other guides spoke about cost of printing per page or paper budget allotted to each student, which gave me a sense that things are still pretty paper based in much of the post secondary world. At one university, the guide mentioned that all papers had to be submitted to an anti-plagiarism service, so that at least sounded a bit more promising! However, I didn't hear about assignments other than tests, written essays and papers.

Again, I realize that I didn't sit in on full classes and don't know all of what is taking place beyond the glimpses I saw walking by classrooms, but the sight of so many classrooms with little to no technology in use left me with the impression that there's not much that would fall beyond the basic levels of technology integration on the SAMR scale or our Minnetonka Framework for Teaching and Learning. I had hoped to see students creating things, lively interacting with one another and engaged in learning, harnessing the power of technology to enhance and accelerate learning... I teach online courses for teachers working on their master's degrees through Saint Mary's University of Minnesota, and we do a lot with technology at a much higher level than I saw while touring face to face campuses. 

While I'm excited to see what my daughter decides and where the next steps of life lead her, I hope that her college won't be a step backwards in use of technology for learning. I know there will be some amazing opportunities she gets to experience through technology after high school. I just hope it will be happening more frequently than we saw last week--enough so that on future tours and walk throughs with my younger kids, I will be impressed with the technology, too! 

On a related note: A while back Patrick Larkin posted some comments on his blog about his son during the college search and quoted Frank Bruni's book, Where You Go Is Not Who You Will Be. It's well worth a read.

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