On Jan 12, the Higher Education Ministry hosted its second “University of the Future Forum”, themed “Flexible Education”.
The panellists consisted of Adam Brimo from OpenLearning.com, Wawasan Open University vice-chancellor Prof Dato’ Dr Ho Sinn Chye, and Malaysian Qualifications Agency CEO Prof Dato’ Dr Rujhan.
The key question arising from the forum was: “Can we predict what the university of the future will be like?”
Here are my thoughts of the forum.
Imagine this - Adam is a first year environmental sciences undergraduate at University Malaya (UM). He takes ecology 101 in his first semester.
In his second semester, he goes to Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM) which is ranked 31st in the world for environmental sciences. There, he takes ecology 201.
In his third semester, while researching on growth areas for environmentally friendly technologies and business, Adam enrols into a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) in entrepreneurship offered by Taylor’s University (which you can read about here).
Adam never has to be at Taylor’s physically. He learns online and sits for the exam online. Because the entrepreneurship MOOC is accredited by MQA, it counts towards the fulfilment of his undergraduate degree at UM.
An avid fan of automobiles, he enrols into the Ibrahim Sultan Polytechnic in Johor (there are 34 throughout the country) to learn about hybrid cars .
In his spare time, Adam undergoes a cooking certification course at a local Community College (there are 94 throughout the country), and plans to use the skills to impress his parents (and future wife) back home.
At the end of the four-year programme, Adam receives a bachelor’s degree jointly-issued by all the institutions of higher learning mentioned above.
Next, have your heard of the game, Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate?
It is an amazing video game set in Victorian era that follows the adventures of twin assassins, Jacob and Evie Fry. They are hunting down an ancient secret society known as the Templars, which is hell bent on taking over the world.
The game, based on a fictional story line (duh), takes players across the city and introduces us to various real-life historical figures of that era such as Charles Dickens, Karl Marx, and Florence Nightingale (not all are British). Part of the game is to complete missions on behalf of these historical figures, which interestingly, are related to their background and history.
For instance, Dickens’ missions include hunting down demons and ghosts. In real life, he was said to have belonged to London’s famous Ghost Club.
Karl Max’s missions require the player to protect him from speaking of his reformist ideas and recruiting people for his Worker’s Party (at the end of his missions, he invites the twin assassins to join but they kindly decline).
As for Florence Nightingale, her missions include delivering medical supplies to ill townsfolk and eradicating fraudulent tonics and medicine from London’s streets. Known as the “Lady with a Lamp” for her role in treating injured soldiers during the Crimean war, she is is credited with professionalising the nursing role for women.
So, what does all of this have to do with the university of the future and flexible education?
There are two points to be made.
The first point: As said by Dr Rujhan, “In the university of the future, education is available anytime, accessible anywhere, and by anyone.”
Adam Brimo added, “Online learning will enable more people to access education as we are not restricted by physical infrastructure. The physical infrastructure will be used for students to come together and to develop soft skills, interaction, and team work. Both are important, both are complementary.”
Dr Ho said that in the university of the future, higher education institutions would be able to issue joint-degrees and certification, making a students experience and qualifications more robust and holistic.
In fact, this approach is already being explored by University of Tsukuba via its Top Global University Project. Known as the “Course Jukebox System”, students can choose the courses they need and where to take them, similar to creating a musical playlist. A few Malaysian public universities are part of this project.
The second point: Flexible education will see a rise in gamification.
Gamification is where video games become part of the teaching and learning process.
On the one hand, popular games can be used for content such as SimCity for urban and town planning, Capcom’s Ace Phoenix for lawyers, and Minecraft for would be architects (well … sort of).
On the other hand, the learning process can be gamified. For example, whenever students unlock achievements, such as the completion of assignments, they could get extra credits or rewards.
According to Nicolas Trepanier, an assistant professor at the University of Mississippi, “The engagement they (the students) had with the historiography (after playing video games with history themes), in short, rose to a level that I cannot recall seeing among undergraduates”. Students were more excited by the subject and willing to engage in academic publications (which acted to straighten out the fiction aspects of the games).
I had the privilege of meeting a gamification expert from Sultan Idris Education University (UPSI), and he sees tremendous potential in gamification. Gamification as an industry is set to grow from US$2.8bil (RM11.9bil) in 2016 to US$5.5bil (RM23.3bil) by 2018.
In conclusion: There are lofty goals and expectations set for the university of the future. On the bright side, the Higher Education Ministry is already working towards realising it.
Now, if you’d excuse me, i have to get back to my Grand Theft Auto 5, for um… sociological research purposes.
< The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.