Critical Perspectives on Technology and Society
March 5, 2015
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Although advances in technology have yielded tools for effectively disseminating information, the same technology affects — and to a large extent is influenced by — society and how new cultural dimensions are expressed. Colleges, like any other educational institution, leverage technology to communicate with students, be it distributing tuition statements, grades and teaching materials or advertising on-campus events. It is important for administrators and faculty, in addition to students, to be aware of the central problems in the interaction between technology and society.
Technology and Student Culture
The array of data on Internet-connected computers and mobile devices can be overwhelming. It's an ongoing challenge for colleges to pull their students away from their smartphones, tablets and other digital devices in a situation where crucial information needs to be passed along, or to have them interact with each other in more traditional on-campus social events. Face-to-face contact has to be encouraged not only among students themselves, but with the administration and faculty, as well, given that many essential university services are available online.
The role of information technology cannot be understated in student activities. There exist several platforms that allow students to participate in group discussions remotely and in real time. A range of smartphone applications specific to college environments have also been developed. These applications cater to their respective students, providing easy access to information that would have otherwise had to be mailed or emailed individually.
But this mode of teaching is plagued by several challenges:
- Virtual classrooms may give students the opportunity to take classes remotely, often at their convenience, but some students are bound to graduate without ever setting foot on a college campus. This may make economic sense, but it limits students' interactions to online communication only, denying them that social bond or camaraderie with their peers.
- Plagiarism is a major threat. Given that assignments and class projects are conducted via Web-based research, the temptation to lift material from other online sources and present it as original work is high, especially if the student's time is strained by two part-time jobs or raising a family. Colleges may employ software that detects such material if presented verbatim, but if a few sentences are tweaked here and there, the student may beat the system.
- Cultural factors also impact online learning. Student engagement with learning technologies may not be effective, given their different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. A college with a culturally diverse student enrollment can improve the quality of learning and ensure participant satisfaction by: addressing organizational, technological and pedagogical components of online learning to increase flexibility and enable a more practical course design and delivery; and constructing a culturally inclusive learning environment by encouraging peer engagement and intercultural communication.
A community's values, norms, roles and institutions are typically affected by social changes. Today, technological innovation may be the single most important source of social change, impacting students' culture, relationships and individual lives.
Social media may have upped the ante: Instead of corresponding with seven people, students can interact with hundreds instantaneously. This rate of advancement in technology may be beyond students' capacity to cope with the moral and ethical dilemmas associated with, say, leaked private or embarrassing information.
Peer culture in American colleges has developed to the extent that one's friends and acquaintances can communicate over a digital platform, be it discussing homework or just catching up. Paradoxically, the present structure of social media typically produces a response on the part of the user that effectively impedes the process of in-person interaction.
When it comes to the relationship between technology and society within the higher education landscape, the advancement of computer-mediated communication continues to shape students' cultural identity — from defining their music and entertainment to their choice of friends, academic success and career prospects.
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