How Technology can Support Liberal Arts Education

Donald L. Steward Ed.D.

A good liberal arts education develops a whole person. It prepares a student to make informed ethical life decisions and instills a love of learning and quest for knowledge. A shorthand description of liberal arts education is why not the how of a professional education. Liberal arts coursework prepares a person to think in the abstract and appreciate a world-view approach to problem solving. Technology can assist with comprehension by presenting the same material in a different format that matches the students learning style or preference. Technology can also actively assist learning by analyzing and synthesizing data plus aid communication through presentation of ideas.

Technology is but a tool. It can be used to create art and explain science or describe a concept in a different way. Today’s traditional students have grown up in the television age. Students have been conditioned to the rhythms of a typical television program replete with constant scene changes, commercial breaks and other sensory inducements that foster short attention spans. Traditional instructional methods that worked in the past no longer engage many of these students. Students must be engaged in a variety of learning styles with material presented using several different sensory modes to reach that moment of understanding.

In a classroom setting, instructional media departments offer a range of technology from overhead projectors to fully immersive 3-D display systems. The choice of whether or how much technology to use for a particular course depends upon what a University can afford and what the faculty is comfortable using. Technology can be chosen and combined to target different senses in a multi-media presentation. Sometimes what is written and what is seen on a moving screen or display will cause a difference in comprehension.

Howard Gardner expressed a similar concept when he speaks of multiple intelligences. People possess a set of intelligences (six or so) that are different manifestations of that person. Sometimes the predominant intelligence is intellect and other times athletic or another intelligence that appears as a skill that person exhibits. Technology, as a tool, can be applied to reach more than one intelligence.

I believe in providing a learning environment similar to a cafeteria. Class work can be presented in the traditional lecture style with full classroom interactions; through asynchronous (one-way) means such as streaming videos, or web-based on-line classes; synchronous distance education methodology such as educational television systems or multipoint teleconferencing; or entirely autonomously using media from VCR tapes to CD or DVD-based packaged lectures.

Distance learning appeals to non-traditional students because the strictures of time and place are made irrelevant and provides a technology-based means of community outreach. The community outreach component can tie college-level liberal arts education to new college students, high school students taking college courses, or life-long learners.