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The physical substratum of the written word has always been the printed page. Now, digital technology is changing everything, and the two-dimensional screen has become the hot new medium for the transmission of ideas through the use of visual language. However, in this instance the evolution of communication techniques and technology is really a parallel development; computers, e-readers and iPads are not so much replacing books as they are providing an alternative outlet for their publication and distribution.

The Good: Change is Coming

The e-book revolution is of course having an impact on college campuses. The increasing availability of college textbooks and other kinds of educational materials in digital format are being welcomed by students at this point primarily for reasons of cost. Printed college textbooks are ridiculously expensive, in part because of the way they are designed and in part because they are sold by campus bookstores that have monopolies on their individual markets. E-books promise to reduce prices considerably, and that is a big consideration for students who are on a tight budget – which includes pretty much every student on every campus throughout the known world.

Convenience is the other advantage that e-books can offer university students. Online libraries can save a lot of legwork, and carrying around an e-reader or electronic tablet is much easier than constantly having to lug a collection of heavy textbooks around in a fraying backpack.

The Bad: Student Resistance to Change
But here is a surprise – all things being equal, three out of four college students would prefer to use printed textbooks instead of the digital versions, and this is a statistic that has not changed over the past several years. A recent study carried out by the Human Centered Design and Engineering Department at the University of Washington found that less than 40% of a group of students who were given free Amazon Kindle e-book readers were still using them after a few months, as most of the students eventually went back to using printed materials and textbooks instead.

At this point, e-reader and e-book technologies still have a long way to go. Options for highlighting, note taking, text saving, and rapid skimming are limited, making e-books unwieldy and inconvenient to work with for many students. But even beyond these practical considerations – which will certainly become less relevant over time as technology improves – researchers theorize that e-books make students feel uncomfortable because they interfere with a process called cognitive mapping. This refers to the way that human beings make spatial and contextual connections in order to facilitate learning. Learners instinctively tend to rely on physical indicators such as page location or positioning relative to charts or illustrations in books to help them find information they are looking for quickly. In fact, these kinds of physical associations and relationships are intimately connected to effective learning in general, which might be why students working with e-books may feel as if they have somehow come unmoored from anything real as they attempt to read, analyze, and remember while operating in sterile virtual spaces.

A further problem with electronic literature and text is that computers, e-readers, and other types of electronic viewing screens rely on direct, radiant light sources for illumination. The human visual system evolved in an environment of reflected light, and radiant light sources such as the sun or bright indoor lighting generally cause discomfort if stared at directly. Studies have shown that radiant light actually interferes with the learning process, and that people understand more and remember more when using three-dimensional reading materials like books and magazines as opposed to studying off electronic screens. In light of these findings, the relentless effort by schools and universities to integrate all the latest technological innovations into their educational infrastructures as rapidly as possible may be to be rethought.

The Future: E-Learning
Whatever its merits or lack thereof, there is no doubt that the e-book has a significant role to play in the future of higher education. However, technological devices and applications will need to become more versatile and interactive, so students will be able to manage information in ways that are efficient, organized, and kinesthetically grounded in a manner that preserves the fluid and participatory elements of the overall educational process. The more user-friendly iPad is a device that seems to hold great promise in this regard; and indeed, some universities have begun giving them away to students for use as replacements for or supplements to traditional textbooks.

But even though improved technology will inevitably make the e-book format more practical in a college setting, it would be foolish to let e-reading sweep away a style of learning that has evolved organically over a long period of time. Technological innovation clearly has a place in higher education – but only to the extent that it can complement rather than replace established methods of learning that have repeatedly demonstrated their effectiveness.

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Game On!

by Nicole on July 13, 2011

105868911Educators of all levels are constantly looking for way to integrate the technologies, content, and practices of popular culture into their classrooms. Most of their students are immersed in this world, and accessing educational advantages through the newest technologies is an excellent way to facilitate learning, even on the college level. The driving forces of our pop culture evolution are communications and information technologies, which are simultaneously increasing the size of our world while bringing us closer together.

While its potential applications are both obvious and open-ended with respect to education, gaming is one aspect of this electronic revolution that has largely been seen as an isolated sub-trend, that’s more of a hindrance to learning than an asset. Decrying the amount of time that students spend playing video games is a common lament, and educators have often expressed the opinion that there are much better uses of time available. However, we are no longer talking about teenagers and their X-boxes. We now know that twenty and thirty-somethings now spend equivalent time “playing” on such “grown-up” games as FarmVille, WII games, and that damn phenomenon that is Angry Birds.

The Value of Simulations for Post-Secondary Learning

Until now, it’s been standard practice for colleges to ban students from gaming on campus computers. But eventually a few forward-thinking teachers saw an opportunity where others saw only useless distraction. It occurred to these educators that games relevant to academic activities and issues could be created, and that generations who had grown up with gaming might respond very positively to this kind of learning.

Efforts to invent this new genre of games are still in the early stages, which is why professors have frequently had to take it upon themselves to contract programmers, developers, designers, writers, and artists to reprogram existing games or create brand-new ones from scratch.

In the latter category is a game created by journalism professors Kathleen Hansen and Nora Paul at the University of Minnesota. Working with Department of Journalism Systems Administrator Scott Dierks, professors Hansen and Paul modified the medieval adventure game Neverwinter Nights. Their modified version presents a scenario to journalism students where a train crashes in a small town and releases a cloud of poisonous gas, after which the students must travel to this town in their roles as reporters to get the full story by interviewing residents. The professors wrote the script for the game, while Dierks solved campus access issues so students would be able to play the game on any campus computer.

At the University of North Carolina, economics professor Dr. Jeffrey Sarbaum worked with a whole coterie of computer software experts to invent a game that allows students to build a new economic system from the ground up in a future post-apocalyptic Earth. While the journalism game at the University of Minnesota puts students in a realistic role-playing situation, Dr. Sarbaum’s creation uses a science fiction scenario where students are actually aliens who come to resettle a dead planet. Another difference is that while professors Hansen and Paul use their game as a classroom exercise, Sarbaum’s game is actually the entire course. It takes eight weeks to finish, and students receive their final grade based on their online gaming performance.

Gaming and Learning Theory

Such games put students in situations where they become characters in unique, unpredictable worlds and the student’s ability to make calculations, draw inferences, and solve problems are directly put to the test. Video games adapted for an educational setting are proven examples of a theory of learning called constructivism, which maintains that people learn by altering their beliefs about the world through personal experience, creating their own distinctive sense of identity as they go along.

People learn through active engagement in the world – and while the worlds of video games are not real in the usual sense, the steps that people go through as they play and try to master them is a simulation or approximation of what happens in real life. Imaginary situations, whether realistic or fantasy, are an interactive way of getting students more deeply involved in their own educational process.

The Future

Games can be an excellent way to get students to be creative and use their imaginations. Of course game playing of all types has been going on in classrooms for many decades, but video games can be especially effective because they can be tailored so easily to fit the demands of particular classes and subject matter. Additionally, the virtual worlds they create have become more and more realistic as digital technology has advanced. Those who study technological trends in education are predicting that gaming in higher education is going to really take off over the next few years. Ten years from now, it’s expected that professionally-produced educational video games will be available for every subject and class that is offered anywhere on a college campus, anywhere in the world.

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The True Value of the College Education

June 27, 2011

Great article in the NY Times about the current value of a college degree. Although there has been plently of debate about the value of a college degree, there is still strong evidence to support the cost and time of obtaining a college degree.
Via Marginal Revolution
The Hamilton researchers — Michael Greenstone and Mr. Looney — [...]

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Why Are Women Such Wussies?

June 13, 2011

I’ve just read an interesting article about women and their refusal to negotiate when it comes to  salaries. Here are a few highlights from the Huff Post article:

A May study by the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development at Rutgers University polled nearly 600 young men and women that graduated from college between [...]

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Volunteer Travel Destinations

June 3, 2011

Not too long ago, we published a post on things you can do to impress your friends this summer.

Now our friends at the Huffington Post have “one-upped” us with their series on volunteer travel destinations, perfect for making your summer something worthwhile.
Take a look at the article which includes destinations from Sierra Leone to Cambodia.
Related [...]

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You’re Hired!

May 25, 2011

Buzzfeed

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Top 10 Best-Paying Jobs for Women in 2011

May 18, 2011

Thanks to Forbes.com, here is a list of the best-paying jobs for women this year:

10. Human Resources Managers – average yearly income: 60,500
9. Computer Programmers – average yearly income:$61,000
8. Speech Language Pathologists -average yearly income: $61,500
7. Physical Therapists – average yearly income: $63,000
6. Computer and Information Systems Managers – average yearly income:$73,500
5. Computer Software Engineer [...]

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10 Things You Can Do To Impress Your Friends This Summer

May 11, 2011

Why spend the summer at the public pool picking up chicks and viral diseases?
Why don’t we use our time to do some good for others instead? Sure, go ahead and enjoy your margaritas and your clam bakes, but lets spend some time improving the world while we’re at it.
What do you say?
Here are a few [...]

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Colleges That Change Lives

April 6, 2011

Why am I just hearing about this? Colleges that Change Lives is a non-profit organization “dedicated to the advancement and support of a student-centered college search process.” What does this mean?
Well, the organization is named for the book by the same name written by Loren Pope. According to Mr.Pope, the best criteria in choosing a [...]

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The Big Bucks

March 29, 2011

Those who can, teach…and make bank doing it.
If you are thinking about changing careers and getting into university teaching, do it!
Here’s a list of the Top Ten Fields with highest-earning professors and average salaries:

Legal Professions and Studies: $134,162
Engineering: $114,365
Business Management: $111,621
Computer Information: $101,985
Area, Ethnic, Cultural, and Gender Studies: $97,637
[...]

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