Speculative futures in health care and higher education

The World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic on March 11, 2020. That was only a little over 3.5 years ago. Yet when one considers all of the technological, social, and personal upheaval that has occurred since the pandemic was declared, it is quite significant to see how this unprecedented disruption has changed how people work, learn, meet, access services, and conduct business, just to name a few examples. For this assignment, we are invited to think about an aspect of teaching, learning, and education in 2030. Drawing from relevant literature in the field, and my own experience working in the health care and post-secondary sectors, I will examine some potential futures of learning and teaching in these spaces.

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, public health measures brought about marked changes in the way that people were able to access health care services. I work for a regional health authority in British Columbia, and I observed how care providers had to adapt to these measures and find ways to connect with and care for clients and patients. Specifically, I heard from health workers who typically provide care in community settings, (as opposed to acute or critical care settings like inside emergency departments) struggle with finding ways to connect in light of restrictions and physical distancing. As a public sector organization that has high thresholds for information security and protection of privacy, our health authority had few accepted methods of communicating with patients and clients outside of face-to-face in 2020. Health care is a sector where fax machines and letter mail are still routine means of communication with clients and patients. In my role as leader of digital engagement, I received various requests for advice from health workers asking me how they might use digital technologies like social media platforms to connect with clients they could no longer see face to face, in particular those who are hard to reach, and more vulnerable to prolonged periods of isolation. Many health workers I talked to did not have employer-provided smart phones, and were struggling to find new ways to connect that worked for both them and their clients and patients. During this time, social distancing compounded patients’ ability to manage their health, and it brought to light how critical it is for health workers to have access to responsive and resilient infrastructure, tools, skills training, and knowledge to respond nimbly in the face of another public health crisis.

The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030 there will be a global shortage of about 18 million health care workers

World Health Organization, 2016.

The World Health Organization estimates that by 2030 there will be a global shortage of about 18 million health care workers (World Health Organization, 2016). Canada is not immune to this labour deficit, and the dire need for workers is putting a strain on the healthcare system (Mahler, Paperny, 2023). Even before the COVID-19 pandemic shone a light on the need for every sector to be prepared with ways to continue service delivery, the literature in education and technology has been warning about a future where digital literacy and competencies will be required skills across sectors and in various jobs. In a study analyzing 361 occupation types as categorized by the UK government, researchers concluded that over 90 per cent of the occupations in the UK workforce require at least basic digital literacies (UK Digital Skills Taskforce, 2014). In 2030, health human resource planners must accept that employers need to play a role in facilitating and /or providing opportunities for teaching digital skills and competencies. Whether this is through ongoing continuing professional development, mandatory new employee training, or a requirement of professional licensure, health workers are one of the most critical essential service workers who need these skills. Researchers have already come up with frameworks that define examples of digital competencies, and map out how individuals and employers alike can build capacity and accountability for becoming more digitally competent (Beetham, 2015). The unprecedented disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the global health human resource crisis should serve as a clear warning that health care systems must make significant investments in training, infrastructure, and digital competency.

As a part-time instructor in higher education I’m also reflecting on potential futures in this space. I was most interested to come across a panel discussion during the 2023 MALAT Virtual Symposium, on AI and Learning Design in Education.  All of the panelists shared the view that banning AI content generators from schools is not a practical or sustainable solution despite valid concerns that persist regarding plagiarism and copyright infringement (Royal Roads University, 2023). Some school districts in the United States have already made the move to ban the use of AI content generators, citing concerns with cheating (Roose, 2023). However, as Clint Lalonde put it, banning AI generator tools from classrooms is “like going to carpentry school and banning the use of a saw, but when you get into the workplace you’re going to be using saws so you need to know how to use these” (Royal Roads University, 2023). Indeed, educators have valid concerns about inappropriate uses of AI generators in school, because of the paradigm shift that the technology brings in conventional student assessment practices. Regarding these concerns, researcher David Mhlanga (2023) notes:  

It is feasible that this will result in regulations that ban its utilization; nevertheless, it is also conceivable that ChatGPT technology will become ubiquitous before institutions have the time to alter their policies. An approach that focuses on correcting the issues that have been caused by ChatGPT while also taking into account the potential benefits and drawbacks of the platform would be more effective.

Mhlanga, D. (2023).

At the same time higher education is grappling with the spread of AI content generators, the sector is still struggling with the controversies brought forward by online exam proctoring technology, made more prevalent during the COVID-19 pandemic where public health measures required people to limit gathering face to face, especially in large groups. One study of such online exam proctoring technology cautions us that “there are a number of critical issues underpinning the adoption of this exam surveillance technology – not least the surrender of control to commercial providers, the hidden labour required to sustain ‘automated’ systems and the increased vulnerabilities of ‘remote’ studying” (Selwyn et al, 2023). As more classes are offered in alternative formats (e.g. hybrid, fully online), the higher education faculty and administrators of 2030 will have to succeed at finding new ways to assess and evaluate student achievement and attainment of learning outcomes. For example, the conventional assessment tool of a research paper, completed individually at home, may need to be replaced (or supplemented) with an oral exam, a problem-based applied project, or a small group project that must incorporate principles and literature taught in the course, to minimize opportunities to rely on AI generators.

Due to lost learning and other challenges all students have faced, faculty will need a wide range of competencies and students will need as much flexibility as their institutions can provide.

Educase, 2021.

 The COVID-19 pandemic has been a catalyst for events that continue to influence the delivery of essential services such as health care and education. In 2030, health systems must be more prepared, nimble, and innovative in how they support health workers with skills and tools to maintain safe, yet patient-centred relationships. In higher education, students and faculty alike have experienced challenge, loss, and fundamental changes teaching and learning. “Due to lost learning and other challenges all students have faced, faculty will need a wide range of competencies and students will need as much flexibility as their institutions can provide” (Educase, 2021). Budget pressures and technological change will be consistent factors that influence how higher education operates. For those working in this sector, they will need to play ‘catch up’ as institutions’ policies inevitably lag behind societal practice. The higher education institutions of 2030 must build capacity in digital competency, readiness, and flexibility to weather whatever global storm may come.

References:

Beetham, H. (2015, Nov 10). Building capability for new digital leadership, pedagogy and efficiency.

https://digitalcapability.jiscinvolve.org/wp/2015/11/10/framing-digital-capabilities-for-staff-deliverables/

Educase Horizons Report (2021). https://library.educause.edu/-/media/files/library/2021/4/2021hrteachinglearning.pdf?la=en&hash=C9DEC12398593F297CC634409DFF4B8C5A60B36E

Mahler Paperny, A. (2023, February 7). Explainer: What ails Canada’s healthcare system? Reuters https://www.reuters.com/business/healthcare-pharmaceuticals/what-ails-canadas-healthcare-system-2023-02-07/

Mhlanga, D. (2023). Open AI in education, the responsible and ethical use of ChatGPT towards lifelong learning. SSRN Electronic Journal  https://doi.org/10.2139/SSRN.4354422

Roose, K. (2023, January 12). Don’t Ban ChatGPT in Schools. Teach With It. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/01/12/technology/chatgpt-schools-teachers.html

Royal Roads University. (2023, March 7). AI and Learning Design in Education [Video].

YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IFrAs59sDHI

Selwyn, N., O’Neill, C., Smith, G., Andrejevic, M., & Gu, X. (2023). A necessary evil? The rise of online exam proctoring in Australian universities. Media International Australia186(1), 149-164.

UK Digital Skills Taskforce. (2014, July). Digital Skills for Tomorrow’s World.

http://www.ukdigitalskills.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Binder-9-reduced.pdf

World Health Organization, 2016. Health workforce and services. Draft global strategy on human resources for health: workforce 2030. https://apps.who.int/gb/ebwha/pdf_files/WHA69/A69_38-en.pdf

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