“So the first topic: who are the most valuable people?

Gosh, what a tough question. You want really competent people, you want experienced people, we’ve learnt a bunch of things.  We’ve always talked about how it’s not about the intelligence, it’s about skills, it’s not just about experience, it’s about wisdom, and also cultural fit. That’s the usual thing that you’d say, at a startup event, or at a university event. So, let me dive deeper into a few things that I would say that we found valuable.

Number one, these are folks who think about others first. They know deeply that it’s never about them, but about the goal. Drive is intrinsic, not extrinsic. If I know someone is always just looking out for their chance to get that raise or bonus or to get an elevated title, then I’m generally less inclined to think that they’re all in with the company or have the company and their team members’ best interests at heart. I don’t want to get into this too much, because it can get a bit moralistic without careful treatment. But it suffices to say that this quality or the lack thereof, has profound implications on one’s ability to work in a team, to lead a team, to grow a team, to establish trust in an organization, to be given more responsibility.

The second is, when we think through all the folks that we’ve worked with, it’s people who are eager to serve. They say one of the best things about working for a startup or a tech company in many cases, is you get to do things you’re not qualified for. In many cases, this is about doing things you’ve never done, or have never been trained for.  They say this is about stepping out of your comfort zone and learning as fast as you can, “building the car as you drive in it”.  One of my mentors once told me that people are usually limited by the things that they attempt, not what they’re capable of.  And another friend and mentor, Dr. Ian Hunter from MIT, one of the greatest inventors of our time, told me that part of why he’s been able to invent so many things and why people haven’t invented them before, is because most people didn’t think these things were even possible so they didn’t even try.  We’ve all heard this narrative before. Go beyond, just do it. Carpe Diem. Pursue your passion.

But getting to do the things you’re not qualified for has another facet that’s important when it comes to teamwork. There are many times the tasks that are the most needed, are the ones that you’re overqualified to do, especially the tasks that you’re not expected to do: turning off the lights, cleaning up after other people’s mess, figuratively and even literally, taking notes so that other people don’t have to. The invisible, thankless work that everyone just expects someone else to do. The things that are not in your job description, not a part of your annual goals or your monthly objective or KPI. Those things often get forgotten and even at an event like this there are countless hours of work that had to be put together to organize it. And then just the AV equipment, someone had to like, put up this platform and this banner, it’s a lot of work and the folks here are never going to get recognized for it. And I truly think industry moves forward, not just by the brilliant dashes of new innovation, new inventions by the one, but by the steady work of countless invisible faces done in the dark, which will never be recognized. Another famous person once said that the meek shall inherit the earth. And that the least shall be the greatest”. How true this is, not just in the company, but in life.

And the last point here is that, the most valuable people, they are never satisfied. I’m not talking about their compensation package, but what they’ve accomplished. They’re never satisfied with what the team can do, but more importantly, never satisfied with what they’ve done, or can do. I’m not just talking about reckless or selfish ambition, but about having perspective of one’s accomplishments and how that drives one to grow. Complacency is probably one of the biggest roadblock to growth.  Bill Gates has famously said that ‘success is a lousy teacher”. It makes smart people think they can’t lose. Have enough resources and money, that’s fine. Have enough status, I don’t know anyone who says that, but that’s fine too. Have enough understanding? No, that’s just not possible. Not in the information age.

So what does complacency engender? It slows the desire to learn, you think you know enough, it can reduce the desire to connect and truly engage with others. You think you don’t need any new perspectives. It can halve the desire to work altogether. You think you’ve done enough; you’ve contributed enough time to retire.

Christy and I were talking the other day over breakfast. And she said that she realizes now that the most difficult thing is not about being strong. There’s a lot of talk about that, being strong these days, stand up for what you believe. In many cases, you just need to be firm. People think it’s difficult, but it’s actually harder to be open minded. You have to see things from different perspectives. It’s part of why the yeshiva system of education is so effective. And it’s created so many great minds, Talmudic scholars, minds that are trained from youth to disect a problem and constantly reanalyze it from multiple perspectives. So where does complacency come from? Is it lack of exposure? Can’t be. We all have limitless access to knowledge. If you can’t afford college, there are dozens of sites with great content. I mean, you can have an entire MIT undergraduate education completely online, for free.

So my thought is, the lack of purpose is one thing, I think that’s an obvious factor. But the other factor, I think, is just the lack of role models, the lack of heroes. But we have heroes, many of the people here for example, people who are sponsoring this, people that have started great companies and great organizations. So maybe what we really need is the opportunity to be able to connect with people who we can relate to, who have gone much further, can be a great motivator.

So what’s the cure? How do we reimagine education? Don’t ask me, I never finished mine. But I’ll just say that, to show people how to think about others first, to be eager to serve. And to never be complacent. I think that’s a good place to start in terms of what we can teach people. I have some ideas for which I’ll share for another time. But for now, I’ll leave that to our great educators here in the room. But I think it starts with giving your young minds a purpose for why to learn, the perspective and exposure to know that it’s not enough. And finally, the tools and rituals for how to learn.

Until next time, thank you for your time.

All the things that are happening in the world of technology are directly impacting education and learning systems.Technology has a profound impact on today’s youth. Educational Technology (edtech) is modernizing the entire student experience but could pose many challenges if not implemented with carefully crafted plans. As a pioneering institution to reimagine higher education for Vietnam, Fulbright University co-hosted the inaugural EdTech luncheon with EdTech Asia and InnoLab Asia to bring leaders of all fields in and discuss the future of edtech. In the opening panel on “Acceleration of Digitization in Higher Education in Vietnam,” discussing how universities should change to adapt in a world transformed ever since the pandemic. Here, with the wisdom of esteemed panelists and the participation of curious attendees, many intriguing questions and ideas were sparked.  

By the numbers

As social distancing prolongs worldwide, the disruptions of education for students across the globe continue. In fact, the numbers are astonishing: according to UNICEF, over 1.5 billion children’s education was affected by the Covid-19 pandemic and will continue to be throughout 2021. Luckily, education was able to continue despite the disruptions thanks to the vital support of technology. As more and more educators lean into technology, we are presented with the opportunity to reinvent education.

Amidst the chaotic waves of Covid-19 in the last year, the education technology sector received a major boost as many institutions shifted to remote learning. Dr. Nguyen Chi Hieu, CEO of IEG (Innovative Education Group), quoted a new report from Temasek Holdings, Google, and Bain & Company that “40 million people came online for the first time in 2020, pushed the total number of internet users in the South East Asian countries to 70% of the population.” There was also a spike in the amount of new registered users on massive open online course (MOOC) websites, particularly Coursera alone received 20 million new users and had over 35 million new course enrollments in just half a year since mid-March. These numbers may seem overwhelming and the virtual learning space may come as a new thing to many of these new users, but it was not born yesterday. Edtech has been around for quite a while already, the pandemic just brought it to light.

Although edtech has been made more common during Covid-19, it is still underestimated. Mr. Charles Lee, Founder of Coder School, remarked that “When you think about the impact of technology, on education, and across all industries, I think historically, people always underestimated the impact technology would have.” There is tremendous potential for the entire edtech space to be explored and yet utilized. What we have seen in the past year with remote learning, Zoom classrooms, and online courses are only a scratch on the surface of what edtech is.

The edtech space also includes learning assistant tools like AI analytics, AI-assisted grading; all sorts of content, ranging from online content, multimedia content, to interactive content; many learning mediums, which come with classroom aids and learning management systems like Blackboard and Canvas, to name a few. Forbes projected the digital market for learning and teaching to reach $325 billion in 2025, and this prediction was made before the coronavirus happened. It is the quickest growing market in the education industry (900% growth since 2000 according to a research by KPMG), and with the pandemic bringing more attention to it, the market is thriving at an unprecedented rate.

Efforts invested and the road forward

Dr. Hieu explained that “so far, we’re only focusing on increasing the accessibility and the flexibility of remote learning and have yet to tackle the quality metrics of higher education going online.” With the uncertainty as to when in-person teaching will resume, it’s important for us as educators to accept that hybrid learning will be here to stay, and we should start to explore the benefits technology can provide in developing the skills of tomorrow. In a world where technology is shaping every corner, education must take an evolutionary leap for students to thrive in our digital society. And that requires institutions leaders to sit down and figure out some way to move forward.

One of Fulbright’s many initiatives to bring world-class education to Vietnamese students is collaborating with international institutions. In 2020, Fulbright has signed 2 MoUs with Princeton University and Dartmouth College to offer digitally-enabled co-learning environments, namely Princeton’s Global History Lab and connected courses with Dartmouth, so that Fulbright students can participate in the most forward-thinking pedagogical initiatives globally. President Dam Bich Thuy has noted that “COVID-19 has clearly shown, for better and worse, that our world is connected like never before. We are in this together, and we must solve this together. In a time of uncertainties, I am proud to see Fulbright University Vietnam embrace this vision for international collaboration, further enriching the academic dialogue between our countries, as well as educational opportunities for our students.

These collaborations also expand some blended learning models, in which students learn at least in part through online learning, with an element of self-control over time, place, and path. The more prominent blended learning models become, the more they move education away from the ‘one size fits all approach’, offering students the opportunity to go at their own pace, thus reducing stress and improving retention for both fast and slow learners.

Initiated by Fulbright and IEG Foundation, Pioneering Educators Network (PEN) workshops have been introduced as an effort to promote innovative teaching methods, updated educational trends, cutting-edge pedagogical practices, and the liberal education model in Vietnam as well as in the region. Among these seminars was one about digital learning and teaching by Dr. Ian Kalman, a professor at Fulbright, to share some theoretical perspectives as well as some practical strategies to approach e-learning for educators from across Vietnam. His lecture and presentation opened up many dialogues about how to effectively engage students in virtual classrooms because just as digital technology offers new possibilities for teaching and learning, it also poses many constraints that need to be addressed. “There is also a material and infrastructural need when it comes to digital accessibility, which is not equal among the students. Digital teaching can reduce, but also reinforce inequality,” Dr. Kalman assessed.

Additionally, as we push edtech further and everything becomes artificial intelligence and machine learning, there stances a threat for education to focus more on the ‘superficial’ than on deeper conceptual understandings. Without careful implementation, edtech’s role in ‘making assessment more effective and efficient’ may lead to a disregard for creativity and critical thought. On that note, Mr. Thanh Bui, Founder of Embassy Education, posed a thought-provoking question: “What is the picture of universities in the future? Right now, we have an opportunity to reconsider not just edtech, but also reimagine the higher education systems and how it would progress in our very different world post-pandemic.”

Edtech that connects

If new models for both teaching and connecting emerge in the wake of the pandemic, they will be put to an even greater test in the years ahead: preparing students for a labor market rife with inequalities that have only worsened during the recession. With the rate of everything becomes digitalized very quickly, in 20 years, everything will be automated and as cliché as it may sound, the most critical skills for this young generation to focus on developing is actually human to human interaction.

The question then remains is how do we bring the humanistic side to edtech. We need to consider the whole picture of education and see where the new technology fits in to enhance these learning experiences. Just because you have the potential to do something or the ability to do something does not mean that you should do it,” Thanh Bui postulated. That is a question for all of us to ponder upon, and that question may not have an answer, but rather require the step-up of industries’ leaders to be the heroes, to inspire other people, to ignite passion and more forward-thinking innovations.

Technology is understandably a poor substitute for maintaining the strong connections we miss seeing each day. But using technology to foster new connections beyond students’ reach actually plays to tech’s competitive advantage: overcoming time, geography, and cost barriers to growing their networks. As a matter of fact, Fulbright held a number of virtual events in 2020, such as David Rubenstein’s How to Lead virtual talk and the YSEALI online panel on the Future of ASEAN, which proved that “we can effectively use technology to try bridging the heroes and create a support network to inspire people,” Charles Lee concluded.

‘Edtech that connects’ holds the immense potential to connect students to people – experts, mentors, near-peers – who can help them reach their goals. Over time, it could help education systems address the social side of opportunity gaps by disrupting the inherent limitations of students’ networks. Edtech is also proving powerful drivers of outcomes that educators are starting to pay more attention to connecting learning to real-world projects and people, expanding students’ professional horizons and connections, and building students’ abilities to connect across lines of difference.

As the majority of students around the world begin yet another term at home, we are faced with the opportunities to create a new (and somewhat improved) normal for students and teachers. The challenges, such as technological infrastructure and access to hardware, are surmountable with time and effort. With the right approach, technology, and resources, we can prepare students for the jobs of tomorrow, on platforms that are becoming more accessible and using methods proven to be more powerful. As students continue to grow hungrier and more inquisitive for knowledge and technology, reimagining higher education is something to be excited about, and it all starts now.

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