Emerging Technologies in Education: How Colleges Can Learn From Student Behavior

With so many new technological developments, colleges are having a hard time deciding which tools to use, which to discard and how to figure that out. The answers depend on the school: what their research, educational and financial goals are. From the perspective of student experiences and behavior, institutions cannot possibly proceed fast enough to accommodate their needs. For example, the medical school students sometimes (but should always) have access to computing that includes 3-d modeling of patients that includes “game” like practice. Surgeons practice surgery without having to work on a person… yet. And future ER doctors and nurses practice on dolls that include programs that react as they would in an emergency situation.

While that seems like these technologies are the “coolest” thing around, what actually is making the biggest impact on the student experience is the utilization of cloud computing. Students do work online… not just attend online classes, but research, write papers, study with other students and they also store their work there. They carry around objects that allow this learning anywhere they are. While the traditional student a few short years ago was trapped in their dorm room, books in stacks all around, debating whether or not to hang out or stay home and study, these students can work on their way to class, waiting in line at the store or at the doctor’s office, etc. Their books are more often than not available online. The research that they do via the library catalog allows them to search not only the physical books but also databases for peer-reviewed material and ebooks in an instant. And, rather than printing out or downloading the information, they simply remember where it was or keep track of the information via tools that record their searches. (Many of these tools are available currently in the databases.)

Most of the students I work with have laptops or tablets and nearly all of them have smartphones. Panera, McDonald’s, Krystal’s and other restaurants have all made wireless available for free, so these are places where you will see students. Although, let me clarify, most of those students are over 30. The Y-generation students, however, are utilizing wireless technology via the cell phone and apps that get them online for free. They are able to access the internet anywhere there is a cellular signal… And that is much more prevalent than wireless that is attached to a building or cable line. It is a little bit slower on 3g, but on 4g, it is almost like you are actually wired directly to a DSL line.

With tools like GoogleDocs, Dropbox, and other cloud based editors and storage places, the ability of the research student to keep track of their research is much broader than it ever was. Also, the students can now easily cite any material that they find online (again, via their tablet, phone, laptop). The paper they are working on is being written and cited simultaneously. There are millions of phone applications (many are free) that allow students to practice surgery, deal with a patient that is in cardiac arrest and learn how to assess a patient with Alzheimer’s (on the phone or computer). They can look at 3-d versions of any part of the human anatomy (inside and out) and view thousands of MRIs, CT scans, X-rays and videos of actual procedures. Academicians need to see that these technologies are there and students are utilizing them.

Oh, and they can talk to their Grandma on Facebook. The social networking platform and text messaging keeps students in touch with each other so that the student learning experience is integrated with the social.

The ability for human beings, not necessarily gifted, geeky or introverted, to interact with technology in ways that enhance the “human” experience, such as sharing, loving, talking, arguing, turned computing into an extension of living. The human behavioral side of things is what will continue to evolve businesses, governments, research and education radically over the next few years (moments) in ways that traditional, bureaucratic or money-driven organizations can’t even see yet. The people will influence virally.

There are many more emerging technologies that go way beyond the ones mentioned here, from foldable or 3d displays, “sixth sense” technology, crowdsourcing and free classes at MIT, our world is evolving faster than we can ever dream of catching up with.