Students at Virginia Tech are fortunate to be immersed in a world of advanced technology and communication. We like to boast of being the most wired campus in America.
Yet, when you really think about it, the way we teach has not changed much in a long, long time. Indeed, the manner in which you and I learned our lessons was perfected many centuries ago in places like Oxford and Cambridge. We all studied with a "sage on a stage" and tossed back to him or her an approximation of the information fed us in order to gain "certified" passage to the next level. Sure, we now have advanced laboratories, tremendous libraries, visual aids, and computers to aid us. But the fundamental way in which professors teach and students learn is based on a model that would be recognizable to Isaac Newton or Thomas Jefferson.
That world, however, is about to be turned topsy-turvy. The boundaries of time and place have been made less relevant. Blacksburg, Brisbane, and Basel are closer than you think.
The advent of powerful lap-top computers, digitized libraries, personal communications devices, satellite networks, and - of course - the Internet are changing teaching techniques as never before. The extent of information available to a student is mind boggling. Imagine a student taking a break from a hike on the Appalachian Trail. She pulls out her palm-sized computer and taps into a wireless communication network where her class is logging on for a chat session on the last assignment. Back on campus - or in her office at work - the student pulls up graphical test data from her lab partner in Bombay. They exchange pleasantries and more data over a video screen before simultaneously viewing a seminar discussion in Baltimore - all the while conversing as if attending the seminar in person.
This example is only one way in which learning will change over the next several years. Virginia Tech is immersed in vanguard projects to determine how these new techniques and technologies will change higher education in the future.
The new Advanced Communications and Information Technology Center is the most visible example of our commitment to understanding and changing the way we teach. This new center will be located in a splendid building (consistent with our collegiate-gothic architectural heritage) spanning the Alumni Mall to connect with Newman Library, thereby joining the old and new information worlds.
Professionals from across the university will come together in myriad ways. Specialists in software design, fiber optics, wireless communications technology, multimedia presentation, and advanced visualization will collaborate with specialists in behavioral psychology, interpersonal communication, human-computer interaction, and librarians - in turn helping other educators or business trainers redesign their teaching/learning techniques.
This merging of technology and our understanding of how humans learn is one of the most exciting new ventures this institution has seen in decades. It will touch every department, every student, every teacher, and every corner of the enterprise and anyone else who is "plugged in," such as other universities, schools, homes, businesses, libraries, museums, and government offices. Expect to hear more about this exciting, new venture in the next issue of Virginia Tech Magazine.