Stanford academic predicts shift to new graduate skillset
Assessing the fast-changing technological landscape and its impact on higher education at this year’s Arizona State University and Global Silicon Valley (ASU+GSV) Summit held in San Diego, United States, on 17 April, GSE Dean Dan Schwartz, said: “We’re at an inflexion point about what we can do in learning”.
Future change would be fuelled by an influx of data, combined with innovative technologies, increased empiricism and a pressing need for solutions to tough problems, he said.
He said higher education should embrace, rather than shun, artificial intelligence and related modern technologies, such as the increasingly ubiquitous AI apps ChatGPT and GPT-4, the conference heard.
Technology can make a difference
That using tech can make a real difference has been illustrated by research at Stanford that assessed middle school performance and associated learning times, and showed how too little sleep by students was harming memory retention. The results persuaded California education authorities to start middle schools later in the morning, noted Schwartz.
Universities should react quickly to the potential of computational power that delivers such advances in an AI world, he said.
“Their speciality is long-term foundational research that changes the world but we’re not often the best at rapid response,” he noted, recalling that in the distant past, universities did not lead scientific revolutions, but rather protected dogma.
Christopher Shryock, senior vice-president and chief people officer at United States-based wholesale retailer Sam’s Club, told the Arizona State University (ASU) and Global Silicon Valley (GSV) event, staged from 17-19 April, that with AI, many jobs will “become automated away fast”.
He noted: “Months ago, nobody talked about ChatGPT. If you pull up the skills of the future, it’s all about critical thinking, innovation, creativity, resilience, the ability to lead and influence others – a lot of these softer skills….”
“Skills to get from liberal arts college will be the ones that differentiate successful from less successful organisations in the future,” something universities should consider, he said.
The need for coding skills
However, Amjad Masad, CEO of Replit, a San Francisco-based software-as-a-service (SaaS) company that helps customers create online projects and write code, said computer coding was one technical skill that students still need. This is even though AI can itself write code, because it can be a helpful assistant in software development.
“It’s the best time to learn how to code,” he said. Understanding basic syntax in the basics of programming structure, “you can work with an AI to create a startup”, with students learning programming language Python part-time for a month to build useful software, aided by AI.
A developer can guide AI coding with creativity via a chat system to create software that can then be debugged with the aid of such AI systems, “getting all the way to deploying an app and making your first dollar”.
Knowing coding basics will help, and human coding specialists will still be needed to check this work, he said.
Charles Chen, core founder of China-based internet and tech company Tencent, said regarding AI: “The future is here whether we like it or not.”
Chen is also the founder of the Yidan prize, which rewards contributions to education research and development. He said the rollout of AI systems such as ChatGPT and GPT-4 underlined why higher education should teach “wisdom … creative leadership and grit” and not only “focus on knowledge delivery”.
To underline the potential value of AI systems, he asked ChatGPT what it thought were the current critical challenges for education – its reply was inequality, access to education, quality of education technology, teacher training and retention, funding, assessment and accountability, plus globalisation.
Asking GPT-4 the same question, he said it unveiled the same answer, with some additional areas for reform, notably curriculum relevance, early childhood education and higher educational work relevance. In Chen’s view, education should be “more about nurturing virtues, self-love and love for others – the future path of education is a journey from knowledge to wisdom”.
Role of the private sector
Chip Paucek, co-founder and CEO of 2U, an American educational technology (edtech) that works with colleges and universities to build, deliver and support online degree and non-degree programmes, said the private sector should play a key part in helping higher education utilise modern technologies.
However, despite US$7 trillion being spent on the education market worldwide, there are no major global edtech companies, even though 2U is growing.
“We’ve been a conduit for capital … investing in this space into our university partners for about 15 years and we just turned a profit,” he noted, stressing that generating revenues in higher education was not easy.
There has been resistance to private companies entering the higher education space, he said.
“If we keep thinking for-profit education is inherently bad, we’ve got a big problem in our entire industry...We need more successful companies.”
Extra services are clearly needed, said Paucek; for instance, bringing back into education the three million black American men with some college credits who have not completed their courses. “That’s a national crisis. Who’s going to attack that if it’s not for private industry?” Paucek asked the conference.
His company is currently in litigation with the US Department of Education over new guidance requiring online programme managers working in higher education, such as those in 2U, to report business dealings with colleges and universities and be audited.
This is overreach, and a breach of federal legislation, argued Paucek, who said such actions were deterring private investment from US higher education.
“Right now venture capital and private equity are looking at something like these regulations [and concluding] why would you invest in this sector?” That will prevent private industry from bringing down the cost of higher education, he said, something that new tech can help deliver.
“Platforms of the future [can] drive greater efficiency and drive down costs,” he said, adding: “There’s nothing inherently wrong with that” and calling for a debate about “how to drive more investment into the space”.