Andover and the Digital-Forward Future

Computer science is treated as a self-contained branch of study, kept separate from liberal-arts education and the humanities. However, technological advancement has caused a paradigm shift in the very nature of the modern workplace. Computers and their usage can no longer be separated from the reality we inhabit and the work we do. Grappling with a new world necessitates a new pedagogical approach to the intersection of technology and other subjects, and Andover should be at the forefront of this new way of learning if it hopes to retain the value it provides as an institution.

In the last several decades, technological progress and computer science have transformed even the most remote corners of academia. Traditionally human-driven fields like historical research, archaeology, investigative journalism, and other social sciences have utilized technology in unprecedented ways. It is now possible to identify the author of an ancient manuscript, predict and shape long-term economic trends, or compare the rhetoric being used by conspiracy theorists and mainstream pundits, all through the power of computers. Technology and its dizzying array of uses hasn’t eliminated classical education’s usefulness, but instead eliminates the traditional dichotomy of humanities and STEM, creating a need for education at the intersection of these fields.  

This leaves Andover in the position to create unique opportunities for its students. There is a dire shortage of people who possess both the grounded education and technological literacy needed to thrive in our increasingly digital future. Pure coders aren’t necessarily equipped to deal with the massive ethical and societal ramifications their tools have on our entire world. Purely humanities-focused graduates don’t have the ability to work with cutting-edge tech to advance their fields or understand the shifting dynamics of technological interplay with novel social science research. Our lives are transitioning more and more online and our jobs are more and more focused on interfacing with A.I. and computer programs––if this school is to provide us a useful education, it too has to adapt.

What does that look like for a 200+ year old institution? To succeed, a new approach to technology must be pioneered in all classrooms and by all teachers, mirroring the broader convergence of tech with our ways of living. Requiring computer science courses, while potentially viewed as a step in the right direction, is neither the solution nor the ultimate goal; instead, Andover has to tackle the tall order of integration rather than separation in preparing its students to have an impact on society.

It begins with a shift in the use of the internet in classes. Jobs and life will be open source. Our generation will have access to Google and Wikipedia and StackExchange – it’s far more important, then, to learn how to properly use these tools than to ignore their existence and use memorization and regurgitation as a way to demonstrate proficiency. Remote learning has already jump-started a shift away from that model of arbitrary fact-dumping, meaning that Andover is in the perfect position to transition into a new system of education.

An emphasis also needs to be placed on understanding computational logic. Even broadly understanding how computers work is vital since interpreters and compilers as we know them now––the interfaces which people use these days to write code––are sure to be replaced soon by artificial intelligence models and so-called fourth generation languages. This means that it’s far more important to grasp the operational logic of computers than the specific syntax of Java or C++. I believe that Andover ought to require a course centered solely around logical education. Fermi problems, deductive reasoning, and patterns of thinking about the world are some of the most important things a school can teach and, paired with the quality of faculty already at this school, could make so much more of a difference than vaguely digested facts remembered only until the end of the term. This kind of class helps blur the line between humanities and STEM by teaching tactics and methods needed for both, and provides students with the general problem-solving ability which is made all the more vital by the onset of the digital age.

Teaching deductive reasoning has to be paired, of course, with hands-on experience using modern tools. There should be an effort to create projects in humanities classes which utilize technology, like having history projects revolving around document analysis, and there also need to be more conversations about tech ethics and A.I. perpetuating societal biases within our current affairs discourse. Moving even further, the school should offer whole courses of a multidisciplinary nature, involving both C.S. and history, English, or foreign language teachers. This could mean that students are looking at a single problem from multiple perspectives, examining texts using digital tools or looking at case studies of historical events with computational simulation, or pursuing other topics of in-depth social science inquiry using the power of computation. These things together would allow departments to mix for the benefit of students while still respecting the sanctity of their individuality.

There are new, digital-focused ways of approaching topics that very few places have the resources to incorporate; if Andover did, it would be pushing the boundaries of high school exactly as it is designed to do. Technology and classical education intersect constantly, so the thinking strategies and tools we learn in school have to be ones which will serve us in the real, intersectional world, not the world of arbitrary departmental divisions with fields kept separate to the detriment of all. The future is a digital one. Andover has a duty to prepare its students for that.