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Adaptability, Openness and Curiosity

Wednesday, March 25, 2020 - 16:32

If Education 4.0 is about preparing students for the workplace of the future, that's going to be a dynamically changing workplace. Even in my working life I've gone from VT100s to laptops and video-conferences. The mobile phone in my pocket is much more powerful than the first university mainframe I encountered. To send a single email abroad I had to determine and specify which transit points it should use to get there: now I can tweet to the entire planet without thinking (or, sometimes, intending!). The rate of change is still growing. And this applies to every workplace: even delivery drivers and police officers now have to be comfortable with a wide range of technology.

So this isn't just about "multiple jobs over a career": we've been planning for that for decades. Even if you stay in the same job, you’ll have to cope with multiple generations of different technologies doing completely different things. What those are is going to be much harder to predict. I remember being told in the late 1980s that I'd soon be working with robots and telepresence and have much more leisure time. None of that has happened; but no one told me I’d be comfortably working from home, trains, cafes, anywhere I can pitch my laptop.

So we need to be preparing students, not to work with a particular future technology and working style - we'll almost certainly guess wrong - but with anything the next 40 years may come up with. A speaker at Digifest mentioned Adaptability Quotient (AQ) as the thing employers should really be looking for. But it does seem reasonable to assume that future work will be digital and involve communications, so everyone will need a level of familiarity and comfort with those. A recently-arrived colleague commented that Jisc was the most video-friendly place he had ever worked. None of us had noticed: it's just the way we hold meetings.

So maybe it's that kind of unconscious adaptation/adoption that we should be preparing students for. Two attributes in particular seem key: openness and curiosity. Openness leads us to say "I'll give that a try", curiosity says "how (else) could I use that (better)?". And the good news for any human teachers still worried about being replaced by computers is that those skills are hard to develop using technology alone. Learning modules can teach us facts and techniques, but to develop the exploratory instinct we need to discuss their implications and consequences. Even the best AI is a long way from being able to join in the collaborative bouncing around of ideas that's the most fulfilling, and important, part of learning, teaching and research.

Again, this doesn't seem to be a new idea. Recently I've been looking at how we might think about Jisc's services from an explicitly ethical viewpoint. One source stands out: according to the 1948 UN Declaration of Human Rights, the purpose of education is "the full development of the human personality". If we can do that then we'll be well on the way to producing graduates who can flourish whatever the future requires of them.