Welcome To The Future: Using Technology To Aid Student Achievement
Let me guess. As you read this blog, you've got at least three more tabs open on your browser. Oh, did your smartphone just alert you that you have a text? It's okay, you can check it; i'll wait. Are you back? Great. Let me just send this tweet while I close this youtube video and…..we're back.
Well, folks. The robots have won. We are plugged-in, online, uploaded, downloaded and, some would say, overloaded by technology. The debate continues to rage as to the cost to benefit ratio of this new world order, and I do not aim to solve this debate in the small space of this blog. However, I do want to discuss the ways in which technology has helped my students overcome obstacles to achievement as well as the ways in which it has made my job as a success coach easier and more effective.
Since the advent of the internet more than twenty years ago, technology has been revolutionizing the world of higher education. However, in the last ten years we have witnessed exponential change. First came practical changes, such as online course registration, class webpages, and turnitin.com. Then came google, wikipedia, youtube, and myriad other resources that students now use to research, study, and acquire information. Then colleges and universities discovered that the internet could be used not just as a research tool but as the classroom itself. Now, the idea of online education has gone even further to include things like the Khan Academy and "MOOCS" (Massive Open Online Courses).
In my work as a success coach for on-campus students, there are a few key pieces of technology that I have seen change the entire direction of a student's education. One piece of software that I frequently use is often provided to our students who are working with learning disabilities, but I have found that it can be helpful for any student. This program can upload any textbook onto a flash drive, then read the book aloud to the student. This software is not just a book on tape; it also allows students to select different languages and adjust speed. It is connected to a dictionary, so students can click on any word and learn its definition immediately. This is particularly good for our international students, who benefit from being able to hear and read American English simultaneously.
Additionally, this program helps students organize their notes by allowing them to highlight important portions of text which then are transferred to a study sheet that a student can review digitally or print out as a hard copy. Imagine you're a student who learns best aurally, or a student athlete who must make time to study while riding on a bus to and from away games. Oh, and you are also prone to motion sickness when you read while in transit. I have seen students in both camps go from Cs and Ds to As and Bs simply because they could listen to their textbooks on their laptops, mp3 players, or phones.
Of course, this program and others like it is just the tip of the iceberg. So with all these technological resources available to students with the click of a mouse or, now, simply a swipe of a finger, you'd wonder why today's techno-savvy students ever have any trouble at all! Many students don't have trouble, but I work with the ones who do, and I've learned that some students just can't or don't find these resources themselves. Sometimes they don't know that these resources exist. Sometimes they may have a vague idea that there are technological resources out there, but they simply aren't motivated enough to find them on their own.
For many of my students, they are most likely to follow through to the finish line when a success coach like myself sits down and does it with them. I understand. At times, all of us need to be guided step-by-step through things that are difficult to understand or that we simply put off because we are not motivated to do them. Some people take to new technologies easily, but others are intimidated (me), easily frustrated (me), yet ultimately grateful to have learned something once someone shepherded us through the process of figuring it out (me, me, me).
Part of my job as a success coach, then, is not just to engage with students reactively, but to proactively look for newer and better resources that might help them succeed. I seek out new innovations not just in pedagogy, but in technology. While we may and should continue the debate about the benefits and drawbacks of technology in our colleges and universities for years to come, we should never ignore the practical, on-the-ground solutions- the little things- that can make a big difference.
Susan Marion is the Coordinator for Success Coaches at Tiffin University, in Tiffin, Ohio. She was instrumental in starting success coaching at the institution in 2007. The program now has fifteen part-time success coaches and supports almost one hundred students who are at risk academically.