Everyone knows that whatever is published on the Internet is available to virtually everyone, everywhere, all the time. And we communicate in many ways: via phone, text, webcam, social networks, instant messaging, etc. We do that already, and it’s easy. But what would we have to learn–through school or some other experience that we can’t get at home–to be able to fully participate in the global economy?
Ah, global shmobal, who cares? Let’s just keep doing the same things we’ve been doing; we’ll be able to get jobs. Why worry, right?
No. So sorry. I disagree. Your job security will depend on fungibility:
You may disagree with some of that, or find it shocking, but I hope you will continue to think about it. (Yes, I know the last video I put up was also produced by Scott McLeod. They are the best videos to go with the topics of these first posts. Scott McLeod has a fantastic blog for school administrators: http://dangerouslyirrelevant.org/).
In other words, you have to be irreplaceable. Or you’d have to do a type of job that can ONLY be done at your location. If your job can be done far away for way less money, or if it can be automated, it will be. Dan Pink explores this topic in a lot of depth in his book, “A Whole New Mind.” Recommended reading! Here’s a video giving a really quick synopsis:
(For more depth, there’s another video with Oprah interviewing him, but it’s 30 minutes long.) He says you have to master some type of subtlety and add value to the competitive. From my 20 years of experience in business, I agree. Things have changed a lot over those years. But not so much in education.
When I was a teacher in the 1980s, the educational technology of the day gave me a daily gift of purple stains on my blazer sleeves–from those mimeograph machines. Remember them? OK, for those of you who weren’t there:
This was a low-tech printer of sorts. You’d use a ballpoint pen and press hard on a special paper to make a master. Then you’d put the master on the machine’s drum, and turn the crank, which would feed one sheet of paper at a time to press against the master and thus get printed. The copies would get lighter and lighter as the master wore out, and you’d have to make a new one. You could, of course, use a typewriter (something I assume students have seen in movies, at least) to make a master. And when I passed out my freshly mimeo’d worksheets, my students invariably sniffed them to “enjoy” that “mimeo smell.” Ugh.
Then I had my first experience with a computer. No, not at the school where I taught! Though it was a very affluent town, there were only TWO computers in the entire school. They were in the library, and only students could use them. There were NO computers for teachers or any of the staff.
I first used a computer at home. I shared an apartment with a couple from Taiwan. They were graduate students in computer science and let me make worksheets on their computer. Yes, of course it was one of those clunky things you’d only see in a museum now, with those orange letters on the black screen. But it was new then. I could correct mistakes before printing a master (before, I could only scratch them out), print another when it wore out, and even improve it for next time. This was a miracle.
So I decided to work in high-tech and got a job in a French company with an office in the Boston area. At work, I had a similar clunky computer, just for me. EVERYONE did.
That was 1989. This is 2010. The mimeograph machines are gone, but schools are unfortunately still way, way behind business. Overhead projectors are still used in many schools. I haven’t seen transparencies used in business since the early 1990s. Schools have some computers now, but they are usually in a lab, where students have occasional access. Paper, pencil, printed books and chalkboards or whiteboards are still the primary technologies used for instruction in classrooms; technology, by and large, isn’t integrated into lessons. Students use computers more at home than they do at school.
By contrast, in business, computers are used for practically everything. Back in the 1990s, I learned on the job how to use sophisticated software programs to write and translate technical writing (instructions for using software, installing computer parts, etc.). The books were saved onto a tar tape, someone from the printer’s came to pick them up, and brought us the published books. Then when CDs came out, we put our books on them, and our people in tech support raved: “No more broken arms!” (These were very large books, up to 1800 pages.) We started using email at work, but had to use ftp to send large files.
In the last decade, individual offices disappeared as cube farms sprouted. We now use Intranets, instant messaging, shared servers, and workflow software. Everyone uses their cell phones for any personal communication. Phones are still used to communicate with customers, mostly during meetings held via Internet, so customers can see the meeting organizer’s computer screen. Almost all communication and work are done through computers. You might write on a sticky note if you don’t put that bit of information in your computer, phone, or web app instead, but in business, people use actual paper a lot less than they used to.
I don’t think it’s very important for educators to know what tar tape or ftp is, but suffice it to say that business kept up with changes in technology and for whatever reasons (lack of funding or training? beliefs–of whom? too much infrastructure to change?), education did not. Teachers work very hard at meeting all the demands that are put on them, and technology will be one more that they’ll have to adapt to, but they can’t do it without changes to the infrastructure.
And though I’m interested in languages and went out of my way to find a company where I could enjoy using the French language on a daily basis, the 1980s and 1990s were also when many large companies figured out that they could no longer make enough money in the domestic market, so they went global. Now, even tiny businesses are global, as soon as they put up a website and accept PayPal.
So, my answer is that you have to use technology to do just about everything and be able to communicate well with people from other cultures. I’ll elaborate on these themes in other posts.
Still don’t believe me that the global economy has arrived? I’ll provide more examples in future posts. For now, go to this ad for jobs (from the company that makes WordPress) and scroll down to How to Apply:
They don’t care where you live. You can work remotely. They just want the world’s best at particular jobs.
The next time you look at your workplace or someone else’s, observe: is the computer right in front of the seat, or to the side of the table? In other words, is it used for most of their work, or just occasionally?