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The creative adult is the child who has survived - Ursula Le Guin


RSA Animate – Changing Education Paradigms

In February 2011, every teacher in Providence, Rhode Island was pink slipped. Not all 1,926 of them will get fired, of course, but with the district facing a $40 million deficit, anything is possible. The district says it needs flexibility, just in case, but to some, the move invokes the terrible surprise of Pearl Harbor.

“This is beyond insane,” Providence Teachers Union President Steve Smith told the Providence Journal. “Let’s create the most chaos and the highest level of anxiety in a district where teachers are already under unbelievable stress. Now I know how the United States State Department felt on Dec. 7 , 1941.”

Every school district in the United States faces its own version of what’s happening in Providence. American public education is on the brink. Many of the reasons for this catastrophe are referenced in this project. However, “IMAGINATION: Creating the Future of Education and Work” is focused not on how we got here but rather how we can move forward from here immediately even as the education system continues to struggle.

Americans are currently faced with a shortage of jobs, but by 2018 the nation will be faced with a shortage of educated workers. This project began in Louisiana, where 100,000 skilled labor jobs are currently unfilled. If the future workforce continues to be trained for the past, particularly as other countries look ahead, Americans will no longer be globally competitive as the domestic economy and infrastructure continue to collapse.

Can that be prevented, and if so, how? With the industrial era crumbling behind us and technological developments rapidly accelerating toward a hybrid reality that still hasn’t fully manifested, the co-directors of this project, Rita J. King and Joshua Fouts, call this fleeting period between the two longer eras the “Imagination Age,” a time during which humanity must imagine and then create, together, the systems of the new global economy and culture.

Since 2007, the directors of this project have been collaborating on the development of imagination as the driving force behind this shift. The research and field work covered in this project began in January 2009. Rather than publishing results as a book or white paper, both of which are one-sided approaches to a subject that demands a conversation, an interactive site was chosen as the format.

This site doesn’t just present theories and ideas, but rather actionable solutions that can be immediately and easily implemented in service of a relevant education for American students who need to gain proficiency if not mastery of core subject areas while at the same time being prepared for the reality of future work. Imagination is a broad topic, encompassing everything the mind can conjure, so the findings in this report are focused on those that overlap with the changing world of work.

Imagination is required to envision the skills demanded by the future as the rate of transformation continues to increase. Creativity and flexibility will be required to put shared ideas into effective practice as rapidly as the current crisis demands. A truly collaborative approach to problem solving is a necessity, and a recognition of the importance not only of science and mathematics, but of creativity, art and music to amplify learning. Einstein credits some of his greatest breakthroughs in insight to his violin breaks, which connected different parts of his brain in new ways.

Is it possible to thrive in a perilous and yet exciting period of transformation?

Yes. Yes. Educators don’t have to figure this out alone. This project is full of references to organizations that can help. Science House Foundation, for example, has developed a Science Video app that you can immediately download.

The IMAGINATION project was funded with support from the Lounsbery Foundation. It began in Lafayette, Louisiana, in partnership with the Cinematic Arts Workshop at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. At the same time, a body of research was commissioned from Dancing Ink Productions, by ManpowerGroup, Inc., on the future of virtual work. ManpowerGroup is a Fortune 100 company that has practiced successful long-term vision, empathy, and human rights development while remaining profitable for over six decades to navigate the changing world of work with clients in over 80 global labor markets.

Tammy Johns, ManpowerGroup’s Senior Vice President of Innovation & Workforce Solutions, who commissioned the work, agreed to streamline the findings into this project and then patiently waited for results as the education and the work situation in the United States and world continued to change on a daily basis.

This project would not be possible without IBM, where Rita J. King serves as Innovator-in-Residence at IBM Analytics Virtual Center on the Smarter Work project, of which “IMAGINATION: Creating the Future of Education and Work” is a part. The vision for this interactive project would not have become a reality without the support and vision of Jack Mason, the remarkable talent of Larry Sheradon and Alan Linn for creating a place for imagination to run wild. The story you will soon experience was sparked by Joe Castille and Spencer Zuzulo, who inspired and supported this work. Artist, scientist and writer extraordinaire Andrea Kuszewski edited the final draft.

This project is dedicated to Dr. Joanne Marien who proved, while serving as the District Superintendent at Somers in New York, that it is possible to shift the entire culture of a K-12 district and the community in which it exists with nothing more than a wonderful idea and the desire and will to work closely as a unit to achieve results. Somers Central School was the first American public school district to adopt a human rights curriculum at no additional cost to the district while an equal focus remained on proficiency and mastery of core subject areas.

Interacting with the site:

“IMAGINATION: Creating the Future of Education and Work,” is hyperlinked to hundreds of articles written from many perspectives and includes mixed media and moderated comments in each section.

This information was designed to be shared, discussed and implemented. Links to sections relevant to you and your network can be shared via social media icons included at the bottom of each section.

Some of the sections pose questions. You’re invited to respond with your own thoughts, stories and experiences. Please feel free to link to your own projects if the focus is relevant to the section and use the comments section as a guest book to let us know who and where you are.

This project has a Twitter hashtag: #CreateFuture.

Follow Rita J. King or Joshua S. Fouts on Twitter.

You can download a 67mb PDF version of this report here.

And the story begins:

Now that the digital introduction is out of the way, we’d like to take you immediately into the Cajun region of Louisiana, where the crawfish and frog legs burn spicy, ice cream is always slightly melted on pecan pie, zydeco or rockabilly music is likely to be live and the landscape carries the scent of magnolia.

In Lafayette, Louisiana there exists an unparalleled public immersive virtual simulation facility. It was in this environment, in spring 2009, that we started this quest to sift through the chaos of the modern American public education system to discover ways in which educators make rapid, creative strides in meeting the demand of the profession: to prepare students for the future. And, in fact, to help them realize that they are the very ones who are creating it through collaborating with each other and their collective imagination.

On a tempestuous spring evening, we met with a bunch of terrified and exhilarated kids. Their goal was to form collaborative teams, while camped out in Lafayette for a week, to tackle the state’s serious problems with games, knowing that in one short week a panel of distinguished game designers would descend on their futuristic enclave like rock stars to critique their attempts with all the suspense and drama of a reality show.

Except it was actually real.

On to Chapter 1: The Culture of Games