Building relationships with students, cultivating inclusive school communities and a sense of belonging, and accommodating different learning needs by offering options for completing work – these strategies stood out when staff members of Ohio’s early college high schools and their partner postsecondary institutions, along with students, began exploring the future of learning at a recent meeting of the Ohio Early College Association network. Given that students of these high schools are often coming from many different places and attending a wide variety of classes, cultivating community seemed essential for supporting them today and in the future. That strong community connection promises to provide a platform for guiding individual choices, preventing bullying and opening doors for staff to provide help when needed.
In working with network members and students to explore what future possibilities from KnowledgeWorks’ forecast, Navigating the Future of Learning, could mean early college high schools and their students, I asked them to go beyond these first impressions to dig into the drivers of change shaping the future of learning over the next decade. Below is a recap of those five drivers of change, along with top challenges and opportunities that network members and students identified and their ideas for addressing those challenges or making the most of those opportunities.
Driver of Change: Automating Choices
Artificial intelligence and algorithms are automating many aspects of and choices in our lives. They are providing opportunities to achieve efficiency and personalization but are also raising questions related to trust, bias and individual agency.
Top Issue to Watch: In exploring this driver of change, early college high school staff and students highlighted the need to encourage students to understand that such technologies are tools and to be deliberate about understanding what any given technology is doing and why they might choose to use it. At the same time, they addressed the reality that many technological tools are persuasive ones produced by powerful corporations. Using them risks discouraging people to think for themselves and can lead to uniformity of thought. Those implications open an opportunity for schools to make students aware of smart technologies’ persuasive power and to support them in directing it to benefit instead of detriment. Ultimately, students need to learn to think for themselves.
Potential Solution: As a way of helping that happen, the group working with this driver of change recommended reintroducing the arts to help young people develop their own ways of thinking and expressing their thoughts. In addition, teaching creative problem solving through service learning and other kinds of learning experiences that offer students choices and the opportunity to address real challenges promises to help them develop critical thinking skills.
Driver of Change: Civic Superpowers
Engaged citizens and civic organizations are seeking to rebalance power amid increasing corporate influence and a governance gap. They are using participatory media, machine learning and data analytics to supercharge their impact, with the hope of reweaving the social fabric and redefining civic engagement.
Top Issue to Watch: This driver of change raises questions about who will create the guidelines necessary to ensure responsible use of, and equitable access to, civic engagement technologies. In exploring it, early college high school staff members highlighted the need for those who create media portals to be responsible for ensuring both their proper use and equitable access. They also saw opportunity for others to guide students in making appropriate use of these technologies and in sifting through the noise that they can create.
Potential Solution: Imagining that, by the year 2030, civic engagement technologies will be more pervasive and more wearable – or even embedded in our bodies – than they are today, staff recommended implementing varying levels of authority and feedback to help students learn to filter what they share on social media. For example, students could receive feedback on their ideas before deciding or being authorized to share them more widely.
Driver of Change: Accelerating Brains
Rapid advances in technology and neuroscience are giving people increasing access to tools and insights that are reshaping our brains in intended and unintended ways. Their proliferation could impact our we relate with one another and how we define educational success.
Top Issue to Watch: In exploring this driver of change, early college high school staff and students saw the risk of increased social anxiety and isolation, along with a lack of skills related to communicating and forming strong human connections.
Potential Solution: Their proposed solution was to teach face-to-face communications skills, establishing learning environments focused on such skill development where phones and other devices were not allowed or setting up zones where signals were blocked to require in-person interaction.
Driver of Change: Toxic Narratives
Outdated and misaligned narratives and metrics of success are contributing to chronic health issues for both young people and adults. They are also contributing to growing toxicity in systems and institutions. If left unchecked, these trends could undermine individuals’ positive social connections and lead to an epidemic of social pollution.
Top Issue to Watch: The potential for increased isolation, depression and anxiety stood out for the staff and students who worked with this driver of change. So too did the need to help students cultivate self-love versus self-hate. These implications led the group to identify the need for earlier intervention in mental health.
Potential Solution: In addition to emphasizing the importance of checking in with students regularly, staff and students imagined embedding mental health institutions’ and social services agencies’ work in schools. Doing so would enable a variety of resources and individuals to be easily available to students. Increased funding for mental health supports would be help make this solution possible. In the meantime, an early step would be to start placing greater emphasis on relationships among existing staff and students.
Driver of Change: Remaking Geographies
Communities are working to remake themselves in the face of deep transitions, including population shifts, economic transition and climate volatility. They are drawing upon local assets and modern creative production networks to identify strategies for establishing signature identities and ongoing viability.
Top Issue to Watch: Citing the potential for increased social and school segregation, the staff and students who engaged with this driver of change identified neighborhood renewal as both a top opportunity and a top challenge. It could make many communities more vibrant but could also displace or otherwise marginalize vulnerable residents.
Potential Solution: To counter the challenges that neighborhood renewal can present, staff and students proposed making neighborhood renewal equitable along many dimensions. They emphasized equitable school funding as an essential starting point.
Keeping People at the Center
In a world of increasingly pervasive and powerful technology, keeping people at the center of future learning environments seems critical in and beyond early college high school environments. In addition, supporting students in making sense of the many inputs that they will encounter – and in clarifying an managing their own thoughts and voices – promises to help shape a viable future of learning. Fostering positive social connections and supporting students in developing healthy self-esteem and communications skills also seem like foundational levers for helping students prepare to face the future that is unfolding.