I had the good fortune (and eye-opening occasion) of lecturing at my undergraduate university via webcast last night. The surreal experience brought me down memory lane, and as I reflected on my own collegiate experience, I also thought about the drastically different academic experience my munchkin will have in 18 years.
While earning my undergraduate degree, my formal education was limited to my textbooks, my talented professors and the four walls of the classroom or on-campus library. My ”outside” or ”real-life” knowledge was limited to the academic journals I read and the occasional guest lecturers my professors managed to lure to the outskirts of Virgina.
To schedule a meeting to work on a group project, I called my fellow students on my dorm phone, we’d meet at the campus library, and we’d all bring hard copies of our parts of the paper, piecing everything together manually with tape, staples and Post-its. And then the least argumentative person would be the unfortunate soul to take the final draft home to retype. (Hey, at least we had computers… My freshman year, I used a word processor to write papers.)
To research, we scanned microfilm and photocopied hundreds of pages of journal articles, using highlighter pens to select key text and citations. And we didn’t have Powerpoint or access to any real graphics or photo libraries, so almost everything we presented was heavy text.
Class registration was done via phone, and I’d pray I would get through and not get disconnected so I’d get the class I wanted. And we were only able to purchase textbooks at the campus bookstore when everyone else was doing so, which meant colossal lines and hours of wasted time.
If I overslept a class, there were no online notes or presentation archives… I simply missed the class and photocopied a fellow classmate’s handwritten notes. (Presuming their spiral bound notebook wasn’t in tatters.)
It was college, and it was great.
As a graduate student fifteen years later, the Internet, email, cell phones, Powerpoint, laptops and jump drives have made research, connecting, sharing, presenting, collaborating, note-taking and transferring information much more easy and convenient. Webcasting, online classes and videoconferencing technology have also changed the game. Experts and professionals all over the globe can lecture and have one-on-one interactions with students in a classroom, while chat rooms provide convenient locations for passionate post-class discussions.
Last night, I emailed my presentation to the professor 10 minutes before class started. Because the school had difficulty streaming video, I Fed-Exed the professor a DVD of the video the Friday prior. I logged on to gMail, connected with the class via gMail Chat and an HD web cam, and I could see the class and they could see me (when my Powerpoint slides weren’t up.) They could hear me the whole time, and I could hear them. It was a quick, easy, and interactive process, and something I would have never conceived of when I sat in those same seats back in 1996.
I’m sharing these details, because even some of my fellow grad students are too young to remember word processors or phone registration or campus bookstore lines. That’s how quickly tech changes. And when I tried to talk to last night’s students about the very limited email capabilities I had as an undergrad or the manual HTML programming I did at the campus newspaper, or this relatively new “Internet thing” we were exploring in 1995, they just couldn’t relate.
While I recently shared a post on the interesting iSchool concept, I honestly can’t begin to imagine what the college experience will be for my munchkin 18 years from now. I can’t conceive of the technology that will help her expand her horizons, broaden her world view, and learn, share, and connect with others. I’m excited for her and the opportunities, exchanges, and possibilities she’ll have, all thanks to technology.
As long as she doesn’t sleep through her 8 a.m. classes, she’ll be leaps and bounds ahead of where I was at that age. (And heck, she can always check the archived webcast of her class!)