Sometimes the clothes do not make the man

So there are a lot of reports out there concerning AI taking away jobs.  Certainly this article from CNBC is pretty accessible on the subject.  It suggests a 6% job elimination over the next 5 years, especially in driving and customer service related jobs.  This is certainly feasible, why pay an uber driver or a truck driver for a few hours of work when a self driving vehicle can work 24/7 and doesn’t ask for Christmas OR New Years off?  What does an economy just coming out of a recession or depression do with job losses like that?  Well some might say those people will get jobs in other fields, which will be a boon for education and retraining.  Some might say the answer is a basic income.  Others might be more Darwinian and say let the cards fall where they may.  I’ll leave that one alone and suggest that the answer is somewhere between the basic income and education.  But what should we teach students, or people re-entering an AI dominated workforce?

Well it may surprise people, but the same “people” skills which have always been important.  Yes, the article says you need to know math also, I know, articles love to say that.  Funny thing about AI and computers they do math really well, maybe programming skills at some level and math at a basic level, but the number of pure, high level mathematicians I think will be very low.  However, as the article says the skills I try to teach my young daughters and the skills they teach in kindergarten are the skills people need to be, well skilled in.  And I know it sounds elementary, or perhaps counter  intuitive, but I spent over a year working at NCPRE with our director  who had her own successful business doing this, and we spent a lot of time working with high level university administrators working on people skills, and interpersonal communications.  So while I remember hearing the importance of this while in undergrad 20 years ago for the business world, and every year see tech articles that say these are the skills students and people will need, it seems we must be doing a bad job as parents, or educators, or people as we are still attempting to learn them, let alone master them.  Let’s hope we can learn them before the AI does.

I came across this article in the Chronicle on Blackboard doing data dives, and then Blackboard’s blog post on their findings.  They found some interesting correlations.  1) The most successful students were those who looked at their grades the most.  2) Students who had “some use” of content were more successful than students with “no use”  but any use more than “some” did not effect grades.  3) Completion of assignments and tests was not a high predictor of grades.  4) Students who took longer on assessments did not do as well in the class.  So remember these are all correlations, they do make some guesses as to what these correlations mean.  I’ve taught online for 12 years, and I have always found a high correlation between grades and how early or how frequently someone logs in.  Not knowing their data, the early bit might be difficult, but I would think frequency would not.  The Chronicle article suggests schools should do more with data.  Sure.  Our campus uses D2L and we don’t have the data pack, it has an added pricetag, I’m not sure if that is the case for Blackboard or Canvas, but sure, if you have the money the data would be great.  Figuring out what to do with the data, that is the important part.

And finally, after downplaying math in the section on people skills, here’s an article about a community college algebra program in Texas called AIM which is helping students succeed.  I’m only gleaning things from the article, but it is interesting to note some of the keys to their success: identifying skills, streamlining the curriculum, and activity v lecture based learning.  The article touches on the fact that math classes are a gatekeeping course for college success but it appears this school has found a way to help students succeed in this class, and in their college careers as well.


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