Next-generation education

If you spend time on a college campus these days, you’ll notice the rapidly evolving relationship between education and technology is changing decades — even centuries — of tradition. While many of us remember spending our college days immersed in textbooks, students some are turning to new technologies, such as e-textbooks, for information.

These new technologies are changing the very way that students receive and process information. While critics argue that technology dilutes students’ research skills, technology is actually helping students become intentional learners. This means they are increasingly sophisticated in their ability to sift through a wealth of digital information and become critical thinkers in every area of their lives.

Beyond the eLibrary and eBook collection, there are several additional tools that are further encouraging students to become intentional learners.

Interactive simulations

In our global economy, the need for workers with critical thinking and problem-solving skills is greater than ever. Using interactive simulations and virtual organizations, students are presented with real-world, professional scenarios that resemble a high-tech “choose-your-own-adventure” book. These simulations require students to define problems and analyze, recommend and defend their solutions.

Computer-based interactive game and story simulations help students make decisions in a learning environment and give immediate feedback. The simulations adapt to the skill level of the learner, and participants may repeat the simulations using a variety of scenarios to determine the best outcome. This ability to determine “what if” in a risk-free environment encourages exploration and learning.

Virtual organizations

Many universities now realize that in order for students to make real-world decisions, they will need to rely on realistic data. Through programs such as “Virtual Organizations,” available at some local universities, students are able to view mock company Internet and intranet sites.

These Web sites give students access to hypothetical company data, such as links to financial and other administrative documents. This allows students to analyze the types of documents that would normally be considered privileged information in real companies, forcing participants to think critically and resourcefully to solve problems with proprietary or confidential data.

Improving writing skills

One of the most important skills to any employer is the ability to communicate. More colleges and universities are realizing this and providing new ways to improve skills in this area. Colleges are giving students access to a variety of interactive Web-based tutorials, writing samples, style guides and instructional handouts from the American Psychological Association and the Modern Language Association.

Some students can upload assigned papers for review by experienced writing-skills instructors and have those papers returned with feedback for format, grammar, style, organization, punctuation and usage within 72 hours. Comment on course content is left to the primary instructor.

Keeping plagiarism in check

As the influence of technology spreads, schools are becoming more sophisticated about checking for plagiarism in papers. Many are exploring automated systems that compare academic papers to materials found on the Web and a database of previously-submitted papers. These types of programs review the originality of the content. In some cases, there is even the option of a side-by-side comparison to similar materials found in other sources.

The result of this technology is a smarter, savvier student able to use his or her skills in today’s business world. While theory is still an essential part of any university education, employers are increasingly demanding practical skills from their employees.

New technologies allow universities to offer a combination of both theory and practice, creating intentional learners who will adapt and excel in any work environment.

Eric Ziehlke is campus director for University of Phoenix-Columbus Campus. University of Phoenix is the nation’s largest private university, with more than 230,000 students at more than 150 campuses in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Reach him at (614) 433-0095 or [email protected].