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Principia College should be on the cutting edge!

If we are going to advance education at The Principia, we must embrace technological advances and be on the cutting edge of these advances, leading the way.  When students graduate from Principia, they should bring these advances to the workplace.

For the third year, the Principia Upper and Middle Schools issued computer tablets to every student and teacher and have coordinated a cutting edge 1-2-1 program very close to state of the art.  Most of the coursework and ebooks are loaded on the laptop tablets, which allow for dropping homework electronically and more directly communicating with teachers (similar to text messaging).  Students missing class may still participate with their tablets by using Skype and interactively attending the class electronically, watching class lectures live via classroom cameras.  This program is an additional expense to each student, but it is well worth it.

“As for the 1-2-1 program,” said Christian Borja, Principia College Academic Technology Coordinator, “I think that all faculty and students should have a laptop.  The problem is that it’s not just about making the technology and tools available, we have to deal with the individual faculty ability to use these tools.”

Borja has been working on upgrading the Blackboard (Bb) online software to current standards and to support the new online learning initiative.  It was stunning to discover that only 50 current courses use Bb and even post current assignments and coursework, when 350 courses are offered by the college.  The administration does not yet require professors to use Bb.

“We’ve had the Blackboard system a long time, but since I’ve been here [4 years], we’ve gone from 15 courses available to almost 50,” said Borja.  “There has never been any incentive for the faculty to learn how to use what we already have in Bb.  The administration needs to require professors to learn how to use Bb.  The fall retreat needs to involve technology and focus on technological advances – the faculty has to be the ones who make this happen.”

Since it appears that the faculty needs to be motivated and educated to allow for such an upgrade to work in the classroom, we discovered that the ‘Teaching Excellence Center’ was designed to bring about this change.  But when Christian Borja offered a Technology workshop for professors last fall, only six professors attended.

“Teachers don’t have the mental bandwidth in their schedules to make this change right now,” said Rick Dearborn, Director of Digital Media, “with the current emphasis on changing to the semester system, I think it will take until next year before they are ready.”

College President and Chief Executive Dr. Jonathan Palmer agreed that the emphasis for greater technological requirements needs to come from the faculty, and he hoped that the upgraded Bb software and online learning initiative would start to get things moving in that direction.

Would iPads be beneficial to College learning? photo //

“I see a technological vision that sees us in more advances,” said Dr. Palmer, “It’s more difficult to look at with 24 majors and 350 classes.  These are the questions for me: What is the content? Can we meet those needs? Can we read on an iPad? The content is spotty at best,” Dr. Palmer continued, “we have Blackboard to meet some needs. The content is still a driver for me, but I wonder if it’s out there. It’s a platform issue, too, but I don’t think we’ll find a common app.”

Some California schools are requiring students to have smartphones like the iPhone or Android, and they have had reasonable success.  Abilene Christian University is issuing iPads in their School of Business, and they are studying the results closely.

“Smartphones may be the widget we need to require of all students,” said Dearborn, “They are inexpensive and thousands of apps are available.  Some schools are already incorporating them into classroom work, like taking quizzes on an iPhone.” In fact, Principia provided an on-campus talk titled ‘A Vision into Future Teaching and Learning Technologies and Spaces’ on October 5 by Mark Valenti of the Sextant Group, Inc.  Mr. Valenti predicted that smartphones with new video technology will over-take laptop sales in 2011.  He has seen these new smartphones at tradeshows that are also a video projector, which can show movies, Power Point presentations and video conferences and project them on a wall or as a virtual reality image or heads up display.

Valenti also recommended that a campus like Principia include WiMax service, which would allow students to use wireless internet from the bluffs to the soccer field, from Eliestoun to the end of Lilac Lane.  Such a service is working on the campus already but just needs to made available to all students and their smart phones or wireless laptops.

In any case, Principia should offer cutting edge technology to students on a continuing basis.  At a minimum, one department should offer students iPads or pc tablets with ebooks and then start to test and perfect the technologies available, to start Principia in the right direction for the future.  This ‘Pilot Program’ could be started by Spring Quarter by some organized faculty who care about technology and how it relates to the future of their students. Let’s pray they are out there reading this article now, and thinking of proposing something similar to move us into the future more advantageously!

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