Location, tuition costs, degree programs, financial aid… these are just a few of the factors you consider when evaluating a college or university. Here’s another suggestion: add technology to the list of criteria. At most of today’s leading colleges, students can manage their accounts online, interact via e-mail with faculty, submit assignments electronically, and gain access to a library’s entire collection online. There are chat rooms, online bookstores, and web-based wizards for resume building and career exploration. And this is just the beginning.
Technology is everywhere we live, work, socialize, and learn – it’s become part of our lives. We take new cars for a spin, try out new entertainment systems, and conduct trial periods on new software, so why not take a technology test-drive of your prospective college choices? Here are some factors to consider:
* Fluff or For Real—Is it just high-tech hype? A college or university may have a web site complete with bells, whistles, and the latest whirligigs, but it may stop there, so dig a little deeper. Successful colleges embrace the integration of technology with learning to ensure it permeates every activity, organization, and process on campus. Find out how widespread the technology is on campus. Are students, faculty and staff using the technology? Is technology accessible everywhere, including the classrooms, the library, study lounges, and resident halls?
* Future Commitment—Technology changes too rapidly for it not to be an integral part of any college’s vision or strategy for future success. Confirm that there is current—as well as future—ownership and commitment at the operational and leadership levels.
* Chevy or Cadillac—Determine if the technology at the college is up-to-date. Successful programs include access to e-mail, the Internet, the latest software programs, and other applications that enhance the learning process. Can you register for classes, pay bills, or buy books from a virtual bookstore? Can you access electronic copies of books, magazine articles, and class reserves? Can you participate in after-class discussions, check out your course syllabus, and view a presentation through the course web site?
* Support—The use of technology on a college campus is only as effective as those who support and maintain it. Check to see if your prospective colleges or universities incorporate a dedicated technical support staff and/or a computer-learning center that offers hardware/software upgrades and troubleshooting help.
* Mobility and Ubiquity—This is known as the icing on the cake. While some colleges offer desktop computers in labs or dorm rooms, other leading-edge institutions provide wireless laptops to incoming students, giving them access to the world around them from virtually any location.
The benefits of a tech-savvy college or university extend beyond the computer screen. Communication between students, faculty and staff is improved and new efficiencies in processes are quickly realized. Some students also feel that attending a highly wired campus enables the faculty and support staff to be even more accessible in many ways, including virtual office hours, online group discussions, and help with a project-in-progress via e-mail. Faculty members have discovered that technology enhances the learning process by offering new ways of learning and sharing information while improving timeliness, organization, and communication skills. From a staffing perspective, student data can be effectively compiled, stored and shared via Web-based, user-friendly tools.
Test-driving prospective colleges or universities for their use of technology should become part of your search process and selection criteria. It’s a wise move in today’s wired world, and it can be one of the key factors in determining the potential effectiveness and value of your higher education experience.