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The cyber classroom: 6 ways technology is revolutionizing college

May. 29, 2012 - 02:16PM   |   Last Updated: May. 29, 2012 - 02:16PM  |  
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A look at some of the top technologies that are revolutionizing how we learn according to the 2011 Horizon Report:

E-textbooks

Trips to the campus bookstore to drop panic-inducing sums on weighty tomes soon will be a thing of the past. After a slow start, e-textbooks are quickly catching on. E-books were overpromised and underdelivered for more than a decade, said Curtis Bonk, an Indiana University professor and author of several books on technology and education.

Contributing to their slow start was a lack of academic titles available in the right format and few e-reader features that were conducive to college.

All that has changed. E-readers and the like have become lighter, cheaper and faster, Bonk said. New bells and whistles allow highlighting, note-taking — even animation.

Perhaps the best news: Many college e-books are free.

"I [teach] a class right now with a 52-page syllabus," Bonk said. "Everything is a hotlink. You don't have to buy anything."

Further, Bonk said textbook publishers have begun to understand that e-books are here to stay. Many are forming agreements with universities to offer more in the way of e-books.

"This is a simple form of technology people can latch onto," said Bonk, who predicts a "massive increase in portability and use of e-books" on campuses.

Web- and podcasting

Whether it's Snowmageddon in greater Washington, D.C., or SARS in China, sometimes students have legitimate reasons for failing to make it to class. Now an everincreasing number of instructors are webcasting and podcasting to bring the class to the student.

"When Snowmageddon hit, we interviewed people at George Mason University who said they did not believe in online learning" until the blizzard, Bonk said.

Webcasts are live. Podcasts are prerecorded, then downloaded so the student has access anytime.

Instructors are also using web- and podcasts to supplement traditional courses.

Shared online video

This involves using other people's video — or letting them use yours. Bonk says dozens of portals share reputable videos.

http://www.khanacademy.org">The Khan Academy offers more than 2,400 free videos on a variety of academic subjects. http://academicearth.org">Academic Earth offers free video courses and lectures from instructors at top colleges and universities including Harvard, Princeton and Yale.

"There are dozens of ways to use video to help students pull up concepts," he said.

Video is "an added tool to blend your learning."

Shared online video is used as a discussionstarter or as a way to keep students engaged, even at the end of a long class.

"They see a short video, and that can be more powerful than reading a book for two hours," Bonk said.

Bonus: Unlike the slide projectors and overheads in classrooms of days gone by, if a link goes down for a shared online video, there likely are dozens of quality alternatives to watch.

Web conferencing

Skype and similar Web conferencing tools are being used to bring experts into the classroom.

They "evaluate student products and projects.

They can mentor students. They can respond to student questions that you send them," Bonk said.

Smartphones & apps

"Every education system I work with is looking at how to move their technology to handheld platforms," said Larry Johnson, chief executive officer of The New Media Consortium.

Mobile devices "are increasingly capable tools for learning that schools often do not have to buy or maintain. Virtually 100 percent of university students worldwide come equipped with mobiles."

Examples of how apps are used in the college setting:

* Chemistry: Reference applications allow students to visualize 3-D structures, see reactions taking place, and then test their understanding.

* History: Apps using location-based data help students discover historical information about places they visit.

Social media

Many students are creating online study groups via Facebook and the like. A study in the Journal of Computer Assisted Living found that first-year pre-health majors who used Twitter for classroom functions averaged an overall GPA half a point higher than those in a nontweeting control group.

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