I remember a time when portable technology simply wasn’t what it is today. I’m a nontraditional student, and I started college for the first time in 1998. Life got in the way, I had to take an extended leave of absence, and it took awhile before I was able to make it back in full time. As a result, I have a rather unique perspective that most of my fellow Rowan classmates don’t have. I remember what the classroom was like fifteen years ago, and it’s vastly different from the way it is today.
One of the biggest differences is technology. For one, there is much better technology available for the teachers to use. Many of my teachers use the in-class computers and projectors to show YouTube videos and other online content that supplements course material. In 1998, there was no YouTube, and playing a video in class meant wheeling a TV to the front of the room and using a VHS tape (or maybe a DVD, but not always).
There were computer labs on campus back then, though of course the systems now are far better than they used to be. Yet the campus technology isn’t the only change that I’ve noticed. The biggest difference I’ve seen is in the technology students themselves have access to.
For example, pretty much every student I know has a laptop, iPad, smartphone, or other device. Today this is pretty commonplace; owning a portable computer is as normal as owning a TV or refrigerator. But in 1998, it wasn’t yet as common. In fact, you can still find old news articles talking about schools giving every kid access to computers for the first time in the late 90s. Today, we wouldn’t expect it to be “news” to hear about a school giving all of their students access to computers; we pretty much take it for granted.
Pretty much any time I pass by a group of students at Rowan these days, I expect to see many of them using some kind of portable device. That portability is also something that is vastly different from 1998. WiFi is available across the entire Rowan campus, allowing students to log onto the Rowan network and the internet from anywhere, whether it be the dorms, the classroom, or while having lunch. This is pretty much taken for granted today, but colleges in general didn’t have this kind of WiFi setup until after 2000. Heck, when I went to school in 1998, I didn’t even own a cell phone. Neither did most of the students I knew. If I wanted to make a phone call, I used a pay phone. If I wanted to get online, I had to do it in one of the computer labs. Now I can get online anywhere I want. It makes a pretty big difference when so many class papers and projects involve online research or other work.
The versatility of technology today also gives a lot of other options. For example, I’ve occasionally used my smartphone to take pictures of diagrams a professor drew on the board, which is far easier than copying the diagrams down by hand. The other day one of my professors also brought in a newspaper with content related to a project we’re working on; my phone has a sharp enough camera that I was able to get a full-sized shot of the newspaper in enough detail that I can read it on my phone’s screen. That’s even better than the quality I’d get if I took the newspaper down to the photocopier to make a copy.
In 1998, if I’d started taking pictures of the classroom, people would have looked at me like I’m crazy.
Then there’s Google in the classroom. Sometimes a question will come up that no one, even the teacher, has the answer to. Often it relates to something in current events that ties in with whatever is being discussed in class. For example, today in class we were discussing interpersonal communication methods, and someone used an example of the way coaches might try to encourage their athletes before a game. This led to a brief segue into discussing how a Rutgers basketball coach got fired today. Similar current events news stories get brought up in other classes from time to time, especially with regards to politics. However, sometimes when a recent news event gets brought up, not everyone has the details. In times like these, several students will use their phones or iPads to start googling for more information. Most teachers encourage this, since it helps promote more class discussion and learning (though they usually prefer if you aren’t on Facebook or Amazon.com during class, since those sites are hardly educational).
All in all, technology is a huge part of my educational experience, just like it’s a huge part of our daily lives. Just remember, it wasn’t always this way. And odds are, in another 15 years it will be so vastly different that the things we do today will seem backwards and archaic.