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Classroom of the Future

Learning is more exciting than ever as students across the country have the opportunity to experience and interact with new technologies on their college campuses. The classroom of the future may be mostly electronic and far more accessible than the one you know today. However, schools are not just adopting new technologies for the sake of being cutting-edge?many of these innovations actually make learning easier. Here are some advances in educational technology that may already be at a campus near you.

OpenCourseWare Initiative

In 2001, MIT announced plans to make its courses open to all, by way of the Internet. By 2007, nearly every class MIT offered was available in some format (via either video, course syllabus, professor notes, or PowerPoint presentations) to anyone with a web browser. Other universities soon jumped on the bandwagon, creating what is known as the OpenCourseWare Consortium. Students can utilize these online classes in a number of different ways. For example, you can supplement your studies with OpenCourseWare classes to cement or clarify new concepts. You can also take advantage of OpenCourseWare to virtually sit in on a particular professor’s course, try out a major to see if it’s for you, or simply take an interesting class. You can search the OpenCourseWare Consortium and find courses from universities all over the world, including the University of Tokyo, the University of Nottingham, MIT, Berkeley, and UMich. To get started, go to http://www.ocwconsortium.org/.

Other online education opportunities include:

iTunes U and Academic Earth 

Both of these services carry free high-quality videos and podcasts of your favorite subjects (and some that you didn’t even know were your favorites). Dr. Kat enjoys using Academic Earth in her free time to learn new subjects; it was even a Dr. Kat pick in our December 2009 newsletter. With iTunes U, you can download a podcast of an intriguing lecture and listen to it on the go. Stanford University, in particular, has a wide variety and selection of courses, such as the iPhone programming course (now a technology industry standard for learning). For more information on mobile technology check out this month’s other articles.

Carnegie Mellon’s Open Learning Initiative

These online courses differ from their counterparts by offering detailed and continuous computer-generated feedback on course performance. Students can easily see which areas need improvement and which areas they are doing well in, even as they are working through problems. Classes are created by experts from all over the world, many from Carnegie Mellon. Professors from any accredited institution may also offer these online classes for credit and track student progress using the online material provided by the Open Learning Initiative team.

Peer 2 Peer University

This is a tuition-free, nonprofit experimental university that facilitates learning groups, wherein small teams of students tackle a course together by offering each other feedback and support in lieu of being graded by a professor. Classes cover topics like sustainability, behavioral economics, creative nonfiction, and music theory. You can get involved in this grass-roots education initiative at http://p2pu.org/.

Digital Textbooks

By 2014, as one study predicts, 20% of all textbooks could be digital. Currently, only 2-3% of books sold at NACS (National Association of College Stores) college bookstores are digital. The newest versions of electronic books are more than just black-and-white text?some are interactive and full-color as well. The iPad, for instance, has several apps that might just reinvent the way students interact with their textbooks. Schools are also starting to catch on to this new trend. Currently, the State University of New York system and the University of Wisconsin at Madison (among others) use digital books by Flat World Knowledge. These affordable textbooks sell for less than half the price of their traditional counterparts, and students can access them online with an iPad, a smartphone, or an e-reader such as the B&N Nook or Amazon Kindle. Another company, DynamicBooks, allows professors to completely customize the electronic textbooks they use in their courses?they can rearrange chapters, add notes and videos, and, starting next year, even connect their textbooks to social networks like Facebook and Twitter so students can keep the classroom conversation going long after class is dismissed.

Think Computer Programming is Just for Computer Science Majors? Think Again. 

Regardless of your major, you may be learning programming languages, the backbone of computer operating systems, applications, and even your favorite video games. At least that’s the goal of researchers at MIT’s Media Lab. Media Lab students created the simple-to-use programming tool, Processing, in 2001. Processing is used in many departments outside of traditional programming disciplines, like UCLA’s undergraduate Design & Media Arts program, which teaches non-coders how to make the software they need for projects. To get a taste of this project, go to http://processing.org/ where you can download the tools to get started. More recently, MIT students developed Scratch, another programming language that makes it easy for students (starting as young as 8 years old) with little to no coding experience to create new programs, games, and interactive objects. Programming may seem like a daunting task, but as computing becomes ubiquitous, you might deem it advantageous to know a GUI from a GNU.

The past few years have seen an explosion of new technologies to help you learn more. Though nothing can substitute an education guided by experienced and knowledgeable professors, as electronic resources become more prevalent you may find the definition of a classroom is anything but traditional.

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