What are the pros and cons of 2014’s technological advances, and how have they altered the education landscape?

The 2014 education space is overflowing with innovative ideas, technological breakthroughs, and powerful new leaders. This year has seen conversations around data mining and student privacy; MOOCs, micro-credentialing, competency-based learning, and unbundling; and the gamification of education content. These are just a few examples.

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Dr. Wasif Syed, Founder and CEO, Ivy League Advisor, the most innovative educational and leadership development firm

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Technological advances in synchronous and asynchronous learning approaches have revolutionized how students learn and assimilate information. With the advent of MOOCs and online platforms, there has been a lot of discourse of online education replacing traditional learning. No matter how advanced technology gets, nothing can replace the existential experience of learning in a school or university campus. There are enumerable benefits of a student learning in a collegiate environment including peer-to-peer learning. Interacting with other students is priceless. Students learn as much from each other as they do from their professors. Technology certainly catalyzes convergence to a more inclusive society by eliminating barriers to information globally. Online tools ultimately complement traditional learning not replace it and no doubt learning is enhanced by novel tools and MOOCs. However, riding the “online bandwagon” blinds many into thinking that online education is a substitute for learning in a collegiate environment. It isn’t.

Maurice Frumkin, President, NYC Admissions Solutions

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Whether it’s an online school search app, a centralized online choice entry system, or some other type of technological advance, school choice technology has come a long way since the days when stacks of hard copies were hand-delivered. The advent of broader school choice has arguably brought along with it more confusion and, at the same time, obligation on the part of families. This past year represented the next chapter in this evolution, and many families were pleased to jump on the tech bandwagon in the hopes of saving time or just more effectively managing their choice process.

While we share a collective vision of a school portfolio that is sufficiently robust and pleasing to all, school choice technology in and of itself has the potential to improve school choice for families and schools alike by helping them save time, reduce stress, and, dare I say, improve outcomes. As this transformation occurs, there will undoubtedly continue to be bumps and bruises. Let’s keep the key constituencies involved in the conversation along the way to minimize this transitional period: school guidance counselors, educators, and most importantly, families.

James Blain, College lecturer and world traveler

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I beg to differ with Dr. Syed because I and my wife teach full-credit college classes online and students can get the "whole" experience if they're open to it. I'm not saying that fully online learning is ideal for every student, but for the one living far from the university, the one who is pregnant or has an infant/small child, the one who is caretaker for an elderly or disabled individual, or the one who is chronically ill, the online environment makes learning accessible to him or her. It also can cut down on costs due to the student not having to commute. All in all, students have responded positively to our online classes over the years and the university has no intention of stopping this mode of learning.

Colleen Clemens, College Professor, Writer, Editor, Tutor & Parent

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Online education is an interesting issue. I have been teaching online since 2004. I think online learning can be great for well-organized, motivated students. When I teach writing online, I often start the course with "Why did you decide to take this course online?" When students answer that they think it will be "easier," I get really nervous: I think taking a class online is harder. Sure, it fits into a busy schedule, but there are many elements of the course to keep track of without a teacher standing in front of the student reminding her. I can send emails and post announcements; nothing is the same as me looking a student in the eye. So I think online learning can be great, but we need to undo this idea students have that it is the easy route. It is the more flexible route, but that does not mean easy!

Amanda Morris, College Professor, Writer, Advisor, Writing Coach

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Having taught online for a few years at the university level, as well as having incorporated digital technologies into the classroom learning experience and assignments, I see technological advances as primarily beneficial, but it depends on your school's budget and access. For instance, we have access to streaming movies (and online videos) at our university, but not all of our classrooms have consistent streaming capabilities, which can be frustrating for both students and profs.

As for competency-based learning, that is something that our university has adopted into the Gen Ed requirements and it has had mixed results. Many of our courses have now been re-assigned numbers that include the competency abbreviations, such as WI for writing intensive, or CT for critical thinking, but not all courses have been re-assigned and that leads to confusion and frustration as students approach graduation. Some find that they do not have the competency requirements fulfilled and must work with their advisor to get department chairs and/or deans to make exceptions so they can graduate on time.

It seems that we in the academy love technological advancements and the latest content delivery systems or the most innovative curriculum strategy, but we don't often do a very good job planning and executing those changes. As a result, the usage of these advancements is inconsistent and and often incomplete. However, to balance that criticism, I will say that I much prefer an academic environment that is interested and invested in keeping up with tech advances because our students do benefit - once we work out the kinks! :)

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