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Future-proofing Your Students

I was recently giving a talk to our faculty on my planned direction for teacher and student devices over the near term at my school. In my talk, I began by reviewing a bit about why we do technology in education…things most everyone knew but I felt a level set might be worth while. One of my points referred to a shift we are seeing in education…moving away from the “old-school” model of knowledge transfer and moving toward a focus on teaching soft skills (some refer to them as super skills).  These are skills like Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking and Innovation.  As I was standing in front of our early childhood faculty reviewing these soft skills and doing the “old school vs new school” compare and contrast, I was struck by a thought.  

But before I share the thought, let me give you a bit more background on where I am currently.

I have a son who, at the time of this writing, is a senior in high school.  He was introduced to computing technology at a very, very early age…largely due to my job at a highly progressive 1:1 laptop school as well as his attendance at said school.  As a result, he discovered a deep interest, dare I say a passion for all things tech.  Yes, he is an avid gamer, as are most school aged kids today…but it is much more than that.  Yes, he had a significant viewership on his YouTube channel in middle school where he produced videos discussing gaming tips and tricks.  He began coding, everything from a smart-glass project with his brother to a coding-for-hire gig for developers in the UK.  Now in high school, he is also in his second year on the robotics team.  It is the robotic team participation that, I believe, led to his proclamation that he wanted to study computer science in college…more specifically CS with an emphasis in Artificial Intelligence.  AI…GASP!!  Images of Sonny from “i, Robot” danced in my head!!

But I stepped back and took a breath.  And as a result of his interest in AI, his quest for a university to further his education (prepare yourself for his arrival High Point University!!) and his desire to ultimately pursue a career in the field of AI, I felt compelled to learn more about the topic myself.  Let me just say, there are amazing things going on in the field of Artificial Intelligence.  And it is highly probable that there are even more amazing things at the research phase that the average private school Director of Technology like me cannot possibly dream up!  

However, I read almost as many pieces that were more negatively reactionary than informative.  By that I mean that there are plenty of folk who are concerned about developments in Artificial Intelligence.  At best, many believe all of our jobs will be taken by robots.  At worst, some believe AI will be the end of humanity.  

Robophobes abound!!

I currently come down somewhere closer to the “wow” aspect of AI and machine learning, and I believe there are significant advantages to be realized and rewards to be cashed in as society moves down this path of extreme automation.  I believe it is an exciting time to be alive!  However, I do not believe every job is at risk of being automated into oblivion.  Yes, I believe there are things that computer machines cannot do well.

So back to my faculty talk.  Imagine if you will, all these thoughts occupying space in my aging brain as I was speaking to my teacher community.  As I gazed down my list of soft skills and began to discuss how education technology can help the classroom teacher to focus student learning in this direction, all of my thoughts around AI and these skills developed into quite the swirling vortex.  And that is when I was struck with the thought.  The list of skills I had on the screen were in-fact skills that were uniquely human and would prove difficult to automate.  

I do not believe computers can innovate.

I do not believe Robots can create something from random components.

I do not believe Artificial Intelligence can be programmed to think critically.  

My swirling vortex led me to conclude this; if we teach students these soft/super skills, we provide them with talents and abilities that will serve them throughout their adult lives.  We will, to a great degree, future-proof them!  These are skills that employers will always need regardless of the level of automation.  These are skills that will propel future entrepreneurs to untold heights of success.  

Gone are the days of knowledge transfer as the education model.  Content is ubiquitous and in today’s society, to quote Dr. Nido Qubein, knowledge becomes irrelevant.  Equip students with future-proofing skills and school will become more relevant than ever before.  Do not allow students to fall victim to Robophobia!!

Additional reading…
Employers Find ‘Soft Skills’ Like Critical Thinking in Short Supply
Why the Soft Skills Matter Most
How To Get A Job At Google
‘Basic Skills’ or ‘Soft Skills:’ What Should Be Taught and Tested?Beyond the Test: How Teaching Soft Skills Helps Students Succeed