Technology and education continue to evolve and connect
It's easy for the average person to notice how quickly technology has changed in the past decade, or even the last five years. Being a user of technology, such as computers and cell phones, demands a certain level of upgrading and keeping up with advances. It seems that machines are getting smaller and more powerful by the day. It's difficult enough to follow the trends for yourself, but imagine being an educator whose job it is to train pre-service teachers and keep them up on technology so they can properly teach their future students. Bill Hamlin '07, '09, a graduate program assisant in Western Oregon University's College of Ecucation, is one such educator.
He’s known since he was a kid that he wanted to teach. After finishing his undergraduate degree in education at WOU, he tried to get a teaching position, but found that it was a difficult thing to do with this economy. Hamlin chose to go back to school and get his master’s in education, hoping that would help him get a job teaching at the high school level. When considering his options, he knew he’d always been interested in technology and WOU had just revamped its information technology program, so he jumped on the opportunity. Hamlin got a graduate assistant position and gained some experience teaching undergrads. It turns out, teaching at the college level was where his passion truly lay.
“Ever since I first owned a PC, I always liked tinkering around with them and using them for school. That was the reason I got my first computer and that’s pretty much been the reason I stayed up with technology; using it to enhance my own education and now I get to use them to enhance the education of our pre-service teachers, which will in turn help them to enhance their classroom practice and theory. It’s always been related to education,” he said.
He’s amazed at how technology has evolved, recalling when computers were all about numbers, data, charts and graphs, but now computers are so easy to use and powerful that kids use them at younger ages, and can do more with them. “When I was in school, we had the computer lab. There might have been a couple of computers in the library, but rarely did you see computers in the classroom. If there was one, it was the teacher’s. You were lucky to get an hour a week in the computer lab, learning how to use it for your educational purposes. Then we saw a shift to more and more classrooms were getting computers. I think the real shift is going from that to having laptops. The shift is going smaller and smaller and more mobile. Now students can have computing power wherever they go.”
Hamlin sees the future of technology transitioning even further from laptops to smaller devices like smartphones, which students can keep in their pockets and get access to internet wherever they go through their cellular network. Although he believes that’s where technology is heading, he said there’s not a single answer for technology in education because not everyone will agree and not everyone can afford it.
So, how does this involve education and teachers? “Teachers need to stay up on technology. There will always be students who know more about technology than teachers, but there will always be students who do not know as much,” said Hamlin. He believes it is critical for educators to stay current with technology, and that starts in the classroom while they are still students. Part of that is using technology in the classroom. Hamlin said the College of Education received funding for 20 iPod Touches so pre-service teachers can understand this prominent technology; from apps to podcasts to videocasts and other tools that can be used in the classroom.
Not only does he find it vital to bring the current technology to the classroom, he believes that online classes are going to be even more critical in the future.
“People may argue online classes don’t allow for the same structure and interaction with classmates and teachers as in-person, but technology is advancing so it’s possible to get close to that experience,” he said. WOU uses a system called Moodle for its online classes, which allows for posting videos, forum discussions, and online chats. Hamlin sees systems like Moodle evolving even further so that online courses are using live video feeds for students to interact with instructors in a way that’s as close to being in the same room as possible. “It will be a much richer experience, you won’t necessarily feel isolated at your computer, typing your questions and waiting a day or two for a response. It’s instant, it’s fluid and you get a lot out of it that way,” he said.
Hamlin also believes that the university must be a leader in technological innovation. “We have to be first in some things. We have to do something bold to stay ahead of the game. Maybe we find a potential use for a new technology with K-12 education and we pilot that technology with our pre-service teachers or we might do a campus-wide technology integration with a new technology or service that other universities haven’t used. Not only would this help advance the technology and the use and understanding of it, but it also helps show everyone that our university values technology and using it to enhance our students’ experiences.”
He is excited to see how technology and education continue to evolve and connect to each other. “It poses a challenge for us as educators, and us as a university, to stay up-to-date so we can meet the needs of our students. Those needs are changing everyday.”