I have recently begun taking an on campus, undergraduate course for the first time since 2005. At the risk of appearing old, I am amazed at how things have changed. When I completed my BA laptops were just beginning to make their way into the classroom among Arts students at Waterloo. Most people were still making notes on paper. While many of my classmates still do that, every second person has a laptop in front of them. Oddly, none of them seem to be using their computers to make notes or follow the lecture. Instead they play games, chat online, update Facebook, and send emails. On top of this, everyone now has a cell phone and the people who sit around me send texts throughout class. In fact, it seems that the students do everything but listen to the lecture. I guess in the world of online course notes, there isn’t the same drive to be engaged with the material being presented. I also think the nature of a statistics course is different than say philosophy in terms of the level of concentration and engagement required. Technology has replaced doodling and day dreaming as the distractions of choice. Sleeping seems to still be popular.
I am still amazed at the changes, over such a short period of time. University education seems to be moving towards an increasingly online model. Will there be a day when university campuses are mostly obsolete? At the University of Waterloo some departments are embracing distance courses, while others, like psychology are now offering fewer courses that way than when I was an undergrad. If undergraduate students are only partially engaged in class then it make sense to focus on delivering content differently. Many courses are enriched by online exercises and material. There are even fully online universities like Athabasca in Alberta. Despite this Ontario’s university campuses are expanding their infrastructure. It seems that they are preparing for increasing student enrollment.