The University of 2050/Welcoming Curricular Innovation

In the University of 2050, curricula 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 curricula in front of them. Today, the hierarchy of curricula control stems from deans and flows to professors and then to students. In 2050, this hierarchy will be flipped where students will have more control and the 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 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. This will increase the dialogue between students and deans in communicating class trend differences. In addition to reaching out to deans at any time, students will have one meeting a semester discussing with one another class preferences, needs, and alterations. A dean will be in the room with this cohort of students, and instead of a one sided teacher-to-students communication style, there will be an equitable open conversation, student-with-dean, without any one dominating voice. This will allow deans to have up to date information from students semester to semester. Curricula will still have a set of core course requirements that provide the necessary building blocks of a major providing students greater flexibility to choose core and elective classes, fitting their desires and preparations more effectively. Yet, majors can restrict course exploration early on and create a negative connotation amongst younger college students. With increased flexibility, students can discover more varied and specific topics amongst class choices earlier in college allowing for a greater appreciation for their major. This will also allow students to explore more varied class possibilities not before possible within the strict class selection process. 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 class choice flexibility increases, so will the working environment and submission timing. Students at the University of Virginia, and many other universities throughout America, have put an immense amount of pressure upon the class selection process. Class selection depends heavily on enrollment time, impacting 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 classes 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 where they can digest the information effectively. 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 with other classes. In order to form a link between student-to-student and student-to-teacher, students will attend in-person, project oriented classes a few times a semester. Students will still collaborate and navigate a team atmosphere in these classes without being completely isolated. This provides teachers a critical opportunity to check in and connect with their students. Asynchronous learning can be isolating and these in-person sessions will allow teachers to be a friendly presence and resource to their students amidst a primarily virtual learning environment. 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 have access to these applications as tools to reduce their load and open up their schedules. They will no longer need to spend hours tediously 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 afforded by new technology 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 lowered responsibilities in core courses, 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 often 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. It should be noted that this technology will neither increase nor decrease their overall workload, so much as allow the professors greater autonomy over their teaching style and content. These new tools will be for use at the disposal of the professor, not a mandated class method imposed by deans and school boards. Thus, professors will retain their autonomy and control over their workload. Creating more autonomy for professors presents a better curriculum and university for both students and professors in 2050.

Professors enjoy increased flexibility and freedom 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 require extra-curriculars 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 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 identified within the chosen industry. This reflects the value that curricula should be relatively quick to adapt to modern technologies and challenges. Our assumption is that the wider context of accreditation boards and other relevant decisionmakers will have shifted to share our vision for flexible curricula.

To further increase the flexibility and value of curricula in 2050, the students’ vision for their degree is also considered. 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 degree creates unique value and curricula 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 curricula will be shaped by 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 more valuable curricula. This curricula will result in an unprecedented graduate pool that is uniquely equipped to solve the problems of 2050. Our vision is feasible, as it requires 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 adaptable and flexible curricula 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".