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Going to Class--Is There an App for That?

 As the latest technologies change and advance, so do students’ classroom experiences. For the past decade, technology has become so embedded in the classroom culture that the humble #2 pencil has become an element of the past. With everything from online textbooks, to Blackboard-esque management systems, to cellular recording devices, the classroom experience has gone completely virtual.The lastest technologies are changing the classroom setting and dynamic.

According to a 2011 study conducted by Presta, a popular electronic distributor, 73% of college students say they cannot study without technology, while 70% of students use their laptops to quickly and efficiently take class notes. In terms of communication, 65% use digital devices to create presentations, while 91% of students use e-mail to quickly touch base with their professors.

It isn’t all about efficiency, however. On average, online textbooks tend to be 40% less than printed books, saving not only trees, but some hard earned cash, as well. However, purchasing online textbooks is not the only way to save some trees and money. Rather than compiling hundred of flashcards for one exam, the iPhone has an app for that! In fact, the iPhone and iPad have an app for just about every classroom need, making classic student items obsolete. There are apps, such as Wunderlist, that allow you to create to-do lists and track assignments without the bulk of a planner, and between the built-in calculator and apps like Grades2 to calculate GPA, even calculators are a superfluous buy.

It is undeniable that technology is taking over the classroom setting. However the question is: what does the future hold for technology in the classroom? Where can we go from here?

According to Gene Roche, William & Mary Director of Academic Information Services, classrooms at all educational levels may be in for some big changes. “The difference now,” said Roche “is the way knowledge is transmitted, packaged, and repackaged. It used to be that knowledge was limited to those with degrees, but with information available on the Internet, what happens to the classes with the primary purpose to dispense knowledge?” The way technology has advanced, college professors, whose toolboxes used to be filled with thoughtful lectures, may need to rethink the structure of a college class, to accommodate for the amount of information available to students by simply opening their laptops.

“Flipping the classroom” is common vernacular amongst those in the education world, and refers to bringing what is typically done as homework into the classroom, and requiring students to learn the actual class material on their own time. This would mean time allotted for class would be used to encourage students to practically apply big ideas, engage in debates, and stimulate general classroom discussion. “It’s a really interesting idea,” said Roche, “and we’re already starting to see this in elementary schools where classrooms can now be more personalized to meet students’ needs and track their individual progress.”

While college campuses have yet to see much flipping of the classroom, the expansion of the massive open online course (MOOC) could be the precursor to a new type of classroom. A MOOC is aiming at large-scale student participation and open access via the web. MOOCs give even non-students around the globe access to self-guided, personalized classes with computerized grading. Although not all MOOC programs can give college credit, as many are not accredited establishments, more popular programs are accepted at over 300 colleges and universities. Thanks to this kind of innovative education technology, the classroom isn’t just virtual—it’s global now, too.

While it is still unclear exactly how classrooms will look and operate in 50 years, it is undeniable that technology has been a catalyst for change, and continues to mold and define the classroom setting. Debates will continue to surround the question of whether or not technology hinders personal communication, however in time, it is likely society will find a harmonious balance between personalization through technology and communication through student interaction. There might not (yet) be an app to tell us the future, but from what we can tell, it looks promising and innovative - and the W&M IT department will be here ready to lead and assist our students into this exciting new time.