The Institution of Education in times of technological incline

By Taylor Schlacter

Over the course of history, many of society’s institutions, such as medical or industrial institutions, have been constantly redefined and improved by the growing capacity of human knowledge. These improvements can readily be observed by comparing technological, intellectual and societal states at different periods of time. For example, the Pharaohs’ reign in Egypt compared to the Renaissance.

There have been paramount improvements on these institutions which in turn propagate more improvements and so on and so forth. However, the advancement of the educational institution has not been as apparent nor as prominent as the advancements made by the international medical institution. There’s absolutely no doubt that the institution of education has undergone tremendous improvements through advancements in technology, yet I can’t help but question its effectiveness in today’s world or why it has not adapted to the rapid influx of information-gathering capabilities to which most of the world is privy.

The Socratic Method of teaching has been everlasting and omnipresent because it works and has worked for centuries. In most cultures where education is present, the system of education is relatively consistent; there’s usually one professor who instructs an audience of listeners and then evaluates their comprehension on the subject material. This is all fine and good, except for what I believe to be an underlying issue. In today’s universities, the element of technology has heavily integrated itself into the world of academia. For all intents and purposes, this has made our lives simultaneously easier and more complicated.

A report came out recently from the Pew Research Center’s Internet and the American Life Project which found that the majority of young adults go online for no good reason at all except for purposes of Internet fun and time consumption. It’s a truth which anyone with a laptop sitting in a lecture can attest to. When I sit in the back of one of my lectures, I scan the room to see from far away how many people are actually typing the notes displayed on the projector, or instead using StumbleUpon.com, Facebook etc; most of the time it’s the latter.

If students are not distracted by their laptops, they are distracted by cell phones. I don’t know about the rest of the student body, but when I sit down to write a paper or do a reading assignment on my computer, it always takes me longer than it should simply because I have access to the entire Internet or ongoing text message conversations. It’s a huge distraction and an enormous tool for procrastination. I’m sure there is a large percentage of people whom this doesn’t affect, but I know for a fact that it affects me and many other students that I know.

I always wonder if the institution of education will ever adapt to this growing presence of personalized computing technology and high-speed information sharing. Will the growing efficiency of this technology allow us to abolish the need for the instructor-student relationship? Perhaps there will be a point in the distant future when knowledge can be permanently ingrained in our minds and available for us to draw upon at any given time. Perhaps however, the Socratic Method will remain instated as a very efficient form of education. Nonetheless, the institution of education isn’t broken; I just think it’s getting to be a little outdated and needs to be refreshed somehow. But in the immortal words of the Russian proverb – “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.”

Taylor Schlacter is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]