'Studying' today versus university yester-twenty-year

'Studying' today versus university yester-twenty-year

Summary: Regressing to twenty years ago, university academics describe the 1990's college experience, and compare it to the post-modern education system today.

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Technology isn't killing education. Nor are today's kids and younger users of the web reading any less. Computing and technology has all but single-handedly propped up the higher educational system in more ways than one.

Students of all ages, regardless of when they went to college or university, know there are three things inevitable during their stay: excessive drinking, political activism and granted, some kind of education, whether 'legitimate' and qualified by exams and essays, or through means of living through your painful mistakes.

But even the social aspect - the politics and the drinking - have changed dramatically through means of technology. The drinking, not so much, but questionably the aftermath is often more widely publicised after you wake up in a pool of your own vomit and discover the photos on Facebook.

The social aspects of political activism and nights out has become the forefront of the university lifestyle. Almost everything, often through dozens if not hundreds of photos tagged each morning after a night out, document in fascinatingly timeline-like fashion of students becoming degeneratively more smashed as the night goes on.

But it isn't all about the drinking, the partying, the indiscriminate sex, drugs and rock and roll. It's a heavy part of it, and to deny that it exists would be wrong.

Technology has not just transformed or 'revolutionised' education. It has saved it.

Really?! »

Back in 1991, and thankfully I have a number of fellow academics in my contacts list who have supported this historical and nostalgic look into the past, the personal computer was all but non-existent.

There is no point in even referring to 'the computer the size of a room' or the early days of the personal computer, at least any more than I already have done, for the simple reason that for all intents and purposes, they were simply not as prevalent as the good old fashioned pen and paper.

Essays were written by hand, or typed by an old-fashioned word processor, or even a typewriter. It sounds decadent, even though it was ten years to go to the millennium. But laptops were unheard of, personal computers were incredibly expensive, and university libraries had only printed materials for research.

There was the occasional computer, some of my older academics told me. But frankly, so many academics marking students' essays and coursework were set in their ways too. Typed work appeared 'lazy' and hand-written work may seem oddly regressive to the Generation Y today, but was the most common form of work handed in.

Distance learning was only available by means of post, and old VHS video tapes with recorded lectures for those lucky enough to have a video player. Books were ordered directly from the university or bought from the campus bookshop, and journal articles had to be meticulously searched through.

But now, distance learners are on the rise, with most of these students turning to iTunes to download their lectures to listen on the go.

University degrees twenty years ago were 'read', rather than studied. Today, degrees are, in my personal experience, sought out by means of the search facility in PDF files where modern journal articles are held - all online.

On the rare occasion you find a search result directing you to the 'university journal print records', the vast majority of students would give up and not bother; opting for another article from the search results of Google Scholar.

With all of these things in mind, if the more traditional universities like Cambridge, Harvard and Oxford never progressed, with community colleges and polytechnics taking the technological lead, arguably these institutions would have struggled to maintain their student numbers.

Had these institutions, stuck to their guns and stayed in their ways, with the vast majority of students studying the classic subjects from English to politics, with reading and vast libraries, handwritten essays and old-fashioned research, no matter their status, they would have struggled to survive.

But higher education should still be about reading. You should indeed read your degree. So many first and even second years do not read half of the content they should do as part of their course or degree as instructed to do so by their lecturers. Even I don't, with the prospect of a night out appearing far more promising and a hell of a lot more fun.

It may sound obvious, and it may sound ridiculous. But technology has propelled today's student into the limelight of the computing revolution that has taken these two decades by storm.

How did your college experience shape your view of technology?

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21 comments
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  • As someone that completed his undergraduate study in 92...

    PCs were fair more common than the article suggested.

    Few assignments were hand written in either the computer science or business schools at this time.

    Today you might search on Google for articles, back then we went to the library and use index books to find articles (typically involving a trip to the microfiche).

    Early 90s saw the introduction of computerised catalogues where we could search a computer index, then retrieve the relevant CD-ROM (in the required caddie) for reading on screen. Quite an advance at the time.

    Fortunately we didn't have the inane social networking chatter of today;-)
    Richard Flude
    • Agreed.

      Now granted, I went to school in California, but still: I came to my college dorm in fall 1988, and wasn't at all the only guy on my floor with a computer--at least a fifth of us had one IIRC. And they weren't quite that expensive: mine was a bit on the low end, but still it cost me $768 including monitor, which wasn't too bad back then.<br><br>Of course, only the engineering and computer science students had access to email back then, but still--lots of papers were done on computer, even printed on dot matrix printers. And while that was a little new back then, it wasn't considered beyond the pale.
      LeonBA
  • PCs were not common in the early 90s?

    Really? I was teaching high school in the late 70s early 80s, and used the early PCs both in the classroom and at home. I had my first computer lab at school in 1980, and was placing them in other classrooms soon after. One of my early converts was an English teacher I worked with in 1982 who hated computers, saying they were dehumanizing, who attended a writing conference taught by an author she idolized. He introduced her to the idea of word processing as a writing tool, spurring her to request 4 Apple IIs for her classroom.<br><br>By the mid 80s the IBM PC and the early Macs were common both at home and in schools, and the Apple IIs were everywhere. Add in the Tandys, Pets, Sinclairs, Ataris, Xeroxs, and Osbornes and PCs were pretty ubiquitous. By the early 90s they were common place, and many were not all that expensive.
    itpro_z
  • Don't blame Zack...

    He didn't actually study anything to write this; he just followed the things his generation does, all of them being perfect unique snowflakes: He read someone making snarky comments on Facebook somewhere.

    I took a laptop with me to classes in 1989. I got funny looks - it ran CP/M, was made by a company called Amstrad, used lead acid rechargeable cells, and had a noisy keyboard and two floppy drives.

    We had access to a laser printer and printed out things in the computer lab. People were losing time to chatting on IRC and using snazzy new clients like xyzzy.

    We had massively multiplayer online games like TinyMUD and TinyHELL an Islandia.
    Ad Astra
  • RE: 'Studying' today versus university yester-twenty-year

    @Ad Astra Maybe the cultures were different. Economies were different. The first hand perspective that helped write this article suggests otherwise. But, I expected this - a number of people saying "we had PCs" and good for you if you did. But these academics didn't, and 20 years is a long time for Windows to develop into a workable product and the price of computers to drop to the prices today.
    zwhittaker
    • RE: 'Studying' today versus university yester-twenty-year

      @zwhittaker

      Perhaps the personal computer climate or ecosystem was not as rich in England as it was in the "States". (After all, we did have Silicon Valley!)

      As for me, my own university days predates your article by twenty years!!!

      In 1971, pocket hand held Texas Instruments' Calculators with simple four function operations were "rare" and expensive while my University physics instructors actually forbade their use. (Under the pretext that these devices were not universally available to all students .. a quaint democratic notion.) However, by the mid to late 80's, PC's were common place (in the work place as well as the Universities. (The University of Michigan, an early Apple seeded Institution of higher learning) used Macs extensively and students were afforded generous discounts on their purchases. (My younger friends also embraced something called an IBM XT .. who knew?! Grin.)

      But, except for your tech background knowledge, your take on learning habits among the different generations are an acceptable observation. (Some things never change)

      As for me, the 70's were fraught with Vietnam War protests but also with the winding down of the "Hippie Generation". Those in University, for the most part, seemed more interested in academics and reading the LOTR trilogy (or its National Lampoon spoof, "Bored of the Rings") than indulging in a "party fest". Although I do recall my Organic Chemistry Professor inviting his large lecture class over for an end of the semester field trip to the Hiram Walker Whiskey facility for an in depth study of the intricate organic chemistry being performed by their esteemed technicians and scientists.

      In summary, Zack, your main points on generational learning habits of University Students were, for the most part, correct but your arguments and opinions on the use of computer technology through the ages was just a "bit off". At least for our experiences "across the pond".
      kenosha77a
      • Thanks for the memories

        @kenosha7777

        I agree that "those in the University...seemed more interested in academics and reading the LOTR trilogy." In the 60s and 70s, it was fashionable to be an intellectual. Even though I "just" went to a state college, I sucked up all the knowledge I could.

        I feel very sorry for those who have gone to college since and are left with huge student-loan debts. My student-loan debt was a mere $5,000 (yes, really) which I paid off while in my 20s. I am equally sorry that young people feel obliged to work towards a career while at college and not towards the acquisition of knowledge.

        College years should be a memory that you treasure for the rest of your life. I am sorry that the bitterness of huge student-loan debt and the drive to chase a career have ruined it for so many younger than I.
        sissy sue
      • RE: the bitterness of huge student-loan debt

        @sissy sue

        Unbelievably poignant comment! Although I personally know of a current university senior (I've known my best friend's daughter since she was born) who combined student loans, part time work-income, scholarship aid and parental assistance to successfully earn her degree while keeping her student loan debt highly manageable, I concede that the average student debt loan costs are currently unsustainable!

        Then again, I know of some private High Schools in the area that require over ten thousand dollars per year in tuition costs. (Its the same High School I attended but the costs for my parents approached a thousand dollars a year back in the late 60's .. but even then, that cost was considered high.)

        Just think about the current costs for an undergraduate degree where many universities, sorry to say, are requiring a yearly expenditure in the neighborhood of fifteen to twenty thousand dollars a year! Incredible.

        I wonder what Zack pays for his University costs. (Although its none of my business, of course. But I am somewhat curious.)
        kenosha77a
  • My memories differ

    I wonder if things were perhaps different in the UK. I graduated from college (in the US) in '93. We weren't allowed to turn in hand-written papers; the school had a Word Perfect lab for students who didn't have their own PCs. By the time I graduated not only did just about every student have a PC, most of my friend's parents had them.

    (Granted, they had Packard-Bell PCs from Sears and all they used them for was playing solitaire and AOL, but my point stands.)

    As for the faculty, I don't remember a single professor who didn't have a PC in their office. I realize I'm working from a very small sample, but so is Zack.
    john.lemme@...
    • RE: 'Studying' today versus university yester-twenty-year

      @john.lemme@...

      No, your experiences seem to mirror common elements of the US computing ecosystem for that era. As I suggested above, the UK may have lagged behind us in a widespread adoption of personal computing technology.

      Interesting observation on how one's opinions can influence a "center of the universe" world view. A surprising oversight by a sociology student.
      kenosha77a
      • The UK wasn't some technological backwater...

        @kenosha7777

        I don't wish to shatter your illusions, but I studied in the UK from 1992 to 1995 and from 1998 to 2001. We had access to computers whilst there... laptops were a rarity reserved for trust fund babies, but we all could access computers, printers and the internet in some form or other, in the learning resource centres of my universities.
        leesloan
      • RE: 'Studying' today versus university yester-twenty-year

        @leesloan

        I never indicated that I adamantly supported a viewpoint that the UK (during the '90's) were saddled with abacuses and pocket calculators while the rest of the civilized world used advanced personal computer technology. In fact, I couldn't even if I wanted to. Indeed, I owned several Commodore Amiga computers during that time period and during the 80's, I bought and used a Timex Sinclair Z80 class machine. (I may still have that ancient wonder boxed up somewhere in the attic)

        I mention that only because if I (and many other Americans) used these British products, I was always under the impression that their use was widespread in their native country.

        Zack's experiences did paint a picture that was at odds with this assumption, however. At any rate, the various other comments from "across the pond" all support the observations that the personal computer use in business, private and educational venues were anything but rare during the 80's (let alone the 90's) in the United States.
        kenosha77a
  • As someone who got her Masters degree when you were in elementary school...

    I'm shocked to read the UK university libraries in the 90s had "only printed materials for research." What happened to all the microfiche films and readers, which we used back in the day in the US? I find it difficult to believe that the UK is that different from the US. I'm sure they are gone now, but before PCs and the Internet, microfiche readers had their usefulness. Accredited US institutions all had major publications, such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, etc, on film. But then again, maybe you did not make it down to the library basement to investigate. Believe me, even though PCs were a way off, there were some technologies for university students who genuinely wanted an education to find a way to do research.
    ApplSecurityGeek
  • RE: 'Studying' today versus university yester-twenty-year

    My first office job in 1979 was a secretary for a small company which sold Ohio Scientific pcs which contained software to help small offices. My boss's biggest challenge was teaching other secretaries that there was a difference between the letter O and the number 0 (that's what they called it). (Those of you who have ever used a type-writer get this distinction).
    I graduated in 1984 with a double major in computer applications and psychology - back in the day there was no such thing as a pure computer degree - you had to team it with math, engineering or some other major.
    The major difference I see between learning today and learning 20 (or more) years ago is that today's generation is so dependent and trusting of technology and apps - they don't understand the true purpose of what it's doing. Simple example - last weekend we had a party with my dad (78 yrs old) and my kids (21 and 19 in college). Grandpa asked a question, and the kids said 'just google it'. Grandpa said what is google and they couldn't explain - they used phrases like world wide web search, web portal, search engine - all good words but not the essence of what it does. I said, it's like a card catalogue, you type in the characteristics of what you want to know and it returns a list of possible articles/sources.
    All of today's technology seem to be pushing students into a more blinders / silo approach to learning and less big picture / how everything interacts.
    SueGallo
  • The UK must have been pretty backward

    I live in Ohio (U.S.A.). Between 1989 and 1998, I attended three different colleges/universities--all in Ohio. All of them required that work be typed--preferably on a computer.

    There were hundreds of computers in computer labs on campus for those who did not purchase their own computers, and laptops weren't rare. Although most of our reading was print-based, we were heading out of print-based cataloging by 1992 and done with it by 1995.

    Even leaving aside college education, we had a few computers in our local, small city, public junior high and high schools back in the mid-80s.

    Clearly, this article doesn't reflect this Ohio girl's experience of education 20 years ago.
    ancillaDomini
  • RE: 'Studying' today versus university yester-twenty-year

    In December 1983, I landed up at Engineering grad school at Virgina Tech for an MS in Mechanical Engg. This was after having completed 5 years in my undergrad program at IIT Delhi. <br><br>It was a small, really tight class - Friction & Wear - and I had a term paper. I had no idea that the Prof expected a typed paper till someone expressed shock seeing me write it with a pen. <br><br>It was already quite late, so I just decided to just stick with the pen. I still remember, I tore up what I had written and started afresh. I took enormous care to make it look very clean and uniform.<br><br>My Prof gave me a glare when I submitted the paper. But he didn't say anything - perhaps out of pity for me.<br><br>I did get an 'A' on it, though. !!! <br><br>I later found that Virginia Tech's computer infrastructure was among the top 10 among US universities at the time. Never wrote another paper by hand for a long time.
    eCubeH
  • Re: UK Universities

    I was in Grammar (high) school in the early 1980s - we had a couple of Commodore PETs that most of the teachers didn't know what to do with - I had almost exclusive use of both of them - taught myself programming that way during breaks and lunchtime.

    I went to UK Universities as an undergraduate and then graduate student in the mid/late 80s. Most of the students I knew (science and engineering disciplines) were initially using Sinclair ZXs and (later) BBC microcomputers to produce some reports. Those who couldn't afford their own machines were either sharing someone else's or using University machines (terminals then BBC microcomputers) in a computer lab. I'd say undergraduate reports were a mixture of written and computer generated mostly because of printing limitations for technical symbols. Graduate work was all done on the computer as Latex was available to format technical documents properly.

    BTW When I moved to the US the IBM PC was such a step backwards wrt ease of use for scientific purposes compared to the BBC microcomputer :)
    toptox
    • RE: 'Studying' today versus university yester-twenty-year

      @toptox Funny you should mention that. At my primary school (in 1995-ish) we had one BBC microcomputer and two Acorn computers in separate classrooms.
      zwhittaker
  • This article is poorly named, not actually about 'studying' at all

    "Studying", I think, is about learning. Technology is a tool which can be used for this but this article seems more about technology merely as a knowledge location or presentation aid. Learning/Studying and tech would involve mnemonic software, maybe 3D textbooks, etc. I think tech has a long way to go before it's actually about studying.
    wpshore
  • 'Studying' today versus university yester-twenty-year

    I agree that "those in the University...seemed more interested in academics and reading the LOTR trilogy
    panda88