A passel of stories about education and technology

Here’s another one of my futures story samplers, where I identify some interesting developments in higher education and technology, then seek to understand the way they embody trends.

ITEM: student demand for computer science classes is surging nationwide, often beyond a college or university’s ability to meet it, according to the New York Times.

The number of undergraduates majoring in the subject more than doubled from 2013 to 2017, to over 106,000, while tenure-track faculty ranks rose about 17 percent…

More than doubled in four recent years – that’s a serious upward curve. (Curiously, the article doesn’t mention increases in adjunct and term employment faculty members.)

Note that this supply and demand problem could heighten the problem of unequal representation within CS:

Some university leaders said they were concerned that certain measures taken to address surging student demand may disadvantage people who are already unrepresented in computer science — including women, African-Americans, Latinos and low-income, first-generation college students.

Those are general trends.  For a specific case, let’s turn to…

ITEM: the University of Washington embodies several nationwide enrollment trends.  It continues to experience humanities enrollment and major shrinkage, while STEM classes keep on growing.

Reporter Katherine Long makes one key point that we don’t often address: this enrollment shift is placing a financial burden on UW.  That’s because humanities classes tend to be much cheaper to teach than many in STEM (think seminar room versus wet lab), so now there’s additional pressure boosting campus costs.

The shift away from humanities doesn’t bode well for her education’s financial future. Encouraging more students to go into high-earning fields will only make college costs grow…

ITEM: one of Pennsylvania’s two public higher education systems has committed to letting students attending one campus take classes with any other campus in that system.  The Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE) consists of fourteen campuses across the state.

If they can get this working, then it’ll be a fine example of what some of us used to call shared academics, or inter-campus teaching.  This can expand the curriculum that students have access to and enrich each university.

That’s a big “if.”  Inter-campus collaboration isn’t easy, and there are many hurdles to overcome.  The example of SUNY attempting “systemness” is a good caution.

Note what’s spurring this on:

The financial health of its universities are declining as they struggle with competition for a shrinking pool of high school graduates, rising tuition that is driving away low- and middle-income class families, and state funding that hasn’t kept up with its rising costs.

ITEM: the University of Virginia is preparing a new school devoted to data science, powered by a $120 million gift, the largest in that institution’s history.  It’s a broad-ranging unit, one that should “ultimately offer both doctoral and undergraduate degree programs and certificate programs.”  Data analytics continues to grow in academic importance.

Note the source of these funds:

The grant to support the establishment of the University of Virginia School of Data Science is provided by the Quantitative Foundation, a private foundation based in Charlottesville. Jaffray Woodriff, a 1991 graduate of the McIntire School of Commerce, is trustee of the foundation… [and] also co-founder and CEO of Quantitative Investment Management, a private investment firm also based in Charlottesville.

Another example of higher education depending on private, elite financing.

ITEM: augmented reality (AR) usage is running into infrastructure limitations.  Essentially, American bandwidth all too often isn’t robust enough to reliably download and upload AR content and services.  GPS detail, too, does not always have the finely grained precision some AR functions require.

In that article Vishy Nirakari paints a skeptical portrait of the present.  Major tech companies are investing in cloud storage rather than bandwidth.  ISPs and telecoms are slow to respond, typically.  No mention of government action.

Then Nirakari points to one possible future, if we can get this infrastructure problem fixed:

John Hanke, CEO of Niantic, the group behind the game, is investingin the AR Cloud — a 3D virtual map that is overlaid on the real world, where information and experiences are tied to specific physical locations. That means users can visually search the internet in real time. It’s a bit like Google searching the world around you just by looking at it.

This is another step in realizing Spohrer’s 1999 vision of a global WorldBoard.

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2 Responses to A passel of stories about education and technology

  1. Alan Levine says:

    Nice to see PASSHE achieve what the Maricopa Community College system did… in the 1980s (the county is about the area of Connecticut). Ten independent colleges worked through district wide committees to develop a shared course curriculum bank, so students could take classes at any college – these were known as swirling students.

    • Bryan Alexander says:

      Unfortunate name, “swirling.” Lately I’ve heard administrators use it in a disparaging sense, to complain about students moving too many times (according to them) between schools.

      Agreed on the history. Inter-campus teaching is a known thing, a fine thing, just far too rarely done.

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