Campuses rely on e-mail to send out campus alerts.

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Technology Outside the Classroom

To lure tech-savvy students, many universities are now establishing a presence on social-networking sites such as Facebook and My Space, which can be a prospective student's first exposure to the school. It's been estimated that two out of three people in the United States visit social-networking sites, so it makes sense that universities would want to be a part of these online communities.

Marshall University, which boasts wireless access over 90 percent of its campus, has taken technology one step further in the recruitment process, providing visiting students with wireless Web tablets that display a tour of the campus. The tablets also are enabled for e-mail access and Web surfing [source: Charleston State Journal].

The shootings at Virginia Tech in early 2007, in which 33 students lost their lives, led university administrators across the country to look at using technology to improve their emergency-response systems. With nearly every student now carrying a cell phone, many universities have begun text messaging students to alert them to emergencies from a possible shooter on campus to inclement weather [source: Christian Science Monitor].

When a University of Colorado-Boulder student was stabbed on campus in August 2007, the university immediately sent a text message to the 1,300 students and faculty who signed up for the CUConnect emergency-notification system [source: University of Colorado at Boulder].

As this approach is in its infancy, it's not clear yet whether text messaging is a more effective method of emergency warning than traditional means, such as air-raid sirens. Additionally, students must subscribe to many text-messaging services, so the system likely will not reach all affected students. Universities would also be susceptible to liability claims if the system didn't work as it was supposed to.

As information shifts away from the actual classroom to the virtual online world, debates are rising among faculty and administrators with differing opinions on whether pedagogy or technology should come first. Universities are working to find a middle ground where they are providing tech-savvy students with the information access they expect, while not creating too strong a disincentive to attend class. In a sense, it's a matter of faculty and administrators catching up and becoming as tech-savvy as the students. Whatever develops in the years to come, it's safe to say that a revolution is underway in higher education, and our campuses will never be quite the same.

For lots more information about campus communication technology and related topics, check out the links on the next page.