The University of 2050/Welcoming Curricular Innovation

In the university of 2050, the curriculum will need to take on a more adaptive outlook. Classes will look differently with the advent of new technologies and new societal priorities. As our society develops and changes over the next 25 years, the form of education will change with respect to three major participant groups: students, professors, and deans.

Students in 2050 will have much more influence and power over the curriculum in front of them. Today, the hierarchy of curriculum control stems from deans and flows to professors and then to students. In 2050, this hierarchy will be flipped where students will have much more control and ability to lead the way on course selections. Students tend to connect with modern trends, advancements, and technologies faster than many professors and deans. Whether by fellow peers, social media, or other future modes of communication, students are aptly prepared to distinguish which courses are well suited to their education needs to prepare them for employment after college. This does not mean there will be no structure within the university setting, but this base structure will be freeing, not restrictive. Curricula will have a set of core course curriculum requirements that provide the necessary building blocks of a major along with greater flexibility to choose core and elective classes that students can choose, fitting their desires and preparations more effectively. Majors can restrict course exploration early on and create a negative connotation amongst younger college students. With the increase in flexibility, students can discover more varied and specific topics amongst class choices earlier in college allowing for a greater appreciation of the major and potential directions to pursue throughout college. Whether students come into college with many high school credits or none, students can develop these varied interests starting from their first year all the way through fourth year.

As flexibility in class choices increases, the flexibility in the working environment and timing will vary as well. Students at the University of Virginia, and many other universities throughout America, have put an immense amount of stress upon the class selection process. Class selection depends heavily upon enrollment time, which impacts whether a student can enroll in a class or not. The COVID-19 pandemic provided insight on class selection alterations when universities demonstrated a quick adaptation to a virtual learning environment, and in many cases, asynchronous learning. In 2050, class selection will be stress-free, as along with asynchronous learning, class sizes will increase[1]. Students that previously couldn’t enroll in a course due to smaller class sizes, will now enroll to take classes on a timeline that best accommodates their learning needs. Students can take the class where they want when they want according to their work schedule. This also accommodates the varied learning speeds and levels among students. Asynchronous learning allows students to slow down or speed up the class content to a pace in which they can digest the information effectively. Instead of having three or four tests in the same week will no longer occur since the student can adjust the test time for their classes to best accommodate their schedule amongst other classes. With the increase in class sizes, professors and teaching assistants (TAs) will have more work to complete, but artificial intelligence will provide modifications to classes to support them.

Professors in 2050 will take advantage of the enormous leaps in technology surrounding artificial intelligence. Over the course of the next 25 years, artificial intelligence will develop significantly, particularly in the realm of evaluative applications for use in educational purposes. Professors in the university of 2050 will use these applications to reduce their load and open up their schedules. They will no longer need to spend hours mindlessly grading assignments submitted by their students and be able to explore teaching larger class sizes as well as opening up new course topics that align with their personal interests. The current state of technology has seen a slight peek into automatic grading with websites such as Gradescope using autograders to run test cases through coding assignments. This small instance of automated grading will be expanded greatly into other realms of education such as papers for arts and social sciences majors, hands-on projects for hard science and engineering majors, as well as musical evaluation for music majors. These models for evaluating students’ submissions will be formed on the curriculums and syllabi written by the professors responsible across all universities in 2050. This will ideally reduce the amount of bias from any single professor in the grading of assignments. A plausible concern in this potential future is the reduced need for teaching assistants and student labor in the classroom. Teaching assistants will still be necessary for the in-class aid they offer to students and their presence as a budding educator. Therefore, student jobs will still exist and will simply take on more personal instruction and less tedious grading work.

This freedom will allow professors to spend more time on lesson plans and intentionally think about how best to reach their students with the content they need to teach. As a result of their freedom, professors will have the opportunity and time to teach classes that fit with their personal interests. When the professors have the chance to teach classes they are interested in, they are often more engaging and effective in reaching their students. Some professors today receive the opportunity to teach classes they enjoy, but they are bogged down in the work surrounding large required courses that absorb their attention and time, making it difficult to really pour into the subject matter they have greater interest in. Thus, having less stress on the large classes and more freedom to spend on their personal priorities, professors will be at their best in educating the student body. The reciprocal nature of this freedom presents a better curriculum and university for both students and professors in 2050.

Professors enjoy increased flexibility and freedoms in 2050, but structure is still necessary in order to produce valuable and skilled graduates. The department heads will provide the necessary balance by determining which classes should be required and which should be electives. However, there are often other considerations beyond just the coursework. For example, perhaps some deans will value required extra-curricular experiences such as clubs and internships. The department heads will work to develop an overall vision for what graduates from their department will look like. This allows different universities, schools, and the departments within them to maintain their unique experiences and value propositions. These curriculum visions will be developed according to accreditation requirements (particularly in the United States[2]) and in close collaboration with relevant industry professionals. This collaboration will produce graduates who are well equipped to face the challenges already identified within the chosen industry. This reflects the value that curriculum should be relatively quick to adapt to modern technologies and challenges.

To further increase the flexibility and value of curriculum in 2050, the students’ vision for their degree is also taken into consideration. There will be a culture of communication where an incoming class can express their desires and ideas for their degree, to be taken into consideration by the deans and department heads. Faculty have more experience, but students have a unique perspective due to their age and the experiences of their generation. Allowing students to help shape the vision for their graduation creates unique value and curriculum that is quicker to adapt to the times. Naturally the deans have final say, as an overly reactive curriculum would quickly become irrelevant. In 2050 there will be a national, and perhaps international, structure to balance the students’ and deans’ competing visions. This will result in a balanced, well-formulated curriculum that is influenced by students, professors, and department heads.

In 2050, university curriculum will be shaped by a few important values. Reduced stress and increased freedom for students and educators, timeless yet relevant skills and experiences, and greater collaboration between students and administrators will create a more valuable curriculum. This curriculum will result in an unprecedented graduate pool that is uniquely equipped to solve the problems of 2050. Our vision is feasible, as it requires relatively few technological advances. Our vision is credible, as it is founded on ideas that are present but not yet universal in our current day. Lastly, our vision is desirable because of the positive impact an adaptable and flexible curriculum will have on society.

  1. Molnar, A.; Miron, G.; Barbour, M.K.; Huerta, L.; Shafer, S.R.; Rice, J.K.; Glover, A.; Browning, N.; Hagle, S.; Boninger, F. (May 2021). "Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2021". National Education Policy Center – via JSTOR.
  2. U.S. Department of Education. "Accreditation in the United States".