Computer Lab

Computer Lab (FreeImageWorks.com)

Recently Read Write Web featured an article discussing the Gates Foundation aim to increase college graduation rates by funding the use and development of “tech tools” to aid students in college education. Tech tools for the sake of education are absolutely necessary and are very much a good investment, but there is a bigger problem at hand (independent of the amount of technology employed) in regards to relatively low graduation rates.

Many colleges these days are so non-collegiate, if that makes any sense. A large part of the purpose of “going to college” is to prove to professors and future employers that

  1. I (the student) am responsible for my own education. I can diagnose my academic issues and seek the necessary help.
  2. I am able to manage my time well and motivate myself for my education and academic challenges.
  3. I work to master (or excel in) my field’s theory and practice, and I will eventually obtain a degree to prove this.

ReadWriteWeb (RWW) outlined the challenges that grant winners were to focus on. The second mentioned is quite curious. If one needs to spend more money on and develop technology for “encourag[ing] deeper learning and more engagement”, I’m convinced that the issue does not arise from the academic environment nor available technology. It’s true that not everyone will enjoy what they study in college or what they do at work (unfortunately this describes many people), but if one needs to be motivated towards deeper learning in college, it is perhaps best that the individual reevaluates the purpose of college in his/her life.

Learning Analytics are also great, but again as RWW outlined, the purpose of these analytics are to monitor students’ progress and offer better support. Again, this is wonderful in theory, but the act of actually doing this could be detrimental. I can see a classroom attempting to cater to each student’s needs actually handicapping students that take this for granted. Of course I’m being extreme here, but I don’t think it’s too hard to see that when a course caters to individuals’ academic needs, it removes the necessity of self evaluation. That is, students will be even less driven to identify their academic struggles and to seek the help that they need. This process is part of the maturity that should be fostered at a college (because, unfortunately, it seems this is becoming “too complicated” for students even in high school).

Regarding my third point about the purpose of college:
It seems that many today see college more as an opportunity to obtain a degree with an education on the side rather than a place to master theory and practicality in a particular field or focus and then receive a degree to prove this. Of course, another problem in this observation is the nature of degrees themselves (an average student can very well obtain the same degree that an “excellent” student can), but I will not focus on that.

It is necessary that colleges have the proper technology available to compliment a student’s education, but it is missing the point of higher education when technology is used to encourage understanding. If a system holds students’ hands too often, it is more likely that the student will not be challenged to mature academically nor as a responsible human being in general (to the extent that a challenging school would encourage this). Of course, I am being extreme again, and this idea certainly does not cover every student, but the possibility still exits.

I’m happier to see the Gates Foundation targeting middle schools with these hopes (implementing “tech tools”), as RWW outlined, as I think that employing technology at this level in education is much more stimulating and will motivate students to motivate themselves.

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