Future of higher education altered by pandemic, UC Berkeley administrators say

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While disruptive, the pandemic and the subsequent move to online education have changed the future of higher education, according to UC Berkeley administration.

The discussion about the future of higher education occurred during a webcast from the Commonwealth Club of California, a nonpartisan nonprofit that hosts education-related talks and events. UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, Dean of Undergraduate Studies Bob Jacobsen and Chief Innovation and Entrepreneurship Officer Rich Lyons participated in the event, sharing their experiences adapting to the constraints of the COVID-19 pandemic and what they hope for the future.

According to Christ, one of the lessons the pandemic has taught both students and the school’s institution is resilience, which she said she thinks is a valuable life skill.

She added that as the pandemic began, many members of campus, including campus researcher Jennifer Doudna and her team, who built a robotic COVID-19 testing lab, and graduate students who made vats of hand sanitizer for homeless populations, inspired her with their resilience and action during the health emergency.

“The healthiness of the community has to come from the people pulling together and reacting,” Jacobsen said at the event. “They are trying to find positive ways forward. I think it’s going to serve them well and lead to a changed university.”

One of the ways the pandemic has altered campus’s functions is in alumni engagement, according to Lyons, who said Zoom has allowed alumni to be more involved with advising startups, research teams and other undergraduate and graduate programs. He added that UC Berkeley is envisioning new ways to further engage alumni.

According to Christ, remote instruction could also allow UC Berkeley to expand the reach of its services to more people, as limitations of time and space have been lessened.

She added that, if done properly, online classes could be less of an obstacle and therefore lead to greater equity for commuter students and those with limiting work schedules.

“This pandemic has made it so clear how important knowledge and the advancement of knowledge is,” Christ said at the event. “People are becoming more aware about the role of universities, particularly public universities.”

In addition to Zoom and remote classes, Christ said artificial intelligence will likely play a part in the future of education by helping instructors learn more about their students and augment their curriculum.

She added that she believes coding and data science will be a fundamental tool for the future of higher education.

“When you teach, you’re not just teaching content — you’re teaching a way of relating to the material,” Christ said during the event. “In my experience, what students, what they aspire to is ‘I want to be able to relate to this material like that person.’ ”

All three speakers at the event said, ultimately, their goal for the future of higher education involves increasing access for underserved populations and teaching enrolled students to be curious, resilient and empathetic.

Kate Finman is the executive news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.