Dr. Nabil EL KADHI, Provost and Board Member of Vernewell Academy (UAE) has almost 30 years of experience in the academe, and more than 15 years of experience in the management of higher education institutions with exposure to European and Middle East and North Africa academic systems. He started his professional career in the early 90s; assumed positions ranging from Project Manager and Department Head to Lab Director, Master Programs Director, Dean, Provost, and Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Academic Affairs; Vice-Chancellor, and President where he remarkably contributed to institutional excellence and several applied research and industrial projects related mainly to Data and Cloud Security and Privacy, Smart Cities and Internet of Things, Digital Transformation and Artificial Intelligence, Secure Payment, Smart Card, Block-Chain and Crypto Currency.
The disruptive impact of Artificial Intelligence in higher education is no longer a question nor a doubt. It is today an established fact leading to various new being-shaped equilibriums and concepts. Many articles, discussions, trials, and views have been shared not only on social media and public platforms but also at high-level educational institutions and authorities. Recently, and at the highest level in the United States of America, the largest AI Stakeholders and leaders have been gathered to reflect on and shape the regulatory framework for tomorrow’s all AI-enabled lifestyle.
In the magma of such deep transformational reflection and unprecedentedly witnessed lifestyle change, the higher education system is in the middle of, what will be, the fastest and the most radical metamorphosis in the higher education arena. That is not only on how and where to teach (refer to my previous article “https://www.highereducationdigest.com/face-to-face-eduversity-the-new-blended-campus/) but also on what competencies and skills should be embedded in every single curriculum and what the new desired graduates attributes that will, not only reflect the university capacity to prepare youth for a V.U.C.A. future but also meet a dynamic and not yet fully-shaped market needs and challenges.
From Soft-Skills to Mad-Skills: Human Capabilities on Top
It is confirmed! In a more AI and technology-driven environment, workplace, and society, we need more aggressive and dominant human capabilities and soft skills. As per the ICT Standards for Information and Communication Technology, the 21st Century Students needed 16 skills that are aggregated into 03 groups as below:
- (06) Foundational Literacies (How students/ graduates apply core skills to everyday tasks): Literacy, Numeracy, Scientific Literacy, ICT Literacy, and Cultural and Civic Literacy.
- (04) Competencies (How students/graduates approach complex challenges): Critical thinking/Problem Solving, Creativity, Communication, and Collaboration
- (06) Character Qualities (How students approach their changing environment): Curiosity, Initiative, Persistence, Adaptability, Leadership, and Social and Cultural Awareness
62.5% of the needed competencies are under the human and soft skills umbrella in one way or another with clearly 37.5% as personality and human characteristics. A socially engaged and responsible graduate, a creative leader, and a problem-solver with appropriate adaptability and communication skills – these are what every CEO and business angel would love to have as common characteristics of their current employees and teammates. I am sure that we all agree on the same and we have valid rational for supporting such.
Contradictory, if we look at current curricula and the number of dedicated hours and courses that are specifically designed and delivered to cultivate the Character Qualities and Competencies, and in most cases we will not be able to identify more than 20 to 305 (at best) of the courses on soft and personal skills. Yet we, as educators, claim and defend that competencies group skills (especially) are developed in all courses of core competencies and that our various teaching activities serve the same. Yet partially true but not enough to cope with this new equilibrium; it remains a question to address: How and Who should support higher education institutions in achieving such and assuring that graduates are adequately equipped with the needed soft-human skills?
Before answering such a question, let us first dig deeper and establish what other human factors, skills, and capabilities are needed for tomorrow’s life. In a social and professional life environment where we do deal with AI-based decisions, we manage a team of colleagues, robots, and automated algorithms, we ‘trust’ (with whatever new definition of the term) black boxes to execute tasks, represent us, and our corporate, we do delegate various levels of activities to Generative AI-enabled tools.
A set of extended and reinforced soft skills are surely required. This is what we call MadSkills. The terminology is not very new, and the concept did not emerge as a result of the AI spread initially. In fact, the MadSkills concept saw its emergence with the COVID-19 pandemic peak when companies were looking to hire individuals with high adaptability and creativity and the capacity to think and react fast to unpredictable situations with also the capacity to embrace and lead a team to adapt and engage in the same direction. Acquiring such major characteristics as high critical thinking, adaptability, and creativity, and the ability to lead and engage a heterogeneous team of individuals, algorithms, and robots are the core of what we qualify at MadSkills today. A total of 36 characteristics ranging from motivation and appreciation to creating magic moments and D-puzzled thinking in a team are among the most impactful characteristics of MadSkills.
The terminology may vary from one higher education environment to another and from one context to another but capabilities to motivate, appreciate, articulate, analyze, describe, engage, diagnose, disrupt, empower, develop, and design life scenarios are, in all contexts, required with appropriate usage of existing, and yet-to-come, technologies and AI-based tools. Those are the MadSkills our students and graduates need to acquire today to manage, succeed and lead tomorrow.
A Glance at Prompt Engineering
Even though it is almost impossible to predict with accuracy the emerging technologies in 05 to 10 years, it is clear that Generative AI and Quantum Computing capabilities should be at the core of the same. Hence, understanding Quantum Computing and being able to use ethically, efficiently, and accurately generative AI-based tools is to be a critical skill and a must to acquire capability. This is where Prompt Engineering is today, taking all its importance and meaning.
Prompt Engineering is defined as the capability to formulate appropriate questions and interrogation to get the best out of the generative AI tools. This is in itself a shift in Higher Education as we used to focus on guiding and building student capabilities to find answers, solve problems, and design solutions. We have never been focusing, as much as how much it is needed today, on their capabilities to ask the appropriate questions with the accurate level of detail in order to guide properly the generative AI tools in providing suggestions and solutions. Yet we agree that the first step to identifying an appropriate solution is to ask the right question with an appropriate focus. Prompt engineering in a conversational style is among the skills and competencies every graduate must master for tomorrow’s workforce.
If you have been using a ChatGPT tool, you have been for sure discovering how you can fine-tune and orient the provided suggestions and answers based on your focus and the conversational details you keep providing the tools with. You must have a clear mindset on the targeted category of discussions you are engaging in with such tools and on your reasoning path.
Multi-Role Multi-Actors: Higher Education Eco-System
Let us go back to the previously asked question of ‘How and Who should support higher education institutions in achieving such and assuring that graduates are adequately equipped with the needed soft-human skills?’. It is absolutely no longer a sole responsibility nor a sole mandate of the Higher Education Institution (HEI) but a collaborative task among various stakeholders of a new educational eco-system.
HEIs are having more pressure and expectations are going higher with a large scope of skills and competencies that graduates are expected to master. Yet core skills are part of the same, new skills such as prompt engineering are expected to emerge and be added to the top of the list with the human and MadSkills previously presented. If we want to embed all of these in a single curriculum with a traditional delivery mode where students are exposed to the university environment and their educators, at most, such will be very challenging. It is for sure an output that is to be achieved within the full eco-system of the HEIs and where HEIs are to acknowledge, accept and engage external stakeholders as major participative constituents of the educational process.
Just to illustrate the same, we referred to the need to be socially engaged and responsible as one of the 21st century’s needed skills. Even though universities can design and engage in their own social responsibility programs and initiatives, they will never be as efficient, diversified, and impacting as NOGs and non-profit organizations (for example) in doing so. Hence, it is more appropriate to partner with and consider these entities as somehow the HEI arm in immersing students in such activities and developing and assessing their social engagement capabilities and skills. The role of non-profit organizations in future education is among the hot topics today and is at the core of many discussions and suggestions (refer to https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesnonprofitcouncil/2021/03/26/nonprofits-can-play-a-role-in-the-future-of-education/ for more details). AI corporate, Advanced Tech corporates, and Government regulators should also be playing a major part in the new educational delivery mode where each part is, from an early stage, considered as an HEI contributor in shaping the skills of future graduates.
HEIs, used to, are and will continue to play a crucial role in shaping future generations and impacting social life. HEIs are today witnessing an immense transformation not only in the mode of delivery and teaching methodologies but also in the expected competencies and focus they have to prepare graduates for. Human extraordinary, and beyond average, skills (MadSkills) are for sure among the most expected 21st-century skills and HEIS has no other choice than to disrupt their classical model of curriculum design and delivery and engage in a more collaborative and integrative approach with their eco-system constituents for the best of student and graduate experience leading to a future-ready and future-certified human ready graduates.