Technology and the Future of Work

Every day there seems to be a new report about the future of work. Will most jobs be replaced by robots? How will artificial intelligence impact future careers? The answers vary depending on the source and the underlying presuppositions. In November I had a chance to join over 150 educational and community leaders for a Career Readiness Summit sponsored by Remake Learning in Pittsburgh. According to Remake Learning, the event was a chance to “analyze the current state of workforce development, share promising practices, and build the partnerships required to prepare students for a changing world.” The keynote for the event was Tom Vander Ark. Tom addressed a variety of issues but focused on the impact of artificial intelligence on the future of work.

Remake Learning highlighted on their website the key implications that Tom made about career readiness for students today. These included the ability to:

  • navigate projects and work in teams, as the majority will be freelancers by 2027,
  • contribute to the economy through human judgement, creativity, empathy, social interaction, and innovative mindset,
  • work computationally and across disciplines, and
  • upskill continuously as the economy and required skills will change at a more rapid rate than ever.

Much of Tom’s references came from his research for his new project, “Ask About AI: The Future of Work.” While industries like medicine and law grabble with the implications of Artificial Intelligence in their business practices, education has not really begun to address the impact of AI on learning. Tom and the Getting Smart Team spent two years studying the implications of AI and came to the following conclusion: “machine intelligence turbocharged by big data and enabling technologies like robotics is the most significant change force facing humanity.”

To follow Tom Vander Ark and his team as they continue to document this trend, use the hashtag #AskAboutAI.

Real World Learning: Design Challenges

For the past two years I’ve worked with the Parkway West Career and Technology Center (PWCTC) Consortium of Schools and the Energy Innovation Center (EIC) to develop a series of real world Design Challenges. There are some lessons I’ve learned:

  • Identify the students teams as consultants. Make the students aware of the role of a consultant and the importance of addressing the needs of the client. Work with the teacher facilitators to frame the problem in ways that relate to the students and allow teams to work collaboratively.
  • Bring in experts from Day 1. We have each kick-off event at the EIC. Bob Meeder, the CEO of the EIC, arranges for a team of experts, or as he calls them “bosses,” to work with the student consulting teams.
  • Frame the challenge around a Request for Proposal (RFP). In the business world RFPs are the documents that outline the expectations of the client. The consulting team has to address the project based on the client’s needs.
  • Use a human-centered design process to move the project along. I’ve had an opportunity to undergo training through the LUMA Institute. The LUMA framework, developed through a meta-analysis of the best strategies in design thinking, helps to shape the problem more succinctly and provides the focus on the target population.

Visualizing the vote for Concept Posters

Here are some ways I’ve worked these principles into a series of Design Challenges with high school students this fall. To start the challenge the student consultants walk through the Energy Innovation Center and use a LUMA strategy called “Fly on the Wall.” They use the camera on their phones to document everything that they see. At the kick-off they develop questions they need to address based on the RFP. Experts from the business, non-profit, or other arenas, begin to answer the student questions. At the midpoint I bring the students back together. (Between the kickoff and midpoint the student teams work with their teacher facilitators conducting research into the RFP issues. Sometimes the teams get together and other times they go their separate ways.)

For this year’s two Design Challenges I used a LUMA recipe – a combination of strategies – at the midpoint session. For a Food Menu Item Design Challenge where the student consultants from South Fayette, Carlynton, and PWCTC had to come up with their best ideas for the forthcoming EIC Healthy Cafe, I needed a way to identify the best choices. Each student consultant created what LUMA calls a “Concept Poster” for their food item and then had to pitch the idea to their colleagues and a team of experts that included people in the food industries. Each consultant and expert then chose the three best ideas and put dots on the Concept Poster – LUMA’s “Visualizing the Vote.” This combination of strategies narrowed the choices, but there was an issue – could the choices work in a cafe environment in a cost-effective manner? Fortunately, I had a team of student experts who were studying Culinary Arts and their teacher, a chef from the Parkway West Career and Technology Center. The chef with the student consultants then examined the top choices that would be prototyped in the PWCTC kitchens.

Concept Poster to pitch ideas

The second Design Challenge focused on the renovation of an existing space – Innovation Hall- at the EIC. The student consultant teams from Keystone Oaks and Chartiers Valley worked in four teams – lighting technologies, smart technologies, surface technologies, and furnishings. At the midpoint each team developed a “Concept Poster” and then each consultant and expert working on the project responded by placing a red note for a Great Idea, a green note for a promising idea that needed some further thinking, or a brown note for an idea that might not work. LUMA calls this strategy “Rose, Thorn, Bud.” Once the teams received the feedback from the other teams and experts, they had to revise their plan.

In both Design Challenges the LUMA strategies provided great ways to get all students involved in a collaborative manner. The consulting teams had to use communication skills that included visualizing ideas. The teams had to analyze feedback and revise (iterate) their ideas.

We’re not done yet. The final presentations will take place in the next month, but one of the Design Challenges from last year will soon have a ribbon-cutting ceremony.  What’s better than having the student consultants actually see their ideas implemented?

Sharing a prototype

Last year three teams of students worked on the installation of a windmill at the EIC. Consultants from Carlynton High School came up with a very original model using a Hummingbird Kit from Birdbrain Technologies. A second team from PWCTC’s Electrical Studies program devised a storage and power strategy for the RFP, while the third team from West Allegheny developed an educational strategy to instruct visitors at the EIC about wind energy and sustainable energies. In December members from the original Design Team will join Windstax Technologies, key members of the EIC, the mayor of Pittsburgh, and the County Executive of Allegheny County in a ribbon cutting ceremony – a great real world celebration for a challenging real world problem.

Redesigning Learning Spaces

For the second year in a row the K-12 Horizon Report included “Redesigning Learning Spaces” as a mid-term (3-4 year) emerging trend in education. Throughout western Pennsylvania I’m observing not only spaces like libraries take on new shapes and functions, but entire buildings designed for active learning. On November 7 I’ll join Justin Aglio, Director of K-4 Academic Achievement and K-12 Innovation, and Dr. Chris Stone, the superintendent of the Montour School District, at the Three Rivers Educational Technology Conference (TRETC), to share a framework for rethinking how to design learning spaces and an experiential activity for conference attendees to discover some of the elements in the new Montour K-4 Elementary School.

Key to any redesign of a learning space is the awareness of “why” we need to rethink how the learning space looks, feels, or responds to the needs of the learners. Prakash Nair, an architect for the Fielding Nair International, has developed four criteria (Blueprint for Tomorrow, 2014):

  • Be welcoming – this includes the colors, furnishings, greenery, or adding a coffee bar with WiFi access.
  • Be versatile – this goes beyond flexibility. It looks at how learning spaces can be reconfigured and rethought to meet needs over time. A versatile space may be an open commons area today, but it may become multiple classroom spaces in the future.
  • Be supportive of varying and specific learning activities – spaces may have different designs based on what type of learning is desired. Collaborative learning requires tables and LED screens that allow for groups of learners to work together, whereas a research zone may have individual tables and no projection needs.
  • Send positive images about activities and behavior – spaces need to showcase student learning. There may be exhibit spaces that have special lighting and sound to highlight student work.

Photo by Norton Gusky CC BY 4.0

Montour’s new K-4 Elementary School is a great example of the transformation in thinking about the use of space as part of the learning experience. The entrance makes a strong statement welcoming parents, community members, as well as the student population. Every space provides a learning opportunity. Learners in the hallway, in the Minecraft Learning Lab, or in a flexible Maker Spaces are active investigators working collaboratively or on personal projects using design thinking infused with easily accessible technology. Every classroom has a variety of furniture options to meet the needs of different student learning. The gymnasium provides not only a home for sport activities, but becomes a an open learning space. For TRETC it’s the center for vendor exhibits and for the opening and closing sessions. Throughout the building student work is prominently presented.

TRETC 2017 Redesigning Learning Spaces