From traditional tracks to digital transformation

May 22, 2024

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L to R: Connie Liu, Aishwarya Shukla, JM Goh.

This article was originally published on AACSB Insights

How business schools can stay ahead of the pack in a rapidly evolving era of digital disruption in higher education

Imagine you’re running a marathon, but the track keeps changing. Sometimes it’s made of asphalt, sometimes it’s made of sand—occasionally, it turns into a treadmill going at maximum speed. Now, imagine that you’re competing in shoes that are a size too small, making an already challenging race even more daunting.

Here is a further twist: As the landscape shifts, so does the objective. You and the other competitors aren’t judged by who crosses the finish line first, but by how innovatively and effectively you navigate the course, how well you adapt to changing conditions, and how creatively and effectively you solve problems along the way.

The route of the race is lined with spectators—but they’re not there just to watch you run or cheer you on. They are demanding that you make the race more thrilling and more interactive, so that they receive an experience that’s of the utmost quality.

This analogy mirrors what it’s like to be an educational institution in 2024, when the only constant is change. Business schools are sprinting through an era of digital transformation, when students and employers are demanding greater customization and flexibility. Educational stakeholders now look at traditional educational tracks—the old-school curricula—with suspicion. They want programs that don’t just teach skills that are currently in most demand, but anticipate the skills that employers will need in the future.

So, how can we keep our teaching agile and stay current with emerging technologies? How can we keep up with evolving accreditation standards? While the answer might not be easy to implement, it is simple: We must gear up our curricula with the latest tech—including generative artificial intelligence (GenAI)—and revolutionize the way we teach, assess, and interact with our students.

In the process, we won’t just run the race, but change the game, using every tool at our disposal. Most important, we can ensure that when we cross the finish line, we will have helped our students transform themselves, so that they can run the next race more capably and confidently.

Racing ahead to personalized learning

In this grand education marathon, we can’t just be fast—we also must be agile and adaptable. We can no longer rely on static programs or curricular redesigns that take years to complete to see our programs through. And while exams based on trusty multiple-choice questions once served their purpose—especially in large classes where the need to grade tests quickly and efficiently was paramount—they are no longer sufficient to measure students’ depth of understanding in a world where problems do not have neat and tidy answers.

It is imperative that we adopt deeper and more adaptive training regimens for students. In most instances, this means placing greater emphasis on experiential learning, where the abstract meets the concrete and theory is fused with practice. Our students can test their mettle by tackling real-world challenges and directly confronting the demands and unpredictability of new technologies.

This approach also requires that we design new assessment methodologies, in which we ensure that students receive real-time, personalized coaching after every lap they complete. Students can boost their learning substantially when they reflect on their performance and mistakes immediately, while the experiences are still fresh in their minds.

We aren’t looking for “right” or “wrong” answers. Rather, we’re asking students to work through open-ended problems and then providing quick and detailed feedback, so that they can sprint forward faster in their learning journeys.

This once might have been difficult to do, especially in large classes. But today, we can more easily make such personalized attention a reality, in classes large and small—all thanks to the power of AI. AI can help us customize assessments, short-answer quizzes, and essay questions—all formats that allow us to go beyond surface-level knowledge to delve deeper into students’ creativity, problem-solving abilities, and reasoning.

As others have noted, AI is a game-changer. In this increasingly digital world, the depth of knowledge of educators remains irreplaceable, but they can use GenAI tools to adapt their playbooks, amplify their teaching, and reach every student. Using AI, they can tailor questions to each student’s needs. Professors can provide students with the ability to tackle the same problems multiple times, refining students’ understanding and skills with each attempt. AI can immediately provide students with detailed explanations of where they stumbled and how they can improve. Professors can even train AI to grade the quality of student responses.

Throughout this process, we aren’t looking for “right” or “wrong” answers. Rather, we’re asking students to work through open-ended problems and then providing quick and detailed feedback. These iterations will enable students to learn more deeply and quickly—essentially, to leap over hurdles and sprint forward faster in their learning journeys.

As educators, we see there’s nothing to fear from this technology. With AI, we can more easily meet evolving accreditation standards, and we can make learning more dynamic, personalized, and effective in ways that improve our students’ competencies in step with a changing world.

Accelerating the pace

At Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, we view AI as a vital tool in shaping future business practices. For example, in applied coding courses such as Business Data Management, students use tools such as GitHub Copilot, an AI-powered code completion tool, for their final projects.

GitHub Copilot guides students through the intricacies of real-world tech applications in a way that boosts their innovation and productivity. With this integration of AI into the curriculum, students can expand the scope of their work and write code more quickly and efficiently—much like marathon runners might use advanced gear to enhance performance.

Likewise, we have aligned the curriculum of our introductory courses in management information systems with the AI adoption of diverse businesses, from nimble startups to sprawling multisided platforms. Taken by students interested in both technical and nontechnical career paths, these courses work to ensure that students master AI to boost their innovation. Over time, as they learn to use AI more skillfully, they are less likely to avoid the technology out of fear or, conversely, to use it as a substitute for their own thought processes.

Across the curriculum, we are deploying assessments that encourage students to use AI for more general tasks such as summarizing or highlighting content. We emphasize the importance of human judgment in interpreting AI-generated information—as evidence, we need only point to content that AI cannot access, such as the latest academic research. With this approach, students engage in critical thinking and learn to use AI as a valuable assistant.

We view our business school not merely as a participant in the digital transformation race, but as a leader. In turn, we want to prepare students not just to run their own races, but to lead the pack, using the knowledge and skills they have gained to harness technology for ethical and innovative solutions.

Running the course with integrity

To take the analogy one step further—if business schools are like runners in the digital transformation race, professors are like coaches who must instill in students the ability to make socially responsible decisions. If we merely teach our protégés to keep pace on an ever-evolving digital track, we risk that they will prioritize speed over prowess and let AI run the race for them rather than with them.

Only by mastering the digital realm ourselves can we equip our students to navigate the complex course that lies ahead.
Instead, our mission requires us to show students how to harness AI tools as extensions of their capabilities. We also must provide ample opportunities for them to develop the wisdom necessary to use those tools judiciously.

So that students become successful and responsible leaders, business schools must deliver content on the ethical stewardship of technology. This is akin to embedding the rules of fair play into every athlete’s mindset. By integrating discussions on the ethics of new technologies into our programs, we can forge champions who do more than just win—they elevate the game for everyone in ways that make a positive impact on society.

Leading by example

We have been running this race for many years, and the pace has accelerated since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. But where does the starting line truly begin?

For educators, it starts with embracing technology not as a specter to fear but as a tool to wield wisely, so that we can cultivate in ourselves a deep understanding of its applications and remain open to its possibilities. Only by mastering the digital realm ourselves can we equip our students to navigate the complex course that lies ahead.

For students, the starting line begins with us—the coaches, the mentors, the guides. If we are to pave the way for our students to succeed in a future where technology complements rather than controls their lives, we must lead by example on this journey to technological empowerment.

None of us should be content to be mere participants in the technological race we are now running. We must do all we can to be front-runners in this marathon of technological application, rapid innovation, and ethical leadership today and in the years to come.


Authors:

Connie Liu, Lecturer, Management Information Systems

Aishwarya Shukla, Assistant Professor, Management Information Systems

JM Goh, Associate Professor, Management Information Systems/Innovation and Entrepreneurship

 

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