This Week’s Trends in Education and Technology (April 13-19)

by | Apr 19, 2019 | TWTET

[The Week in Education and Technology is a weekly summary of news, events, and ideas related to education.]

Notable Quote

The idea of “fixing” schools assumes that the basic structure created a century (or more) ago is still sound and remains valid for a very uncertain future.

It assumes that grouping kids by chronological age, presenting them with a stream of data divided into discrete topics, and using mass assessment tools to determine their understanding is still the best system for learning. (If it ever was.)

What if there is no “fix” for schools and we need to start over?

Tim Stahmer

Things That Caught My Attention


Tim Holt revisited a familiar statement this week, the one about preparing kids for jobs that don’t exist. This was popularized in education “around 2007 along with a video by Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod called “Shift Happens” which successfully started many conversations about what schools need to do to get their students ready for a world that we a) cannot see b) cannot imagine and c) are not prepared for” (see an updated version of the original video and see the question at 4’15”). I particularly like the corollary question in his post that Tim adds to the original.

Any decent education system should focus on the future, that place where students will spend the rest of their lives living in. However, I think that the statement about preparing students for jobs that do not exist needs to have a corollary question to go along with it: “Are we preparing students for jobs that will not exist in the future?”

Rachelle Dene Poth, Foreign Language and STEAM teacher in Pennsylvania, writes that while “we cannot predict with certainty the types of jobs that will exist in the future, we know that today’s students will need a variety of skills, ‘21st-century skills.’” To accomplish this, she suggests the following learning experiences for students: (1) Project-Based Learning; (2) Artificial Intelligence; (3) Maker Education and Coding; (4) Place-Based Learning; (5) Entrepreneurial Skills and Courses.

Of course, preparing our kids for the future may be difficult to do with an education system designed to meet the needs of the past. Tim Stahmer, responding to a recent opinion piece in the Washington Post with the headline “Can we fix the schools?” comments that it may not be enough to simply “fix” things.

“Fix” implies that we only need to make some adjustments to the system to get everything “working better”. Like a car that needs a tune-up or new muffler. Or replacing the cracked screen on your smartphone.

Nobody takes their car into the shop for repair and questions the fundamental concept of the automobile. When getting a leak fixed, none of us ask the plumber to re-imagine the idea of indoor plumbing.

But maybe that’s exactly what we should be doing with the idea of school. Rather than trying to “fix” the system by creating new testing programs or abdicating the responsibility of public education to private companies.

The idea of “fixing” schools assumes that the basic structure created a century (or more) ago is still sound and remains valid for a very uncertain future.

Higher Ed

College affordability will continue to be an issue in the coming years, and will certainly be a focal point for the 2020 presidential election. As this article points out, while “much attention is being paid to high student debt, a growing chorus is making the surprising argument that students need to be allowed to borrow more. With grants limited and college costs rising, loans can be a lifeline for students who have no other way to afford a degree.”

To my way of thinking, we can toss this type of thinking on top of the heap of other ideas that advocate for federal and state policies or funding to help students afford the cost of college given the current business models. What such proposals tend to miss is that current business models and pricing are not likely sustainable, for institutions, external funding entities or, more importantly, students and their families.

And speaking of challenges to existing business models in higher education, there was a flurry of articles/posts this week about role adjuncts play in managing labor costs in colleges and universities. The tagline for this article in The Chronicle of Higher Education is, “Treating nearly 75 percent of the professoriate as disposable is not sustainable.” And then there’s Herb  Childress’s new book, The Adjunct Underclass: How America’s Colleges Betrayed Their Faculty, Their Students and Their Mission, which is a “painful, necessary read for anyone looking to understand or empathize with the costs — human and otherwise — of higher ed’s gig economy.” Here’s how Inside Higher Ed describes the book (this post also include a good interview with Childress).

Part memoir, part manifesto, it’s also a rigorous, data-driven analysis of how we got here, why adjunctification hurts the academic enterprise and possible solutions. There’s a full appendix of charts, facts and figures. The mix makes for a book that anyone, novice to expert, can read.

Not surprisingly, for some, the role of adjuncts is just one of “three forces weakening academic freedom in the United States.” These forces include:

The erosion of tenure and shared governance, the emergence of “universities” that deny students access to professors, and the expansion of Advanced Placement and other forms of earning college credit in high schools. What all these forces have in common is that, by offering college credit in contexts without academic freedom, they limit professors’ and students’ freedom of thought.

Workforce Readiness

Moving back to 21st-century skills and workplace readiness, I think many will find this post by Irving Wladawsky-Berger helpful. In it, he discusses “Eight Futures of Work Scenarios and their Implications, a white paper published in January 2018 by the World Economic Forum(WEF) in collaboration with the Boston Consulting Group(BCG).

This short video on jobs impacted by automation also provides a good recap of recent news and thinking on that subject.

When it comes to current employees and the training or upskilling they receive from their employers, a new study shows that many are frustrated by current learning programs.

Only 27% of the 1,000 employees surveyed found their employers’ L&D offerings to be “embedded in the organization, meaningful and useful.” Nearly a third of respondents called their offerings “enthusiastic but off-the mark,” and the remaining 41% of respondents either rated their learning as something that “ticks the box” or something that’s talked about by execs but never acted upon. The most valuable and effective training is learning directly from others, also known as “collaborative learning,” followed by “more time for self-study” in a distant second.

We’re doing our part at TEL to address this by creating TEL Mastery Standards, which will ensure that our general education and workforce training curricula are mapped to specific skills needed for professional success.

Technology Trends

On the technology front, China continues to strengthen its position in the global technology race. To wit, this week VW announced that China would become the global software development hub to autonomous tech.

Also, if you haven’t been keeping up, cultural differences (including differences in entrepreneurial cultures) have made it difficult for many U.S. technology brands to find long-term success in China. The latest casualty is Amazon, which has announced it will shut its online store in China.

And, another week and another win for AI in the world of video games. The latest victor is OpenAI Five, which crushed the  Dota2 world champs. And speaking of games, I am extremely happy to announce that anyone can now download the source code for all Infocom text adventure classics. Who’s up for a round of Zork or Infidel?

Research Articles and Posts for the Week

K-12 Education

Higher Education

Learning Design and Learning Theory

Workforce Readiness

Media and Cultural Trends

Technology Trends

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