Leveraging Technology: Using Online Resources to Expand Student Opportunities
School life changes constantly. It’s probable that a healthy chunk of the people reading these words right now can vividly remember a time when every classroom had a chalkboard, complete with dusty old erasers and all. Now, even whiteboards are a little out of date, replaced with smart boards, projectors, and tablets in every student’s hand.At universities, digital technology is reshaping what and how students learn. Some of these changes are still brewing, while others are already upon us. In this article, we look at how schools can leverage online resources to improve student educational opportunities.
A Global Library
In the 19th and 20th centuries, the quality of a school’s library said a lot about what it could offer in terms of education. Knowledge was a physical thing, stored in books. If you wanted to learn something, you needed to be able to find it in a physical location.
Consequently, top-tier schools spent millions — sometimes even billions of dollars in today’s money acquiring vast collections of valuable documents and books.
Things are different now. Prestigious schools may still value their rare books, but the need for them is less about passing along information, and more about boosting their prestige.
We now live in the age of the “global library.” Google has solidified this concept with a noble though gargantuan objective. They want to scan every book in existence, making it accessible to anyone who wants it. Google a book — any book — and you will almost certainly find at least selections of it available for free on Google.
Universities have their own version of this. Through database sharing, the modern college student is no longer limited to the confines of their school’s collection. They can receive digital resources from anywhere in the country — or possibly even the planet.
Because the materials are digital, they arrive instantly. The universities don’t need to worry about losing or damaging their resources, and everyone has access to the same research, improving the future of scholarship. It’s a win, win.
The Expansion of eLearning
Online schools used to be something that many people viewed with at least a small degree of suspicion. Are online schools as prestigious as their brick-and-mortar alternatives? Can you leverage an online degree to get a good job?
Since Covid-19, people don’t ask questions like that anymore. Online learning became necessary for everyone, and the world didn’t end. Quite the opposite. People found out that they could receive a good education on their terms. Skipping difficult commutes, and learning at their own pace.
The proliferation of tools like Zoom, and other collaborative software has made it easier than ever to receive a high-quality education online. Not only does this make it easier for Universities to expand their online curriculum but it also makes school more accessible to parents, or people who are already working full-time jobs.
Now, they don’t need to worry about finding a babysitter or figuring out how they are going to make a 1 PM lecture every Thursday for the next four months.
Flexible University Planning
Piggybacking off that last idea, it’s relevant to keep in mind that the rise of digital learning also makes it much easier for universities to pivot quickly into flexible learning solutions. Now, a sick professor needn’t necessarily call off class. They can teach remotely, or send their students a video, or written resource to review.
A university student who is on Covid lockdown doesn’t have to fall a week behind. They can receive taped lectures and online assignments. Schools needn’t fear bad weather or other unpredictable variables that have historically interrupted learning.
Schools know how to adapt quickly now, and they have the technology to slide gracefully into whatever situation they find themselves in.
Ha! You think to yourself. That will be the day.
It’s true that you shouldn’t hold your breath on this one. Still, some experts do believe that digital technology at least can reduce the cost of receiving a university education. Why? By decreasing the school’s overhead.
Remote learning is one obvious way. It costs universities a lot of money to have people staying there, using the buildings, and so on. By pivoting to digital solutions, they can use fewer resources. A cost-saving solution that could theoretically be passed onto the students.
Digital technology also makes it easier to outsource key services that the universities previously needed to supply in-house. For example, social workers, school counselors, and so on. Important jobs that can now be handled remotely or on a freelance basis.
Is this a solution to the student loan crisis? Maybe not. But it does advance the issue, supplying potential answers to problems that are currently making colleges so unaffordable.
The Future is in Data
Where would we be without hard numbers, and the programs that can make sense of them? Data is used in everything now. Analysts assemble facts and use them to project out into the future, forecasting patterns that could emerge in the weeks, months, or even years to come.
Used sensibly, it can make a big difference in how college students experience their education. For example: university culture. Is the school alienating certain student groups? Is it inviting? Accessible? What about the bathrooms? Are they clean enough?
See, that’s the thing about data. It can be used for big things — diversity outreach. Campus safety initiatives. But it can also be used to analyze and improve ordinary, everyday facts of life. Everything we do leaves a trail of information. Modern analytic programs are able to collect that info, store it, and process it into something that makes sense.
Universities, like so many other institutions both public and private, can take those numbers, and use them to improve everything they do. Not only does this improve campus life in the present, but it also allows administrators to make long-term plans that can influence the school’s trajectory for decades to come.