The internet and new technological advances are great tools to disseminate knowledge and make it more accessible than ever before. I remember my mom telling me how one of my grandfather’s brother went to Spain to study medicine in the early 20th century. She told me how they waited eagerly for his letters or telegraphs. Now, I am far from home pursuing a doctoral degree in Virginia Tech, but we communicate frequently by phone or video calls (like FaceTime or Skype). She tells me: “now it is easier for moms to have their sons/daughters far away studying”.
This type of technology used in the classroom is one with great potential. It could allow a professor to have an invited speaker from a different country or continent with benefits to both parties. The host does not need to pay for the travel expenses of the speaker and the speaker could continue with his work schedule as usual, just setting aside the time for the virtual lecture. A student could connect to a lecture from another hemisphere; he/she could have access to world class education from his living room. But just having a speaker sit down and talk is not the most effective way in which students will learn about a topic. In my student life (almost all of it) I have seen firsthand different attempts at connected learning. Here I will provide several examples:
- During my masters we had once a speaker connecting via telephone to a class while someone passed the slides that were sent via email. It was a small classroom, but still it was very difficult to hear and keep track of the material without having someone there physically.
- Another experience included connecting to another university’s lecture and connecting with several other students around the country to watch the lecture offered in the origin campus. This proved in my perspective an attempt that lost the interest of several of the students in the classroom.
- Lastly, I have tested several courses offered by Coursera, with different degrees of satisfaction. I have seen courses that have a lecturer speaking with a background of slides and others that are more interactive, displaying different graphics to emphasize different areas and in which the lecturer interacts more with the audience. It could be related to the way in which I learn, but the latter method works better keeping me interested in the topic and making me return to watch more sections of the online class.
People learn in different ways, connected learning is another tool that professors can utilize to disseminate knowledge. With each new attempt, they keep improving their craft. It is up to the new faculty to embrace these technologies and take them to their maximum potential.