Whether it’s because of cost, implementation challenges, or the fear that something newer and better will rapidly render the investment outdated, educational institutions are not known for being early adopters of technology. Some institutions, however, have pushed forward with initiatives that have broken ground in all facets of education–from classroom learning to campus life to administration. Here are some schools that have taken the plunge and are finding the deeper waters exceptionally rewarding.
Library Science & the University of Chicago
The University of Chicago’s new Joe and Rika Mansueto Library is like something out of science fiction, with its cranes, elevators, and underground labyrinth of enormous steel cases. While many academic libraries are digitizing their collections, Mansueto is taking it one step further by also pioneering an automated storage and retrieval system. New York Times writer, Jaywon Choe compares it to “the door-sorting machine” from Pixar’s “Monsters Inc.”
How does the system work? A user requests a book from the online catalog; several cranes run along parallel tracks and one locates the requested book using bar codes; another crane removes the appropriate container and transports it to an elevator which lifts it to the resource center; a human from the resource center retrieves the book, scans the bar code and lets the student know that the book has arrived.
The best part? All this occurs within 5 minutes.
Manseuto’s efforts to re-envision the modern university library extend to the laboratory as well: it has a lab for both conservation and digitization. The lab mends paper and rebinds old texts — some of them papyrus — when it’s not preparing materials for scanning and digitization.
Math Readiness & Arizona State University
Nationwide, only 56% of students who begin post-secondary education receive a degree within 6 years. Students who require remediation before beginning regular coursework have a lower chance of graduating than those who do not require remediation. After all, more than 50% of U.S college students who require remediation do not receive a bachelor’s degree.
Students at Arizona State University who are not college-ready in mathematics are now remediated with a self-paced, online developmental math course powered by the Knewton Adaptive Learning Platform™, which transforms educational content to uniquely personalize the individual learning experience. Students progress through the course by completing diagnostic exams. Depending on their performance on these tests, they either pass out or place into a given lesson. These lessons contain multiple learning items or “activities,” which are designed to be short and full of real-world examples. Meanwhile, game mechanics, micro-rewards and an intuitive interface ensure that students are engaged and working through the material in a productive way.
The Knewton Math Readiness for College™ course also features a rich reporting interface, providing instructors and tutors access to a plethora of student data. Instructors can view class lists to see which students are on or off track, or they can search for individual student performance metrics. Instructors can also view trends across an entire group of students to determine if there are particular concepts that are problematic across the board. The reporting interface also functions as a class management tool, enabling instructors to optimize class time by focusing lessons around exactly those concepts with which students need the most help.
Dorm Life & the University of Kentucky
A newly renovated dorm at the University of Kentucky offers students a dazzling immersion in technology. The recent $1 million renovations include 20 wireless access points in the basement and first floor (enough to serve 75 high-bandwidth users at the same time), 11 large-screen TVs, and two 82-inch interactive whiteboards in the dorm’s two smart classrooms which are fully equipped for international conferencing.
As part of the program, each of the 177 freshman housed in the dorm were given an iPad and required to enroll in a series of courses that incorporate technology in unexpected ways. The offerings are eclectic and include “Social Connections: The Sweet and the Bitter of Relationships,” “The Vietnam War,” and “The African-American Experience in Kentucky.” The aim of the high-tech dorm is to teach students “IT IQ,” or the ability to use technology for research and collaboration. In order to allow the rest of the university and education community to benefit from the experiment, faculty directors and social scientists will be watching closely to see what happens and whether any best practices can be gleaned from the program.
Distance Education & West Virginia state schools
A major improvement in West Virginia’s statewide broadband network will yield new opportunities in distance education to institutions which until now did not have reliable Internet access. In 2010, West Virginia was ranked 48th nationally in broadband penetration, according to the Federal Communications Commission. By 2012, however, West Virginia is expected to be among the top five most connected states in the country, due to a joint state and federal effort called the “West Virginia Statewide Broadband Infrastructure Project.”
The $126 million in federal stimulus money backing the project is already having a dramatic impact on enrollment numbers at several state schools. The new infrastructure project is also revitalizing the online offerings of many colleges and providing schools with thousands of new potential students, many of whom are working adults who reside in rural areas. Reliable online classes afford them flexible scheduling and also reduce travel time (some would otherwise have to drive 100 miles or more, over rough terrain, to attend classes).
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