Technology integrates everyday life, transforming the way people learn, adapt, create solutions and work together. As education continues to prepare children to achieve the American dream, digital innovations inspire problem solving through iterative and collaborative learning.
Today’s students represent “a generation of kids who don’t know that the world existed before Google, laptops, smart phones and tablets; when the world did not have WiFi,” said Jaime Casap of Google for Education, who spoke recently at a Prescott Valley Economic Development Foundation meeting. “This generation has a different expectation of technology and the Internet because of the world they grew up in. I’m not saying it’s better, just different. We need to recognize that kids are learning differently — not better or worse — but differently. The world has gone global, social, visual and technological.”
Relaying an international sentiment that education changes families’ destinies, Casap acknowledged learning as the source of the nation’s superpower status and the springboard for his own career success. Now, that same opportunity for people to accomplish what they want in life requires what he labels a culture shift in education.
“We no longer live in a world where the education system has served us well,” Casap said. “We are not a manufacturing economy anymore. We are a connected, global-based economy. What are the right educational models we need for that? Let’s take the best ways we know and bring education to the next level.”
Anticipating one million computer science jobs in the country in the next 10 years, Casap identifies a vast gap between demand and supply. He debunks the myth that computer science “is hard to do or that you need 17 levels of math to know how to do it…It’s going to be part of everything.”
While Arizona turned out 484 computer science graduates in 2014, he noted, the number of open jobs in the field now totals nearly 9,700 statewide. That is despite an average annual salary of $85,000, nearly double what graduates earn on average with other degrees.
“Nine of 10 parents want their kids studying computer science, but only one in four schools in the U.S. offers any kind of computer science at all,” Casap stated. “Then, there’s the boy versus girl issue. There’s a definite disproportionate number of boys doing computer science than girls. And we have more girls. Sixteen percent of the programmers at Google are female. We need to find ways to encourage girls to get more involved in science and computer science as well.”
Technological advancement has been part of education for years. Motion pictures and television each revolutionized the way people have been taught. The difference now, according to Casap, is the pervasiveness of technology in daily life and the availability of research collected over the past 10 years.
Economists worldwide have been asked about skills needed in a technical world, Casap said, and “the most fascinating thing is not fascinating at all. It’s the same list that has always been around.” That list contains problem solving, teamwork, communications, critical thinking, creativity, literacy, leadership, foreign languages and emotional intelligence.
“It really gets to the ‘soft’ skills,” said Dan Streeter, superintendent of Humboldt Unified School District (HUSD). Streeter stressed the importance of these “transferrable” skills in the 21st Century workforce, in addition to subject mastery and global engagement.
Computer coding is taught at HUSD’s K-12 schools and the district also is beginning a two-year roll-out of a computer science program at Bradshaw Mountain High School, Streeter said. Through the Mountain Institute Joint Technical Education District, students can graduate high school with an A+ Computer Certification.
“Subject mastery is important, but we need to go beyond that to what students need to be successful in a time when such a rapid pace of change is occurring,” Streeter explained. “Our district’s teachers have been focused on problem-based learning. They are working with rubrics that help critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication. Kids are having an opportunity to tap into things that they are passionate about. And we know that is a motivator for any of us. So a final grade is not just given to a student based on a product, but there now is a focus on the process that got us to that product.”
Rather than asking young people what they want to be when they grow up, Casap suggests inquiring about the problem they wish to solve. “It doesn’t have to be a global problem. It doesn’t have to be world hunger. It could be how to make carts go faster or make quieter blenders. What do we need to learn to solve that problem? Who is solving that problem today and what did they learn? Who can collaborate to solve that problem? Where can you take classes to solve that problem? Who is following it on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook? What videos and documents? You could go on and on, because you have the world at your fingertips.”
The focus on problem solving “gets closer to what motivation is – purpose, autonomy, mastery,” Casap said. “Information has no value. It’s a commodity. What is important is how to use it.”
When Google evaluates leadership skills, Casap added, “We mean, ‘Can you build consensus? Can you influence? Can you follow when someone else takes the lead?’ It’s a collaborative world… Whatever you build gets better when put in front of someone else… The world operates on a global scale… Real collaboration is the ability to ask good questions, change your mind and build consensus.”
Streeter described a “mindset out there about the need for educational reforms. It’s important that we come to an understanding that education itself is not broken. The world is changing. It’s not about ‘reforming’ education; it’s about ‘transforming’ education.”
Casap agreed. “At the end of the day, nothing is more important than that we have great teachers in our classrooms, and the tools they need and [that] they have the space and autonomy to teach and experiment. The future classroom starts on Monday. It’s the next step, the next iteration, the next measure. The model is always building, always changing, always getting better. We use technology, use the Internet, use our best powers of what good education looks like and constantly innovate. Transformation has no end point. It’s just constant iteration. We are just getting started… We can do it inside our normal K-12 systems.”
The labor force is moving from “manual to cerebral,” according to Richard Heath, executive director at the Northern Arizona University Campus in Prescott Valley. Opportunity exists for learners to “take advantage of all that is out there… You can’t put the genie back in the bottle.” QCBN
By Sue Marceau, QCBN