Reflections On Our Current Episode
Perhaps unsurprisingly given our unique backgrounds and experiences, upon reflection our interviews lead us to different key takeaways. On this page, we'll share our perspectives on each new episode. - Gina, Lorena, and Howard
S1-E2 The Future of Higher Education
Joy and wonder should be measures of success in higher education.
Remember the joy of feeling a snowflake melt on your tongue for the first time? Or the magic of discovering fireflies blinking like tiny lanterns but without any batteries or plugs?
What if higher education sparked such awe and wonder? What if higher education could capture our imaginations so completely that we would lose track of time exploring topics deeply?
Instead, we subject first-year students to crowded lecture halls where graduate assistants, not professors, drone on while flipping through PowerPoint slides as hundreds of students slouch passively. Only the promise of a “good job” after graduation keeps many students from quitting. Even worse, our obsession with STEM at the expense of all else is dangerous.
At the same time as we are cutting the humanities in higher education, the adoption of AI technologies is accelerating across all sorts of businesses.
As the overwhelming majority of data science, workers are men, data used to train these rapidly expanding AI models are being built mainly from a male perspective. Why is this concerning? In medicine, only 25 percent of medical trial participants for congestive heart failure are women. As data from these trials get codified into machine algorithms, the default human model for heart disease treatment is based on mostly male bodies. And it turns out, that women are more likely to die from a heart attack as a result.
Jonathan Powers makes a great case for the importance of arts and humanities in higher education. They connect us with our joy and wonder and help us overcome bias.
Lorena Dexter Chaichian
Jonathan Powers imagines a future where education is rooted in the value of curiosity, not built on a system of grades, assignments, or memorization techniques. He says we must focus more on empowered learning, not empowered institutions. In other words, it's time to ask ourselves: how can we foster knowledge and curiosity over the course of a lifetime?
His ideas remind me that some of the most wondrous moments of my life have come from times when I was not focused on the outcome. When I was five years old, I put on a dazzling pink tutu and attended my first ballet class. I was clumsy, unfocused, and certainly not graceful. Did I have the raw talent, drive, or right social lineage to become a prima ballerina? Probably not. But gliding across the wooden floor with my toes pointed against a backdrop of classical music was pure bliss. My world opened up to joy and to the thrill of possibility.
Years later, when I was in university, I read books that I never would have pulled off the shelf at the library. But what I discovered in those pages has fundamentally changed me and altered how I relate to others. I’ve kept those books and still return to certain chapters or passages when I’m feeling adrift. These kinds of experiences are transcendent.
Could we shift our mindset from the need to acquire education for the purpose of gaining entry to employment to a new structure that is built on a foundation of catalyzing and nourishing creativity and innovation from the early to golden years? What could this approach do for our society and the children that will inherit it? Jonathan Powers makes a compelling case that it is time to restructure and repurpose higher education.
What I found most insightful during our interview with Jonathan Powers was his concept of higher education evolving to become a lifelong pursuit. I think Albert Einstein espoused this idea when he said, “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.”
I find this idea intriguing because it opens the door to intergenerational student bodies. Creating opportunities for classroom discussions that combine the wisdom of experience and decades of perspective with the optimism and fresh insights of students who are just starting out. Just think about the discussions that could occur.
Imagine a Vietnam-era veteran sharing her thoughts about that war in a class today examining the situation in Ukraine. Or a recent high school graduate explaining their views on NFTs to a small business owner who has no idea what that is.
Or how about a financial executive whose career experience includes the 2001 dot.com bust and the 2008 Great Recession, discussing the importance of transparency and ethics in finance with his MBA classmates.
There is tremendous power in bringing together actual experience and fresh perspectives and Colleges and Universities are uniquely positioned to do so.
This would also create opportunities for folks who missed college by choice or necessity. Once they've established a career path or found a subject of interest, why wouldn't colleges and universities want to welcome them as adults?
And finally, from a purely financial standpoint, unused seats in classrooms are no different than unused seats on airplanes. Administrators should seek ways to increase the utilization of their learning assets, even if they need to discount prices to fill seats.
Clearly, Jonathan has foreseen a win/win situation for everyone.