Occidental's curriculum must keep up in the age of technology


In the 21st-century American job market, it is imperative that students preparing for the professional world be technologically savvy. Despite the arguments that technological dependence stifles critical thinking and social skills, technology can be a boon in the classroom if implemented correctly. Occidental has recently upgraded much of its educational technology, but the focus should now be shifted from buying new tech toys to building a technology-based curriculum.

It seems that nearly every student at Occidental walks into class with a laptop, a tablet or at least a smart phone. These devices give students instant access to a treasure trove of information online. The Internet has essentially become a part of students’ working memories, and occasionally a failsafe to turn to when they do not have the answers.

Opponents of technology in the classroom feel that too many students turn to the Internet, find the one answer they are looking for and fail to consider other possibilities. This limited use of technology is certainly detrimental to students, who can abuse technology and lose touch with in-person discussions. But instead of villainizing technology, we should be teaching students how to utilize it in deeper, more analytical ways that will benefit them both at Occidental and in their careers.

There are a number of technologies and softwares already in use at Occidental that should be engaged with more frequency. Microsoft Excel allows students in the sciences to consolidate data and recognize patterns on the fly. Adobe programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator and Dreamweaver open students to the world of digital art and website design with ease. These students will be able to apply this prior knowledge when using programs into the future.

More still needs to be done. The basic coding knowledge fostered by programs such as Dreamweaver and Java are inadequate for students with loftier goals in the fields of coding and programming. For those students committed to learning the intricacies of computer science, Occidental’s computer science minor and exchange program with Caltech are a good start, but not nearly enough.

The computer science classes offered at Occidental encompass what would be the first two years of a major in computer science. The exchange program allows students to take additional classes at Caltech without extra tuition payments, providing students an opportunity to extend their education beyond Occidental’s limited programs.

This is a step in the right direction, but Occidental ought to have a computer science major itself, and the classes taken in the Caltech exchange program should be allowed to count toward it. As a liberal arts school rooted in research and analytical skills, offering classes in the field of advanced technology would help round out the diverse education that Occidental promises.

Occidental has already taken steps toward elevating students’ technological education to the next level with the introduction of new experimental technologies in recent years.

The newly renovated Johnson Hall is the headquarters for Global Crossroads, a program developed by the McKinnon Center for Global Affairs as a tool for interdisciplinary learning. Many first-time users of the program deemed the Crossroads system a less accessible, less useful version of PowerPoint because of restrictive character limits and clunky navigation. Yet despite this criticism, many early naysayers were students who were tasked with using the platform for in-class presentations. This program was not designed for typical class presentations—any doubters should investigate the multimedia potential of Crossroads before committing to their negative judgements.

The 3D printer accessible in the Center for Digital Learning and Research (CDLR) also encourages students to take part in what very well may be the next step in manufacturing. Those students who learn 3D printing technology will not only feel the satisfaction of creating something tangible with up-to-date technology, but they will also have the valuable experience of being one of the first generations of students to test this new and exciting technology right here at Occidental—technology that has the potential to change the way things are made.

Developing a technological curriculum is a wise investment in Occidental’s future. Such a curriculum could be rooted in the rich academic history of modern technology, while also exploring the exciting new possibilities it presents. This type of curriculum will come to define the way students and professionals alike learn, do business and innovate.

Malcolm MacLeod is a junior Media Arts and Culture major. He can be reached at macleod@oxy.edu or on Twitter @WklyMMacLeod.


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