What CES Means to Schools and Teachers

The dust has settled from CES 2015. News media and social media outlets have moved on to the next item in the news cycle and CES has published their Innovation Awards.  I have shared my stories and pictures with my friends, family and colleagues (aka bragging) and can no longer justify bringing CES up in general conversation. Talking through my experiences at CES, three themes have stuck with me that I think are important for educators to know about to guide them in preparing students for the world they will live in. These themes are The Internet of Things, Innovate or Die, and Automation of Everything.

The Internet of Things

I have mentioned the Internet of Things in a previous post about CES and I have been using the concept in a number of my sessions for a few years now. CES has really driven home how prevalent this will become as companies are striving to become more connected, collaborative and secure. We are capturing so much data today from such a wide variety of sources and connecting so many of the objects we use everyday that it is mind boggling. When my watch, talks to my car, which talks to my house, which talks to the other houses in the neighbourhood. The consequence of this scenario is that we will have algorithms and programs offering us choices or making decisions on our behalf. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but I would like to ensure that my students have the curiosity and open-mindedness to actively seek out alternates and be the masters of the choices they make, or at least being conscious of the programs that are making choices for them.

Innovate or Die

The world is changing so fast that this is one of the key elements to being successful in the modern era, due in part to the the IoT. It is very clear that we can not graduate students who are  a work force of worker bees (see why in the next section below) We must enable our students to be critical thinkers and entrepreneurs. Not entrepreneurs in the economic sense, but rather an entrepreneurial spirit. We need to nurture the characteristics of and entrepreneur in all our students (creative, independent, self-motivated, etc.).

Automation of Everything

Drones, robots, and software that aggregates the data from the IoT means our students will, in theory, have more time for other pursuits and will either be the masters of the robots or at their mercy. I believe that if we do not teach our students the language of coding, they will become dependent on automation instead educated consumers and critical thinkers in regards to the role these devices will play in their lives. We are already seeing this with adults and social media in our society today. Many of their interpretations are based on fear due to a lack of understanding of the technology. Imagine a world of connected devices using algorithms to make predictions and interpretations for individuals who have no concept how that is being done or understand how to manipulate that information to put themselves in control. I want all the students I teach to understand computational thinking and to be the ones writing the programs they need to solve their day to day problems instead of blindly allowing machines to make decisions for them.

From Consumer to Prosumer

This may very well be the most profound shift in our liberal democratic society. Corperations are shifting from trying to get people to simply buy and use their brands to engaging people in ways that the can promote and produce new content with their brand. It is important for us to teach students how this new economy of connectedness works. We need to teach them how to utilize the data collected by these interactions with brands and each other in ways that not just preserve, but manifest their sovereignty. Schools need to ensure their students are in control of their own lives, and not being controlled by the internet of everything. Marketing and capitalism are constantly evolving, and the rate of evolution is being amplified by our technology. Will education systems understand this change fast enough to be beneficial to our students? I recently saw Generation Like, a great documentary on PBS that helps us understand this shift.

For me, CES wasn’t really about all the cool tools and the creative innovation. Instead, it was about the possible future our society is headed toward and a reminder that with progress comes societal change. That rate of change is about to increase exponentially and the kids we teach need to be able to thrive in this environment. Does our education system (not necessarily the actual tools we use) provide them with the skills they need?

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