Textbooks of Tomorrow

Posted on September 27, 2011

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If you ask any college student how they feel about textbooks, he or she is likely to groan. A constant annoyance for most students, largely because of their hugely inflated prices, textbooks have been under a great deal of scrutiny in the media lately. A recent survey of college students conducted by the Student PIRGs found that 7 in 10 college students have passed on buying a textbook for financial reasons. When the prohibitive cost of crucial supplies is directly keeping students from learning, there is a problem. And many are starting to think that traditional textbooks' time as paradigmatic features of the institutional learning experience is almost up.

Luckily, and right on time, technology has swooped in with a highly desirable alternative. Digital textbooks, largely dismissed as a novelty only a handful of years ago, are roaring to the forefront of discourse on education, coinciding with the staggering ascent of Apple's iPad. 53% cheaper, on average, than new textbooks, e-textbooks don't just offer a price advantage; the new range of student experiences opened up by a digital textbook is simply enormous. Imagine charts and diagrams that come alive on the page - or the screen, as it were - and offer fully interactive options for exploration. Every illustration in a biology textbook can now be a video, of a tiger bounding through the jungle or an eagle swooping down upon its prey. All textbooks' associations with being dull and boring are dashed instantly. And this isn't the future; this is right now.

Of course, though the possibilities exist in the present, it's going to take some time before digital textbooks fully penetrate mainstream education. Other countries have already begun their promotion through legislation; South Korea, for instance, invested $2 billion last year to fully convert all of the country's textbooks to digital by 2015. An equally bold bill is being advocated in Florida right now to do much the same thing. But it is going to take large national measures before we can envision students walking around college campuses with nothing more than an iPad in their backpacks. Still, the students have spoken: the current model of textbooks is no longer meeting their needs. And when an industry fails to meet the needs of its consumers, that industry is forced to change.

Students Love Technology

Posted on August 08, 2011

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By now, it's a universally known fact that college students are obsessed with technology. One need only walk onto a college campus anywhere in America to witness the throngs of students typing away on laptops, swiping through menus on tablets, and chatting merrily on smartphones. One need only walk into a lecture hall to see the ominous glow of 400 Apple logos and the entranced, lit-up faces of the students diligently clicking behind them. But even though the fact that students love technology may be obvious, this fact had not been studied in depth - before now. Recently, key surveys were performed to gauge students' tech use scientifically - and the results are amazing. Not because of how much students use tech - this we already knew - but because of how much students use tech to aid their educations.

The State of Education

Posted on July 07, 2011

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With the economy taking center stage in national discourse in the last several years, education has been cast out of the spotlight as one of our most pressing problems. But many believe that our economic woes have no chance of getting better unless our educational system is in tip-top shape. It is extremely disheartening, then, to discover that our primary and secondary school systems are some of the least effective in the industrialized world. We rank lower than dozens of countries in science and math proficiency, causing economic experts to argue that we'll have no chance for competitiveness in the future world economy that will be so heavily dictated by those fields. Further, though our teachers are some of the hardest and longest working, they're some of the worst paid- a devastating contradiction in which everyone loses. It's a system that is utterly backwards- and unless we do something to fix it, our country will be in desperate trouble.

How the Internet is Revolutionizing Education

Posted on June 10, 2011

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Change is like water running over stones: give it enough time, and it will certainly sculpt and reform those stones into completely new objects. The Internet has swept the entire globe and has changed the way we think about social interaction, media, money, shopping... essentially, the way we think about life.

But most of all the Internet continues to change how we learn. It continues to reshape education just like water reshapes stones. Whereas once it was only possible to acquire niche knowledge by attending expensive universities lined with ivy, today more than 3 million people in the US alone get their education online. Today, millions and millions of people have access to free educational information that they can absorb at their own pace, on their own terms, and in ways that work best for them. The age of rote memorization, of learning “from the books”, is over. It's time to accept that the Internet has—and will continue—to change what education is.

Consider this: in 1971 the famous Open University (OU) in England opened its doors for enrollment. OU is especially well-known for their open admissions policy, which is blind to a prospective student's previous academic records. In other words, you aren't judged by your grades when considered for enrollment at OU—if you're hungry for knowledge, why should you be denied the opportunity to learn based on your academic history? You shouldn't, and now OU has approximately 250,000 students, effectively dwarfing all other colleges in the UK. And guess what? It offers most of its classes online.

67% of colleges today are unable to meet demand for online college courses, which says a lot about what students actually value when it comes to learning. More and more people are beginning to realize that learning at your own pace is the most effective way to retain information. Too often are students discouraged or crushed by institutional standards that force them to learn in ways that are uncomfortable and just not right for them. This is probably why the University of Phoenix, a for-profit online university, has over 500,000 students, making it the largest in the US.

Learning is a life-long endeavor and online education incarnates this age-old ideology quite flawlessly. Today nearly half of all online students are 26 years or older. But what about tomorrow?

Is Social Media Ruining Students?

Posted on April 21, 2011

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While people celebrate the fact that vast WiFi networks cover every college campus in America, many are concerned that much of the bandwidth is being hogged by students on Facebook and Twitter. That fact is that nearly every college student uses social media, but the effect this has had on them has been an issue of heated debate. Some argue that Facebook turns students into addicts too glued to their News Feeds to study. Others claim that it's a valuable resource that enriches the college experience. Is social media destroying students, or making their lives better? The answer is not so simple.

While the answer is not simple we can break it up into a few questions to better understand social media’s effects. The first question is “Does it affect student’s grades?” Well, that actually depends on the social media source and how it is used. Studies actually show that classes that use twitter typically have up to half a grade point higher scores. It is also directly tied to students collaborating online with 75% saying that they would engage in online collaboration. But unsurprisingly those that try and study while using Facebook are actually hurting their grades. In fact those that multitask between Facebook and studying have 20% lower grades. What is interesting is that 79% of students surveyed don’t believe this statistic.

The second questions we need to answer is “How will using social media effect your college life experience?” A couple data points yield some insight. One, we know that Facebook users make far less money while in college. Fully 85% of Facebook users worked less than 5hrs a week as compared to the 80% of non-Facebook users that worked over 16hrs a week. Money isn’t everything, but surviving on ramen noodles isn’t the best way to live! However, many people associate the quality of college life to the ways that they were involved with their schools. Studies show that Facebook users are twice as likely to be involved in campus activities. All work and no Facebook, just might make you a dull student. Which brings us to our next topic: Self-Esteem.

The third question we must answer is “What effect does social media have on the emotional health of students?” As it turns out social media really does make people feel connected with a 20% experiencing a feeling of social connectedness among Facebook users, furthermore they were twice as likely to feel “Popular”. But it is also true that 48% of students think they are sadder than their Facebook friends. This wouldn’t be troubling except that we know from other studies that 25% of college students show serious depression in their status updates.

Even after addressing some of the key questions about social media the results are mixed. Hopefully after reading this as a student you will be able to see the pros and cons of spending your hours using social media.