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An image of a library’s old card catalog loomed on the screen at one point during Daniel Russell’s presentation at the recent “Envisioning the Digital University” conference at the Carolina Club.

Daniel Russell of GoogleBack then with that tool and many others, “when you learned it, you were good for an entire career,” said Russell, a research scientist at Google who specializes in quality search.

Now, though, it’s hard for educators to keep up with all the quickly-evolving online tools and information technology that can enable learning.

Versed on SnapChat? StackExchange? Follow Your World?

Did you know that Google has archival Earth photos? If you want a photo of Las Vegas in 1950, for example, you can find it, Russell told the Envisioning attendees. What if you want to be notified when something changes with a particular piece of land, like your childhood home is demolished and is replaced by a shopping center? There’s an app for that. Are you familiar with the genre of apps by which data intentionally disappears, with SnapChat being the most recognized app? Do you know about question-and-answer sites, a genre that didn’t exist five years ago?

Russell sees two problems associated with all these new tools. “You have to know it’s there and how to use it.”

That means understanding the structure of content online and ways to access it. Students need these skills, but such instruction isn’t offered to them.

“The learning space is changing,” he said. “We’re adding more stuff and it’s coming at you more quickly.”

Becoming literate about IT toolsGoogle's Dan Russell and professor Fred Brooks

The way we teach, learn and present information is changing radically and constantly. Educators must stay informed about these tools and know how to use them, Russell said. “You must be literate about your own literacy.”

Did you know that students can find study buddies even in another time zone? Through a free community called OpenStudy, students need not learn in isolation, Russell said.

What if educators made use of eye-scanning insights on how students view their teachers’ educational slides? Teachers could take advantage of the visual hierarchy of the page.

Students are discovering data in ways we never imagined, Russell said.

Future of learning is data intense

So what’s the future of learning? Teaching and learning will come in many forms; it will be social; students will have split attention; and an immense amount of data will come at us with an increasing velocity.

“You and me as teachers need to understand this. If we don’t, we lose our students,” he said.

“We need,” he said, “to up our game.”

Envisioning the Digital University, which ITS and the Faculty Information Technology Advisory Committee held on November 21, provided the UNC-Chapel Hill campus community an opportunity to brainstorm on the future of information technology at the University.


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