Is higher education heading toward a smart city future?

A series of papers around the world researches relationships between innovative universities and tech-based city planning.

smart-city-universitiesAccording to researchers around the world, there is increasing momentum from some of the world’s most innovative universities to align curriculum, research and overall mission to city development that specifically focuses on technology-based systems and services. In other words, progressive higher education is linking itself more than ever to the Internet of Everything.

The research is part of a special edition issue from Knowledge Management & E-Learning (KM&EL), which presents nine cases of higher education’s alignment to “smart cities of the future,” including cities in Italy, India, the U.S., Russia, Japan, Pakistan, Tanzania, South Africa, and Canada.

In an introduction by Dr. Fanny Klett, director of the German Workforce Advanced Distributed Learning Partnership Laboratory, and Dr. Minhong Wang, associate professor in the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong, and director of the Knowledge Managing & E-Learning Lab, the authors explain the concept of a smart city as any city utilizing technology as a critical enabler to solve rising urbanization issues and improve the cities’ environments according to a set of priorities (usually through initiatives such as e-Home, e-Office, e-Government, e-Health, e-Education and e-Traffic) to create a common framework for the city’s performance.

Smart cities currently thriving include those in Barcelona, Chicago, Amsterdam, Stockholm, and Yokohama, as well as many in India. In fact, the Indian government plans to develop 100 smart cities by 2022, with an economic value of the Digital India initiative estimated to be $600 billion over the next 10 years.

However, the only chance for a smart city’s success, note the authors, is to ensure that its citizens are motivated, and enabled, to be a driver for these innovations. This motivation hinges on businesses’ and academia’s willingness and readiness “to modernize their approach to the citizen’s inclusion and immersion in education and services in the fast changing conditions of the global market;” specifically, in developing collaborative and tech-based skills.

In the U.S., many smart city initiatives “address the challenge of developing a highly educated workforce and creating more jobs,” write the authors. For example, enabled by an IBM Smarter Cities Challenge grant, Chicago integrated career and technical education, building a pipeline from high school to college to employment, and creating the Roadmap for Career and Technical Education.

9 Examples of Higher Education’s Pipeline for Smart Cities

In KM&EL’s special issue, Klett and Wang explain that the focus reveals non-traditional approaches, advanced methodical and technological solutions, forward-looking curriculum design and city-based research projects in today’s universities toward smart city development. Many institutions include new opportunities for individual learning and instruction, technology-enhanced learning, fast changing curriculum design, next-generation assessment, tailored knowledge and skills development, and “profound competence management in an interconnected networked environment constituted around various stakeholders.”

“Moreover, this special issue goes beyond only applying the latest technological advances—it presents solutions toward a smart city of the future, where the identified regional needs serve as a best practice example for higher education processes to encourage particular implementation on a global basis,” explain the authors.

Paper 1 title: “Competencies and knowledge: Key factors in the smart city of the future.”

Region: Italy

Focus: Facilitating career path developments, tailoring training programs, and designing competency management in smart city institutions and organizations. Developing citizens’ competencies through informal learning by applying effective semantic-based tools for information discovery and knowledge sharing.

Paper 2 title: “Automatic selection of informative sentences: The sentences that can generate multiple choice questions.”

Region: India

Focus: Illustrates the important role of multiple choice questions in educational assessment and active learning toward enhancing the conceptual understanding of students; and introduces a parse-tree matching-based algorithm for potential multiple choice question sentence selection generation to leverage the active learning and assessment process. Could aid in the development of next-gen ed-tech and effectively address the increased demand for knowledgeable graduates and a skilled workforce for the city of the future.

Paper 3 title: “Co-creating value: Student contributions to smart cities.”

Region: U.S.

Focus: A learning model in which university students act as co-creators of community infrastructure asset information through an integrated network of community stakeholders. These students help solve issues of disasters like hurricanes and storms using geospatial information systems and a learning design model where students are co-creators of value to cities.

Paper 4 title: “Measuring influence of internationalized universities on smart city development in terms of human capital and urban aspects.”

Region: Russia

Focus: Improving urban performance for industrial cities that are facing economic instability by exploring the hypothesis that a network of internationalized universities serves as a revitalization measure for a city, facilitates the urban development in its surrounding areas, and reduces political and social risks.

Paper 5 title: “Development and use of a digital signage system for revitalizing regional shopping districts.”

Region: Japan

Focus: Discusses the results from Kanazawa Institute of Technology (KIT) Digital Signage Project, which combines project-based learning and on-the-job-training initiatives to investigate the opportunities for impeding the decline of shopping districts. Students learn digital skills, specifically within digital signage, and produce digital multimedia to engage the city’s audience. Researchers say the test run of the project was successful, and plan to adapt the digital signage technology and media focus for campuses.

Paper 6 title: “Facebook as an e-learning tool for higher education institutes.”

Region: Pakistan

Focus: The authors tackle the “manifoldness of social communication in a modern higher education setting, and argue that social media [especially Facebook] can be applied as a tool for e-learning.” Social media can also become a driver for growing education and thus, support the provision of quality informal education to all citizens in a smart city concept, say the authors. Higher-ed institutions in Pakistan can harness Facebook to improve students’ academic performance through facilitating communication between students and faculty, and support the development of social capital and user-generated content.

Paper 7 title: “Mobile-based system for cost-effective e-learning contents delivery in resource and bandwidth-constrained learning environments.”

Region: Tanzania

Focus: Researchers focus on the use of mobile tech to sustainably support education and skills development in developing countries (like Tanzania). Since a majority of students own more than one mobile device, the authors present a conceptual model for a cost-effective mobile-based learning content delivery system for resource and network-constrained environments, reducing the dependence on internet connection and a fully operational technology infrastructure within a developing smart city.

Paper 8 title: “Our building is smarter than your building: The use of competitive rivalry to reduce energy consumption and linked carbon footprint.”

Region: South Africa

Focus: Establishes “a unique path in a smart city concept from a typical university setting toward a smart campus as a distinctive symbol for innovation and laboratory for experiments,” write the authors. Researchers focus on sustainable development in a research and learning agenda, exploring the link between smart buildings and an intelligent community, employing the University of Cape Town as a case study and serving as a best practice example for urban development in Cape Town.

Paper 9 title: “Informing physicians using a situated decision support system: Disease management for the smart city.”

Region: Canada

Focus: Researchers demonstrate the complexity of smart city ecosystems and urban development, offering a critical view of the smart city nature debate in terms of health care management practices and proper involvement of people in decision, management, and design procedures. Provides reference on city health care management for policy makers, as well as future workforce requirements for interested institutions.

With these papers, Klett and Wang say they hope to facilitate the important experiences and approaches recommended in the special issue toward the adaptive implementation of the smart city concept with support of higher education, in order to “advance the educational landscape and the employment conditions of tomorrow’s smart workforce by improving human, learning, work, and life performance in a smart city setting.”

For more detailed information on smart cities, the special issue, and the nine papers, click on the special issue here.