Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth


By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University

College students are in college to learn creative thinking skills and other fluencies. There are thousands of papers and books written on what and how to teach them. The fluency list includes:

  • Demonstrating problem-solving
  • Creativity
  • Analytic or critical thinking
  • Collaboration within a team
  • Multiple forms of communication

This last fluency may be different for college students and teachers in actual classes than those taught online.

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Systemic Challenges Are Coming for College Students

Compared to the Baby Boomer generation and the current millennial generation, the systemic changes in our personal lives due to social, cultural, and technological effects seem to be continuous.

Organizations such as Coca-Cola and Walmart are planning for what their businesses will look like in 2030. The Hoover Institution, for one, is predicting that social, cultural and technological patterns and human behavior will be challenged in the next 10 years from K-12 to college as well as teacher-student and student-machine interactions.

There are many possible factors that categorize these systemic challenges for our students. They include:

  • Social status
  • Lifestyle
  • Possible employment or occupational expectations
  • Preparedness
  • Team or group relationships
  • Cultures
  • Demographics
  • Human-to-machine or technology interfaces

Teaching College Students How to Solve Problems Starts with Identifying the Problem

Defining the problem to solve from some case study or real-world event is difficult enough for professionals who are educated and trained to solve such problems. Likewise, defining the problems at hand even today is challenging. So teaching college students what problem solving is all about starts with them being able to see what the problem is.

Here’s an example of a problem requiring a solution. On April 20, 2010, the largest oil spill in ocean drilling operation, Deepwater Horizon, happened, killing 11 workers. The surrounding ecosystems off the coast of Louisiana still has not fully recovered in 2020 from the massive cleanup efforts. Coastal businesses closed, homes were damaged, and the shipping and fishing industry stopped.

In fact, the problems growing from this disaster are still growing. As a student or as a teacher, you would have to determine what was “the” most significant problem of the many possible problems for humanity or animals coming from Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Challenge of Creativity in the Classroom

Being creative in the classroom can be a challenge for students and teachers alike. For example, suppose students are asked to sort and count the number of different colored pieces in a box of Froot Loops.

This seems like a fun and harmless task. But it is a creative exercise in statistics, the study of global supply chains, the scientific reasoning behind labeling, and the interaction among students and researchers.

The Froot Loops exercise can lead to a later discussion with the teacher about what is a supply chain. That supply chain discussion leads to discussion about the kind of packaging that is used and the color of the ink and drawings on the container, and why certain images are on that container.

Teaching Analytic or Critical Thinking and Ethics to College Students

Teaching college students analytic or critical thinking skills is about teaching ethics. Critical thinking is linked to problem solving and communications technology. It is also part of the intellectual technologies of how we use our technical skills and tools – from a pencil, to a laptop, to a robot – to form an ethical framework for problem solving.

We need to ask our students how they draw a conclusion from a case study, a real-life example, a field trip experience or a problem presented to them. Critical thinking is also linked to critical reading. How to teach and encourage students to read sufficient pages of content for a specific purpose is a challenge in the online classroom of instant technological communications.

Collaboration Is All about Working in Teams

Collaboration is about working in cross-functional teams. These teams can be composed of collaborative students or with occupations such as warehouse inspectors, between the student and a robot, or an AI system that provides answers to questions.

Teaching students how to be a functional member of a team, small or large, is important for their future occupation. Teachers can create teams of four or 10 students or a team of the entire class. They will learn from such cross-functional experience what size teams may work best to solve a problem, or what size works least well when trying to solve a problem.

Communications Now Involve More than Just Humans

Communications today are not just human-to-human. Exchanging ideas, facts and information does not consist only of direct communication between two humans or within a group. Communications also include talking to a machine, a teacherbot or socialbot, and different forms of artificial intelligence (AI) systems and devices.

We live in a 24/7/365 environment which will be commonplace for most generations by 2030. A segment on NBC’s Today Show, “Your brain on tech,” showed how children lose attention to detail or some action because of the variety of technological communications available to them in class and at home. There is an expanding list of communication devices – the internet, texting, emailing, iPods and iPads, smart phones, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and others; all of them are evolving all the time.

How College Courses Will Need to Change by 2030

How do our courses challenge and expose today’s college students to social, cultural and technological stresses, risks and opportunities?  One technological impact on those students might be the role of robots as teachers. Robot teachers are being employed in several countries now to teach K-12 children and college students in actual and online college classrooms.

Many factors influence how we teach and how teachers and college students collaborate. The future seems ripe for a fluency change in learning by 2030 that is still unfolding for teachers. The fluencies that are happening in those areas will determine how the students of 2020 and beyond will face their career and adult challenges.

About the Author

Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics from 1985 to 1990, Fort Lee, Virginia.