Innovative IT In Higher Education Can Change The World

Bob Nilsson Director, Vertical Solutions Marketing Published 2 Nov 2017

Physicist Michio Kaku describes how IT should innovate at Educause 2017

Michio Kaku at Educause 2017

Now that robots and AI appear to be taking over all the jobs, how should higher education respond? I say, “appear to be” as there is actually ample evidence that employment continues to grow through each phase of increasing automation. Nonetheless, growing use of robotics and AI is dramatically changing the mix and types of jobs that will need to be filled by today’s students. So what should colleges, universities, and specifically higher education IT, be doing now to adequately prepare students?

Michio Kaku, keynote speaker at Educause 2017, physicist, futurist, and one of the 100 smartest people in NY, suggests first understanding how wealth is created. Hint: it’s not from lawsuits or taxes. Rather, Kaku points out, three great waves of innovation historically created enormous wealth: steam power; electricity and automobiles; and high tech including lasers and computers. We are now on the verge of a fourth wave, consisting of biotech, nanotech, and AI.  

This fourth wave will bring plenty of new jobs, but rapidly squash many old ones. “Everything will be digitalized.” There won’t be much need for repetitive workers, middlemen, brokers, paralegals, or routine accountants. A wide range of products will be produced by 3D printers, rather than traditional machines that required machine operators. Shoes, jewelry, toys, as well as many industrial parts can already be simply printed.

Educause 2017 participants learn about networking from Extreme Networks

Healthcare jobs are rapidly evolving. Cancer can be spotted by liquid biopsies ten years sooner than by surgical biopsies. Organs can be grown in the lab from stem cells on scaffolding. We’ve grown ears, bladders, and a mouse heart, with a liver to follow soon. Your wallpaper and even your clothing will become a direct connection to medical diagnosis. Surgery, when it’s needed at all, will be exclusively performed remotely with robotics, eliminating direct contact between the doctor and patient.

How Do We Accelerate Our Way There?

First we need to be sure we’ve stopped preparing college students for the 1950s, when there was actually a purpose to rote memorization and manual arithmetic. Even before we get smart contact lenses or direct neural Internet interfaces, it is already quick and simple to find anything on the Web with a smartphone.  

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Next, we need to keep kids motivated. According to Kaku, everyone starts out as a curious scientist, asking all sorts of difficult questions of the adults around them, though not every teenager builds a 10KW particle accelerator in their basement like he did. High school has had a way of stamping out that curiosity factor in students.

Once kids are ready for college, higher education needs to be ready for them — with the best technology possible. Online and eLearning has been one approach to scaling learning and expanding beyond the physical campus. But it hasn’t been entirely successful, with some studies showing a drop-out rate after two weeks of 90%. The issue is that students need mentors and coaches who can tutor, prod, reward, provide encouragement, and give career guidance. By the way, Kaku doesn’t believe that mentoring can be done by robots.

What Can You Do?

Those of you in IT can help your schools and students to thrive in this new world by being a mentor and a role model. As an aside, IT could still benefit from more diversity in IT leadership. This was called out by a poster session, The Leaky Pipeline to Higher Education Leadership. So please go out of your way to address this through mentoring.

Make the maximum use of technology to support a mentoring, curiosity-provoking campus environment. As IT managers, you are the ones on campus who understand technology best. You can provide encouragement by making sure the technology is easy to access and use. Bring in the latest and greatest, not just for technology’s sake, but to benefit education. Emerging EdTech like augmented and virtual reality dramatically increase student engagement and retention. If the technology is flawless, fast, easy to use, and the faculty is well-trained, then usage will naturally flow in that direction. Who wants to use paper and pencil when technology-based testing is smoother, easier to correct, and provides better insight into learning? And for best results, make sure it is all supported by a reliable, resilient, fast network infrastructure.

The 8,000 attendees at Educause 2017 participated in 400 sessions and kicked the tires on products from over 400 vendors. Next year is the 20th anniversary of Educause. The organization was founded in 1998 from the merger of Cause (an acronym of College and University Systems Exchange) and Educom.

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