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Brave New World

21 Sep 2018 | Dr Kay Hack (PFHEA) How are we preparing the Next - Generation of learners for the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

A tsunami of new technologies is set to transform the workplace, rapid developments in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, 3D printing, virtual reality, nanotechnology and the Internet of Things are driving ‘Industry 4.0’ or the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’(4IR). Previous industrial revolutions have seen mass unemployment, as workers strove to upskill or reskill to find a place in the new workforce. Over the last two decades we have seen the gradual erosion of jobs that could be automated or replaced by algorithmic based computing. Any job that could be described by a simple set of rules, ‘if this, then that’ , could be made  redundant. Predictions of job losses in this Fourth Industrial Revolution vary widely, and by sector and by country, but we are already seeing the impact on manufacturing and retail sectors. The machine learning methods at the heart of AI mean that we do not have to specify all of the rules in advance, the software can learn in the same way that humans do, through trial and error; but unlike humans, computers remember their mistakes! Jobs based on pattern recognition: pathology, radiology, accountancy, financial services, legal advice….. are susceptible to being replaced by AI. As AI becomes more sophisticated so will the cognitive tasks it can replace. The skills required for workers to survive and thrive in Industry 4.0, will be based on uniquely human qualities (emotional intelligence, compassion and empathy) and the creativity and metacognitive skills that will allow us to innovate and solve the complex inter-disciplinary problems and global challenges that we face. New jobs will be created; as well as the data scientists and machine learning experts, we may need more psychologists to help employees cope with working alongside robots, sociologists to identify the biases in the datasets on which neural networks are being trained, philosophers to ensure autonomous cars make ethical decisions. 

Brave new world

The Next Generation of students may only spend a few years, if any, using the content knowledge acquired during their degree programme. They will be expected to communicate with colleagues and clients, ethically and professionally across platforms, disciplines, cultures, national boundaries and cyber-physical interfaces. They will have multiple roles and job titles that currently do not exist, work simultaneously for multiple organisations, in a working life that could span 60 years, they will work from home, in the cloud and alongside robots, making decisions based on data drawn from a wide variety of sources.

These changes will not only impact upon students, but also upon education providers. The need to regularly upskill and reskill the workforce will require agile and responsive education and training systems. So how are we preparing our students and ourselves for this brave new world?

In “Higher Education in the Era of the Fourth Industrial” (Gleason, N, 2018), editor Nancy Gleeson argues that interdisciplinary student-centred, project-based learning is what is needed to foster the different kinds of thinkers required for Industry 4.0. A holistic approach to student assessment is required to encourage synthesis and metacognition, cognitive flexibility, problem-solving, entrepreneurialism and creativity. 4IR technologies need to be integrated into classrooms to make education relevant, supported by authentic experiential learning pedagogies that foster motivation and interest, and develop the habits of mind that allow for life-long learning. 

These issues and more will be explored at the Advance-HE STEM conference, where we are inviting peer-led workshops, papers and posters to explore the following propositions:

  • Proposition 1: Interdisciplinary approaches to learning and teaching in STEM are necessary to develop the graduate attributes demanded by students, employers and society.
  • Proposition 2: Innovative approaches to using technology and data are required for effective STEM teaching and to prepare students for success in Industry 4.0.
  • Proposition 3: Technological innovation will continue to drive the automation and globalisation of professional work: STEM students and academics need to adopt resilient and flexible approaches to learning and teaching to respond to a rapidly changing workplace.
  • Proposition 4: Following years of work on addressing equality, diversity and inclusion issues across STEM disciplines, progress is still slow. Institutions, faculties and departments need to develop innovative and sustainable approaches to achieve significant impact and realise change.
  • Proposition 5: Delivering the next generation of HE in STEM disciplines requires strong individual and team leadership, developing the next generation of leaders is critical to this success.

Higher Education in the Era of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Gleason, Nancy W. (Ed.) 

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