An experience virtual education will never replace

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[autop] I was scooting around the Iowa State University campus on the fourth Friday of August getting ready for the start of classes. By the Memorial Union, the ISU drummers were energetically playing on the ridge by the circular drive.


Students and family members were crowding the sidewalks and the bookstore. Buildings across the campus were filled with students on orientation tours, their red backpacks a testimony to the great surge in new students that we are privileged to now mentor, teach and make successful.

Central campus was swarming with an explosion of color – American students are so individualistic, and everyone wears clothes to express their personality.

Establishing lifelong relationships

Young women were jogging around Ames wearing fluorescent lime green tank tops that said “I Pledged Kappa,” a proud statement about the campus social clubs, fraternities and sororities that become so important and often establish lifelong relationships and friendships.In Ross Hall, where I have my office, a man and his son stopped me in the hall. “Dr. Steffen! I can’t believe it! You have not changed at all.” (Thank you!) He was a student of mine in the 1970s, became a diplomat for his native Bahamas, served all over the world, and was now bringing his son to Ames so the next generation of his family could benefit from the wonderful opportunities the university offers. They had just met with our student adviser, who helped his son find open seats in the best possible combination of classes in a very crowded semester. Another former student stopped by to invite me to an exhibit at the Brunnier Gallery, and we chatted about his career and current American politics.

Let me get to my point.

In a time when there is talk about universities and colleges shrinking away to be replaced by web-based colleges, I want to make it crystal clear: universities offer an experience that virtual education will NEVER replace. The college experience is a total and important transition in life. It is a crucial maturation process and an opportunity to develop self-confidence and become more self-reliant while still maintaining strong family relationships.

Of course I use the Internet to teach. It supplements my face-to-face relationship with my students. I even teach classes that are 100 percent Web-based distance courses. And, I can establish mentor relationships with online students using Skype, live chats and other tools. We need to strengthen our Internet tools, such as secure testing, to free up time for more teaching. We must offer working adults the Internet option because it makes no sense for busy people to drive late in the day from, say, Des Moines to Ames for a class when it can be live-streamed, with interactive tools, and archived. That class is still a high-quality university class with an ISU professor.

A campus-centered experience

However, in the final analysis the physical university and campus-based experience are here to stay. That experience is unique and accounts for the incredible success of American higher education. And that includes the connection with all of the sports teams. Have you ever seen the expression of surprise and delight on students and parents when Cy the mascot comes wandering through the Memorial Union and the University Bookstore? If you haven’t, you may not understand the depth of the relationship between students and their school.

I’ve seen it for 43 years and am more committed than ever to the idea of the campus-centered experience. [/autop]

    Steffen Schmidt is a University Professor of political science. This is an excerpt of an article first published in the Ames Tribune on Aug. 29, 2013 and used by permission.

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