Next-generation education Featured

9:45am EDT April 25, 2005
Throughout Indiana, there's a gradual change happening in higher education -- the relationship between technology and education is evolving. Students are ditching traditional textbooks in favor of electronic ones.

If you stop by a coffeehouse in Bloomington, you'll still find plenty of students surrounded by textbooks and cramming for final exams. However, this scene may not be the same a few years from now.

More and more students are turning to a diverse range of electronic tools -- what educators are calling next-generation education. That means that rather than traditional textbooks, students use electronic books and other technologies, making them intentional learners. These tech-savvy students are able to effectively sort through the onslaught of information available in the 21st century and become critical thinkers, adept at discerning which information will help them the most in their academic, professional and personal lives.

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

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 to make decisions in a learning environment and receive 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," 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, encouraging 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 them returned with feedback for format, grammar, style, organization, punctuation and usage within 48 hours. Comment on course content is left to the primary instructor.

Cracking down on plagiarism

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 goal of educators should be to focus on developing graduates who are able to bridge academic theory with practical application. Universities must provide the employers of Indiana with graduates who are not afraid of technology but are able to openly maximize its benefits.

Simon Lumley is vice president of Indiana operations and Indianapolis Campus Director for the University of Phoenix. University of Phoenix offers accessible higher education options uniquely tailored for Indianapolis' working business professionals. Reach Lumley at (317) 585-8610 or For more information log onto