Higher Education in the 21st Century

Current Situation:
The Issue:

Higher education does many, many things very well. But it is based on a model that does not reflect the flux in which society is.

Many people have suggested reforms to higher education. Reforms based on financial models, tenure, community engagement, etc. These reforms are needed but they do not address the paradigm shift.

The Analogy:

The environment: we can improve the efficiency of the combustion engine and incrementally improve our situation or we can completely rethink the energy and transportation paradigms. We should be doing both simultaneously.

Life cycle of large institutions:

An organization at the top needs to engage in innovation and the development of new concepts to remain competitive.

Short term issues

A.     The need to redefine what a student is in time and in space

B.     The need to redefine the curriculum in light of

a.     the need for the development of new skills

b.     globalization 

c.      shifting demographics

d.     the permeability of our current world (see point 14 below)

C.     The need to rethink the teaching and learning paradigm

D.    The need to perfectly bridge the gap between teaching and research

E.     The need to rethink the graduate education model (jobs, supervision, research, entrepreneurship)

F.     The need to create a seamless continuum from the classroom to the world

G.    The need to better understand millennials

a.     http://www.forbes.com/sites/danschawbel/2013/12/16/10-ways-millennials-are-creating-the-future-of-work/

H.    The need to tap into our students’ creativity and thirst for change

I.      The need to simplify the university’s ecosystem

J.      The need to define what the 21st century university experience is

K.     The need to position ourselves with regards to medium term technological changes: Mobile media, augmented reality, AI, gesture-based computing, game-based learning, big data, virtual worlds

a.     http://www.wired.co.uk/magazine/archive/2013/12/features/hyperstimulation

b.     http://singularityhub.com/2013/11/12/second-life-founder-philip-rosedale-is-quietly-creating-a-next-generation-virtual-world/

L.      The need to redefine what our impact on society is in both time and space

M.   The need to ensure a graduate student experience that is healthy, productive and efficient

N.    The need to compete with new knowledge creation systems (TED, accelerators, incubators, Google X, etc.)

O.    The need to move beyond the assembly line model of education

P.     The need to rethink what a university campus is


What we need:

o   The development of an administrative and support system that is conducive to innovation

o   The development of a comprehensive suite of advising and support services to address key transitions in the student life cycle (from Cégep to University, from 1st to 2nd and to 3rd cycles, from university student to alumnus/alumna)

o   The development of new abilities that are key to a 21st century learning experience (e.g.: aesthetic and creative skills, trends visualisation, design, emotional intelligence, social change leadership, divergence, repurposing, retooling, crisis productivity)

o   The development of a continuum from the classroom to the world

o   The development of the 21st century campus

o   The development of the healthy and beautiful campuses


Long term paradigm shifting challenges: Big Data, Computing Speed and AI:

1.     Analyzing and understanding the world will only be possible through computers

2.     The creation, advancement and dissemination of knowledge will only be possible through computers

3.     Advances in AI will make many cognitive tasks currently perform by university or postsecondary graduates obsolete (translation, finance, trading, actuarial, etc.)

4.     Advances in robotics will make many highly specialized tasks currently perform by highly trained experts obsolete (surgery, piloting, etc.)

o   Water Snake: http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/industrial-robots/hibot-demos-new-amphibious-snake-robot.

o   See Big Dog: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W1czBcnX1Ww)

o   The robots are coming to steal our jobs


5.     Advances in computing and data gathering will make raw data unreadable by the human brain (e.g. amount of information gather by NASA’s expeditions or by the CERN supper collider)

6.     Big data will allow for fundamental control of human behaviour (TARGET, future of work)



7.     Advances in AI and computing speed will take most financial transactions out of human hands (automated trading)

8.     Advances in AI and computing power will make understanding complex systems, such as the artistic process, possible and quantifiable (Pollock’s dripping)


9.     Advances in AI and computing power will blur the difference between the virtual and the physical: Tangible media: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvtfD_rJ2hE&feature=youtu.be

10.  Advances in AI and computing speed will allow machines to interact with human beings on fundamental emotional issues (Eliza, SIRI, etc.). Nuanced AI: http://singularityhub.com/2014/01/19/with-emotion-recognition-algorithms-computers-know-what-youre-thinking/  Eliza: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ELIZA

11.  Advances in AI and computing speed will make most materials and surfaces potential platforms for communication, data transfer and behaviour control

12.  Advances in AI and computing speed will create complex systems that are indistinguishable from organic life forms

13.  Advances in AI and computing speed will create such complex systems that their inner, fundamental mechanisms will be incomprehensible

14.  Advances in technology will make all frontiers, borders, edges and limits (between languages, between species, between species-specific diseases, between countries, between age groups, between the natural and the artificial, etc.) permeable




Authors of the The Second Machine Age suggest that we reinvent education so more people can “race with machines” not against them (NY Times)

The (controversial) law of accelerating returns states that the rate of progress is exponential:

Thus the twentieth century was gradually speeding up to today’s rate of progress; its achievements, therefore, were equivalent to about twenty years of progress at the rate in 2000. We’ll make another twenty years of progress in just fourteen years (by 2014), and then do the same again in only seven years. To express this another way, we won’t experience one hundred years of technological advance in the twenty-first century; we will witness on the order of twenty thousand years of progress (again, when measured by today’s rate of progress), or about one thousand times greater than what was achieved in the twentieth century. Kurzweil, Ray (2005). The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, Viking Penguin, New York


Long Term Questions:

1.     How will we train, educate and coach students to be active, productive, critical, creative and ethical members of a world cognitively and physically molded, sculpted and dominated by machine thought, machine language and machine senses?

2.     What physical, administrative and academic form should education takes to address these challenges?

Short term changes must be able to lead to long term paradigm shifting opportunities