College campuses across the country are accepting students back to school for the fall semester, and many will be exposed to new approaches to learning that faculty members have begun to embrace. Starting almost a decade ago and hitting a fever pitch over the summer, universities have been struggling to embrace education in a world where information already sits at the fingertips of students, curiosity can be satisfied by Wikipedia and Google, and 25 percent of college students now walk onto campus with a tablet.
These changes have broken down the traditional barriers between disciplines (just because I didn’t major in math doesn’t mean I can’t spend an hour a day learning probability theory on Khan Academy) and transformed the role of the educator from a lecturer to an educational guide. In a world with these innovations, students attend universities to learn how to communicate, formulate problems and seek solutions with colleagues. In short, universities are teaching collaboration in heavy doses along with contextualizing facts.
Folks like me lay awake at night thinking about the potential for technology to support these largely positive changes in the world of education, and this is one of the reasons we built Solstice. Over the course of this summer, a number of collaboration technologies either made their market debut or were put through their paces on college campuses. Many major universities’ IT departments are still looking to support collaborative education and will likely adopt a software collaboration platform soon. This is part of a larger trend that will transform lectures into interactive dialectics, and it will transform educators into agents for social change and action. It will even change the physical environments of the traditional university.
Here are the three campus technology trends rolling out this fall:
- Furniture to support creativity and collaboration. In the past seating was designed to allow the maximum number of students to see/hear a single lecturer (hence my 300-seat physics lectures that mostly resembled a movie theatre). Now innovative companies like Haworth and Knoll are designing furniture that encourages students to interact and that even supports their tablets with clever power outlet locations and simple wireless streaming to a shared display.
- Spaces and configurations that support community learning. Universities have realized students will want to work together on a regular basis, and the classroom is now being designed to support this. I have seen many rooms with a set of “work group” tables where ad hoc student teams will work together around a central display. When they want to discuss or present to the room at large, they “publish” their results to a main screen. The room looks more like a cluster of small classrooms that can be reconfigured at will.
- Wireless sharing and BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). It used to be that students with their own devices were the anomaly and were regarded even with a hint of suspicion (what does Chris need a HP Integral PC for and why is the campus modem pool over-utilized?). Now IT departments are actively looking for ways to support this trend – with students and faculty both wanting to make use of the device they own. One major trend is to make use of the wireless infrastructure that has already been deployed to allow those devices to participate in the collaborative classroom by streaming media to a shared display.
These are all exciting trends that are quickly transforming the nation’s campuses into centers of collaborative learning. I’m headed to the Northeast region this week to meet with several universities in the hopes of learning more. I know a lot of my readers in technology and Audio/Visual space will have their own perspective. If you’ve seen or heard of educational technology trends that I didn’t mention here – feel free to comment.