Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Get an Education!

It's little Jimmy's first day of 1st grade.  He is setting out on a journey that is supposed to, among other things,  prepare him intellectually for a professional workplace some 12 to 20 years in the future.  What will the workplace look like in 2025?  Chances are it will not look like the workplace of 1985.  Unfortunately the educational system in place now is preparing young people like Jimmy for a workplace that  now exists only in history books.  This is the premise of my post today.  I am not trying to convince you of this fact, I am going to suggest some things we might do about it.
At the outset, we should make an objective attempt to characterize what the workplace will look like in 2025.  Given the current trajectory and no major calamity between now and then, it will contain six main elements:  {mobility, technology, collaboration, speed, information, skill}.  So, Jimmy chained to his desk, without his computer/cell phone/calculator, in silence, and with only his memory as a resource will leave him out of the professional workplace in 2025.  The idea of a good education must be turned completely on its head.

Jimmy must be able to access, process, analyze, communicate, and store (APACS) an enormous amount of information to be a professional.  Therefore, he will not even be able to begin to function without a computer and a fast internet connection.  What is more, mastering this one device will be the key to unlock his entire professional existence.  He will only be able to APACS at a snail's pace without it.  He will need to have access/skill with the computer at every moment in his professional life.  It will be his phone, his clock, his library, his secretary, his calculator, his post office, etc…

It will not, however, be his brain.  Operating a computer effectively, even today, is a monumental undertaking.  Whatever the professional task may be, not only is it true: "There is an app for that.", there are YouTube videos on how to install, set up, and make basic use of that app.  Also, there exist online documentations and at least a half dozen forums, per app, where more advanced information can be digested concerning the app in a collaborative way.  Some of these resources are better than others and updates to all, apps, videos, docs, and forums are constantly being posted.  What can be known is increasing exponentially.  How it can be accessed is also growing at a staggering rate.

Therefore, young people need to be taught, wait, strike that, must be schooled to mastery in all aspects of APACS via the computer.  APACS = {world wide web, cloud, databases, application software, networking, etc…}.  Students, by the time they reach the seventh grade should already know (at least):  A) How to access information on the world wide web via search engines and be able to set up an automated feed system which can be set to search any desired set of target topics; P) How to process information using software such as MS Excell or MS Access;  A)  How to analyze processed information using rudimentary macros, functions, or routines they have developed on any one of a number of analysis platforms such as Maple;  C)  Publish results via internet using blogs/forums/wikkis/web pages;  S)  Store information via databases or word processing platforms such as MS One Note.  Yes, by the time they reach seventh grade.

Forget reading, writing, and arithmetic.  They have been, yes past tense, by surfing, posting, and apping.  What about the art of taking a piece of paper and exquisitely recording your thoughts with a beautifully developed cursive  pen.  Gone I say.  You can read about it in the history book along side of how they used to chisel out script in the face of a flat stone.  The modern  work station is composed of a pc or laptop with one or two external monitors so that the user can have 5, 10, 15, or more different screens open at the same time.  It is equipped with email access as well as some flavor of instant communicator.  Ten to twenty percent of the workday is spent on google or some other search engine researching the job.  In other words, professional development is an everyday event.  If you don't know how to use a search engine  , then you will not be long on the job.

This all means that for virtually all course activities students be required to engage in computing.  Are the taking notes?  Use One Note.  Are they making a presentation?  Use PowerPoint.  Are they doing research?  Use google.  Are they producing a report?  Use a wikki.  In fact, a personal wikki is a great place to organize their whole effort.  Are they processing and analyzing data?  Use Excel.  When I think of all the things you can do with Excel, so much I get exhausted.  It would take two years of intense study just to become proficient in all the functions that Excel offers.

The professional workplace will require of its force; a comfort producing from portable work stations, seamless proficiency in multiple technologies, group efforts across halls and across oceans,  incredible speed, continuous multitasking open access points to a variety of data sources, persistent proficiency in specific duties.  Let's give Jimmy a fighting chance.

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