NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: This column originally appeared in the Saporta Report Thought Leadership section at https://leadership.saportareport.com/higher-education/2018/11/12/the-future-of-work-technology-and-education/. For more columns with insights from Georgia State researchers and scholars, please visit https://leadership.saportareport.com/higher-education/. Columns are published on Mondays.
By Phil Ventimiglia, Chief Innovation Officer of Georgia State University and Tiffany Green-Abdullah, Assistant Director of Learning Community Development at the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning
The world is changing at an unprecedented rate. Computers are being integrated into devices ranging from stoplights to smart speakers. Sensors collect immense amounts of data providing insights into everything from our health to what motivates us. Robotics and 3D printing are reshaping manufacturing processes. Renewable energy and artificial intelligence are reinventing industries from transportation to telecommunication.
These fast-paced changes are ushering in what many refer to as a Fourth Industrial Revolution, profoundly altering how we live, work and interact. This oncoming revolution makes it imperative that educational institutions consider how best to prepare students with an understanding of the complex impact these technologies have. How can automated decision-making be implemented ethically? How can students be ready for a world in which their co-worker could be a machine? At Georgia State, our goal is to ensure every student is ready to flourish in this world of the future.
While digital skills are a crucial piece of educating students for the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we cannot lose sight of the human element and the increasing importance of collaboration, communication and compassion as technology advances. Several years ago, Georgia State started a digital literacy initiative, incorporating digital competencies into class activities in the university’s core curriculum. A key outcome was that participating students asked for help continuing to develop their digital skills outside of class through entrepreneurial and professional activities like participation in the growing Atlanta hackathon community. We sponsored the PantherHackers student organization, which attracted students from not only majors like computer science and information systems but also English, marketing, design and many others. PantherHackers teams have won several prizes in local hackathons. The organization acts as a peer-learning community, hosting campus-wide workshops on digital concepts such as programming and blockchain, and teaching soft skills such as building a team and delivering a business pitch. As PantherHackers grew to over 400 members, their events routinely filled.
This appetite for digital creation across majors helped influence the construction of EXLAB, the university’s first open-access digital makerspace, which has expanded into multiple makerspaces across campuses.
The skills students gained from PantherHacker’s cross-disciplinary project teams and peer-led trainings spurred the creation of our co-curricular Digital Learners to Leaders (DLL) program. DLL is developing the next generation of digital problem-solvers through experiential and project-based learning. Started with a Digital Economy Initiative grant from the Silicon Valley Community Foundation in partnership with Cisco Corporate Social Responsibility, the program engages students in exploring solutions to local challenges using digitization and the Internet of Things (the growing network of everyday objects that collect, share and act on data using computing technology and Internet connectivity).
DLL encourages students, particularly women and minority students who are often underrepresented in the technology industry, to explore their technology interests. This year’s students, seeking degrees in 33 different majors, are attending workshops taught by technology professionals from across Atlanta’s education, business, government and non-profit communities on topics such as ideation, computational thinking, project management, entrepreneurship and professional communication. The program challenges students to use the digital skills they acquire to create new solutions to problems in their communities.
Participants are developing digital solutions to problems like providing more convenient methods of recycling using sensors and teaching financial responsibility through an immersive virtual reality game. Through DLL — recently nominated for a prestigious award by the Technology Association of Georgia — students of diverse backgrounds not only learn to apply high-demand professional skills but are encouraged to become agents of change and solve the problems of the future.