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Technology in (and out of) the Classroom

Photo via SJU Undergraduate Admissions

The apple, long a ubiquitous symbol of education, may take on a new role as technology challenges and reinvents the physical classroom… unless of course you are more of a Windows guy. Numerous innovations are appearing in our classrooms—smart chalkboards, remote controls, and online discussion boards—and some teachers are even using strange (yet entertaining) memes to motivate and teach their students.

Technology has allowed us to break free from the “traditional” classroom. The value of alternative education has been debated by leaders throughout education—discussing both the incredible potential for increasing access to higher education as well as the benefits of learning in a physical classroom.  With the rising price tag of a traditional college degree, monetary, cultural or value-driven barriers can dilute access to higher education.

Recently, Colorado State University became the first university in the United States to accept transfer credit for a course offered by Udacity, a free online education platform founded by Google vice president and part-time Stanford computer science professor, Sebastian Thrun. Colorado State is specifically offering credit for its Global Campus, an online university geared toward an audience of working adults. The University of Washington in Seattle has also announced its intention to offer credit for courses from a similar platform called Coursera, although UW students will likely have to pay a fee and work with a UW instructor.

Both Coursera and Udacity are MOOCs, or massive open online courses.  Thrun pioneered this course format with the intention of democratizing education through flexible intensive courses offered at a low cost to students (whereas the cost of a four-year degree is nearing $250,000). The Gates Foundation has recently announced a project to test the potential of MOOCs in revolutionizing how remedial education is offered. Other potential target audiences for MOOCs are the employed workforce, curious and motivated individuals, and lower-income people priced out of traditional academia.

A specific stipulation of the Gates Foundation grants will be partnering with an already established MOOC platform, including not only online universities like Udacity and Coursera, but also technology platforms already well-established in the institutional setting—such as Blackboard or Desire2Learn. This stipulation aims to ensure the new courses get adequate exposure and connect to students where they are already heading for these services.

A recent study on educational attainment underscores the vital importance of higher education reaching out to underserved demographics.  This Harvard-based Pathways to Prosperity Project concluded that education is increasingly separating lower-income jobs from more fulfilling work. Additional studies have concluded that alternative education can be successful in bridging the gap.

One of CEOs for Cities’ primary missions is to espouse the talent dividend, which concludes that a 1% increase in the population that holds a college degree in the top 51 U.S. metros would lead to a dividend of $124 billion— manifested in household income growth. That growth, which is already occurring in some metros, is one of the biggest factors separating lagging cities from those with economic development success.

What innovations in technology do you believe will help drive educational attainment rates?

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