“Clicks and mortar” for education in a connected world

University leaders met in Seoul, South Korea, to explore how technology is changing higher education

The British Council gathered thought leaders from academia and industry for its Global Education Dialogue 2015. Pictured here are panelists Dr. Halima Begum, Higher Education Director of the British Council; Dr. Minh Quang-dam, Rector of FPT University in Vietnam; and Dr. Sun-hye Hwang, President of Sookmyung Women’s University (Photos courtesy of Education UK)
The University of Tomorrow is “clicks and mortar,” appeals to “Generation Z,” embraces non-traditional learning, focuses on acquiring skillsets, and is taught by virtual avatars.

These were some of the learnings at a recent higher education conference in Seoul, the broadband capital of the world.

They are part of a trend that emerged several years ago.

Elsevier Connect Contributor

Anders Karlsson, PhDDr. Anders Karlsson (@AKTokyo) is VP of Global Academic Relations at Elsevier. With Tokyo as his base, he covers the Asia Pacific Region. He has a background in science diplomacy, having headed the Embassy of Sweden Office of Science and Innovation in Tokyo for five years, as well in academia, serving as Professor of Quantum Photonics at the Royal Institute of Technology – KTH in Sweden for 10 years. He has a PhD in Electrical Engineering, also from KTH.

A frequent lecturer on science and innovation policy and research management, he was invited to speak at this British Council conference in Seoul on the topic of how technology is transforming research and how it is shared.

In 2011, Harvard business professor Clayton Cristensen – who coined the concept of disruptive innovation – argued that the university sector too was a classic case of a sector bound for disruption. New virtual players on the market, lacking the burden of history and the weight of brick buildings, could use the Internet to be fast movers to cater to new audiences and take ground from the old players. Some universities created MOOCs (massive open online courses), giving the public a chance to take university courses for free. In a 2013 survey with higher educational leaders, The Economist Intelligence Unit found that integrating online learning tools and international collaboration were the two single most important areas of focus in the next five years.

For the conference in Seoul, the British Council gathered Korean and international thought leaders from academia and industry to discuss technology in education and how it effects where future talent is found. The Global Education Dialogue February 26 and 27 was titled The role of technology in the race for global talent. Not only is Seoul and South Korea an interesting venue in terms of tech savviness, but South Korea is a constant high performer in the OECD Pisa studies of the knowledge skills and creative problem solving of 15 year old students. Will Korea further boost its performance using educational technologies?

Hyesun Kim, Director of Education and Society for the British Council Korea, spoke about the British Council’s Global Education Dialogues series in East Asia, saying it brings leaders and experts together to discuss an “important and relevant higher education agenda to the world, regions, and each country”:

Korea is known for its excellence in ICT (information and communications technology), and passion for education cross the sectors is best placed to discuss such topic as the role of technology in the race for global talent. Developments made in school classrooms as well as universities over the last two to three years have increasingly created interesting debates, and we would like to provide a forum where we could openly discuss and even try to find resolutions to some issues amongst universities, industry and government.

The British Council plans to publish a report, which will be available here in early April.

Blackboard, whiteboard, smart board

While society is radically different due to the IT revolution, walk into a classroom and the only visible change is that the black board has been changed to a white-board.

Dr. Anders Karlsson (center), the author of this story, with Prof. Andy Miah (left) and Prof. King Chow (right) discussing how technology is changing education and how research is done.Those were the words of one speaker, Prof. King Chow of Hong University of Science and Technology.

Change is imminent, however. Prof. Andy Miah of University of Salford (@andymiah) said educational leaders need to understand that Generation Z – those born in the new millennium – would expect educational institutions to provide knowledge via mobile digital devices, platforms and the channels that are essential to them. He further noted that “ignoring social media now is like ignoring email in the early 1990s.” His vision was that technology not only allows educators to reach a broader group; paradoxically it may also enable a more personal “one student – one teacher” experience.

With MOOCs, we need to put universities in a new context. Perhaps the strong ones will be those whose brand is founded on being “bricks and mortar” as well as being virtual, making them also “clicks and mortar,” Rajay Naik, Director of Government and External Affairs at The Open University, explained so eloquently.

Not only was the Internet and the World Wide Web originally created for researchers to more effectively share information, but researchers are increasingly using social media as part of their outreach and even for collaborative problem solving. At Elsevier, we are seeing more sharing and crowdsourcing models for science, such as using Mendeley. Researchers are also increasingly sharing their research data, and publishers are supporting new models of peer Review. The overarching concept for this is called Open Science, a movement which can be argued to have started with the first scientific journal 350 years ago: Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

Internet also empowers researchers on an individual basis. Dr Othman Talib of University Putra Malaysia said he started out as a “humble talk-and-chalk” chemistry teacher, but upgraded his research skills via Mendeley. He is now a Mendeley advisor, popular lecturer on research methodology and author of books in Malaysia on how to use technology in the writing and sharing of research.

MOOCs and the Avatar Teacher Superstar

Dr. Sun-hye Hwang, President of Sookmyung Women’s University, explains how online learning allows universities to reach new groups of students.Perhaps the most visible transition of how universities extend their reach beyond their brick walls is the development of MOOCs, unbundling the “where, when and who” in learning. “Online learning reaches students who never previously dreamed of university educations,” said Dr. Sun-hye Hwang, President of Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul. These benefits extend “to the underprivileged, who, if they have an Internet connection, have a whole new world.”

Where will the development of MOOCs go? Prof. Joon Heo, Director of Open & Smart Education Center at Yonsei University, compared the current situation to that of the early 1990s browser war. There is now a platform war for MOOCs with a few leading platforms, but also a grassroots movement with local, and in some cases local language-based, platforms. In South Korea, and similarly in other countries, MOOCs provide an opportunity to bring a country’s national culture to a broader audience. Dr. Heo gave examples of KMOOCs – Korean MOOCs showcasing Korean culture.

Simon Nelson, Chief Executive of Future Learn, who previously oversaw digital media and on-demand activities for BBC’s television division, took the history of BBC as a starter. Already in 1927, the BBC had the vision of becoming a wireless university. For MOOCs, he emphasized the need to have high quality content for a good learning experience. MOOCs, he said, are about how we best use content, and his vision, already while at the BBC, was to “take the world’s best content, free it from the limitation of program or teaching schedules and make it discoverable.”

Simon Nelson, Chief Executive of Future Learn, sharing his view on how digital content for online learning must have high quality to provide a good learning experience.

Would the global competition also mean we end up with just a few MOOC superstars? Dr. Toru Iiyoshi, Director and Professor at the Center for the Promotion of Excellence in Higher Education at Kyoto University, put Harvard’s Faculty of Law Super-Professor Michael Sandel side by side with Michael Jackson and asked if MOOCs would just mean we would have a few teacher super stars, masters of the art of presentation skills.

For teachers who lack stage performance skills but still have deep subject knowledge, perhaps it would be enough to transfer the lecture part to an Avatar, and then have an army of teaching assistants to follow-up? With tongue-in-cheek humor, Dr. Iyoshi made an analogy to the Japanese “otaku” (nerd) culture phenomenon of the cyber celebrity Vocaloid Avatar Hatsune Miku, who gives concerts appearing as rear-projection 3D animation with a live rock band behind. In his thought-provoking talk, he also argued that there will be room for a diversity of MOOC courses and exams of different durations, e.g., three weeks, three months or three years.

Future skillsets

Amara’s Law:

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

Now that we use technology to speed up human learning, what are the long term consequences of computer deep learning and the digitalization of work?

Several studies, notably a 2013 study by Oxford University economists Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, have shown that in the next 20 years, almost half of US jobs will be at risk due to digitalization. In our talks, some of us, including industry representatives from Microsoft and Intel, stressed this future workplace perspective. All shared a positive view on the transformational role of technology. However, we cannot assume that the jobs of today will be those of tomorrow, and we need to consider whether the educational system is training for the right skills.

“In the last few centuries, there is so much knowledge that not one person can understand it, so we become specialized,” said Dr. King Chow of Hong University of Science and Technology. “We took this approach to education, and (it) seemed to be like running a production line.”

A new model is needed, he claimed. One approach involves T-shaped skills, a concept coined by Tim Brown, CEO of the design consultancy IDEO. T-shaped skills are in-depth skills in one area, along with a general perspective. Beyond that, he said, we will eventually need people with E-shaped skills, who can work across multiple disciplines with more than one deep skill.

Some of the industry representatives claimed that few graduates meet the needs of industry. Students have discipline-based knowledge alone, but industry seeks students with “learn-to-learn” skills and collaborative attributes. So to avoid having your work automated in a mid-term future, what skills are needed? “Critical thinking, making, designing or problem solving cannot be replaced by robots,” said Jay Lee, Asia-Pacific Communications Manager for Intel.

People before technology

In the conference’s chat-channel, a Korean student asked if a technology focus would not put educational institutions in the hands of the IT industry, which may care more about their company income than learning outcomes. Dr. Minh Quang-dam, Rector of FPT University in Vietnam, emphasized that change costs to keep abreast with development are significant, and institutions must proceed wisely with a long-term view. “You cannot invest a huge amount just for one or two years,” he said.

Obvious as it may seem, students value traditional face-to-face contact. For these and many other reasons, professors and the bricks and mortar institutions will remain relevant. “Technology can enable more of a social element,” said Fadi Khalek, VP of Strategic Partnerships and Efficacy at Pearson. “But ‘technology first’ is a problem; we need to focus on learning outcomes.”

Indeed, many speakers emphasized the role of people. Successful technology implementation needs a people focus in the need it addresses, a people focus in the implementation, and a people focus in how it is maintained and used. Technology plays a crucial supporting function. Carefully managed, universities can upgrade their relevance and be at the center of an eco-system linking academia with the public and private sectors – technology the enabler of outreach. As Dr. Michael Stevenson, an advisor to OECD, concluded:

Universities must not be monastic; they must step out into the world and make it better.


Related Resources

Learn more about the conference: The role of technology in the race for global talent

Coming in early April: A report by the British Council’s Global Education Dialogues

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