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Opinion: Tech advances reshaping course content, teaching methods

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Ten years ago, collegiate technical degree programs and their classes focused heavily on specific technical skills addressing the needs of employers. At the time, the iPhone was a 6-year-old technology, and Apple just released the iPad Air. Windows 8.1 was the latest Microsoft operating system, and smart watches were inching into mainstream. OpenAI, the company that created ChatGPT, had not yet been created.

I asked local university professors to weigh in on changes this past decade to both technical course content and teaching methods available and in practice. A summary of their responses follows.

Course trends
The Internet Archive nonprofit offers a website called The Wayback Machine, which archives online site content. The websites from Drury, Missouri State and Evangel universities and Ozarks Technical Community College are available as they existed in 2013 for comparison across the decade of courses offered. Today’s degree programs now include more business elements and power skills, a term that’s analogous to soft skills: communication, leadership and general business and collaboration. Additionally, specialized computer degree paths now incorporate more practical content and depth.

Professors from Drury and MSU point to 2016-17 as when both content and delivery methods began to shift.

Xiang Guo, MSU’s information technology and cybersecurity interim department head, says the school’s advisory board at the time provided input leading to a curriculum change from computer information systems to creating an IT degree. It’s designed with three paths: cybersecurity, IT infrastructure and application development. The board, comprising industry professionals from local organizations, since influenced the creation of a data analytics degree.

Shannon McMurtrey, an associate professor of cyber-risk management at Drury, says that timeframe also was pivotal for the cybersecurity discipline. State of Missouri data show more than 12,000 open positions in cybersecurity.

“The Bureau of Labor Statistics forecasts a 32% growth rate for information security analysts over the next 10 years, which is much faster than the average of 3% for all other occupations,” McMurtrey notes. “Drury has invested heavily in [computer] lab space, faculty and curriculum to meet this important challenge.”

Cybersecurity dominates the course and degree program shift at Springfield’s higher education institutions. Early cybersecurity learning incorporates practical network and hardware courses that teach computing fundamentals that apply to IT technicians and also more advanced study.

OTC’s hands-on approach regarding these fundamental skills aligns with CompTIA skill certifications, enabling students to learn material directly correlated with industry standard certifications that employers understand and value. Students can complete this core knowledge and certification path within two fast-paced years.

Modern strategic business practices must address artificial intelligence. Most AI courses offered now are technical in nature. But as employers value systems thinking – a holistic approach to problem solving – the practical human side of AI prompting may require additional curriculum and courses.

Cutting-edge solutions to specific problems can be delegated to computers and AI, leaving time, space and evaluation as the problems the humans seek to conquer. The key set of skills for systems thinking includes both the technical skills and those power skills of communication, empathy and collaboration.

Shifts in coursework show the colleges also value teaching this holistic approach. Courses such as business law and ethics, professional practices and communication, and professional business experience bolster power skills.

Teaching methods
In that same innovation period beginning in 2016, local colleges and universities were building different learning platforms. OTC proactively reviews learning courses, for selection of both online and hybrid content, and officials say improvements in learning technology enable these shifts.

“In many ways, these advances in technology make it easier for students to be able to take our courses and find success,” says Tiffany Ford, chair of the information science department at OTC. “Access to high-speed internet now allows faculty to connect with their students using real-time video platforms to deliver lectures, lead distance-learning labs or meet with students.”

Mark Maine, an adjunct professor at Evangel, agrees: “Educators are working hard to become reverse mentors, where they are learning to navigate the new generation’s learning process and keeping them engaged. Today’s technology allows professors the resources to keep their students connected to the content that they are presenting. With this in mind, educators have access to great resources that allow the gamification of a student’s coursework.”

While cybersecurity and AI dominate the focus of the previous decade and will continue to shape future learning, the next focus area may not emerge for a few more years. The results of incorporating more systems thinking and prompting into decision-making and verification will necessitate more changes. Change is, therefore, the only certainty.

Heather Noggle is owner of Codistac LLC. She can be reached at hnoggle@codistac.com.

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