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Bill Gillies - Editor

Why students need a T-shaped set of skills

I posted yesterday about the release of IBM’s Smarter Planet University Jam report.  Because three-quarters of the Jam participants were students, and skills and education is something they can relate to, this topic proved to be the most active.  The highlights from the report are reprinted below. Readers of Grown Up Digital will recognize many of the arguments from the book as to why today’s education system is failing and why it must be more student-focused.

1. Success in the services-based global economy requires academia, government and industry to work together to create “T-shaped” people. T-shaped people are those who have deep knowledge in one discipline and broader knowledge in others. These people were identified as possessing the types of skills industry will most likely employ. But the methods used to develop those skills in academia today lack the needed interdisciplinary focus. Most universities continue to prepare students who are “deep” in a specific discipline, such as computer science or engineering, accounting or business, leaving graduates unprepared to succeed in a rapidly changing global marketplace increasingly based on services, human interactions and global virtual teams.

Project-based teams and scenarios were referenced as the preferred model for interdisciplinary education, ensuring a mix of business, technical and liberal arts knowledge for the development of richer, innovative solutions. Most of the world’s businesses are moving away from routine, top-down manufacturing-based models to support the global shift to services-based economies. T-shaped individuals will most likely thrive in a model that combines critical thinking, creativity and innovation with leadership, global awareness and technology literacy. Additionally, students expressed the need for universities to provide them with tools to evaluate early on, and on an ongoing basis, their potential for success in a select field of study.

2. Education is not keeping up with the pace of technology change: As jammer Nicola Meek, chief executive of Secondary Futures in New Zealand, stated, “The current sequential learning system where young adults progress from grade school up through university-level education is swiftly becoming an obsolete way of approaching the learning process and its purpose in today’s complex, rapidly-paced environment, especially when we consider that artificial intelligence is expected to exceed the intelligence of a single human brain by 2025 and of all human brains by 2050.” While many colleges and universities around the world are adapting well to the changing needs of industry, others are lagging behind due to insufficient resources, old belief systems and failure to innovate.

3. Collaboration between industry and education generates high value. Jammers worldwide acknowledged the usefulness of collaboration between the parties, including the ability for students to build relationships with potential employers, for students to acquire T-shaped skills through teaming and cross-disciplinary work, for academia to keep curricula content fresh and relevant, and that a great deal of innovation could occur through this collaborative effort.

The evolving role of the university and the services it should provide

Jammers were vocal about the need for an integrated solution to the disparate and sometimes questionable content of online learning resources, such as Wikipedia, and other sources of user generated content. And that this solution should be open source, available to all at no charge, and flexible, while maintaining integrity as a trusted learning source.

Jammers questioned the traditional role and model of university systems, as Internet-based applications begin to provide more course content and we shift to a system of global and service based economies. Suggestions included:

* Adopting learning methods that are student-led versus instructor-led, with professors playing a mentor role in the learning process.

* Adopting videoconferencing as a means to accomplish distance learning without sacrificing interaction.

* Broader use of virtual environments to enhance learning, interaction, networking and communication.

* Implementing team-based projects across geographical, disciplinary and institutional boundaries.

Tags: Government, School/College, Work, World


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