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Technology and the Modern Student

Three students working together in front of a computer

Ask anyone on campus about Cal Poly Pomona’s future, and you’ll get quite a few answers. Some changes are predictable. Others are harder to measure: How will technology change the university? How will the Internet, social media and instant access to information change the college experience and learning process?

Strengthening Curriculum

Students conduct optical spectroscopy experiments on a mercury sample

One of the biggest changes at Cal Poly Pomona is not about new technology. In fact, it involves one of the oldest inventions of early civilization: the calendar system.

The university is planning to switch from quarters to semesters conversion in 2017, and Provost Marten denBoer, believes that students will reap numerous rewards. “Students will have a better learning experience in the semester system,” he says. “We know that the more you engage with the material and work with it in a hands-on kind of way, the better you learn.”

Having a few extra weeks in the term will help students gain even more from their classroom and lab experiences than they do now.

In the next decade, denBoer envisions more time for collaborative projects, better opportunities for internships and service learning, and an even bigger emphasis on general education.

“I expect that general education will still be the foundation of a college degree. It’s certainly important that students have a particular specialization and master that, but it’s also important that they still have a broad exposure to a variety of disciplines.”

Constant Connectivity

A student working on his laptop while hanging out in the University QuadOne of the major questions for future-thinking universities is how to leverage the technology students already have.

“People are walking around with high-powered computers in their pockets,” says John McGuthry, the university’s chief information officer. “One of the things we may want to begin thinking about is how we can take advantage of all of the processing power and how we can use that in education.”

McGuthry envisions a campus where students can walk from a parking lot to the Bronco Student Center to a classroom — all without losing the university’s network connection.

However, there are growing concerns that technology may be detrimental to learning. The allure of Facebook and YouTube can be more enticing than working on math calculations or a term paper.

McGuthry understands. “That doesn’t necessarily mean that good work isn’t being done here. You can always find a reason not to do your work, but you can always find good reasons to do your work. I think that those choices are always there, regardless of whether or not they are electronic.

“People always say that they’re concerned about technology. What it really does is make something faster, or more efficient, or have fewer errors.”

The Library of the Future

A group of students meet at one of the group study rooms in the library.With more and more information available online, it is rarely necessary for a student to browse a physical book or journal. Yet students are still coming to the University Library — about 10,000 a day, according to Ray Wang, the dean of the library.

Students go to the library much the same reason people go to a gym, he says.

“People can run anywhere, but they go to the gym because everybody is working out there,” Wang says. “People are competitive. We are pack animals. We are gregarious by nature. We come in, we see other people doing something and we think, ‘I don’t want to be left behind.’”

Wang says new technology such as JSTOR, an online digital library, makes research projects much easier. But, he asks, at what cost?

Easy access to almost limitless sources leads to what Wang calls “informational obesity.” Students can take in tremendous amounts of information but still need the skills to distinguish between reliable and unreliable sources. He believes that this will shape the library of the future.

“Libraries will still be a repository for quality printed publications. And library professionals will become a totally different type of professional. They’ll be there to teach people how to use a printed reference book or how to find things in an encyclopedia. They’ll be trying to help students wade through these libraries of information, this information maze, and helping them cut down this bad habit of informational obesity. Consume information wisely; consume information with measure; consume information with discipline.”

An Exciting Time

Two students learning how to make biodieselThe physical world will continue to fuse with the electronic world. So where does that leave Cal Poly Pomona’s learn-by-doing approach?

Regardless of how technology evolves, the university’s fundamental philosophy will not change.

“I think learn-by-doing will be even more relevant in 10 years,” says Victoria Bhavsar, director of the Faculty Center for Professional Development and eLearning. “The way our global and national economy is going makes the learn-by-doing experience even more important. What you can do for an employer right off the bat is going to continue to be important.”

Wang concurs: Advancing technology will make a student’s learn-by-doing experience even easier to attain.

“When we talk about learn-by-doing at Cal Poly Pomona, I think a lot of people are thinking of engineering students and architecture students. But with technology, learn-by-doing is for everybody. By utilizing digital content and simulations, everyone can have that experience.

“It’s an exciting time.”

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What will Cal Poly Pomona be like in the next 75 years? Send us your thoughts via Twitter and use the hashtag #cpp75future. Remember, tweets are limited to 140 characters.