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A Retrospective on “The Future of…”

Erica Barreiro, CNM's new Academic Fellow for the Future of Work + Learning, will be writing guest columns throughout the year to help spark discussion at CNM about how we prepare for the future of...

Oct 10, 2019

photo of Erica Barreiro
By Erica Barreiro
CNM Academic Fellow: Future of Work + Learning

You cannot imagine the possibilities of the future, without understanding the history that has shaped your present. The theme of this year’s Convocation was “The Future of…” and, as this year’s academic fellow exploring the future of work + learning, it was a true honor to serve as co-emcee for the event. 

At Convocation, we saw the most adorable group of future Suncats. We were invited to think about the impacts technology will have on their world a decade from now, and the skills they might need to thrive in a fast-evolving future. Yesterday, my step-daughter schooled me on some interesting insights for the future. She asked for my help composing a proposal for a science fair project. Parents, you know this one: the project that only possibly comes to fruition with a lot of Band-Aids applied at home? It was fascinating to observe her strategies for successfully achieving the outcomes.

I ask her questions about the project; she googles (that became a verb in 2006) answers and bookmarks (another new verb) the websites. “How do you know that your project is important?” I ask. She tells me, “No one has done it before.” Hmm. How do you know that? “Look,” she says, googling her research question; and sure enough, variations have been done, but her question seems fairly unique (if even the almighty Google can’t find an exact match).

photo of future Suncats at convocation
Future Suncats at Convocation
As she writes down sentences, with ATROCIOUS spelling that offends me, she keeps right-clicking (also a verb) on the words, and when she’s close enough she can select the right word; when she isn’t, she has to slow down and sound it out phonetically to get it close enough for spell check to work. Sometimes it gives her a spelling with a different meaning. Sometimes she notices; sometimes she doesn’t. But think about this: she may soon live in a world in which her primary method of composition in her workplace is voice-to-text with incredible spelling and contextual accuracy!

And finally, it’s 10:30 at night, and she asks before going to bed, “Can we get the premium version of Grammarly? Because it will show you what’s copied and make suggestions on how you can change it, so you aren’t copying someone else’s words.” My partner in this parenting thing looks at me and says, “I don’t even know what we say to that.” 

I thought about a podcast I had just listened to (there are over 750,000 podcasts currently, and over 30 million episodes as of June 2019), in which Deloitte’s Chief Digital Innovation & Digital Officer (you can follow him on LinkedIn) shares his belief that children who will be entering our colleges in just 10 years will know how to use code to problem-solve. My response to my parenting partner: “Well, this daughter is demonstrating a skill in using coding (someone else’s) to engineer (or life hack) solutions to problems.”

If the prediction is true that as much as 60% of our incoming workforce may need to use code in just 10 years (just as easily as my step-daughter was using Word’s autocorrect to correct all of her spelling), and that at age 11, she already fundamentally understands coding more than I do, and that her use of it to “solve” the problem of plagiarism might be an “elegant solution” in a future middle school classroom…

…then I wonder, how do we nurture this kind of thinking in our workspaces? With our students?