#BbWorld18 – DevCon: The Death of Liberal Arts (And Why We Need to Save Them!)

Session Description: Liberal arts, humanities, and critical thinking subjects are dying in education. WHY? Today, so much emphasis is put on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) in education, but that is excluding a critical part of learning! Join me as I dive into why defunding these areas is detrimental to the automation/testing field. Let’s explore the most utilized skills essential to my career in technology, all a result of my Liberal Arts background. How can we apply these skills to our teams? What do we do when someone doesn’t have that background? Let’s take a look at how the humanities can help shape the future of tech. Don’t let Liberal Arts die – embrace them, and see the value it adds to your team.

Ashley Hunsberger

Senior Staff Quality Assurance, Blackboard


  • STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Math
  • Consider the impact of tech on the past, present, and future of liberal arts education…

“We don’t all thin the same way. That’s good!

  • Intersection of people and technology solutions is key.
  • Grammar, logic, and rhetoric are part of liberal arts.
  • The art of thinking – seeing both sides of an argument is to understand.
  • The art of persuasion – speaking and writing to persuade.
  • Arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy
  • “Sciences of the spirit” – in German: die Geisteswissenschaften
  • Humanities offers us to deal with emergent behaviors. Dealing with the system instead of the technology itself.
  • It’s alarming about what is happening to the liberal arts.
    • A liberal arts of education is out of favor and everyone talks about skills based learning. The focus is on practical skills for the workplace. It’s important but only part of the equation.
    • Higher ed costs are creating concerns in education. A 4 year degree is approaching $200,000.
    • The costs are driving the question, should we be subsidizing this when we need more scientists and engineering students – this is where the jobs are.
    • Foundation should no be based on butts in seats.
    • Calls for limiting liberal arts funding > It is it really vital to have more anthropologists?
    • K12 cuts in art education continue.
    • Institutions are being urged to offer more practical vocational education as to fulfill the needs of society.
  • I call B.S. (and no, not a Bachelor of Science) 🙂
  • Cost of education is on the rise, and student debt is rising. These concerns are valid, but beliefs and myths/misconceptions that: 1) everyone goes into the field they studied, 2) liberal arts will not earn extra money, 3) skills they learn are not applied in the field outside of the field they studied. These myths are not true.

  • Liberal arts majors average $111,000 in salary and comparable overall computer to tech-majors.
  • Communication. Period. Is the most important skill.
  • Providing feedback with kindness even in disagreement.
  • Liberal arts skills in tech are important because of soft skills.
  • Liberal arts in tech: Adaptability. Peer mediation and active listening skills are key for meetings and working together. Diversity awareness, interactions in society, ability to fail without fear.

  • Empathy is important for end users in tech. How is the user going to feel? Abstract representations and how to think about the connections between things.
  • Sometimes the simple things are discarded. Some basic rules as kids are often not considered.
    • Read. Read. Read. (Not just in your field – challenge your assumptions to get different perspectives).
    • Reading is an important path to knowledge.
    • Read to your children everyday from childhood into adulthood.
    • Develop methods of interrogation and asking questions. I wonder how this is going to work, I wonder… What would it look like?
    • Who what where when and why? – Then How?
    • Add Else, ask what else?
    • Take time to ask the questions to check our thinking.
    • Practice mindful communication – Lara Hogan, President Kickstarter
    • Are we keeping in real? Reflect, elevate, assume, listen.
    • Tone, body language, seek out ways to be inclusive, ask what do you think during the meeting. Assume best intentions. Don’t assume, practice empathy, we all have tough days.
  • We need to widen the net of our hiring pools to increase diversity.
  • Create pathways for those with unique approaches – even for those in non-standard educational fields.
  • Provide time for learn both in professional development of staff and for yourself. Learn to get different perspectives. Learn knowledge but also apply it!
  • Liberal Arts and the Future of Tech
    • Analytics, Big Data and Human Interpretation (humans are needed to decide what to measure and how)
    • Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning (humans are needed to provide context)
  • Building Ethical Things – And exploring the unintended consequences
  • “If you are not asking how what your building could be used to hurt someone you’ve failed.” – Adapted from Mina Markham
  • How will your users “feel”.
  • We need liberal arts and the expanse of ideas.

The School of Athens

“…a visual representation of the role of love in elevating people toward upper knowledge…”

One thought on “#BbWorld18 – DevCon: The Death of Liberal Arts (And Why We Need to Save Them!)

  1. Pingback: GVSU’s eLearning Team Receives Award at National Blackboard Conference | eLearning and Emerging Technologies @GVSU

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