Raising your hand to answer a question in class is so 20th century.

Today's college students can simply tap away on classroom clickers to beam lecture questions and test answers directly into their professors' laptops.

Notebooks, pencils and heavy textbooks have been replaced by computers, cell phones and other electronic gadgets that can send and store digital information.

And scholars can even conduct physics experiments or sit through complicated engineering formulas — in their pajamas. "There's an academic transformation going on right now," said Steven Fitzgerald, an associate computer science professor at California State University, Northridge.

"These new technologies are allowing students to participate interactively and allowing them to make it to class without having to face traffic or fight for parking spaces."

Gadgets like hand-held remotes that communicate with laptops, touchscreen devices called smart boards and paperless e-books are just a few examples of how colleges are adapting to the digital revolution that has swept their students.

The influence of technology on education can also be seen in the increasing number of courses being offered online.

With just 30 online classes at California State University, Northridge in 1999, the campus now has some 12,000 students enrolled electronically in 300 courses — a ten-fold increase in less than a decade.

Also, two-thirds of CSUN's 32,000 students are receiving some online academic service on the university's learning management system, WebCT.

Digital drawbacks

But there are some downsides to the digital revolution.

For one thing, the high-tech educational tools can make cheating a lot easier, especially plagiarism. Colleges have had to invest in programs like Turn it In, which scans essays against billions of papers stored in databases and found on the Internet.

And text-messaging slang like LOL (laughing out loud) and BRB (be right back) often slips into assignments, irritating some professors already burdened by having to learn high-tech programs and gadgets.

Still, college officials say there is no escaping the future.

"The way that students learn is different than what it was in the past," said Mark Pracher, a technology grant writer for Pierce College in Woodland Hills. "We need ways to present information differently, engage students in classroom activities and help them understand the material."

Over the past five years, Pierce has invested nearly $2 million on improving its campus technology, including private lessons for faculty on the newest educational software and converting classrooms into "smart" rooms.

The rooms come equipped with giant screens and wireless tablets that allow teachers to replace the overhead projector with a slew of Web-based media presentation tools.

"In many ways it is just the generational evolution of how society has changed," Pracher said.

Randall Cummings, Northridge's director of online instruction, said the university will spend $4 million on academic technology programs.

"These are Gen Net kids. They were born with digital mobiles in their cribs," Cummings said. "They have always had some sort of hand-held gadget."

Danny O'Kelley, 19, a general education student at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, said teachers should learn technology because students will bring it into their classrooms one way or another.

"We do everything on-line," he said.

So much so that four months ago, when O'Kelley couldn't sell his used textbooks for a reasonable price, he started cocunderground.com.

The Web site was supposed to give students a place to buy and sell books. But the site has morphed into a meeting ground where students can discuss classes, set up study groups and, of course, gossip about professors.

"With technology, you can do things that you can't physically do," said Diana Oblinger, associate vice president of Educause, a nonprofit promoting technology in academics.

For future nature scientists, a new social networking project, the National Ecological Observatory Network, lets students from around the world study the Earth and its ecological changes. 

Still, the transition isn't easy for everyone.

Lucille Russell went back to school four years ago, after having five children. She was used to watching her kids surf the Internet, but the religious studies student said she had vowed she would not become a part of the Web revolution.

"I did not even want an e-mail address," she said.

Now Russell admits that being connected to the latest technologies is necessary — for her college career and her future.

"I need to know how to use all this stuff if I am going to be a teacher," she said. "That's the only way to connect with young people."