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Will technology kill the classroom experience?

Education is a business. And this business gets more competitive each year.

Public colleges in the State of Mississippi are governed by boards. Each institution is limited to a certain geographical section of the state. The idea was to provide educational services to citizens in a particular locale. While private colleges don’t operate under these constraints, their very size limits their scope.

In Mississippi, most of the students attending our institutions of higher learning are from here. Our small population limits the pool of potential students. Add in our atrocious high school drop-out rates and our low percentage of college attendees, and you find we are all scrapping for the same small pool of students.

But technology is helping us to bend the rules and reach a larger pool of students. Online classes are becoming the norm. Students are demanding the convenience of classes that can meet anytime, anywhere. New programs allow for virtual classrooms, with professors standing in front of a camera, while students log in to the cyber lecture hall.

Schools across the country are pushing this technique. After all, online classes are cheap. There is no building to maintain, no classroom to furnish, no parking lot to be paved. Professors don’t even have to live in the same state. They can be on a mountaintop in Colorado. As long as they have a computer link, they can teach Mississippi students.

It allows Mississippi State to offer online classes to students living within USM’s region and vice versa. Public institutions are honoring geographical boundaries with their physical facilities while stepping all over each other in cyberspace. For-profit private institutions are popping up everywhere. Rent a small space. Pop up a sign, and voila, you’re in the education business.

And I’m left wondering if this is all a good thing. While I see the benefit of technology, I wonder if we will totally cut out the all important classroom experience. While I see how technology can allow you to reach students who cannot physically get to your campus, I wonder if we’ll reduce them to icons on our screen. Ultimately, it depends on the quality of the teachers behind the screen.

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