The Future of US Higher Education: Artificial or Man-made?

Sep 24, 2021

Perspectives in higher education

Over the past year, universities and colleges have had to deal with various new situations, including COVID-19 and Contact Tracing, fully remote learning, and financial fallout from this pandemic. As a new normal emerges, institutions are already planning for the future.

Colleges and universities have always relied on traditional economic models for their survival. The majority of private institutions had to enroll a steady number of tuition-paying students. For public institutions, that meant consistent state appropriations in addition to the revenue from tuition.

The economy's rapid change and the global COVID-19 pandemic have impacted the reliability of traditional models. As a result, institutions are now under pressure to adjust their strategies.

US Higher Education: The Online Learning Experience

Coronavirus has caused changes in teaching and learning processes in higher education. Education institutions have influenced the interaction between students and teachers. For instance, Universities were forced to cease all activity due to the pandemic and as a result, students can only study online. Drastic changes like the change in the manner students interact with their teachers & vice-versa effects the learning experience.

Many governments have taken measures to prevent the spreading of the virus to ensure continuity in the educational process, and universities worldwide have adopted online learning. Before the pandemic, internet-based learning was generally considered an option, an alternative to traditional education. However, during the Coronavirus pandemic, it became an integral part of maintaining activity at schools and universities. This paradigm shift leads to changes in the students' perceptions about the education system & the way of teaching.

Higher education is constantly changing with universities experiencing rapid growth to keep up with students' needs, wants, and requirements. Information technologies are essential for students & using E-learning systems enhance the university's activity as well as student engagement leading to more & more institutions investing in online systems, devices and services.

But, In the age of technology, universities face significant challenges in integrating innovative E-learning, especially systems that reinforce and support teaching and learning.

Knowledge in the Context of Exclusive Online Learning

Universities did not have the technical capabilities to offer online learning in optimal conditions. Students, teachers, and universities were not ready for the abrupt shift to online education. They implemented new reforms and kept improvising as new challenges arose.

Teachers didn't have the technical skills required. They were unable to manage in such a short amount of time to adapt their teaching style or to interact with students online in the most appropriate way to ensure high standards in the teaching process.

There was a serious lack in the ability to adapt their teaching using the various functions & teaching styles one can implement when using E-learning platform's to teach.

For Example: Some teacher like to give their students a sense of responsibility & assign them as moderators to the online lecture; this not only boosts student morale but also lessens the additional burden that the teach would otherwise have to carry.

These technical skills also include the ability to share topics via screen sharing or synchronous chat. In addition, presentations allow students to work in groups during seminars and post various Links on the platform that refer to different sources of information to create short clips for specific events and post them on the platform.

Our view is that the US higher education system faces the most significant challenges. Today's challenges include Teachers' resilience to change, and students' perceptions towards online learning. To help teachers adapt to changing environments, training programs must be created. In addition, changes to help students understand that the future education in higher education involves the online environment. It is unlikely that the system will ever return to the way it was before the pandemic. Online teaching offers a new way for students to interact.

The Future of Higher Education is Dependent on Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence improves higher education at all levels. Personalization at scale is one of the most critical tasks of AI in education. However, it remains a difficult task to find the best way for humans and AI technologies to interact with each other.

This has led to the slow adoption of AI at most colleges and universities worldwide. Unfortunately, this has made the education sector one of the last to adopt AI.

In the next ten years, AI will be used extensively. In addition, other technologies like augmented reality (AR), Virtual Reality(VR), Holograms and Virtual Learning Environments (VLE), are all likely to grow in popularity, provided that they can be integrated into face-to-face education.

The three paradigms of AI in Higher Education

Artificial Intelligence has been made possible by the advancement of information processing and computing techniques. AI in education (AIEd) opens up countless opportunities, uncovers potentials and challenges educators and students in educational practices.

There have been some paradigm shifts in AIEd; three to be precise. They are:

Paradigm One - AI-directed - Learner as-recipient
AI represents knowledge models and direct cognitive learning. AI provides service to learners.

Paradigm Two: AI-supported - Learner-as-collaborator
AI is used to support learners as they collaborate with AI.

Paradigm Three: AI-empowered, learner-as leader
AI is used to empower learning, while learners have the agency to learn.

AIEd is a growing trend that aims to empower learning agency and personalization. It also enables learners to reflect on their learning and inform AI systems accordingly. The ultimate goal of AIEd is to create a personalized, learner-centred and data-driven learning experience.

How to address the challenges

Higher education leaders are faced with a complicated situation. They must negotiate how to deal with the COVID-19 crises in a context that includes technological, demographic, economic and political challenges. It's not easy to change history's course, as the saying goes. However, the contemplative nature of university governance can have many advantages; it can also hinder the ability to take decisive action on essential matters. Nevertheless, many university leaders have responded creatively and quickly to the challenge of protecting their communities' healthcare while still delivering their educational mission. Universities can sustain momentum by using three mechanisms: planning, stakeholder engagement and board governance.

  • Take decisive, short-term action to respond to crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. They must also be able to devote time to long-term strategic thinking. One way to achieve this is to create plan-ahead teams which include people identified as future leaders of the organization. This team will be responsible for developing plausible scenarios and recommending actions based on their evaluation. They also need to identify trigger points that could lead to the university's administrative leadership and board.

  • Stakeholder engagement. Leaders should be transparent in their decision-making process, set clear timelines and follow them. The shared governance culture in higher education can be respected by embedding engagement as a part of decision-making and not as an afterthought. Universities still can respond quickly.

  • Board governance. Boards can be crucial in times of crisis. However, this role should not be reduced to micro-management. To ensure that they provide the required governance, board members must evaluate their operational model, which includes the board's size and structure and decision rights.