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In the previous blog I spoke about the way in which digital technology was affecting the day to day lives of students, and their engagement with learning and teaching. It is not only the individual student’s engagement with technology, however, that is being affected by the digital revolution. The whole of society, and most particularly, the world of work is also being transformed by the role of the digital. With the rise of miniaturisation and the development of artificial intelligence many areas of our lives are being transformed by machines. The inevitable result of this will be that many of the jobs that our students are hoping to move into when they complete their degrees will have been totally transformed by the time they graduate or may even have disappeared completely. This is clearly a worry for the students but should also be a concern for us as an institution.
Many areas of the University are tackling this issue head on. Engineering is working on, and preparing their students for, the fourth generation of manufacturing. Law has chosen to place legal tech at the centre of their strategic plan and therefore to place themselves at the leading edge of their discipline. The opening of the new Computational Foundry on the Bay Campus next month is a clear reflection of the changing landscape and the need for us, as a University, to think through the implications of the new industrial revolutions, just as Swansea as a city responded so positively to the first industrial revolution of the nineteenth century. The College of Arts and Humanities is also investing significantly in digital humanities, placing a thread of digital engagement in all its degree programmes and using the recently opened Taliesin Create as a space for experimentation and development in this area. Engaging with the digital is an essential strategy for all of us, and it is one that we are already adjusting to across the University.
The issue, however, goes deeper than any one discipline, or any one profession. The nature of work, the concept of a career and the fundamental ways in which students need to prepare themselves for life have to change. Part of this is focusing on the processes which underpin the technological advances, increasing the digital literacy of our students. For many this will consist of knowing how to engage and interact with the digital. For a significant majority it will also need to include experience of programming and an understanding of how to build and manage the structures and machines that will play such a significant role in their lives. There are ethical and social elements to this knowledge as well as purely technical skills. This will demand a whole new way of thinking, rooted, necessarily, in the thinking of the past, but focused on new challenges and new problems for the future.
There is also the question of how to manage a career in the new digital world. How to adapt to an ever changing landscape of new technological innovations and the impacts they will have on particular professions, or the new professions that will emerge. Flexibility and resilience are words that are often used in relation to the needs of students entering the world of work in the early twenty-first century. Others have argued that emotional intelligence and social skills will be just as important, if not more important, than the traditional emphasis on academic qualifications.
We also need to prepare entrepreneurs; the leaders, developers and moulders of this new landscape. This will demand a very different set of skills, a mixing of creativity, with technical know how and business acumen. Such interdisciplinary approaches will demand a new way of thinking about the traditional disciplinary degrees and offer exciting possibilities for original thinking in this field.
What kind of career trajectory can we expect our students to have? What skills are they going to need? What kinds of values and characteristics? There are no easy answers to any of these questions, but if we don’t teach, or engage with students, in a way that takes such issues seriously then we will be doing a disservice to our students and leaving them with less than they need for their futures.