[dropcap]From[/dropcap] laptops to tablets, from smartphones to Fitbits, technology is growing ever smarter, ever faster, and ever more ubiquitous. It is also affecting college classrooms. Today’s college students don’t simply sit at desks frantically scribbling notes while instructors lecture. Now they pull out tech to do research, take live surveys and connect to other students across the world through social media or an app, all while professors spice up lessons with videos, presentations and online chatrooms.

Oklahoma’s colleges now provide innovative, cutting-edge approaches to helping students benefit from technology. According to Pew Research Center surveys conducted in 2011, 77 percent of colleges report that they offer online courses to their students. And nearly half of all students who have graduated college in the last several years report taking online courses. But using technology for coursework has grown exponentially in the last five years since those surveys were done.

Robert Greve, an information technology professor at Oklahoma City University, is one of many university professionals in Oklahoma to use technology to enhance his teaching techniques. Greve and his business partner, Luke Woodard, recently developed a program called JoinProf, a unique live-distance classroom experience utilized in several classes at the Meinders School of Business, according to Rod Jones, assistant media director at OCU.

JoinProf allows professors to make use of electronic SmartBoards (a computerized whiteboard), video cameras, monitors and projectors linked together to help instructors bring the classroom experience online. Students can actively participate in live class discussions even though the class is not meeting in person. Students can connect to their professor and classmates from the local coffeehouse, a home office, the library or anywhere else they may be when the scheduled class begins.

This trend definitely opens up opportunities for anyone to participate in college courses, regardless of where they live or their work schedules. It also provides shy or uncertain students the opportunity to participate without fear.

“It gives students an anonymous way to interact,” Greve says. “Streaming lets you view the lecture, and JoinProf lets you participate in the lecture. But this isn’t just for distance learning. It allows for more and better interaction than the traditional classroom experience.”

Interaction is key in a classroom, of course, because it allows professors to gauge which concepts students are comprehending and which ones they still need to absorb. JoinProf tackles that issue by allowing professors to ask instant poll questions during the lectures. Teachers can then use the results of the poll to tailor their lesson to the class’s immediate needs. And because the answers are anonymous, students face less risk of embarrassment, Greves says, which allows them to be more open and honest about their needs.

An added bonus of JoinProf’s capabilities is its video capture feature, which enables students to review the lecture at their leisure. The opportunity for repeat viewings helps to cement the concepts being taught and eliminates the many problems and confusions that can arise when students take inaccurate or incomplete notes.

JoinProf isn’t Greve’s first foray into technology for classwork. Several years ago, he developed a similar platform called LiveClassTech. His new JoinProf program builds on his earlier work. Greves offers the software free to fellow OCU professors as well as $5 per month subscriptions to faculty at other universities.

Technological advances are also happening at the University of Oklahoma, which recently launched the One University digital initiative to create more dynamic learning experiences for their students. The goals of the initiative, says Executive Director of Admissions and Recruitment Jeffrey Blahnik, is to provide students with as much individualized coursework as possible, so that their education will be truly unique.

An example of One University at work is found in the education department, where “all education majors receive iPads at the beginning of their program to enhance their learning experience both by providing interactive opportunities and by drastically decreasing education costs,” says Blahnik. Providing the iPads ensures each student has the same ability to use existing technology to study and also encourages them to be creative in how they might implement tech into the classrooms in which they will one day teach.

And iPads aren’t just for the education department. Each member of the Pride of Oklahoma marching band is given his or her own iPad, complete with all the drill charts, sheet music and recordings of the full band, significantly shortening performance preparation time, says Blahnik.

The University of Oklahoma offers a mobile app called OU Bound to help incoming freshman through the application process with the admissions department. And their Fast Feedback app invites students to give feedback on OU issues and events through a three-question, emoji-based process. Kiosks for Fast Feedback are located around the campus to promote communication and allow the university to respond better and faster to student needs.

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