Living Tech

Our homes and the way we use them are changing as technology becomes more expansive and accessible. Now, realtors hear prospective buyers ask about upload speed before school quality and crime statistics. More and more people work from home at least some of the time, many learn from home, and we consume more entertainment media from home. On-campus student residences (dorms) are no different, in fact they’re at the forefront of this trend. But, is the in-dorm, learning experience diluting or enhancing the college experience? There are faculty on both sides of the argument, but I think, at the end of the day, it’s got to enhance the learning experience.

The New York Times published an article in 2010 about students taking online classes from their dorms. Even though they could walk to class, they chose to stay home and attend class online. Other classes were only online, with too many students to accommodate in a classroom. Some faculty lamented the loss of in-person teaching and learning while others embraced it for practical reasons like budget requirements and ability to re-watch the lecture. Now, we’re a long way from just taking classes from the dorms. Universities and their students are beginning to integrate learning in the dorms in a big way– with high tech labs adjacent to (or in!) students’ rooms.

Here are some examples:

Residence-life coordinators seem to have fully embraced this opportunity as an enhancement for students (at least that’s what the propaganda suggests), but how do faculty feel? My scan of a whole lot of articles seems to indicate that faculty embrace the living-learning model and make it ever-more successful. That said, this seems like an “opt-in” role for faculty, not a prescribed technological change. Some faculty go all in and opt to become faculty in residence. There are ups and down’s to becoming a faculty in residence, as one might expect. The experience of a few is documented in this article from Inside Higher Ed.  Further, this article from the Chronicle suggests that faculty experience unforeseen benefits from cross-disciplinary interactions with other faculty in living-learning environments. The benefits don’t necessarily stem directly from the technology, the technology just helps to set the mood.  I had to hunt for it, but there are also unforeseen consequences documented in David Buchanan Smith’s dissertation, Unintended Consequences of Collegiate Living Learning Community Programs at a Public University. Although I didn’t read the whole thing, the gist seems to be that students experience consequences when, over time, faculty and coordinators disengage. However, he doesn’t cite technology as part of the challenge, rather lack of planning, lack of maintenance and contentious relationships between faculty and staff were all cited as possible sources of the consequences. Indeed, I think that technology is usually an enhancement with the right planning and maintenance bolstered by good communication, the bedrock of good relationships.