Today’s blog is a guest post from my colleague Thomas Tran. Thomas is the former director of the Stamford American International School Innovation Center. As a designer, Thomas has positively shaped the way STEAM and Innovation is integrated at schools globally. Connect with him on Twitter.
In the past 10 years the pace of innovation has been impressive; the fields of technology, aerospace, and medicine in particular have all progressed rapidly and moved the world and its ambitions further. In 2007 Steve Jobs announced the iPhone. In comparison to our mobile devices today in 2019, 12 short years later, it is a relic: slow, lacking in power, output, and efficiency. Within the past 5 years Elon Musk’s experimentation of reusable rockets, under SpaceX, became a reality and has only been improving and becoming more reliable. With such complex matters to address, how are such fields/industries able to deliver and maintain progress and innovation so quickly?
If we examine people within their various industries, we will understand that at all times there has been generations of people collaborating and sharing their knowledge. On one end are those with decades of experience, acting as masters of their crafts/knowledge while on the other are the new apprentices, beginning their careers, forming their experience to be able to support. It should be expected that progress will happen with such collaboration and dedication of time. But the other factor that we must examine is the idea of ‘iteration’. As these products were developed, they delivered milestones in advancement. As the next generation of products are in development, they build upon these existing milestones and refine them while also utilizing them to create new ideas. Between each iteration, the gap between generations of products become quicker. It is not as though industries start from scratch. We can also notice in the beginning the gaps between innovative and progressive milestones are major leaps forward. Towards later iterations, however, the gap becomes smaller and smaller (e.g. the smartphone).
It took 12 short years for the iPhone to get to its current point in progress. Imagine the next 10 years. What can the iPhone become? The other question would be whether or not we can get there.
To maintain progress and innovation, new thinkers capable of bringing knowledge from various experiences with creative and inquisitive mindsets are necessary. But if innovation and progress halts, these new thinkers may never get the chance to participate. With the current pace in which progress and innovation may occur, we may be coming to a point where we have exhausted the resources (human, material, or knowledge) and/or may not have the necessary ones to continue progress and innovation. If exhausted or that we lack the necessary resources, innovation would halt; an innovation crisis may occur.
If progress and innovation halts, there will be less ‘new’ jobs in the future, existing jobs may be replaced by the advancements in technology of the coming years, and requirements for employment will be higher due to the need to maintain the caliber of ‘products’ and services of the future. From a business perspective, in this scenario, it is less risky to hire people with experience compared to new individuals in their industry. Thus, the contenders for consideration will be those within the industries, not those entering. The contradiction begins that there must be experience for entry level positions where once entry level positions were for the purpose of developing experience (within a field/industry). As industries become more insular, the barrier of entry for these new thinkers will be more difficult than they have ever been. If we examine many hiring practices within any field today, we may notice that this is already occurring.
For our current generation of students, this may be a rather grim future to enter, with expectations only becoming higher. However, a halt in innovation may be one of the most interesting times to be an educator. This is because education as a field, currently, is ‘reactionary’.
When there is no progress and no innovation, economies will suffer, and governments, businesses and organizations will become nervous and frantic. All will require a greater demand of education to produce the people needed to revitalize the momentum once again. And for the first time in a while, a new direction in education may be developed because there is a full commitment to a common and understood need. Education can finally and must finally react (fully in commitment). We can be excited, but to accept and be enthusiastic about this means that we have allowed our young people to enter into this grim scenario where progress and innovation may have already stalled.
If this is the case, we must also realize the fact that it may take 10+ years alone to develop this pedagogy and curriculum, another 20 years to develop the first generations of students under said educational approach, and another 20+ years for those students to progress the industries they enter towards the first signs of major innovation (if they are able to break the barriers of entry). All in all, we may waste more than a half century of progress and have to face the circumstances that come with that delay.
Progress and innovation require creativity and inquiry developed through experience and time. In our current state of education, at an elementary and secondary level, often we as institutions promote the idea that ‘we prepare our students for the future’. Although this may be our message, if we scrutinize our focus we may notice (whether we like to admit it or not) much of our focus can be traced to examinations (after a certain point in time); producing results and students who are capable of succeeding in testing. ‘Preparation’ is then preparation for admittance into Higher Education, not the preparation for ‘the future’. At Higher Education, students are then required to select and specialize on a focus consolidated into 4 short years at an age where they may not even fully understand their passions, interests, and abilities. Even the most successful of students coming out of universities within their majors to this potential innovation crisis will have a difficult time because they are not alone. They are among an international world and a cohort full of millions of young people within the same field in addition to previous graduates (whom have yet to break the barrier of entry), existing professionals, etc. How is it possible to even exist in this future?
Preparing a student for ‘the future’ starts with having a vision beyond the next 10 years, not regarding education, but of the world. The next 10 years are for the purpose of iteration and development to meet the point beyond the 10th year. It acts as the needed change and foundational layout to how we want to view education in the future. It operates as a period of learning, collaboration, iteration and growth. The purpose of the hypothesis to a future is to provide better understanding to what it means to exist (within that future) which gives us as educators an idea on how we can react sooner and/or identify what we can iterate on (from existing programs, curriculums, etc.) to prepare and give our students the opportunity to exist.
It is one thing to be perceptive and another to be imaginative, but in both cases the next ten years will be crucial for the generations we may teach and beyond; as well as for education as a field and the larger impact it’ll have in supporting the world.
In the next 10 years, it is crucial to begin examining and committing to how we approach education, iteratively. Currently there have been exceptional explorations to curriculum, pedagogy, and offerings (e.g. student centric approaches, PBL, STEAM/STEM, maker spaces, etc.). While we may be exploring these practices, a larger reexamination of our greater systems may be necessary to cultivate the needed environment for them to succeed. We must commit to a vision and learn as we develop. We must move away from a view of results as a parameter that solely defines the success of an approach and examine the processes of both ourselves as institutions and our students so that we can build on beneficial practices and improve ones that may require more examination.
If we truly believe that an approache such as STEAM is the future of education, what does an authentic schedule look like to that curriculum in a future where STEAM may be prolific? Does the experience of an 8AM-3PM model make sense in that future? Do our classrooms and their existing layouts support STEAM? With these questions, slowly we can make small changes that add up to work towards our greater vision.
Do we truly feel that testing will remain the direction of the future? If universities and higher education institutions changed the admittance process and requirements to be portfolio or resume based tomorrow, what may happen to the existing state of our curriculums and pedagogical models?
If we believe that the greater world and its industries are demanding more from our young people in the future, how can we align our students to these industries so they may be introduced to these alarming issues along with the necessary skills to address them earlier? How can we provide the required experiences for students sooner so they can break the barrier of entry later? How can we provide an educational experience where students can have the opportunity to explore their many interests, understand them, the abilities they require and the value they are able to provide to others?
There are many ways we can explore. Some may be grand such as developing completely new schedule approaches or changing curricular assessment practices but not all organizations/institutions are ready for those changes. Although this may be the case, it does not mean that we cannot explore; it just requires more creativity in identifying how we can begin to explore. For example, utilization of extracurricular activities as means to experiment with assessment criteria, project length, and so forth which can inform curricular approaches. Utilization of those extracurricular times can also benefit in supporting Professional Development (by partnering faculty with vendors of various skills) where time may otherwise not be provided. Experimentations and explorations are not ‘bad’. Its purpose is not to define a result, but to learn so that we can work towards understanding the possibilities, improving the learning experiences, and taking steps in moving towards our vision of the future of what education should be.
With a vision, we can begin asking hard questions that we could potentially put into action. While changes may be small, worked upon iteratively they can amount to great things at a later time.
Steve Jobs and his team did not invent the iPhone in 2007. They had begun exploring the idea of a vision to mobile devices a decade or more prior. With each experimentation and product developed, they laid the groundwork to how they believed mobile technology could be so that when in 2007 the iPhone was introduced, while still controversial, it could exist to be understood. And when that vision was understood through the examples Apple had given, they became the leaders determining the direction of their industry from that point forward. A decade later, Apple still acts as an organization that others follow. If you, as an institution, country, etc. can utilize the next 10 years exploring and committing to your vision, there is a potential that afterwards you may be the leader of education for the future, similar to Apple in its industry.
In the next 10 years, is the potential of an innovation crisis possible? Depending on how we as educators along with businesses, organizations, etc. approach the next 10 years, it may allow this possibility to come into fruition much sooner than later. The purpose of this post is to examine the current pace of progress and innovation of the world in relation to the preparation for our young people. It can be said that an approaching innovation crisis seems dramatic, especially with so much room for progress still to occur, but what we must acknowledge is that the gap between preparation and readiness is growing more and more evident. To maintain and support progress and innovation means to lessen this gap, so that our young people can enter, disrupt, challenge and progress the industries they are within as the new thinkers they are.
***This article may generalize many stereotypes to education without recognizing many great milestones the field has accomplished. There are many innovations within departments in various schools/institutions, institutions themselves that may approach learning in completely non-traditional ways, countries that innovate in regard to education processes and criteria, but we cannot move forward alone. Education must change (collectively and together), and these next 10 years are pivotal in setting the path for the future.