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Tech Crunch

Tech Crunch
"One of the most important skills is simply to be able to assimilate or acclimatize to new tools." -Eric Hamilton, associate dean for education at Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology

Technology is constantly reshaping the way today's students access and share information. Recent innovations like cloud computing, streaming and real-time video, e-readers and online social networking are revolutionizing how we learn. Not since the advent of mass printing has education been so dramatically impacted by new technologies.

As these technologies become more advanced — and more omnipresent in the workplace — universities across Southern California are striving to stay ahead of the curve by addressing this "new thinking" in their classrooms.

"The way students today think and work is very different from even a decade ago," said Diane Favro, a professor of architecture and urban design at UCLA whose research involves digital technologies in the arts and humanities. "They are more used to multitasking, working collaboratively and dealing with large amounts of diverse data and with many different types of media."

At many local universities, new technologies are shaping the way knowledge is shared.

"Faculty is experimenting with interactive digital learning," Favro said. "Students use tablets or laptops in class and enter virtual [classrooms] and interact with their peers and faculty in the same room and also around the world."

This type of hands-on, high-tech interaction on SoCal campuses also addresses the expectations of contemporary workplaces, where virtual conferencing, interactive presentations and desktop/social sharing have become the norm.

Tim Tangherlini, a professor in the Scandinavian Section at UCLA (the study of Nordic languages and literatures), teaches an experimental course called Facebook for Vikings, which applies social networking analysis techniques in order to decipher medieval Icelandic sagas. Using software more commonly found in the field of genetics, students taking the Facebook for Vikings class explore the roots of blood feuds, the importance of each character within a story and the structures of alliances within a saga's social context. All this might sound esoteric and of little vocational value but, as Tangherlini points out, many jobs today — from advertising to crime analysis to management consulting — harness aspects of social media.

"We can actually see if we can make predictive analysis work in these kinds of [controlled] environments, and these could easily be transferred into other environments that are perhaps slightly bigger."

With technology moving so fast, it is crucial for today's universities to teach students not just to use specific digital tools, but also to become more comfortable assimilating new technical knowledge — to "future-proof" their mind set, as it were.

"One of the most important [skills] is simply to be able to assimilate or acclimatize to new tools," said Eric Hamilton, associate dean for education at Pepperdine University Graduate School of Education and Psychology. "The last thing that someone in the professional workplace needs is an attitude of 'Gee, I'm not very good at this… I'll just do it the old way.'"

Yet for all the opportunities presented by virtual classrooms, video lectures and online learning — all of which continue to evolve on SoCal campuses — don't expect shuttered universities and a legion of unemployed professors anytime soon. Instead, experts predict traditional "brick and mortar" educational models will be increasingly overlaid with the technological innovations and social networking trends demanded in today's job market.

Paul Rogers, Brand Publishing Writer