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PACEspectives: The 21st Century So Far…

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It’s been quite an eventful two decades. Our professors weigh in on what’s caught them off guard in their fields of expertise.

While Y2K and the turn of the millennium may feel like the recent past, the truth of the matter is that next year, we will already be 20% done with the 21st century. To say the least, the last two decades have been quite eventful. From radical changes in communication and technology, to unforeseen developments in the political and economic realms, this month’s PACEspectives weighs in on some of the more surprising realities of the early 21st century. 

Dan Farkas, PhD
Chairperson, Department of Information Systems 
Seidenberg School of Computer Science and Information Systems 

I think the most surprising aspect of the first fifth of the 21st century has been the effect of social media powered by the internet and smartphones. The iPhone, for example, was launched in 2007 and platforms such as Facebook (2004) and Twitter (2007), with unparalleled positive and negative impact, has transformed our society in unexpected ways. From a computing perspective, the drive to analyze “tweets” and “posts” to understand and influence human behavior has advanced research and applications in spatial analytics, big data analytics, the Internet of Things, AI, and much more.

Tom Liam Lynch, EdD
Associate Professor 
School of Education 

In education, the 21st century is promising to be the century when computer science education rises to prominence as an essential subject in K-12 schools. There has been great interest and investment from the private sector, philanthropists, and federal/state education officials. It surprises me, however, that more progress has not been made. The approaches being taken disregard the realities of too many districts. Districts that serve communities in poverty and of color, for instance, cannot often afford computer science resources like teachers, time in their daily schedules, and after-school clubs. Schools in such communities are often under pressure from the state to increase scores on high-stakes tests in math and literacy. Computer science is regarded as peripheral. But there is a solution. Rather than view computer science as a distinct subject in K-12 schools, stakeholders should be aggressively exploring ways to embed computer science into all content-areas. Just like we try to do with reading and writing. States need to look beyond boutique solutions that directly engage some fortunate students, and turn their attention to teaching all educators how computational methods can deepen and expand their current curricula.

Todd Yarbrough, PhD
Clinical Assistant Professor, Economics 
Dyson College of Arts and Sciences 

I’m most surprised by the rapidity with which we integrated digital communication and commerce into our daily lives. The internet has gone from this place you sought out specific information or specific interests, to an appendage of society itself. We meet, talk, buy, and sell effortlessly over invisible wireless internet signals. We get news, buy groceries, and even go see the doctor over the internet now, and the economics of it are just mind-boggling. There was always a sense that the world wide web would be a game-changer with respect to the economy, but I don’t think many folks other than say Issac Asimov or Carl Sagan could have predicted where we’d be in 2019 and the ubiquity of “the net” (as we used to call it). You used to “go onto the internet.” Now, you’re always on the internet. And it has happened so quickly that I don’t think we really know what we’re doing or how best to utilize it, and we won’t for a couple more decades at least.