As part of a keynote I'm presenting on Friday with EdTechTeacher, for the Rocky Hill Public Schools (CT), I have been re-reading and reviewing the white paper: How Computerized Work and Globalization Shape Human Skill Demands by Frank Levy & Richard Murnane. The paper is a shorter analysis of their book, The New Division of Labor: How Computers Are Creating the Next Job Market.
I highly recommend taking a look at the white paper, as Murnane & Levy write with a unique clarity, insight and concrete examples that can help educators understand how computers are reshaping our economy, the jobs that will be available to our students & more importantly, how we can begin to restructure our classroom instruction to help develop the expert and complex thinking skills that are required to compete and hold a job in our changing economy.
I'll attempt to summarize my understanding of the paper & how it relates to how I teach my 9th grade World History students:
- Computers are taking & creating specific types of jobs.
- Computers don't cause unemployment, they can replace only specific types of jobs / tasks:
1. Routine Cognitive - cognitive tasks that can be accomplished by following specific rules
2. Routine Manual - manual tasks that follow precise, physical movement that can be programmed
- Computers can't (at least for now...) replace specific jobs / tasks:
1. Expert Thinking - solving problems for which rules don't exist
2. Complex Communication - understanding human interaction
3. Non-Routine Manual - physical tasks that don't follow if-then rules
What does it mean for teachers & education...
If it is the case that computers can and are eliminating routine cognitive and manual task based jobs from the economy (and at the same time creating complex communication jobs), then it implies that the skills we should stress and place a high emphasis on are those that require complex thinking, problem solving, collaboration, interaction and expression. If we continue to expect our students to simply recall information that is provided & presented, we are preparing them for jobs that don't exist. However, if we begin to shift our instructional approach to take advantage of the vast amount of instantly accessible information, help guide our students to develop the skills necessary to sift through, evaluate and manipulate that information, we are moving towards instruction that is preparing them for the jobs that do and will exist in the future. It is safe to say that educators are no longer the curators of information and that the textbooks we use in class do not have the most current, engaging or expert information available. Step one, allow and promote access to information in our schools and classrooms. Step two, help our students developed the skills and abilities necessary to find, understand, analyze and evaluate information. Step three, expect our students to not simply regurgitate the right answer, there is no right answer available in the jobs that exist in their economy. Expect our students to create, analyze, share, collaborate and produce something new based on the information that is collected. Why expect simple recall and regurgitation when that skill isn't necessary and can be replaced by a computer? Computers (at least for now...) can't interpret information, collaborate with others, produce something new and unique to solve an unexpected problem and donate that creation back to the class, school & society. These changes don't imply that the current skills and abilities that are stressed in education are outdated. On the contrary, the ability to read, write and effectively communicate are at a premium. The technology and web tools that are available to educators and students must be incorporated in the classroom not simply for the sake of using technology (we have all heard this before), but instead to amplify the ability to read, write and communicate ideas. Let your students blog & share their posts with the world with twitter's #comments4kids. Expect your students to create videos & share them with the world on YouTube. Allow your students to create podcasts & publish them for world consumption on iTunes. The technology that is available to educators and students is mind boggling. Barriers no longer exist for our student's voices to be heard. Prove to them that they must be able to read, write and communicate their ideas clearly by providing them with an authentic audience that extends beyond your classroom, school and community.
lunch is almost over...