According to Brandon Terrill, an English teacher at Hall-Dale High School in RSU2 in central Maine, “educators hear a lot about the fact that we’re preparing our students for the jobs of the future, or jobs that haven’t been invented yet.”
He cites what a challenge it can be as an educator to explore such “an ambiguous, nebulous thing” not only with his colleagues, but also with the students who will one day be a part of this uncertain workforce.
So when a recent professional development opportunity exposed him to our latest research on college- and career-readiness, The Future of Learning: Redefining Readiness From the Inside Out, he immediately saw the research as a way to engage his students in critical conversations about the world they’ll soon be graduating into. With his ninth grade advisory group, they looked at a few of the future scenarios, and the kinds of careers these fictional individuals pursued.
“One of the scenarios features an individual who manages three humans and three robots – they were blown away,” said Terrill. “When I asked my students what kinds of jobs they thought they would have in the future, they all talked about very traditional jobs, like the ones their parents have – nurses, firefighters, that sort of thing. They almost didn’t believe me that their futures could look quite different.”
Terrill explains that what helped his students make the leap from science-fiction to reality was the research’s exploration of the ways that we are deeply connected to our devices and the ways that artificial intelligence is already shaping our lives. Robots are working alongside humans in production lines, doctors are using machines to help them diagnose illnesses and we are all becoming increasingly reliant on helpful technologies like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google.
“I told them if someone had tried to explain this to me when I was their age, it would’ve seemed like science-fiction,” Terrill said. “But they can already see this happening. We’re not just using the internet – we’re forming partnerships with machines.”
The exploration of artificial intelligence was also critical in Terrill’s AP English class, where students used the research to inform a unit on artificial intelligence and read the paper in advance of a Google Hangout with Jason Swanson, KnowledgeWorks director of strategic foresight. Students were able to bring their questions on artificial intelligence and the future workforce to an expert before writing their final papers on the topic.
As for preparing his students for jobs that don’t exist yet, Terrill is grateful to the research for showing him the way forward.
“I’ve never read anything that expressed so clearly how we’re going to get from where we are today to the future of work tomorrow,” Terrill said. “And now I’m able to begin having these kinds of conversations with my students.”