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Is there room for term papers in the 21st century?

The flak I caught yesterday regarding SafeAssign got me thinking about term papers in the 21st century. Information and communications technologies make it easy and rewarding to share information. More recently, however, ICTs are allowing people to build creative and innovative products from the information available. We’re evolving into a “cut-and-paste society.” Some examples of which are:

  • YouTube, which allows anybody to share videos that interest them with anybody in the world for free
  • Mogulus, which allows anybody to create their own TV station for free (something that very recently required a sizable staff and millions of dollars of funding)
  • GarageBand, which provides people with tools to record, mix and publish their own music
  • Hip-hop, which often mixes, juxtaposes and generates new meanings from music, images and texts

Academic culture and traditions have not caught up to 21st century society. What real meaning is there for society if we were to continue to place heavy focus on traditional term papers, and police the content to make sure no influence is present from modern society?

Creative work, also, is being generated increasingly by machines. Two examples are Brutus and the 20th century’s MINSTREL (see Noah’s comments). Why should we worry about originality in student work if we are perhaps only a couple years (or months?) away from machines that will be able to write original essays, theses, novels, etc., for them? …and what if these machines could write these documents better than –and vastly outperform– most students?

Is there something else schools should focus on?

Designing education for sustainable innovation

Presented at the JTET conference this morning:

Arthur M. Harkins, Ph.D. (USA)
John Moravec, Ph.D. (USA)
University of Minnesota

Abstract

This presentation is concerned with complex subjects, but presents them in ways that audiences can understand and professionally contemplate. The core concept of the paper is “sustainable innovation,” which presumes the necessity for continuous innovation to cope with changes wrought by technology, socioeconomic trends, global climate transformations, celestial changes, and by change itself.

Background

Ray Kurzweil has written that machines and software are beginning to challenge the supremacy and hegemony of humans over other species. Kurzweil argues that ever-shortening ‘S-curves’ of electronic hardware and software development are creating pressures to bond humans and machines into various networks and systems. Some of these include self-flyable Airbus aircraft, early implants (such as pacemakers and hearing amplifiers), and the later prospect of artificial eyes and adjunct cybernetic brains.

Kurzweil’s projections include step-by-step ‘dovetailing’ of humans with artificial systems. This process is already creating ‘gray areas’ between humans and such devices as robot arms and artificial kidneys. These and many other aspects of Kurzweil’s thinking appear to justify assertions that Trans-Humanity (TH) is evolving, and very quickly, as a complex ecology of cyborgs. The long-term prospect of uploading human central nervous system contents into non-biological units would complete the transition to a radical new embodiment of intelligence, which may be called Post Humanity (PH).

Foreground

In all of this great change, why must schools stress sustainable innovation? With the help of education, how can young people retain and grow their individuality? How can they continuously reconfigure their collective memberships with others, including those within cyberspace? This paper will explore such questions and related ones by creating and discussing short sustainable innovation scenarios illustrating the roles of formal and informal educational systems. The paper will construct scenarios for two different types of sustainable innovation: those based on anticipating and creating the futures of TH, and those based on PH. The ethics and morality of both sustainable innovation types will be suggested by metrics associated with personal and collective choices.


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