If you listen hard enough, you can hear the sighs of millions of parents worldwide fretting about the future of their Minecraft/Xbox/League of Legends-addicted kids. The kids that will spend hours researching Minecraft crafting recipes, Xbox game strategies, and League of Legends Champion capabilities, all at the expense of homework and family participation time.
The jury has spoken, and for this “Digital Native,” “Minecraft” generation, as I like to call it, the siren call of constant “online-ness” or being “virtually there” trumps the world of being “physically here” any day of the week. It’s a difficult tightrope we parents walk in navigating this worldwide phenomenon. It’s particularly bad for those of us in technology, especially those involved with forward-looking topics such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0.
It’s easy to read about the advancement of robots, automation, kiosks, and other optimizing technologies and project that the jobs of the future quite possibly will be defined as “those that work with computers and robots” and “those who get displaced by them.” I think many futurists have it wrong however: it’s not that robots are going to immediately replace the jobs by themselves, at least not initially; it’s that smart, industrious, educated, “funded” people using robots and machines are going to become multiple times more productive themselves, obviating a whole swath of traditional supporting jobs.
How our society and politics react to this could be the defining theme of the coming decade. Certainly keeping interest rates abnormally low and increasing minimum wage is only going to tilt investment towards machines over people. We already see that happening. So, in some respect, a healthy amount of online-ness for kids is good: making sure their technology comfort level is high and their interest in using machines and computers well established. At least that is one consolation we parents rely on as we tell Johnny for the fifth time to get off the computer or risk losing it.
The challenge before us is to find a way to harness this gaming and online phenomenon to get kids more excited about being makers, creators, and engineers, and not just game consumers. This is not an easy challenge, but it is one that has to be undertaken. The interest in technology is there, it’s just that the schools have no chance of keeping up for reasons of funding and staffing and existing educational commitments. Their day is full and budgets are limited. Perhaps it is outside of school that this effort needs to be launched.
My experience with this generation is that they want to know ”why” they are doing something (the big picture), they want to let others know “what” they are doing (social), and they are very capable of researching and teaching themselves (Google/YouTube). I believe the education paradigm for technology and programming at the K-6-level and slightly beyond level has to be flipped to effectively teach technology to kids. Like with Lego Robotics, starting with a mission and a project to capture their imagination then following up with the instruction to show them how to accomplish their goals, is the right approach. Kids have the tools and skills to find what they need, and will ask to learn or teach themselves the hard skills if they truly want to accomplish something. Minecraft is a gift to us all, if harnessed, because it has taught a generation how to learn what they need online to participate in a large effort, as well as how to collaborate with others. But how do we create something as compelling that teaches the skills and interest in technology needed for the jobs of the future?
The answer is that we don’t compete – we leverage what they are already interested in and expand it, all the while guiding them.
The ensuing blogs will cover my attempt to put in place an ìIoT Educational Platformî that leverages all I have learned from being a Lego Robotics coach, baseball and football coach, Arduino instructor, Minecraft server instructor, Linux programming instructor, and CEO of Emcraft Systems, where we specialize in ARM microcontroller and application processor system on modules, uClinux, and Linux. It is the combination of being a father; coach; and heading up a company with cutting edge customers worldwide (many of them developing products for IoT and Industry 4.0) that I hope to make a difference in some number of young people’s lives, helping them to get a head start on the skills needed for the jobs of the future mostly by just pointing them in the right direction and defining a platform for them to experiment with those ideas.
I hope you will join me.