What Will We Do After AI Takes Our Jobs?

Christopher Mims predicts that artificial intelligence will increasingly put white collar, professional workers out of work. That means people who blog. 🙂 Muriel Clauson, of Singularity University, says “Education is often touted as the answer to the skills gap, but it is generally a blunt instrument.” She recommends this system:

First, break down every job into the smallest tasks. Then, figure out which of those tasks can be automated. The jobs that include those tasks are the ones at risk.

Second, assess what skills each person has, and compare those skills with the tasks, across all of the jobs, that can’t be automated. That would give you a pretty good idea of how to match up people with the remaining jobs. Each person would probably be missing a few of the tasks for any given job, so this “task mapping” assessment system would tell you how to design universities and other educational organizations.

I’ve always been nervous about designing education based on what jobs currently exist. It’s because today’s jobs are always going away, or transforming, and new jobs are emerging all the time. Those new jobs often involve new “tasks” that wouldn’t show up using any system based on today’s jobs. So the real challenge faced by education reformers, and education researchers like myself, is: What are the deeper, higher level skills that apply broadly across a wide range of tasks? Those are the skills that make you adaptable, ready to grow and change with the economy.

Sawyer keynote at IDEAS conference in Calgary, Canada

I just delivered the keynote address “Educating for Innovation” at this big event in Calgary, with teachers, school leaders, education professors, and policy types:

2016 Calgary photo

After the keynote, I did a breakout session where I shared my research on how art school professors teach. Then, I asked the audience to work in small groups to apply these practices to their own teaching in math and science. They all had great ideas about how to teach for creativity! The lessons from art and design pedagogy are really powerful.

Innovation in Korea

To prepare for my keynote talk on Thursday at the Global Leaders Forum in Seoul, I did some research on innovation in Korea. I was impressed to learn that Korea tops many international indices of innovation. In 2013, Korea was first in the European Union ranking:

2015 EU innovation rankings 2013And again in 2014, South Korea topped the EU annual innovation index.

It’s not just the EU, either; in 2015, Korea was ranked the number one innovative country by Bloomberg Business Week magazine.

But Korean leaders are still worried because of one big issue: They believe their schools aren’t educating for creativity. The current President has been supporting a huge initiative to shift Korea to an innovation economy. The country’s leaders realize that the manufacturing sector won’t grow Korea into the future, even though it raised Korea up over the past decades.

How to increase creativity and shift the country to an innovation economy? The solution lies in the schools. And yet, Korea’s schools are some of the most hierarchical, most anti-creative in the world. They’re excellent at drilling students in the type of memorization that results in success on standardized, paper and pencil tests. They score very high on international rankings. But creativity researchers and learning scientists know that this type of knowledge doesn’t support creativity.

Some international creativity indices, those that measure from the bottom up the creative potential of a country, rank Korea much lower. In Richard Florida’s creative cities index, Seoul Korea didn’t make the top 25.

That’s what Chosun TV invited me to talk about at their Global Leaders Forum. I’m optimistic about Korea, but I believe their schools need to change to foster greater creativity.

Sawyer Keynote at Korea Global Leaders Forum

I’m in Seoul, Korea, giving the closing talk at the 3rd annual Global Leaders Forum. They know me here because two of my books have been translated into Korean (see the cover photos below). This year’s theme:

Creative Code, 6 Revolutions Change Korea!

My closing keynote is “Education Revolution, Creative People Change the World.” In 2014, South Korea led the EU Global Innovation Rankings, and again in 2015, according to Bloomberg Business Week magazine. But Korea realizes that to stay on top, you have to keep trying to be even better. One big concern in Korea is the education system. Local experts, like the former Minister of Education, Lee Ju-Ho, worry that the focus on cramming for tests could reduce the country’s creativity:

Korean students’ high scores on the PISA test have been used to block innovative education reforms. PISA’s focus on cognitive skills does not assess students’ creativity.

That’s why Chosun Television, the sponsor of the Forum, asked me how we can use the latest research to help schools foster creativity. I’m optimistic about the future of South Korea; they’re focusing on the core issues that drive a creative economy.

Group Genius, KoreanKorean cover Sawyer

The Origin of “Creativity”

In a fascinating new book chapter*, Dr. Camilla Nelson documents the history of the concept of creativity. Prior to the mid-19th century and the Darwinian revolution, the words “creative” and “creativity” were not used at all (see her Google Ngram on page 173), and “creation” was associated with the divine. Darwin showed that nature could be creative, without appealing to a divine creator. But still, for decades after Darwin, “creative power” in humans continued to be associated with a spiritual force (e.g., various forms of vitalism, such as Bergson’s elan vital).  In the same Ngram, you can see that the word “creativity” was not used at all until long after 1900, with a rapid growth in the 1950s forward.

So, what happened in the 1950s? Here’s Nelson’s answer:

Arthur Bestor published Educational Wastelands in 1953, and MGM released Blackboard Jungle in 1955 to a major public outcry. Newspapers carried interviews with critics under headlines such as ‘Mass Produced Mediocrity” (Chicago Daily Tribune, 1956). Then, the Russians launched Sputnik, and the education crisis spilled onto the front page. Education promoted conformity and “group think”, argued critics such as Hyman Rickover (1959). In contrast, he envisioned “a future dependent on creative brains” that required a qualitatively different kind of education that was capable of producing “creative people, sworn enemies of routine and the status quo”, in opposition to totalitarian Russia. The United States needed to support the kind of “freedom essential to the creative worker.” [Rickover is better known as the man who directed the development of the nuclear submarine.]

Bibliographic surveys indicate that there were as many studies of creativity published between 1950 and 1965 as there had been in the previous 200 years. Much of this work was funded by military and defense concerns.

Basically, she argues that today’s concept of “creativity” was created by the Cold War, and the need in the United States to contrast democracy with totalitarianism. She argues that this is why creativity researchers define “creativity” in heavily Western and individualistic ways.

The language in this quotation should sound familiar, because it’s the same argument we’re hearing right now: Today’s schools aren’t preparing students for the 21st century creative economy. Have we really made no progress in education, in the 60 years between 1955 and 2015?

*Camilla Nelson, 2015, “Discourses of creativity”. In The Routledge Handbook of Language and Creativity. Warning: it’s written in an extremely academic style!


Computer Games and Learning

There’s been lots of research lately on how computer games can be used to inspire new educational software–software that’s aligned with what we know about how people learn. Most scholars who study this are learning scientists, and there’s a chapter summarizing this research in my 2014 book, The Cambridge Handbook of the Learning Sciences.

Here’s a review of a new report called Impact with Games: A fragmented field, taken from the ProfHacker blog. The report emphasizes a problem I’ve often noted: There’s a disconnect between learning sciences research–which tells us exactly how people learn–and policy and evaluation research, which measures learning outcomes.

I’ve written a lot about using and making games for the classroom here at ProfHacker, as while games and learning have been around for a long time our ability (and interest) in realizing their potential is on the rise. One of the continuing challenges for bringing games into education is assessing the impact of games on learning. Often, it’s hard even to agree on what we want games to accomplish: are we most interested in raising student engagement? Reaching learners who are alienated by traditional lectures? Increasing critical thinking and analysis skills? Or getting content memorized or absorbed?

Games for Change and the Michael Cohen Group just released a report, Impact with Games: A Fragmented Field, that addresses some of these questions. It’s a great read for those of us thinking about the ramifications and challenges games present for higher education. Today I’m going to take a look at a few of the highlights that might be particularly of interest for ProfHackers working with digital pedagogy.

The group found five sources of disconnect within the field that contribute to the challenge of measuring impact: of those, two that strike me as particularly important are that ”Impact is defined too narrowly” and ”Evaluation methods are inflexible.” These are some of the frustrations with assessment that accompany any digital pedagogy, as we may default to using comparative measures (does this game “teach” better than a lecture?) rather than defining new metrics for a different type of learning

Defining games by their impact is one way to find great games that become the imitable standards for socially conscious or serious gaming. However, these games don’t all “teach” content in an expected way, and the impact of a game might even be entirely unrelated to knowledge-based outcomes–for instance, a great game might bring a team together for collaboration and problem-solving in new ways. The team observes that: ”When evaluators and researchers stick too rigidly to their preferred methods they lose the flexibility required to tailor assessment to unusual and complex games. Such rigidity can be dangerous, sometimes leading to games based on evaluation methods (rather than methods based on the game).”

If you’ve ever played a game that feels more like a test (the perennial favorite classroom Jeopardy comes to mind), you’ve probably experienced some of the consequences of making games based on clearly assessable outcomes. When I work with teams of educators making games for the first time, often the very first game idea that comes out is something with a string of questions or challenges with right and wrong answers that map easily to assessment: right answers let the player move forward, while wrong answers keep them stationary. But as their ideas progress, educators shift away from games that resemble assessment: take a look at Parable of the Polygons, a game exploring biases by Nicky Case & Vi Hart, or This War of Mine, a war survival simulator from 11 bit studios, and it becomes apparent how different “impact” can be.

How to Foster Creativity in the Primary Curriculum

For the fifth and final talk of my European lecture tour, I gave the keynote at a meeting of primary school educators, the Association for the Study of Primary Education (ASPE):

Creativity in the Primary Curriculum. Planned in collaboration with the Open University, the University of Exeter, and the BERA Creativity SIG, the seminar seeks to explore cutting-edge research which considers both teaching creatively and teaching for creativity in the primary phase both within and beyond the classroom.

I talked about the need for creativity in today’s society, and the importance of innovation to the society and the economy. And then, I drew on creativity research, and learning sciences research, to give some practical advice for how to design classrooms that foster creative learning. It was great to be in front of a group of early childhood educators, because in my first research project, I studied creativity in children’s pretend play.

It was an exhausting trip! But it was so stimulating to meet others who believe in the power of collaboration and creativity to drive learning.