Two women looking at a computer screen

The number-one benefit of information technology is that it empowers people to do what they want to do. It lets people be creative. It lets people be productive. It lets people learn things they didn’t think they could learn before, and so in a sense it is all about potential. —Steve Ballmer, American businessman and former CEO of the Microsoft Corporation


By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Identify technology tools that enhance student learning
  • Explain how technology skills relate to critical/creative thinking skills
  • Examine online learning in the context of organizing, communicating, reading, and researching online
  • Assess student readiness to use technology


Technology for College Learning

In November 2001, an exciting $700 million-dollar project began in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: The public school system would be modernized and upgraded. Part of the renovation would take place in the Emerson School, a 120-year-old building—one of the first public schools built in the city. Slated to be removed and replaced with Smart Boards were four old green chalkboards still hanging on several classroom walls.

When the contractors removed the green chalkboards, though, they made an amazing discovery: They found a set of untouched blackboards hanging behind the green chalkboards, which contained writings and drawing of students and teachers in 1917. On one board, for instance, were notes in a treble clef, apparently from a music class. On another blackboard were illustrations of Thanksgiving pilgrims. On still another was a multiplication wheel—a teaching device of yesteryear that the then-current school employees did not understand. And the Pledge of Allegiance was written on one of the boards in pristine cursive penmanship. The renovators also found old report cards, as well as a newspaper clipping advertising “Women’s shoes, $3.00!”

Teacher Sherry Read reflected on the meaning of this discovery: “I think they [the teachers in 1917] left them there on purpose to send a message to us, to say, ‘This is what was going on in our time.’”

Today, the formerly hidden chalkboards are protected with acrylic glass. Controls are also in place for light and temperature exposure. With this care, the chalkboards could last another one hundred years. To see photographs of the find, visit Oklahoma’s Hidden Chalkboards of Yesteryear.

Indeed, 1917 was another era of classroom teaching. Just imagine if the students and teachers from that day were to visit your college classrooms today. How much culture shock would they experience? Do you think they would be able to catch on to your level of technology skill and awareness?

Clearly, the technological differences between 1917 and now are staggering. Today we have online classes, blended learning, and flipped classrooms, MOOCs, microlectures, and mobile learning. We have blogs, wikis, podcasts, clickers, cloud computing, virtual reality and gaming. And we have laptops, tablets, smartphones, 3D printing, eye tracking, and LCD touch boards. Then there’s the explosion of social networking explosion—Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, Twitter, Tumblr, Flickr, and Google+—not to mention the invention of Apple, Microsoft, and the Internet, and, well, online dating!

What’s next, and how soon will it come?

It’s no wonder that colleges and universities today place a heavy emphasis on teaching and learning with technology. Consider the following statistics:

  • 85 percent of college-bound students say technology in the classroom and the availability of online classes are their top determinants in choosing a college.[1]
  • The total of 5.8 million distance-education students in fall 2014 was composed of 2.85 million taking all of their courses at a distance, and 2.97 million taking some, but not all, courses at a distance.
  • One in every seven students studies exclusively online; more than one in four students takes at least one online course.
  • Public institutions command the largest portion of distance-education students, with 72.7 percent of undergraduate and 38.7 percent of graduate-level distance students.
  • Students favor laptops as their digital technology of choice. In a study conducted by Harris Poll for AMD (a technology company), 85 percent of study respondents own a laptop, used variously for taking notes during class, doing homework and projects, watching television shows and videos, and conducting multiple other tasks. Forty-one percent of the AMD study respondents reported that they consider the laptop to be more important than a TV, bicycle, car, or tablet.[2]
  • Distance-education enrollments continue to grow.

Critical and Creative Thinking with Technology

Why is there such a powerful thrust behind technology in education? How significantly is technology contributing to our ability to be critical and creative thinkers? After all, technology, by itself, cannot create critical or creative thinkers. But when it’s used with the guidance of a teacher who understands how to use it, and by students who also have sufficient technology skills and resources, the teaching and learning process can be considerably enhanced. Consider the following:

  • Computer software and Internet resources allow students to record, defend, and challenge their thinking.
  • Digital camcorders allow students to observe and analyze the world—to resee and reimagine it in a way that appeals to them.
  • Interactive whiteboards are helpful for class discussions about ideas or Web content; they facilitate whole-class display and hands-on participation.
  • Student-response systems, like clickers, allow students to respond to questions and then debate the answers.
  • Blogs can serve as personal journals, where students can record, share, and reflect on field experiences and research activities. Students can also use blogs as a preestablished environment for critically responding to assigned readings.
  • Wikis can help students coordinate, compile, synthesize, and present individual or group projects or research, as well as build and share group resources and knowledge. Wikis can also help students provide peer review, feedback, and critiques.
  • Discussion boards can help students establish a sense of community with their class and engage in ongoing threaded conversations on assigned readings and topics highlighting diverse points of view.

The following graphic illustrates how different digital technologies can help faculty and students with critical and creative thinking. Notice the six main categories in the graphic. They correspond with Bloom’s taxonomy, discussed in the section on Patterns of Thought.

The red and blue arrows outside the diagram indicate the fluidity with which the tools can travel through the different levels in the taxonomy. All in all, the diagram, below, shows the interconnectedness of technology resources in helping users increase their critical and creative thinking skills.

Getting Tech-Ready

If you are thinking about taking an online course or even a blended or hybrid-format course, you already know that it will require some basic technological skills. And while you don’t necessarily need to be a computer scientist to take a class that involves a lot of online work, you should have a solid understanding of the basic technical skills needed to succeed. Understanding what these skills are up front will make things much easier for you as a student.

The Getting Tech-Ready tutorial, below, is from the California Community College system. It is specially designed to help California’s online community college students, but it is widely applicable to college students taking technology-enhanced courses anywhere. It will help you becoming familiar with the following:

  • the hardware and software requirements of most online and hybrid courses
  • the value of a fast Internet connection
  • how to locate and download the free plugins that your course might require
  • the basics of email
  • how to obtain tech support when you need it

When you have finished this first Getting Tech-Ready tutorial, complete the computer-readiness activity, below.

NOTE: You will find additional tutorials, below, from the OEI Online Learner Readiness project. All are geared to help students develop skills required to be successful online learners. Remember that even though you may be a savvy smartphone, tablet, and/or computer user, you may not be prepared for the particular challenge of college-level learning in the online environment. The tutorials below are engaging and interactive, and are designed to address the real challenges that both experienced and novice online students may encounter.




  • Assess your readiness to participate in online learning
  • Identify key factors in being a successful online learner


  • Now visit the Online Learning Readiness Questionnaire. You will be queried about your interests in and aptitudes for online learning. Your answers will help you determine what you need to do to succeed at online learning. Post-survey feedback will also provide you with information on what you can expect from an online course.


Introduction to Online Learning

In tutorial #2, below, also from the OEI Online Learner Readiness project, you will investigate online learning as an alternative to a traditional classroom. What will this mean for you as a student? In the tutorial you will be introduced to the world of online learning: how it works, a few of the common misconceptions about online learning environments, and some differences you will encounter when taking courses online rather than in a traditional classroom.

Organizing with Technology

Tutorial #3, below, will help you organize for online learning success. This is important for online learners because the format is quite different from a face-to-face (f2f) course on campus. In a “f2f” course, for instance, you’ll typically meet with your instructor and the other students in your class at least once a week and receive frequent reminders about when assignments are due.

In an online environment, though, it’s up to you to remind yourself. Luckily, there are a lot of tools available to help you get started. But first it’s important to get organized.

Tutorial #3 will help you to do the following:

  • organize your physical study space
  • organize your course materials
  • develop a scheduling system that will help you turn all of your coursework in on time


Communicating with Technology

Good communication skills are essential in online and blended courses. There are many different ways you’ll communicate with your instructor and other students in your class. Tutorial #4 introduces you to common terms you’ll need to know and some concepts that can lead you to success in your class. The following important topics are covered:

  • the vocabulary that may be used to describe communication in your online class
  • how communication is different for you as a student when you’re learning online
  • some of the advantages and disadvantages of academic online communication
  • how to become an effective communicator in an online or blended course


Reading and Researching with Technology

In an online learning environment, you’re probably going to do more reading than listening. You may do some of your reading in printed form—say, an assigned novel or textbook—but some of it might also be online in the form of a Web page. Reading online isn’t the same as reading in print, so it’s important to practice some strategies that will improve your online reading comprehension and speed. Some of the strategies described in the next tutorial will help you with any kind of reading you’re doing—not just online material. Tutorial #5 discusses the following:

  • some of the differences between reading print and reading online
  • strategies for staying focused when reading online
  • ways to maximize your reading speed and comprehension

Below are two additional resources that complement the online reading strategies tutorial. They will help you use the Internet to find scholarly material and evaluate Web sites for accuracy, relevance, etc.

a picture of a blank video screen
Video: Using the Internet to Find Scholarly Information


a picture of a blank video screen
Video: How to Evaluate a Website

Mobile Learning and Social Networking

Mobile learning and social networking are both major players in college life and learning. You are likely quite adept at both! Consider the following statistics:

  • Mobile Learning: By the time the class of 2016 graduates, close to 91.4 percent of U.S. college students will own a smartphone. See the eMarketer data graph showing U.S. college student smartphone users, 2010–2016. In 2010, the number was 8.14 million; the number projected for 2016 is 17 million. Students want and need to use their mobile device for learning.[3]
  • Social Networking: See the data graph showing the daily time spent on select social networks by U.S. college student Internet users, as of May 2015. The graph answers the question about whether or not young people have given up on Facebook. Clearly, Facebook is still a winner. Social networking can readily facilitate learning.[4]




CC licensed content, modified from the original
CC licensed content, Shared previously

  1. "Digital Capabilities at Universities Key to Draw Students." CareerIndia. 28 Nov 2014. Web. 16 Feb 2016.
  2. "Survey Reveals How Much College Students Rely on Technology." SchoolGuides. 13 Jul 2014. Web. 16 Feb 2016. ↵
  3. "College Students Adopt Mobile Across the Board." Newsroom. eMarketer, 28 Aug 2012. Web. 16 Feb 2016
  4. "College Students Still Spend Most Social Time with Facebook." eMarketer. 8 Sept 2015. Web. 16 Feb 2016.


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