'Studying' today versus university yester-twenty-year

Regressing to twenty years ago, university academics describe the 1990's college experience, and compare it to the post-modern education system today.
Written by Zack Whittaker, Contributor

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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