Universities must prepare learners to deal with emerging technologies

The emerging technological trends will have great implications for tertiary education and on the future of jobs, said Commonwealth of Learning (COL) president Prof Asha Kanwar.

She was delivering a public lecture on “Learning in the Era of Digital Transformation” at the main campus today attended by over 150 people from various institutions of higher learning.

 Registration of attendance at the talk.

Registration of attendance at the talk.

She said that the fourth revolution is marked by artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics as well as the growth of open educational resources (OERs), massive open online courses (MOOCs), and micro-credentials. She mentioned the impact of four innovations, namely MOOCs, blockchain, micro-credentials and OERs, on tertiary education.

“MOOCs can disrupt the traditional classroom lecture while blockchain will allow employers to verify the credentials of students and so challenge the authority of the accreditation bodies.  Micro-credentials call into question the relevance of full degrees, and OERs are disrupting business models built on intellectual property rights.”

 Former WOU Vice Chancellors Emeritus Prof Dato' Dr Wong Tat Meng (left, back to camera) and Dato' Dr Ho Sinn Chye (right) chat with the speaker.

Former WOU Vice Chancellors Emeritus Prof Dato' Dr Wong Tat Meng (left, back to camera) and Dato' Dr Ho Sinn Chye (right) chat with the speaker.

She stated that big data and cloud computing are critical for artificial intelligence. She cited a few examples of AI-powered systems in education like the virtual teaching assistant or chatbot that offers personalised assistance to learners by using text and the robots with human-like speech that can teach. The role of teachers will change from a provider of knowledge to an overseer who will monitor the progress of learners, lead non-academic activities and provide pastoral support, she added.

She shared that Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality technologies can improve learner experience through real-world environment and simulated experience, but that these technologies are presently with the commercial systems due to the very high cost.

 Prof Kanwar introduces the topic of her lecture.

Prof Kanwar introduces the topic of her lecture.

She said that AI will drastically transform work and the future of jobs with an Oxford University study reporting that 47% of today’s jobs would be automated in the next 20 years.  “Middle level jobs are most likely to disappear while we may see a marginal increase in highly skilled jobs.  All the cognitive type of repetitive jobs will be better done by robots and likely disappear, and so human beings need skills in areas where only they can contribute.”

She called for changes in the way education is delivered to prepare learners to these eventualities. “Learners will have to skill and re-skill themselves, moving back and forth from academia and employment. Micro-qualifications and micro-credentials will be as important as degrees because they don’t need to do the degree again; they just need a micro-credential for the new skills which they have learnt. The faculty also will have to become lifelong learners to keep pace with these changes.”

 The speaker highlights the impact of artificial intelligence on work and the future of jobs.

The speaker highlights the impact of artificial intelligence on work and the future of jobs.

She mentioned three essential literacies to equip learners for the future: human literacy, data literacy and technological literacy. Human literacy is to prepare students to perform jobs that only humans can do, make ethical choices and for social engagement through effective communication, while data literacy is to help learners find meaning in the flood of information. “Technological literacy is essential to understand machines and how we, as educators, can use them.”

She said in the era of digital transformation, “learning how to learn” will be the biggest skill to provide learners as nations must continually skill and re-skill the workforce. She called for universities to emphasise on employability by focusing on hard and soft skills and to develop a curriculum that addresses market needs and future requirements.

 Part of the crowd at the lecture.

Part of the crowd at the lecture.

She concluded by reminding of the 3 Es, Empathy, Equity and Ethics. “What human beings can bring to the table is Empathy. How can we teach this to our learners?” She mentioned equity in the distribution of emerging technologies, and for ethics, she inquired, “Will these technologies be like the Monster Frankenstein or will they bring peace and harmony in the world.”

During Q&A, she reiterated that the teacher is “not dead” with AI but that the teacher’s role will change. On employability, she urged universities to keep pace with the competencies needed by industry and train learners to become problem solvers, creative thinkers and people who can work with others, and have passion and perseverance.

 Prof Kanwar responding to questions during the Q&A moderated by Acting Vice Chancellor Prof Zoraini Wati Abas (left).

Prof Kanwar responding to questions during the Q&A moderated by Acting Vice Chancellor Prof Zoraini Wati Abas (left).

She agreed that education has become so commercialised that it has lost the values of empathy and sympathy, stressing that “values are absolutely fundamental to education” and students must be taught the importance of character.

 Senior WOU management, including School of Business & Administration Acting Dean Prakash V Arumugam (2nd from right), emcee for the lecture, in conversation with Prof Kanwar.

Senior WOU management, including School of Business & Administration Acting Dean Prakash V Arumugam (2nd from right), emcee for the lecture, in conversation with Prof Kanwar.