The NEXT Renaissance

Rebooting Liberal Education for the Age of AI

90-120 min keynote, or half-day workshop

The Next Renaissance: Rebooting Liberal Education for the Age of AI

Worldwide, enrolment has been steadily declining in liberal arts and sciences programs, particularly the humanities, since the 1970s. The trend has been driven by students’ career anxiety and an unhealthy fixation on starting salaries and ROI, as well as government emphasis on meeting immediate workforce needs – if not outright anti-intellectualism that regards the humanities with suspicion and contempt.

Frankly, some of these adversities have been self-imposed. Humanities disciplines have become narrower and more esoteric. Scholars have been reluctant to wade into sometimes hostile media to stand up as public intellectuals. Interdisciplinary courses, active learning methods, and work-integrated learning have been slow to displace traditional lectures and reading lists.

Still, for decades employers have been desperate for PSE graduates with critical and creative thinking skills, powers of persuasion and communication, intercultural awareness and a global perspective – precisely the strengths cultivated by a liberal education. Now, as artificial intelligence rapidly transforms the labour market and achieves superhuman expertise in narrow specialties, the breadth of an interdisciplinary education is becoming increasingly valuable. The humanities are poised for a second renaissance in response.

But without question, traditional disciplines and pedagogies must evolve too. With widespread use of generative AI, written essays cease to measure intelligence or learning in any meaningful way. Literary canon and historical curriculum need to adapt to diverse perspectives and incorporate underrepresented voices. Narrow disciplinary majors need to give way to more interdisciplinary explorations of pressing global economic, social, and environmental challenges.

The 21st century may bring about a resurgence of enrolment in the liberal arts and sciences, as achieving a deeper understanding of humanity becomes more obviously essential, in personal and professional life. But the academy will need to adapt and evolve – to rethink or “reboot” traditional disciplines – to make such a renaissance possible.

In this fast-paced and fascinating 90-120 minute keynote, higher ed futurist Ken Steele will share crucial trends and insights, best practices and remarkable experiments from colleges and universities worldwide, as well as some of the latest ways in which AI is upending the labour market and the academic world. Through real-time polls and discussions, participants will have an opportunity to engage with some challenging issues and ideas – or Ken can structure a workshop session for academic leaders, faculty members, and/or instructional support professionals on your campus.


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