Breaking Down to Rebuild

I was reading a very good blog post about a teacher’s experience integrating iPads into her classroom, when the mental fireworks went off. I sometimes let my ideas ferment a little too long. Instead of being released at their prime, they become something yeasty, unpalatable and highly combustible. One little spark and…KABOOM! Welcome to the aftermath.

explosion

Photo courtesy Michael Welsing. Used under CC BY-ND 2.0 license. http://www.flickr.com/photos/gnislew/1453056073/

I’ve had a nagging feeling for some time that, although Extension educators have been making progress in using social media for communication and utilizing new media for education, the use of social tools and online networks across cooperative extension has been mostly superficial. In other words, we are doing the same things, just promoting them differently. We are just adding a layer of new technology on top of what we do, but we are not really working differently.

I am sure there are many who disagree and even more who would say, “So what. We really shouldn’t be changing how we work” (that’s what the comments section is for folks, so have at it). Maybe that’s why I kept this feeling to myself a little too long.

The Spark

In her post “Redefining Instruction With Technology: Five Essential Steps,” 4th and 5th grade math teacher Jennie Magiera talks about the lessons she learned from her effort to integrate iPads into her teaching.

Jennie Magiera is a 4th and 5th grade math teacher and a technology and mathematics curriculum coach in Chicago Public Schools.

Jennie Magiera is a 4th and 5th grade math teacher and a technology and mathematics curriculum coach in Chicago Public Schools.

Her first efforts were not successful.

“Despite my high hopes, the next two months were less than successful. A casual observer would have witnessed a sea of students glued to glistening tablets, but the effects were superficial. The iPads were not helping my students make substantial progress toward self-efficacy, academic achievement, or social-emotional growth.”

Here’s what Jeannie writes about why she feels the effects of the iPads were only superficial.

“The problem, I began to realize, was my own understanding of how the iPads should be utilized in the classroom. I had seen them as a supplement to my pre-existing curriculum, trying to fit them into the structure of what I’d always done. This was the wrong approach: To truly change how my classroom worked, I needed a technology-based redefinition of my practice.”

That’s where I feel we are in cooperative extension, trying to fit social media and online networks into the structure of what we’ve always done. Instead, we need to embrace Jeannie’s first essential step to redefining instruction with technology, “Break down to rebuild.”

“As terrifying as it may sound, the first step is to take a proverbial sledgehammer to your existing classroom framework. This realization was a turning point for me. I would have to be willing to depart from what I had “always done” or “always taught.””

Until we are willing to take that proverbial sledgehammer to the way we educate and communicate, our use of social media and online tools will remain superficial.

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12 Work Skills for Your Future

In my last post, Future of Work, I summarized the 6 drivers outlined in the that will reshape the landscape of work from the Future Work Skills 2020, a join project of  the Institute for the Future and the University of Phoenix Research Institute.

One of the responses I received was “What are we doing to prepare?” That’s a great question. The Future Work Skills 2020 report provides some possible answers in 10 skills related to the 6 drivers affecting work in the future (extreme longevity, rise of smart machines and systems, computational world, new media ecology, superstructured organizations and a globally connected world).

A picture of my whiteboard interpretation of the Future Work Skills 2020 map.

My whiteboard interpretation of the Future Work Skills 2020 map.

The “12 Work Skills” referred to in the title is not a typo. I have added 2 skills that I view as critical and that fit within the report’s general framework. Let’s start with the skills from the report.

Sense-making: ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed (Driver: rise of smart machines and systems).

Social intelligence: ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions (Drivers: rise of smart machines and systems and a globally connected world).

Adaptive thinking: proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based (Drivers: rise of smart machines and systems and a globally connected world).

Cross-cultural competency: ability to operate in different cultural settings (Drivers:  superstructured organizations and a globally connected world).

Virtual collaboration: adopting strategies for virtual team working, such as providing immediate feedback or staged challenges.

Computational thinking: ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning (Drivers: computational world and new media ecology).

New media literacy: ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication (Drivers: extreme longevity, new media ecology and superstructured organizations).

Cognitive load management: ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques (Drivers: computational world, new media ecology and superstructured organizations).

Transdisciplinarity: literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines (Drivers: extreme longevity and computational world).

Design mindset: ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes (Drivers: computational world and superstructured organizations).

To those 10 skills, I have added 2 of my own.

Intellectual curiosity: desire to seek out new information, especially outside of your primary discipline, and a passion for lifelong learning (Drivers: extreme longevity and rise of smart machines and systems).

Network literacy: comfort with and competency in using online networks for communicating, teaching, learning, creating, sharing and building community (Drivers:  superstructured organizations,  new media ecology and a globally connected world).

That’s a lot of skills. It’s probably not feasible to fully develop them all, but here are 4 ways I think you can start to improve some of them.

Create an online personal learning network

Your personal learning network or PLN is made up of the people and resources you connect with and gain knowledge from. Building an effective online PLN will take some of the skills mentioned above. Actually using and learning from your PLN will improve other skills.

An online PLN starts with websites, blogs and people you follow. Assembling, organizing and consuming the information provided by those sources is an exercise in cognitive load management. Using social networks, feeds and news aggregation tools for your personal learning will enhance your network literacy.

You should build your PLN with transdisciplinarity in mind, including information from work-related disciplines and areas of personal interest outside of your primary area of expertise. A broad PLN will feed off of and spark your intellectual curiosity.

Here’s a straightforward how-to on building your PLN.

Create and share content

The gates of content creation, previously reserved for authors, journalists, filmmakers, TV producers and radio hosts, have burst open. With cheap, handheld devices and the platform of social media, anyone can become a content creator. Creating and sharing your own content on platforms like blogs, YouTube and Facebook can improve your new media literacy and network literacy.

Curate content

It is the age of information overload. People want to know where they can find information that is relevant and can be trusted. Content curators play a critical role in filtering and providing context for online information.

Filtering through information and deciding what’s important is a great exercise in cognitive load management. To curate the information you have filtered you need to share it. Whether you use tools specifically designed for online curation or social tools like Twitter or Google+, you will be improving your new media and network literacy in getting your curated content out to the world.

Effective curators not only connect a user with information, but also to add value by providing context like why the resource is important or how does it fit into a bigger picture. That’s where your sense-making and adaptive thinking skills come in.

Challenge yourself to think critically as often as you can. As you are choosing what content to curate, ask tough questions about the objectivity and efficacy of the content, take a big picture view of how a piece of content fits into your overall curation effort and seek connections between seemingly unconnected information.

Engage across environments

It seems to be on every job reference, “works well with others,” but I’m not sure how many of us really do. Being aware of the people around you and their feelings may sound easy, but it is often clouded by our focus on our own agenda.

You can practice using your social intelligence by getting experience engaging and collaborating with people in environments where your agenda is not that important to you.

Your social intelligence and cross-cultural competency will benefit from working collaboratively on a project with a group of people you have never met and have not already judged. Seek out opportunities for virtual collaboration across online environments from social networks to webconferences to virtual worlds. Each environment will present you with the challenge of a new collaboration tool, a new cultural environment and a news social context.

The Future of Work

Last month, the Institute for the Future and the University of Phoenix Research Institute released Future Work Skills 2020, a report that “analyzes key drivers that will reshape the landscape of work and identifies key work skills needed in the next 10 years.”

The report included a cool-looking summary map that I immediately gravitated to. I posted it on Google+ and drew my own version of the map on my whiteboard. That was more than a month ago. It’s taken me weeks of staring at the map on my whiteboard and going back to the report to really understand what it’s saying.

A snippet of the Future of Work 2020 map

A snippet of the Future of Work 2020 map.

Future Work Skills 2020 identifies six key drivers affecting work in the future: extreme longevity, rise of smart machines and systems, computational world, new media ecology, superstructured organizations and a globally connected world.

Extreme longevity

The Future Work Skills 2020 report predicts aging people will increasingly demand products and service to keep them healthy and active in their senior years. As people become healthier, they will live longer and work longer.

The report’s observations about the struggle to maintain adequate resources for retirement are more compelling. The trend for people over 60, even over 65, to keep working is evident in our current economy. According to the report, the number of Americans over 60 will increase by 70% by the year 2025. The challenges of an aging population will force us to re-examine our approach to careers. With people working longer,  more individuals will have multiple careers and need lifelong learning to prepare them for those career changes.

The ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines will become an important work skill. According to the report, “The ideal worker of the next decade is “T-shaped”—they bring deep understanding of at least one field, but have the capacity to converse in the language of a broader range of disciplines.”

Rise of smart machines and systems

Devices and systems are getting “smarter” all the time. There are thermostats that learn your habits, a fireplace connected to the Internet and iPhone apps that will analyze your sleep habits. These smart devices and systems will replace human workers in some areas and augment them in others. We will be forced to examine what humans are really good at and cultivate those skills.

One of those skills is sensemaking, the ability to find the deeper meaning in complex information. Machines may be able to take over rote tasks or routine jobs, but they are not good at sensemaking. According to the report, “critical thinking or sense-making will  merge as a skill workers increasingly need to capitalize on.”

Computational world

The world is becoming programmable. Digital data is being integrated with the physical world to create augmented reality (check out this video from the augmented reality browser Layar to get an idea of how this works. Profanity warning: one of the Layar folks drops and entirely appropriate “s”-bomb). Meanwhile sensors, communications and processing power are being built in to everyday items (see the section above).

The result is an enormous amount of data that can help, according to the report, “uncover new patterns and relationships that were previously invisible.”

A world with all that data will favor those with the skills to translate and interpret that data. A programmable world will favor those with programming skills or, at least, and understanding of programming.

New media ecology

The media landscape is becoming dominated by online videos, music mashups, virtual worlds and video games. The Internet, once grounded in text and images, is now the platform for streaming movies, editing video and experience augmented reality. A band recently released an album recorded entirely on an iPhone.

We need to be able to “critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication,” according to the Future Work Skills 2020 report.

Superstructured organizations

I’m not sure why the Future Work Skills 2020 report used the term “superstructured organizations.” It’s a difficult term to explain and understand. I translated it on my whiteboard version of the Future of Work map as “Social media and other online networks drive new forms of production and value creation.”

That might be only slightly less clear, but it’s the best I could do in describing a complicated reality where institutions like medicine, education and science, rooted in knowledge and technology from centuries ago, are being disrupted by the connection, collaboration and openness made possible by new social technologies.

The report site examples in medicine like Curetogether and PatientsLikeMe which allow users to “aggregate their personal health information to allow for clinical trials and emergence of expertise outside of traditional labs and doctors’ offices.” Add to that examples of online gamers working together to contribute to scientific discovery and the growing power of open education resources and you can start to see the way organizations are being changed by social technologies.

The results for the workforce are new ways of being educated and trained, as well as an emphasis on skills in game design, neuroscience and happiness psychology. Understanding online networks, network literacy, will be critical.

Globally connected world

We have been hearing about globalization for years, and it will continue to be a driver of changes in work in the future. According to the report, organizations cannot be satisfied with just having a presence in India, China and other developing countries, they must integrate that presence into their organization in order to remain competitive.

Taken with the “superstructured organizations” driver above, an increase in global interconnectivity will drive the need to workers competent across cultures, skilled in virtual collaboration and able to adapt in a rapidly changing environment.

Overall Future Work Skills 2020 report paints a picture of a challenging future for workers and organizations, but it also provides a road map of skills that we should be developing and nurturing now in order to be effective and employed in the future. 2020 is not that far away.