Three years ago, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, my colleagues Tim Gilmour, Linda Baer, and I began our newest collaboration, Transforming for Turbulent Times: An Action Agenda for Higher Education Leaders, a book focusing on the challenging times that would emerge post-COVID. Our thinking was supported by Thomas Friedman in his book, Thank You for Being Late, in which he described how technology, globalization, and climate change were interacting to dramatically accelerate the pace of change and transform the dynamics of learning, work, and living. Critical to these changes were advances in artificial intelligence, machine learning, virtual reality, and other visualization and analytics tools. In Transforming for Turbulent Times, we concluded that these changes would create the need for massive retraining and upskilling throughout most careers spanning 60 years or more. In this new regime, individuals would need to acquire fresh habits for do-it-yourself learning. Moreover, learning providers would need to transform their cultures and capacities to achieve success in this new era.
Our conclusions were grounded on case studies of institutions with insightful and innovative leaders: Southern New Hampshire University, Western Governors University, Georgia Tech, Austin Community College, Ocean Community College, Massachusetts General Hospital for Health Professions, and more. These transformational leaders had planned from the future backward and were preparing their students for the world in which they would be working in 2030. However, in our research, we also found that most institutional leaders were exhausted by Covid and wanted only to return to their “Old Normal.” They assumed that the frameworks and practices of 2022 would carry forward to 2023. Or so they believed...or hoped.
Then on November 30, 2022, Open AI released ChatGPT. In a matter of weeks, over a million users scrambled to try it out and discover how Generative AI could be used to create quite passable text, drawing on insights from all the accessible resources on the Internet. This development has provoked a tsunami of blogs, articles, and demonstrations talking about the strengths and weaknesses, dangers and opportunities, and future prospects for ChatGPT and its successors. In the blink of an eye, millions of people in education, the professions, and other sectors began to think about “what does this mean for me, my job, and my future”? For the first time, at scale, a large part of the global population is seeing or hearing about a tool whose future iterations and competitors could drive the transformation of the global ecosystem for knowledge building, work, learning, and living. The bull is out of the chute and must be turned to higher education’s long-term advantage.
We at Strategic Initiatives believe, now more than ever, it is time for higher education leaders to bring their institutional communities together to understand ChatGPT, its likely successors, and their capabilities. With broad inclusion, institutions should develop long-term strategies for the adaptation of such tools and the regeneration of meaningful and successful careers for faculty and staff in light of these developments. Strategic Initiatives has developed transformation processes, methodologies, tools, and a Body of Knowledge that are purpose-built for successfully taking on this leadership challenge.
This is the first of a series of blogs that my Strategic Initiatives colleagues and I will offer, exploring the challenges and opportunities Generative AI tools present to higher education and the potential of our methodologies, tools, and services to help higher education leadership turn these AI tools into a long-term advantage for their institutions.