First of Leadership ‘Conversations’ Series Looks at the Future of Higher Education

On March 1 Georgia Tech President G.P. “Bud” Peterson and Provost Rafael L. Bras hosted an event about the future of higher education and ways Georgia Tech will educate the next generation of learners. Presented in the Student Center Theater, the event was the first in a series of campuswide, conversation-style events.

Citing the success of programs such as the Online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMS CS) degree, the forthcoming Online Master of Science in Analytics program, the introduction of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs), and others, Peterson discussed some innovations in educational programs Georgia Tech has undertaken in recent years. He also spoke about the work of the Commission on Creating the Next in Education, a group of faculty, staff, and students charged with making recommendations on educational innovation.

“The commission’s work is to understand what Georgia Tech should be focusing on in the future to prepare the educational agenda for us as an Institute,” he said. “These efforts are really an important continuation of Georgia Tech’s Strategic Plan.”

Peterson emphasized the importance of preparing students for the work environment they will experience in 20 years as they enter their career midpoint. Anticipating those needs, however, is greatly impacted by the rate of the creation of new knowledge and information change.

Peterson said that Georgia Tech must focus from an educational perspective on how that information and knowledge are generated. The massive amounts of information available at any given moment can be utilized to create new knowledge. As an example, Peterson explained that the best way to predict a flu outbreak is not to use one of the multimillion-dollar models developed over years by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Rather, a better predictor is a search for “flu” on Google. Sorting the top five sites by ZIP code and monitoring activity over time provide one of the best predictors of an outbreak.

There will be educational, cultural, policy, legal, and social implications for the rapidly changing, information-driven environments of the future. One of the biggest challenges will be how Georgia Tech prepares students for an environment where they must utilize massive amounts of data to create new knowledge. 

Similarly, Bras focused on the rate of change facing Georgia Tech and posited that education, and especially Georgia Tech as an institution, needs to change at a rate perhaps even faster than the world around it. In quoting serial entrepreneur, author, and Georgia Tech alumnus Tom Noonan, Bras explained that in the next 25 years, the current amount of knowledge will be multiplied by a factor of five to 10 times. In 25 years, that generation will view today’s technology the way we view the technology of the 1890s.

“We are certainly moving forward at an accelerated pace, and that will only continue, but as we look forward, we must keep our Strategic Plan in mind,” said Bras, who holds the K. Harrison Brown Family Chair. “That plan sets the vision and mission of who we really are.”

Bras reiterated that the Strategic Plan’s key words speak to innovating in research and education. But Georgia Tech is already teaching a completely different generation of learners. Enabled by technology, those learners are mobile. The current generation of students is also expected to have at least five jobs during their career. Higher education must strive to respond to the needs of learners and deliver results that provide education that transcends along one’s career — preparing learners not just for their first job, but for their third or fourth.

Bras also spoke to the population’s changing demographics and the implications for higher education and STEM fields. There is a growing diversity of learners in age, background, income, race, and ethnicity. More students of color and women will be served in the next decade and beyond. The gig economy is demanding that professionals be flexible and entrepreneurial, and employer demands mean many adults will need additional job training and continuing education to remain employable.

“The world around us is changing,” Bras said. “Communication is instantaneous. Lack of knowledge and data is no longer a limitation. Demographic shifts are occurring. Workforce demands are changing. All of these things affect the way we teach our students. So how does Georgia Tech respond?”

The essential questions Georgia Tech must pose are those that answer who, what, where, and how the institution teaches in anticipation of and in leadership through the changes.

Bras said that research universities — and Georgia Tech in particular — are perfectly positioned to meet the evolving and changing demands by developing a design-entrepreneur ethos across the curriculum, developing innovative and engaging educational methods, and promoting economic development through industry-based partnerships and increasing industrial research.

Sharing that Georgia Tech faculty and staff have traditionally been very innovative, Bras cited examples such as the Vertically Integrated Program (VIP). Other innovations include online education through pre-education access, courses, and materials, and 37 MOOCs with 1.6 million learners. He also mentioned the success of the OMS CS program, now with more than 4,500 students. According to a Harvard Kennedy School study, estimates show that 7 percent more Americans each year will earn a master’s degree in computer science as a result of Georgia Tech’s program.

Another example of success is Georgia Tech’s programs for student startups through initiatives such as Create-X and InVenture Prize. These programs are teaching young people to become self-starters and entrepreneurs.

Bras also cited the growing momentum and economic development in Tech Square and the reimagining of the Georgia Tech library.

During the question-and-answer period, Bras spoke to the power of creativity and the humanities at an institution such as Georgia Tech. He explained that Georgia Tech is a full-spectrum institution centered on science and engineering. The arts initiative developed a few years ago has a mission to integrate the creativity of Georgia Tech students into their projects and programs. Peterson also spoke to the Emory University partnership that allows Georgia Tech students to take additional humanities courses and gain exposure to a greater variety of courses in those disciplines.

Peterson and Bras also discussed the partnerships and outreach to the K-12 community within the state of Georgia through the Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing (CEISMC). In particular, details were given about partnerships with the Atlanta Public Schools (APS), including the Horizons program and Project ENGAGES. CEISMC Director Lizanne DeStefano detailed the Hollis Innovation Academy (K-8). The STEM curriculum-development program will serve as a demonstration project for other large urban school districts and highlight the opportunities for university-school system partnerships. CEISMC also offers teacher development to APS teachers.

Bras spoke to the untapped potential of connecting with Tech alumni through lifelong learning opportunities. He said the Institute can explore how to educate them for their lifetime.

Other events:

The second of the series, titled “Research Priorities and Funding Opportunities in the New Federal Administration,” was presented March 16 and featured guest speakers Steve Cross, executive vice president for Research; Robert Knotts, director of Federal Relations; and Michael Ledford, partner and vice president for Client Management at Lewis-Burke Associates in Washington, D.C.

Upcoming events:

Advancing Tech’s Physical and Workplace Capabilities: A Plan to Build a Resilient Campus
Thursday, April 6, 2017
11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
Children's Healthcare of Atlanta Seminar Room, EBB
Guest speaker: Mr. Steve Swant, executive vice president for Administration and Finance

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Susie Ivy

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