Education in a virtual world

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For many adult students, returning to school after years of being away can come with an adjustment period, especially if they’re taking classes online! Though some might hold reservations about the use of technology in learning, many universities now facilitate learning and collaboration through effective use of Internet applications and technologies, using methods that often surpass their material counterparts.

The most ubiquitous e-learning application is the virtual classroom. Tools like Blackboard provide students and instructors with a virtual environment in which to interact. Blackboard makes multi-user email communication easy and intuitive, while message boards provide an electronic analog for instructor-led in-class discussion and collaboration. This virtual environment also insures that turning in papers and other assignments is simple and straightforward. Similarly, instructors can distribute syllabi, worksheets, selected readings and other course materials with ease, knowing that students will never lose access to them; they’re always available electronically.

While virtual classrooms are a great means of holding online class discussion and disseminating information, other tools exist online that provide the means for the actual work of virtual collaboration. The most well known application of this kind is Google Drive. Google Drive hosts a suite of office and educational functions — word processing, spreadsheets, slide shows and more. But Drive’s most direct learning application is the ability for multiple users to simultaneously write and edit a single document, allowing for a kind of real-time collaboration not possible in a traditional classroom setting.

Another web app, Prezi, offers students a versatile and easy-to-use presentation tool, for free. Offered in both free and subscription models, Prezi gives users a dynamic and engaging means of conveying information to an audience, insuring their attention is rapt. It’s perfect for collaborative group projects, and like Google Drive, allows for simultaneous document creation.

The continued use of technology in learning has made education more accessible for students attending Spring Arbor University — students living hundreds of miles from SAU’s Spring Arbor campus can now take classes remotely, “attending” lectures and discussions online and uploading their assignments via Blackboard. The move of education and information online has also contributed to a new cognitive phenomenon; with facts and figures available instantaneously, students are free to focus on their meaning within given contexts, rather than spending time memorizing dates and names. So more than making learning easier, technology is ultimately making learning better, and it’s all happening right here at Spring Arbor University.

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