Skills for the 21st Century

Cognitive and Literacy Skills for Success in a Fast-Paced Technological Age

Archive for the ‘Futurism’ Category

Engineering Design Enters the 4th Dimension

Posted by Duren_Thompson on October 23, 2013

3D chemical model - stick and ball  imageOK, this is really revolutionary!

Researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder have developed a polymer and a process which allows the production of an object fixed in one shape that can later be changed to take on a new shape given thermal, chemical or mechanical forces.  And these shapes are determined at the design stage – essentially adding a “time” component to the 3D printing/production process.

Their real life example:

“…a solar panel or similar product could be produced in a flat configuration onto which functional devices can be easily installed. It could then be changed to a compact shape for packing and shipping. After arriving at its destination, the product could be activated to form a different shape that optimizes its function.”
H.  Jerry Qi, associate professor of mechanical engineering at CU-Boulder

Read more  4-D Printing Technology for Composite Materials Developed

WOW!  So, consider the effects of this kind of production on the jobs of the future:

  • What kinds of skills would you need in order to be a designer? (4-dimensional visualization skills?)
  • What jobs would be changed or lost (fewer truck drivers needed, because boxes would be smaller?)
  • How would this affect consumers/users?  (What would you make with an in-home 4D printer? How about a tent or table that sets itself up?)
  • What are the effects on the environment – can these things be put in a landfill? Can this be recycled?

And, of course,

  • What implications does this have for education?  How do you assist students to think in 4 dimensions?

We’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Rise of the Machine

Posted by wrmcnutt on May 23, 2012

The ultimate nightmare for Tenured Faculty may eventually arrive.  Perhaps, one day, robo-teachers will out-perform flesh and blood instructors.  But that day is not today.  Quite.

In the most recent issue of Inside Higher Ed (May 22, 2012), Steve Kolowich reported out on an experiment at six public universities that randomly assigned students to statistics courses that “relied heavily on ‘machine-guided learning’ software.”  Although the instructor was not eliminated entirely, the participants did get “reduced face time with instructors.”  While the article and the study behind it make for an interesting read, the bottom line is this: the students in the machine-guided learning environments did as well as the students in the control group, and they did it in less time.  “’Our results indicate that hybrid-format students took about one-quarter less time to achieve essentially the same learning outcomes as traditional-format students,’ report[ed] the Ithaka researchers.”

For a long time now, computer-assisted learning has been dismissed by traditional educators as a drill-and-practice tool, or at best a stopgap to be applied to learners unable to participate in traditional education models.  Until now conventional wisdom has been that traditional face-to-face training provides a superior learning experience.  This study, and others like it are showing that computer assisted learning is beginning to catch up with traditional teaching.

Do I think that the bell is tolling for tenured faculty?  Not yet.  But it is past time to take a good hard look at  systematically integrating technology into our instructional approaches.  It may be that the days of teaching off of those curling, yellowed notes are not only numbered, but the number is getting increasingly smaller.

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Re-Making Humanity

Posted by durencls on June 2, 2010

In 1997, I was intrigued by the ideas presented in the film Gattaca.*   Set in a non-specific future earth, where genetic enhancement is the norm, the film tries to answer the question – is genetics everything? In this vision of the future, good, responsible parents consult with a geneticist before conception and work to give their child every genetic advantage possible.  Even simple dating decisions are made based on DNA comparisons – readily available from streetside kiosks.  In this future world, if you are not genetically perfect, it is assumed you cannot compete with those who are, and you are automatically relegated to lesser, more menial jobs. This science fiction idea could have significant implications for education – how do you teach in a genetically modified world?  Are those without genetic enhancement excluded from some educational opportunities?  What is fair?

Well, that future vision is now one step closer to reality:

ROCKVILLE, MD and San Diego, CA (May 20, 2010)— Researchers at the J. Craig Venter Institute (JCVI), a not-for-profit genomic research organization, published results today describing the successful construction of the first self-replicating, synthetic bacterial cell. [Read the entire Press Release]

Yes, there you have it, we can now manipulate genetic code to create artifical life. How soon until we are trying to teach genetically engineered children?

While our ability to manipulate genetic code is growing by leaps and bounds, neuroscience is experimenting with cognitive enhancement through chemical enhancement and neural feedback devices.  Off-label use of Adderall and other chemical neuroenhancers used to ‘strengthen’ ordinary cognition is already having an effect on how students ‘gain an edge’ at higher institutions.  Research and marketing companies are leaping to join the emerging  “Brain fitness” market.

At the same time, research is progressing on technological enhancements to human functioning – with implications not only for education, but also bio-mechanical engineering.  In one experiment by the School of Systems Engineering, University of Reading, Dr. Mark Gasson has had a high-end Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chip was implanted in his left hand for over a year for the purpose of experimentation. This chip allowed him secure access to his University building and his mobile phone, as well as tracking his movements.  When he allowed his chip to be infected with a computer virus last month, he says that he, “…found it a surprisingly violating experience because the implant is so intimately connected to me but the situation is potentially out of my control.”  Further, Dr Gasson states:

“I believe it is necessary to acknowledge that our next evolutionary step may well mean that we all become part machine as we look to enhance ourselves. Indeed we may find that there are significant social pressures to have implantable technologies, either because it becomes as much of a social norm as say mobile phones, or because we’ll be disadvantaged if we do not.” 

If genetic engineering, neurological enhancement, and/or technological improvements to our cognitive abilities are clearly a furture trend, what are the implications for finding success in the 21st Century Workplace?  What skills and/or training will be needed by enhanced individuals for success?  And what of the likely “enhancement gap”?  What kinds of supports or preparation will this ‘disadvantaged’ group need to find success? To compete in this not-to-distant future?

This is an example of how the technologies themselves may affect not only how we educate, but also who and why.  And as teachers – will we ourselves have to be enhanced in order to serve an enhanced population or to qualify for our jobs?  [Oooo, creepy!]

Let us know what you think!  First person to comment on this post wins a free cognitive enhancement of their choice – performed in a hidden laboratory, during a thunderstorn, by your hosts! BwAH, ha, ha!**   

*The field of futurism is, of course, rife with references to science fiction films and writings, and as blog hosts we are certainly not immune.

**Just kidding! But Bill was sure ‘bwAH, ha, ha’ had to go in this post SOMEwhere!

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College Not Necessary for Success in 21st Century?

Posted by durencls on May 17, 2010


So, interesting/controversial article from the New York Times today(Thanks Margy!)

Plan B: Skip College 

Quotes from the article that caught my eye :

  • Perhaps no more than half of those who began a four-year bachelor’s degree program in the fall of 2006 will get that degree within six years, according to the latest projections from the Department of Education. For college students who ranked among the bottom quarter of their high school classes, the numbers are even more stark: 80 percent will probably never get a bachelor’s degree or even a two-year associate’s degree. That can be a lot of tuition to pay, without a degree to show for it.
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  • College degrees are simply not necessary for many jobs. Of the 30 jobs projected to grow at the fastest rate over the next decade in the United States, only seven* typically require a bachelor’s degree, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. [* or higher, and note that most of these 30 are in the lowest paying categories, like retail and food service – http://www.bls.gov/news.release/ecopro.t06.htm ]
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  • “It is true that we need more nanosurgeons than we did 10 to 15 years ago, but the numbers are still relatively small compared to the numbers of nurses’ aides we’re going to need. We will need hundreds of thousands of them over the next decade.”  Professor Vedder, founder of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, a research nonprofit in Washington. (And much of their training, he added, might be feasible outside the college setting.) [note that of the jobs listed in the second bullet above, TWELVE require only “short-term on-the-job training”]
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  • Leading economists are cited as suggesting that the US should, “…steer some students toward intensive, short-term vocational and career training, through expanded high school programs and corporate apprenticeships.” 
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  •  In one 2008 survey of more than 2,000 businesses in Washington State, employers said entry-level workers appeared to be most deficient in being able to “solve problems and make decisions,” “resolve conflict and negotiate,” “cooperate with others” and “listen actively.” [Sound familiar?]
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The article does go on to present the related issues of lowering expectations, discrimination, etc. implied in directing some away from four (or even 2) year colleges.

BUT, if employers are failing students for lacking the basics of how to behave and communicate in the office – critical skills for ANY task – much less a technological task, then these issues NEED to be addressed by Adult Literacy programs and embedded in that curriculum.

I may have missed it – can anyone tell me where, in this recent federal push for “career readiness,” do we find funding and support for vocational training? Apprenticeships? Internships? Short-term certificate programs? Intense on-the-job training?

Our current academic systems – Adult Literacy Education included, are measured for accountability by participant/student performance on academic-type standardized assessments.  These are not designed to measure skills like “solve problems and make decisions” “resolve conflict and negotiate,” “cooperate with others” and “listen actively.” Are these tools, then an effective measure of how well folks are being prepared for the workforce?

What can the field of adult literacy (or even K-12 education) do to balance the call for more and more students to enter 2 and 4 year colleges?  How can we BEST counsel and support students for “beyond the GED?”

Posted in Changing the AE field, Futurism, Job Skills, Meta-Skills | Leave a Comment »

Teens and Cell Phones – Implications for the Future

Posted by durencls on May 6, 2010

So in surfing last night, I stumbled across a posting I initially thought was redundant – “yeah, yeah, yeah, teens and cell phones, I know all this.”  The more I looked at it, and thought about it, however, the more implications and connections it had for the future and education.  

From Flowtown‘s marketing blog: “How Are Teens Using Their Cell Phones?  (based on Pew Research)

As we’ve said before, futurism – predicting the future – is hard, and many have really failed at it.  But as educators’ mission is to prepare students for the future, we need to at least try to align our instruction with what we think are the most reasonable future predictions.  Once source for these predictions is “generational research/theory” – particularly the study of the behaviors and affinities of younger, “up and coming” members of society – teenagers and young adults (MillenialsGeneration Z, etc.).

So what predictions can we glean from this one graphic developed from marketing research?

  • Cell phones – mobile, wireless communication is now the norm, and this trend will continue.  Although only 37% of teens’ phones have internet access, most futurists predict wireless mobile computing will become much more ubiquitous. M-learning is a current educational hot topic.
  • Texting (which is a form of writing – honest), is preferred over auditory use of cell phones by teens. This trend is being seen more and more in all age groups. Short quick written updates – instant messaging, tweets, status updates, texts, etc. are becoming a tool for building community, marketing, finding information, etc.
    • Reading implication: the ability to successfully navigate this flood of “short hand notes”  will become critical. Skimming and scanning text and visuals, as well as fast-paced decision-making and prioritization skills (what is worth my time?) will be skills needed for success. [Hmmm, note to self, explore this more in a later post…]
    • Writing implication: the ability to communicate clearly in an ultra-concise format that grabs readers’ attention will be a critical skill.
  • Increased use of visuals to process an ever growing pile of information. This blog regularly posts such “infographics,” and in fact, this type of visual representation of data is becoming more and more popular. Continuing the trend we see in USA today, people want to be able to view statistics and info “at a glance.”  Also note that, after texting, the vast majority of teens use cell phones for taking and sharing pictures. The ability to process information presented visually – pictures, graphs, video is and will be key to success in the workplace.
  • The need for skepticism – This visual is, remember, a marketing tool, created from marketing research, likely to further a particular agenda.  All representations of data contain bias, and some can even be deliberately misleading (or even incorrect) in what they imply or show.  To be successful in a more fast-paced, information heavy, visual world, people will the skills to critically evaluate what they see, hear, and read for validity, bias, and intent. They need to know not just HOW to read a graph, but how the data connects to it, ways it can be visually manipulated, etc. They need to be critical consumers of visually presented data.

Wow.  All that in a graphic that most folks will look at for less than 2 minutes (if even that).

Posted in 21st Century Communication, Futurism, Meta-Skills | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

More Changes – Although This One Came Slow

Posted by wrmcnutt on April 28, 2010

Just the other day, Sony announced that they would be ending domestic (Japanese) sales of 3.5 inch “floppy” disks.  The latest and most efficient versions of this medium, the High Density disk, would hold 1.44 megabytes of data.  And they’re very, very slow to transfer data.  Now, Sony holds 70% of the market share for 1.44 MB floppies in Japan, so this is pretty much the death knell for this ancient and venerable storage medium.  It will take a little longer for this to roll out into the United States, as we hang on to our computer hardware longer than the Japanese, but the writing has been on the wall for a while.  Apple abandoned this medium several years ago, and as of last fiscal year, Dell no longer provided them as standard options on it’s commercial-grade computers. (Source: CNET – Sony delivers floppy disk’s last rites )

Introduced in 1987, the 3.5″ floppy had a twenty three year lifespan as a standard.  And that’s a pretty darn good run.  The 5.25 floppy, it’s immediate predecessor wwas introduced by Apple around 1978, and only lasted nine years.  The 8″ floppy, used before that, only lasted seven years. 

Today’s preferred portable media is the “memory stick.”  Also called a “thumb drive” or “jump drive,” 512 MB versions can be had for under a dollar, for the careful shopper.  For a dollar, you can buy a media stick that will hold three hundred and fifty five floppy disks.  Or, if you’ve got a little more money to spend, you can get an 8 GIGAbit drive for about $24.00.  It will hold the same amount of data as FIVE THOUSAND FIVE HUNDRED and FIFTY FIVE floppies.  For $24.00.  I remember being shocked when the price of floppies dropped below a $20.00 for a pack of ten.

SO – teaching learners to use floppy disks or even CDs/DVDs is probably not a good way to spend the tiny amount of time we have for technology training.  I would be very surprised to discover a computer in use with a floppy drive in another five years.

Posted in Futurism, Job Skills, Pace of Change, Teaching Tech Skills, Technology in the Workplace | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Update to Draft 21st Century Skills List – Metacognition

Posted by durencls on April 22, 2010

Thanks to Silvia Morgan for her feedback on the Draft Skills list – about the need for self-knowledge and knowledge of others’ strengths.  Based on her feedback, I did some research and learned a bit about the definition of metacognition. I then edited/added the following two skills to our draft skill list. You can see our discussion in the comments on the  Draft 21st Century Skills page.

Metacognitive Self-Knowledge: The rate and pace of technological change  that exists currently and is expected in the future will cause stress – we think folks will need to be flexible and adapt quickly   in order to feel comfortable and be successful. Knowing yourself – your strengths and weaknesses, how you learn best, your likes and dislikes, inclinations, talents, etc. is a key to adaptability and flexibility in times of change. 

To build this skill in adult learners, you could use tools that assist them to build reflective skills – journals (with or without reflective prompts), self-questioning strategies, personality and/or learning questionnaires, evaluation rubrics, etc.

 Metacognitive Knowledge of Others:  The enormous wealth of knowledge (as well as, um, ‘drek’) available to us currently, as well as the incredibly fast rate at which it is increasing has led to an overwhelming need for collaboration – now and in the future.  The ability to determine and capitalize on others’ strengths, using them to complement your own and compensate for other’s weaknesses is an important element of collaboration and being able to reach shared goals.

To build this skill in adult learners, build cooperative/collaborative learning activities into your class activities (more on this in a later post), which allow students to see the value in working with others. Incorporate evaluative rubrics, team reflections, and/or the role of “reflector” into those activities.  Have students reflect/present on what the perceive others in the class do well (this can also assist in building esteem and pride in your students).

Like Silvia, please do not hesitate to make comments and suggestions on anything posted to the blog, or e-mail us with ideas. if  you are interested in ‘guest blogging’ on the site (or even regularly contributing) let us know!

Posted in Futurism, Meta-Skills, Teaching Ideas | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Skinput – Using Your Own Hide as Both Projection Screen and Keyboard

Posted by wrmcnutt on April 8, 2010

I constantly run across innovative ideas that never seem to get past the prototype stage, and I’m not sure if this one’s any different, but I think it might be.  Today’s Science Daily web site has an article on a prototype device developed by a Ph.D. candidate at Carnegie Mellon that has great potential.  And if not potential, at least a big coolness factor.

Today’s smart phones, MP3 players (iPods), smart phones,  and assorted media devices have massive amounts of computing power.  The biggest limitation on their utility is the ability to put data into them, get data out of them, and manipulate the data while it’s in there.  Our fingers are large and the screens are small.  If the designers make the screens and keypads big enough to be really useful, the device becomes bulky and hard to carry around.

Skinput proposes to resolve the input and control part of this problem.  The prototype devices projects a control menu onto the skin of the user and uses commercially available acoustic sensors to listen to the sound of your fingers tapping on your arm.  The sound does not travel through the air, but through your skin and through your bones.

The prototype is, naturally enough, large and bulky, but if the concept were exploited commercially it would be easy enough to shrink it down to the size of a wristwatch.  It would be trivial to use this interface to control simple devices like MP3 players (iPods) and cell phones.

Like most concept devices, this one has a long road ahead of it before it becomes commercially available, so it’s very hard to imagine what the impact of it may have on Adult Education.  I’ve seen many cool concepts stop at the prototype stage because the inventor found it impossible to sell the idea to someone with enough capital to develop it.  Will we be asking our students to please deactivate their skinput devices when they enter the classroom so that they can stay focused? Or will this become so ubiquitous that we can count on using it as an educational resource?  One of the trends that I think I have spotted over my career as a technologist is that simple devices tend to become successful. For example, the first “first person shooter” game, Doom, could be played with four basic controls: turn left, turn right, go forward/backward, and shoot.  The runaway technological success story of the 00’s, the iPod, had very few controls as well.

So this, like many others, is a concept to watch.  It’s hard to tell if this sort of thing will make it to market, or the impact it will have.

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More Visual presentations

Posted by durencls on April 5, 2010

[From Wikipedia] Since technological advances continue to develop at an unprecedented rate, educators are increasingly promoting the learning of visual literacies as indispensable to life in the information age. Similar to linguistic literacy (meaning making derived from written or oral human language) commonly taught in schools, most educators would agree that literacy in the 21st Century has a wider scope.[3] Educators are recognizing the importance of helping students develop visual literacies in order to survive and communicate in a highly complex world.

The ability to process visual information  is becoming more and more important in our society. At the start of our COABE presentation, we cautioned that our presentation style was not typical – there would be no “handout of the slides” in part because there was almost no text on any of our slides.  We use a more “visual” style of presentation – which is in line with current trends and predictions for the future. 

The presentation style we use focuses on the presenter – what the LIVE person/people presenting have to say as the critical factor, not the text on the slides. The slide show itself is designed to emphasize, show analogies/metaphors, or expand on what the presenters are saying.  This presentation style leverages both a person’s auditory AND visual processing abilities in a complimentary (not competitive) manner. For more information on this presentation style,* check out our handout from COABE 2009 on this topic.

Migrant mother - Dorothea Lange 1936The old adage, “a picture is worth 1000 words,” is essentually accurate. It would take many many words to even try to convey all the information, emotion, and implications of the photo at left. And, in truth, each person viewing the photo brings different experiences and information to the viewing – making many different connections with that existing information in seconds.

Given the proliferation of information in our current and future societies, the ability to both process visual information and communicate  information visually seem like very key skills for the 21st century.

How do you foster these skills in adult education classes?  Please comment with your ideas!

*We did not invent this style, it is a melding of styles used by folks such as Lawrence Lessig, Dick Hardt, Andy Goodman, Garr Reynolds, and others.

Posted in 21st Century Communication, Effective Presentations, Futurism, Meta-Skills | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Rise of the Machines – at the Gas Pump

Posted by durencls on March 26, 2010

During our session we quoted economist Stuart Elliott (National Research Council) as stating:

“Given the progress of computer abilities over the past 50 years, it is reasonable to expect that computers will surpass human workers in effectively all occupational skill areas during the course of the 21st century.” Projecting the Impact of Computers on Work in 2030 (2007)

This is the dreaded “computers will take over all jobs” prediction of many science fiction stories and films, and is easy to dismiss.  Yet we have for you today, a very current illustration of this issue:

On the way back to MS from the New Orleans airport (returning from COABE to our exotic vacation hot spot in Lumberton MS), at about 11pm in the middle of no-where on I-10 in Louisiana, Bill and I stopped at a Shell station for gas and hopefully food (we, and the van, were all on EMPTY). When we pulled in, our hopes for food were dashed, as the mini-mart looked vacant, and was indeed closed.

Bill, however, had no problem at the gas pump. The technology of “pay-at the pump” had enabled this station to extend services overnight – when it is not profitable to keep a human attendant on duty. Interestingly, we realized that if there wasn’t a mini-mart, there wouldn’t need to be a human at all – or one perhaps just to service the pumps – say once or twice a day. Plus of course, the truck to refill the pumps when they became low – and indicator that could be transmitted electronically.

Standing in a pool of light at midnight, with no signs of civilization for miles (other than the cars occasionally zooming by on the interstate), having our refueling needs met by machine alone, it was easy to imagine technology slowly replacing the human employee.

Spooky.

Duren

Posted in Futurism, Technology in the Workplace | 2 Comments »