The College held its sixth Futures Conference on April 26. I want to thank the nearly 70 members of the community, including a half dozen students, who joined Pima employees to discuss how Pima should respond to the profound changes impacting 21st-century society. We are in the midst of an economic upheaval driven in large part by the emergent technologies of Industry 4.0: cloud computing, Artificial Intelligence, mobile technology and the Internet of Things.
I began with a story highlighting the challenges new technologies pose to institutional planning. In 1898, New York City hosted an international conference dedicated to a problem plaguing the world’s great cities: Millions of pounds of manure, the byproduct of the proliferation of horse-and-buggy transportation, the Uber of its day.
To their credit, the world’s urban planners had identified and attempted to respond to the challenges of their cities’ predicament. But they overlooked the automobiles that were just beginning to make their way down Park Avenue, Kensington Street and the Champs-Élysées. They lacked the foresight to fully imagine the consequences of the post-manure world (Manure 2.0 and 3.0), conceivably because they misjudged the speed at which new technologies would be adopted.
It took about 10 years for the horse and buggy to give way to machine-powered transportation in New York and other major cities. The timeline for changes wrought by Industry 4.0 is likely to be much more compressed. (It is worth noting that it took 20 years before 100 million Americans acquired a cellphone, 10 before 100 million connected to the Internet and only five before 100 million Americans signed up for Facebook.) I impressed upon the attendees that their task was to address challenges both distant and immediate. The future of education will be here soon, and thanks to Industry 4.0, will mean the new hallmarks of an effective classroom will be increased hybridization, digitization and personalization.
Personalization may be the most critical advance, as it offers a pathway to achieving educational equity. We need to understand and value the individual. Tens of thousands of diverse students come through our doors. We must take into account our students’ personal circumstances in order to lift them up to the starting line. Pima recognizes that offering equality of opportunity is an empty gesture without first redressing inequities, many of which are systemic, and some of which have been centuries in the making. If successful, Pima will achieve its goal of being an instrument of social justice, a necessity for our community, for, as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor has said, “Until we get equality in education, we won’t have an equal society.”