By Melissa Sassi and Misty Decker
Both of us often talk about digital skills, Melissa in her role driving for Digital Literacy with the IEEE and her other fun activities outside of her role at IBM, and Misty from her experience helping educational institutions add technology to the curriculum. Although we came to this topic from two different directions, we have arrived in the same place in terms of recommendations for individuals and institutions.
Digital literacy is a human right
I am often asked to share my perspective on the role that digital skills play when preparing for the future of work, what it means to be digitally intelligent, and where to find resources to help people become digitally literate. This often leads to a conversation around meaningful connectivity.
I have had these conversations in Kenya, Pakistan, Tunisia, rural parts of the United States, and scores of local communities. Surprisingly, there is no standard definition of what it means to be digitally literate, leading to a lack of measurement and reporting. We have it for literacy, and I strive for a day when the world adopts a framework for digital intelligence.
A connected world
With 49% of the world offline and women and girls exponentially impacted by digital exclusion, this is a pressing issue (ITU, 2019). With digital transformation and the need for digital skills touching every industry vertical, digital intelligence has become a component of every profession, government activity, as well as the application process. It is no longer an issue impacting the tech industry. Even farmers in remote parts of the world are using technology to increase yields, decrease costs, and become more productive. Farms in rural parts of Africa and across the globe are now deploying Internet of Things (IoT), sensors, internet connectivity, cloud computing, big data, machine learning (ML), and artificial intelligence (AI)…all transforming what it means to work in the agricultural sector. Such innovation is occurring across education, healthcare, and all industry sectors.
The future of work
We constantly read about the role that AI, robotics, and automation are playing to redefine work, but what about the people who are not learning the most basic digital skills? If a subset of jobs will become obsolete, and even the most seasoned employees will be impacted by technological innovation and need to reskill, what about the truly unserved – the have nots?
Every Major needs Technical Skills
Do you think only Computer Scientists and engineering students need basic programming skills? Would you be surprised to know that in the future, lawyers will be asked to write contracts in code? Or that marketing majors will be asked to create an AI that understands their customers?
Educational institutions today think about “technical skills for non-majors” as being able to use a word processing or spreadsheet program. But, today technology is a fundamental part of more and more of every job and our everyday lives. Even non-degree requiring jobs such as manufacturing require the ability to program and debug technologies such as robots. Car mechanics need to be able to debug the computer systems on your car, and home health aides need to be able to manage increasingly complex medical devices.
What is really required?
As Melissa describes, every student at every level needs to have a basic digital literacy. They need to understand the basics of how technology works (information goes in, a program does what it was written to do, and information and insights come out). They need to understand data and privacy, both to protect themselves and to ensure they protect others. I also believe every human being should understand how AI is based on the information it learns so we don’t blindly follow the results because “the computer said so”. Everyday ethics for Artificial Intelligence are critical to understand regardless of your field. Learn more here.
Furthermore, every degree needs to look at the future of careers and how technology will be affecting their students in the future. Smart Contracts means that law students need to understand blockchain and how to write chain code to enforce Smart Contracts. Marketing students need to understand analytics tools, virtual and augmented reality, data privacy, cybersecurity and more. Pre-med and nursing students would benefit from understanding IoT and basic debugging skills so they can help protect patients if their high-tech devices start to fail.
Technology changes too fast for education
The real challenge for educational institutions is the speed with which technology is changing. If an educator were to identify a new technology they want to teach, they would need a year or more to get approval for a new course, then a year to develop the course content. If this were a freshman level university course, the first group of students with these skills would graduate at least 4 years later – a minimum of 6 years after the technology became important!! In the world of modern technology, 6 years is a lifetime! The technology you started with may no longer be relevant by the time your students have graduated.
Working with industry partners is a good way to keep ahead of the technology curve. It is our business to look ahead at the next big thing, develop it and create educational content for our customers. Much of this content is also appropriate at the university and sometimes high school levels. When educational institutions find a way to leverage existing technical content for their students, everyone benefits.
IBM digital skills resources
IBM has many skills initiatives available for clients, partners, developers and students. Much of this content is available free of charge for anyone interested in learning. Many institutions and individuals around the world have discovered this treasure trove of free educational resources.
- Master the Mainframe
Master the Mainframe is open year-round and is a fun way to pick up new technical skills, earn badges, and get hands-on with mainframe technology. The challenges are written in a way that requires no experience to start, gives you a sample of a wide variety of topics and culminates in a real-world challenge. Students can participate for prizes every September through December. Anyone can do the challenges year-round, but no prizes - sorry.
P-Tech is a school model that enables students to stay in their same school environment for 6 years, graduating with both a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree. Under-privileged students struggle to attend college, even with a full tuition scholarship because of family responsibilities and living expenses. With P-Tech, students are able to continue living at home and attend school with their existing support network. The idea is to help empower young people with academic, technical, and professional skills. What we like about this program is its lens on public-private partnership, the importance of employing a multi-stakeholder approach, and the emphasis on more than hardcore tech skills. According to the World Economic Forum, the future of work requires more than computer science and computational thinking.
- IBM Skills Gateway
IBM Skills Gateway is a place for exploring new skill-building opportunities, learning game-changing skills, and identifying ways of incorporating those skills into real-world jobs. Curriculum includes AI, blockchain, mobile application development, cognitive computing, data and analytics, finance, professional skills, customer relationship management, cloud computing, IT infrastructure, security, as well as big data.
- IBM New Collar Jobs
IBM’s CEO Ginni Rommety coined the term New Collar Jobs to describe those high skilled jobs that don’t require a college degree. Many technical positions currently being filled by college graduates could be instead filled with high-potential high school graduates who learn on the job.
IBM has invested significantly with hiring hundreds of high school graduates into apprenticeship programs where they learn the job through a combination of formal courses, mentoring and on-the-job training.
We believe strongly that there are a significant number of talented people not given the opportunity to succeed by circumstances of their birth. We freely share our Apprenticeship and New Collar training programs with any company that is interested in joining us to develop this untapped talent. IBM New Collar Jobs offers certifications and has a connection to other skilling solutions through Cognitive Class, , IBM Developer, etc. with a lens on big data, data science, analytics, cloud computing, blockchain, building your own chatbot, etc.
- IBM Community College Skills Accelerator
The IBM Community College Skills Accelerator empowers students and college staff with a skills roadmap that maps specific skills to their corresponding professions, and includes the following jobs: (1) cloud application developer, (2) cloud enterprise developer, (3) mobile application developer, (4) application security analyst, (5) data scientist, and (6) security intelligence analyst. The concept is to identify what exact skills are required to prepare everyone for the future of work.
Other digital skills resources
I would be remiss if I did not mention my five favorite sites out there in the interweb beyond IBM for gaining basic digital literacy. Check these out – they are all free!
- DQ Institute
The DQ Institute is a think-tank setting the stage for global standards, and has come together with the World Economic Forum, IEEE, and the OECD to create the Coalition for Digital Intelligence (CDI). One of my proudest career accomplishments is being a Founding Member of this coalition and serving on the Steering Committee. Its definition, framework, and tools are some of the most robust I have seen across the industry. I spent two years researching frameworks, tools, and definitions, and believe DQ should be a standard adopted by the UN and others for defining, measuring, and reporting digital literacy at school, community, country, and global levels. While it is geared toward youth, it can really be used by anyone of any age. Its framework includes digital rights, digital literacy, digital communication, digital emotional intelligence, digital security, digital safety, digital use, and digital identity. It takes into consideration the combination of technical, cognitive, social, and emotional factors required to safely and securely be online.
- Digital Dannelse
According to the Digital Dannelse team in Denmark, “digital competence is a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes, through technology, to perform tasks, solve problems, communicate, manage information, collaborate create and share content effectively, appropriately, securely, critically, creatively, independently and ethically”. What I love most about this solution is the test that accompanies it that includes storing information, searching information, critical evaluation, self-service, participating, cooperating, social awareness, choice of media, creating and sharing, digital exploration, programming, configuration, legal awareness, monitoring identity, protecting data, and protecting health.
Code.org focuses on expanding computer science education in the classroom and beyond. The team believes that all students in all schools should have access to computer science curriculum and classes. While the team does not include a definition or framework for what it means to be digitally literate or any tests, the games are interactive, fun, and very powerful for encouraging more women and girls to learn to code.
- Hour of Code
Hour of Code is a one-hour tutorial that serves as an introductory building block for what it takes to learn to code and is meant to expose the world to computer science. It demystifies computer science through a gamified experience.
- Khan Academy
While Khan Academy is more geared around a variety of skills, there are a ton of coding resources available for all ages. The challenge here is knowing what you are looking for, as it can be unclear which tutorials are best suited for individual needs and their respective outcomes.
- Digital Competence Framework 2.0
The Digital Competence Framework 2.0 (DigCom 2.0) is more about defining competencies and less about tutorials. What I like most about this framework is its wheel of competencies, which include (1) information and data literacy, (2) communication and collaboration, (3) digital content creation, (4) safety, and (5) problem solving. Each step is further broken down into sub-competencies. Despite the definitions, it lacks a corresponding test or tool to gauge level of expertise.
In addition to these resources, there are tons of material available through edX and Coursera.
We hope you enjoyed this blog post and continue to conversation with us in Twitter. Melissa can be found at @mentorafrika and Misty can be found at @MistyMVD.
- Misty & Melissa