Looking Ahead to the Next 50 Years of Learning at ORU
By Dr. William M. Wilson
Tulsa, OK - From where I sit, the next 50 years at Oral Roberts University look amazing.
Modern societies have shifted from being industrial-based to knowledge-based to, most recently, design-based. Within the next decade, many believe we will be living in an "intelligence-based society," accessing and utilizing information from every aspect of our lives.
Self-driving cars, automated medical attention, immersive entertainment, daily robotic assistance, and space habitation all have the potential of being commonplace in the years ahead. We will be living in the merging of all-things-digital and all-things-intelligent. Augmented and virtual reality will combine with machine language and artificial intelligence to create amazing new vistas of promise.
The days ahead are not for the faint of heart nor for those who live in fear. New technological advancements will present unique challenges and new potential dangers for mankind. Yet we must face the future unafraid, believing that these new possibilities can be utilized for both the good of man and the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in the world.
What do these amazing trends mean for education? Personally, I believe they mean endless opportunities, especially here at ORU. The convergence of information, technology, and intelligence will allow students to design their own college experience, from the coffee they drink, to the shoes they wear, to the advanced degrees they earn. ORU was the first university to have teleportation robots that beamed people into classrooms, and the first to import fitness data from wearable Fitbit watches into the grade book. We will continue to embrace and pioneer the full utilization of data and intelligence in our curriculum and in educating the 21st-century whole person. ORU now has the potential to produce the most intelligent college graduates in the world, young men and women who wear and seamlessly use the technologies that are influencing every person’s world today and tomorrow.
From the moment it was founded, ORU has sped toward the future with open arms. It's the reason the university’s administration fast-tracked accreditation. It's the reason we developed a sophisticated phone system that allowed students to dial into lectures long before such a thing might be commonplace. And it's the reason our faculty, students, and alumni are racing ahead to embrace new learning styles in our Global Learning Center.
"The GLC is definitely changing the way I'm learning," says David Floyd, Jr. an MBA student. "It's giving me a more global vision…it helps to broaden our perspective in becoming the best leaders that we can in the business world."
In some ways, the Global Learning Center's introduction to the university last year is a prototypical interaction with the future: planning ahead as best as you can, and then making adjustments in real time.
"We've been building the use of these new technologies in our curriculum as we go, and it's been fun," says Dr. David Dyson, Professor of Management in the College of Business. "It's a whole new life, wondering what's going to be next."
Dyson credits his early success of teaching in the GLC to a supportive infrastructure, another necessity for the future of learning. "We have a great team here that's helped [the faculty] walk through this process together," he says, "giving us new ideas, new concepts, new things to experiment with and play with, and we're getting better because we're learning how to use the new technologies, which helps us promote ORU in the academic professional arena. We go to the conferences and talk about the new dynamics of teaching, the new ways of engaging, the satisfaction levels."
Johnie Hampton, an alumnus and the new Chair of our ORU Alumni Board, has also been excited about the ways these dynamic new teaching styles can benefit the students of the future.
"I truly believe the future of higher education will center much more on customizing the means of teaching to the learning style of the individual," he says. "Graphics for visual learners, video for those who have been raised with video games, graphs for those who learn that way. At ORU we are adapting our methods of educating to achieve a premium learning experience for all learning styles."
Virtual and augmented reality (AVR) is currently common among gamers, but now it is also common in ORU’s education experience. You can’t walk into the George Gillen Augmented and Virtual Reality Room without hearing students, donning goggles and glasses, ooh-ing and ahh-ing with incredulous gasps as they experience AVR learning for themselves. It's an enveloping encounter that triggers all sorts of brain responses.
"I think the addition of VR will greatly enhance my students' ability to grasp the world of molecular biology," says Dr. William Ranahan, Assistant Professor of Biology. "I’m using AVR lessons, as well as the space in the GLC, to show 3D videos and get students into that VR cube to manipulate the molecular biology images. Being able to visualize an otherwise invisible world creates a long-term learning memory for the students."
It’s already paying off, Dr. Ranahan says. “My last semester did not have this technology while this semester did; I’ve given them the exact same exam and the class average was up five points.”
"We can engage with the AVR technology," says Dyson. "We can go where we want to go. If we want to hop continents, we can do it, and it's fun! Fun is one of the most important ingredients of a learning experience. Making it enjoyable. We added a new dimension, something students don't do every day, so it's a new dynamic that encourages them to further engage in the learning process."
And it won’t end with augmented and virtual reality. We are already looking at what’s beyond, what will become layered atop AVR. For instance, new avatar technologies could help students connect with the world and understand its customs and cultures. We are excited and ready for whatever education-enhancing technological advancements are next because, as our founder once stated, “ORU stands at the alert.”
This University has a long and storied history. As we celebrate our 50th graduating class and Commencement exercises this year, it is a delight to look back on that first graduation with a sense of pride in the ORU family, and gratitude for God’s grace through it all. Yet it is even more exciting to think about the 100th graduating class and what things will be like at ORU in 2067.
Will we be having multiple Commencement exercises each year at the Tulsa campus? Will we be holding ceremonies on different continents around the world? Might there be a student from every nation on Planet Earth graduating every year? Will all the students graduate by virtual presence in a virtual ceremony? How many new programs will we have? Has the Commencement speaker for the 2067 ORU graduation even been born yet? What new technological and educational advancements will we be using? Will our classes be taught by hologram? Will the office of the President be filled by a robot?
It is impossible to anticipate all that the future holds for ORU, but as we reflect on God’s blessings thus far, I believe we can proclaim with certainty that “something good is going to happen” to this university in the years ahead.
As exciting as the advancements are in this technologically intelligent future world, ORU remains committed to staying focused on its mission: to build Holy Spirit-empowered leaders through whole person education to impact the world with God's healing. In the future, the Holy Spirit will continue to be welcome at ORU, prayer will remain central, and God’s voice will still be heard and obeyed by the greatest students in the world. Because what can be more futuristic than keeping our eyes focused on eternity?