Back when I was going to school here in Boone, the teachers wrote their lessons on the board, we studied in the library, and we handed in our assignments on paper. Well, a lot has changed in schools and colleges here in my hometown and around the country. For one thing, many students don't even have to show up. 1.5 million of them, 8 percent of all enrollments in higher education, are online students. It's the fastest growing sector in higher education today, but it's way too early to call it a lasting trend.
Sauer: We have for-profit universities that are trying to do it more than traditional nonprofit universities. And so it depends to some degree what the success is of those for profits, whether they're able to force traditional universities to follow them by offering a medium that everybody else wants to follow. It may be that these for-profit universities aren't acting in the best interests of students. In that case the universities may be able to slow them down or to stop them from doing online distribution. It's too early to tell.
Bugeja: There's a lot of money in this, and that's what we're forgetting. I mean in any complex story, you have to ask what's the financial impact. The financial impact is that people are making a lot of money on this technology.
Mundt: Digital technology has also introduced itself into social circles and in a big way. In august there were 33 billion visits, a billion a day, in MySpace.
Bugeja: Facebook, MySpace, Friendster, and even YouTube for videos, are social networks. They're called online communities. And many of the students have Facebook accounts or MySpace accounts and, you know, 9,000 friends. And the interesting thing about that is that friendship, in my opinion, which is also a part of Iowa, the ability to say hello, the ability to nurture friendships that will follow you for a lifetime, also is being homogenized by technology because you can add or delete friends at will. If you don't like what someone says, you can just delete them. And then if you need something from someone, I guess you could request it by an e-mail, but whether you'll get it or not is something to be seen. So recently what I've been seeing is the deterioration in the quality of friendships. And friendships at college are very important.
Paterson: It's the cost of communicating with your friends has collapsed to nothing for those of us who are using this kind of technology.
Mundt: So how do students and teachers learn to balance the advantages of technology in the classroom with the disadvantages? While students still read books and teachers still use overhead projectors, there's no denying that digital technology is changing the way students live and learn, especially on our college campuses.
Mundt: The familiar bells of the Campanile on Iowa State University's Central Campus are probably not heard as clearly as they used to be for many college students. That's because the music of the carillon is being filtered through the ear buds and cell phones of students as they rush back and forth to classes. But technology has changed more than just the sound of an education, and it's happened quickly.
Johnson: Being that this is my sixth year in college, technology, of course, has seen a lot of change. When I first started college, I didn't have a computer at home. My first computer was purchased for my freshman year at college. I was not familiar with e-mail communications. And of course all that has changed. Students coming in as freshmen seem to be a little bit more savvy now.
Mundt: College students can now visit course web sites to get their class materials and assignment details. They can download lectures and extra course content on their iPods. Research is done via the web, term papers typed up on laptops, and assignments turned in via e-mail. And with social web sites like Facebook and MySpace, college students aren't just connected while they learn, they're hooked up socially too. These students seem to be on the edge of the technology frontier.
Pence: I think that many times kids come to school, and they have to power down. At home they're online, they're IM'ing, they're doing their work, they're checking the web, they're going to Wikipedia, they are downloading music, they're playing music, and they're watching television all at the same time. The classroom is not like that.
Sauer: A lot of students have always done a lot of their work in the evenings and sometimes late evenings. But now with things like course web sites, students can actually work on drafts of papers with each other collaborating online in the evenings without needing to all meet in one central location at certain hours of the day when they can do that. It allows for students to do work when they have the time to do it. Professors spend a lot more time adjusting courses in mid semester. If you have a course web site, you can put new materials online relatively quickly and easily. Instead of having had to plan with one textbook that you purchased from a textbook publishing company, you can now adapt a bit for how the class is actually developing. I see a lot of faculty doing that a lot more than they did in the past.
Mundt: But for as much benefit as technology seems to brings to education, some people see it differently.
Bugeja: It seems to me that education takes meditation, contemplation. It takes seriousness of purpose. It takes interactive dialogue. And now I think we're so distracted multitasking during the day that you see students coming in with iPods and cell phones and laptops. And, you know, we have professors who are putting notices in their syllabi about inappropriate use of technology during lectures, so I think that's a big change. Who would have thought!
Mundt: Perhaps moderation and a bit of caution are keys to successfully incorporating technology into students' college experience.
Sauer: There are a lot of kinds of judgment that it seems to me that students are going to have to develop to master these technologies. You could resist using them entirely and spend no time with technologies, or you could fall into them and spend all of your life working with these technologies. It seems to me that either of those extremes is a bad idea and what we want to do is figure out how to incorporate them sensibly so you don't spend too much time with them or without them. It seems to me that the students I see who are doing the best work socially with each other or in projects that they care about are doing it by spending enough time with it but not too much.
Bugeja: I believe the whole state of Iowa is now in jeopardy of losing its special character, and that's not really an overstatement. I came here -- when I came here just a few years ago, four years ago from Ohio, you know, people were using cell phones and you approached them, they put the cells phone away and they apologized to you. The next year they apologized to the person on the other end of the cell phone call, and then now they just ignore you. And ignoring people when you're in Iowa is really not part of our culture. It's not part of our manners, of our agricultural need for neighbors and community awareness. So I think, you know, whether you're in Okoboji or Spirit Lake or whether you're here in Ames or in Iowa City, we are going to have a very similar homogenized experience.
Mundt: Whether beneficial to a higher education or detrimental to an enriching college experience, what's clear is that the course technology takes will be an education in itself. We asked our experts to peer into their crystal iPods for a glimpse of the digital future.
Pence: I think it will make learning come alive. With digital media, teachers are able to not only do things that they could not be able to do in the past with pencil and paper or with traditional means, such as having continual assessment, students going online, using digital media so the teacher ends up understanding more quickly as well as more thoroughly what a student knows and is able to do. So I think we'll see testing go more online than it is right now. And it will be more of a performance based rather than just an end game kind of thing.
I think within ten years at our station, one of our viewers, they'll be able to interact with the newscast online live, in real time, so that as you're watching our reporter in Grand Island begin his story, you can be at the same time looking at his story online and checking out the extra information that we reserve for online viewers.
Baldwin: Those of us who have been in media for a long time are really good at talking at people, but maybe not so good as talking with people. In this environment it's all about a conversation; it's not about providing a report. So I think that's probably the -- for those of us who have worked in media for a long time, I think that's the biggest adjustment we have to make.
Paterson: And you will then start to see also really high quality content coming out of the public. There are going to be people out there who are capturing what's going on in life in a way that we in traditional journalism just couldn't afford to do.
Bugeja: Recently there have been editorials in the daily talking about the quality of true friendship versus online friendship. So this is the first hopeful sign I've seen since 1999 that we are reaching a saturation point. Will it affect everyone? I don't believe so, but a significant proportion of those Iowans or those who are attending Iowa State will be enfranchised from their ability to interact with others face and face and to understand the true nature of our relationships.
Hayes: There's all kinds of services, improvements happening now that are already being experimented with, small screen TVs, the portable devices, improvements to what we're doing so that you can watch -- so that you can deliver TV to moving vehicles. There's just a myriad of things happening. There's no limit. Once you get into this digital domain, what you can do with it is unlimited.
Mundt: Digital technology, whether we embrace it or avoid it, will inevitably impact us all, whether it's the way we watch movies, acquire our information, or get our education. One thing to keep in mind is that to a large extent, this new media is user driven. That means Iowans like you and me and people all over the world are asking for it. The days when radio and television producers and teachers and professors could count on a captive audience are over. More and more, we now decide what and when we will watch and listen. We now decide how to tailor our own education and where to gather nuggets of information we need in our daily lives. It's a new world out there, but it's our world and we all have the power to shape it.