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Questioning the answers: University Education and the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Implantable cell phones. Reading glasses connected to the internet. Internet-connected clothes. Robotic pharmacists. Company board members that are nothing more or less than Artificial Intelligence (AI). 3D-printed cars, and even organs for transplant. It reads like a list of science-fiction extravagances, but these are just some of the very real developments taking place around us as the Fourth Industrial Revolution changes our lives forever.

Profound and rapid change is not only certain, it is already very evident. Workplaces, providers of services and purveyors of goods are all grappling with the implications of both the beneficial and intrusive information that we now cannot live without.

There is one crucial sector of our society, however, that is going to have to adapt to the way it learns, teaches and conducts research if it is to remain relevant, functional and purposeful in a rapidly changing world that is experiencing the Fourth Industrial Revolution. And that sector is university education.

As a university itself, the University of Johannesburg (UJ) is shouldering its responsibility as an academic and research leader in our country and on our continent by considering, discussing, and acting on the best responses to these new demands.

Aside from its own research, programmes and initiatives in both the sciences and humanities, UJ is hosting a series of web-based Cloudebate™ discussion panels that include academics, media, students, alumni and industry experts.

This next Cloudebate is aimed at investigating just how universities should be teaching; how their students should be learning; what curricula they should embrace and what kinds of technologies, partnerships and revolutionary thinking should be employed to maximise responsible and productive ways forward. This follows on the Cloudebate™ held in April,  which investigated the relevance of the academic thesis process in today’s fast past world.

What you do is what you get

We are all aware of the critical importance of sustainability in everything we do. Resources, renewable energy, food production, climate change and the technologies that enable us to meet the demands of an emerging bio-economy that will drive the future – all of these need to be studied, taught, and developed.

A multicultural and globalising world in which the Internet of Things that turns data into objects, trends into choices and choices into societies, is already upon us. In centres of teaching and learning, intellectual capital is the currency. Research is the stock in trade. In a world in which AI is gathering momentum as a major force, are the accustomed ways of doing and communicating all this still valid? There are many questions that demand answers from universities, and UJ is asking them.

What you ask is what you do

How do we better integrate our sciences, our humanities and our approaches in both teaching and research? How do we incorporate social media and identity groups? Who should our partners be? Which technologies do we utilise? How do we impact and involve all socio-economic levels? How do we restructure our curricula interactively to provide the trained workforce that will help build the society we would like to see for ourselves and for our children? How do we create a culture that can advance our tools and technologies in an ethical and sustainable way? When does university education end, and can it be extended across careers through ongoing research, learning and teaching?

All of these questions require careful consideration, strategising, planning and implementation if society wants its university graduates to shape their lives, as well as our future ways of living, with wisdom and skill.

Creating tomorrow

It’s a discussion that urgently needs to take place, and UJ is fostering it in this, its next Cloudebate™. And because it’s a discussion that involves everyone, if you’re a teacher, a student, a parent, an employer or anyone with an interest in how we shape our society and our continent for the future, you’re invited to join in on 05 June at www.uj.ac.za/4IR.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution is a critical juncture for all of us, and on our continent, UJ is leading in researching it, from within it. The university is initiating and pioneering the kind of analysis and fearless investigation that is relevant and applicable to the massive changes facilitated by the ever-expanding technologies around which our lives are now structured.

It is through this committed examination of the world of AI, the internet of things, the rapidly changing relationship between student, teacher, academic institution and society as well as the implications for true sustainability in university education, that UJ is reaffirming its commitment to creating tomorrow. DM



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