A powerful idea about ideas

Being a bit of a thicko when it comes to science, I’m not 100% sure of the one idea, but what got me was the teaching of a concept (such as acceleration) through action, rather than abstraction.

One of my colleagues was telling me yesterday of her teaching a Japanese language and culture course, by ‘sending’ her students on an ‘Amazing Race’ style journey, to different cities. The students would have to navigate their way ‘on’ a bullet train, and describe their experiences, in Japanese. The students loved it, and the approach of adaptive release, where one problem has to be solved before the next one is revealed meant the students were (in many cases) competing desperately to get the next challenge. This is presumably in contrast to learning the alphabet and building a vocabulary one syllable and one character at a time.

This might all seem a bit obvious, but I suspect it’s not as pervasive as it might be, in terms of teaching and learning practice.

The Future of Work and how Trump’s win shows how vital the arts and humanities are


Mithunkumar Ramalingam and Brian Bailey

The second half of 2016 has seen a number of reports and papers suggesting emergent disruption of the structural composition of the Australian workforce, largely through a convergence of technologies that seem likely to drive the automation of work. What might be the implications on teaching and learning practices at the University of Sydney in the midst of its undergraduate curriculum transformation program? What, if any, are the implications for the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences?

  • With an aim of sparking conversations, this paper briefly explores:
  • The automation of work and the changing composition of the labour force.
  • A shifting of focus in graduate qualities and curriculum design and delivery.  The role of the Humanities in the future.

The Automation of Work

In their August 2016 quarterly update, the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) highlights the current Australian labour force is dominated by the services sector and, to a lesser extent, construction, while noting the significant and ongoing shift away from manufacturing. This structural change is indicative of the trend of jobs being impacted by technology, especially automation; as improvements in technology allow the manufacturing industry to produce the same levels of output, but with fewer workers (The Australian Industry Report (2014).

Frey and Osborne (2013) examine the impact of computerisation and automation on US labour market outcomes, and found about 47% of US employment is at risk of computerisation. The jobs at most risk of being automated are procedural and require little cognitive and creative input, roles prevalent in manufacturing.

Given the current Australian workforce composition, with over 62% of workers employed in service industries, the risk of a mass shift of human capital towards computerisation appears less pronounced than the US. The assumption that workplace automation will affect services and construction less than manufacturing is itself now under serious question (Frey and Osborne, 2013). For example, retail, a form of service which employs 10.2% of the US labour force, is regarded as highly likely (92% likelihood) to be computerised, according to Frey and Osborne (2013).

Historically, as technology advances and develops, labour also adapts to the changes. Technology has tended to disrupt dull, repetitive jobs, in favour of roles better suited to more human qualities. Bank tellers have given way to automation but a rising demand for financial services professionals has emerged as financial institutions have employed people and technology in combination to sell more products. Similarly, a decline of data entry clerks has been offset against an increase in data scientists. Computerisation has and will continue to lead to the redundancy of certain professions, but also gives rise to new ones. Table 1 below outlines some ‘at risk of obsolescence’ professions. All these have been impacted by technological advancements, especially automation.

While technology appears to create more, or as many new jobs as those destroyed, it is not clear that will always be the case. Even allowing for the number of new jobs created, there is an increasing velocity in change, and it is not always those displaced that will take the new jobs; there will always be a structural deficit as workers need to re-skill, and/ or re-locate. A portion of each wave of change that loses its hold on the full-time labour market.

Shifting Focus of Graduate Qualities and Curriculum Transformation

The labour market is evolving into a more technology-dependent system, so for labour market outcomes to remain strong, education and professional development must be equally dynamic.

The Data61 report, Tomorrow’s Digitally Enabled Workforce, talks about gearing educational programs to the needs of future employers. Essentially, arguing education and training should be more focused towards the skills that are relevant in the future, and have a lower chance of being automated. Data61 and Frey and Osborne concur the key soft skills for a future-proof employee are those that require social interaction and emotional intelligence, the most difficult skills to automate.

This is reflected in Table 1, where the emerging/new professions are those that require cognitive, problem solving and creative ability.

At risk, obsolete and emerging professions

At Risk (‘On the Way Out’) Obsolete Emerging/New

  • Telemarketer, Photo film development technician vs. Big data architect
  • Real estate agent, Video rental store clerk vs. UI/ UX designer
  • Mathematical technician, Bank teller vs. IOS and android developer
  • Library technician, Cartographer vs. Personal trainer
  • Legal secretary, Switchboard operator vs. 3D printer operator
  • Farmer, Data entry clerk vs. Drone operator
  • Locomotive engineer/ train driver vs. Digital marketing specialist
  • Accounting clerk vs. Driverless car engineer

The automation of work has been one factor in a shift in focus of the outcomes of Higher Education institutions – expressed as ‘graduate qualities’ – and the teaching and learning process, itself; with an emerging shift from content-based learning to skills-based learning. This is reflected in the new graduate qualities identified in the University of Sydney’s 2016-20 Strategic Plan, where the focus is on those human skills designed to ‘future-proof’ students. Critical thinking, problem solving, cultural competence and inventiveness are all skills that are difficult to automate. These new graduate qualities are a part of developing a broader undergraduate curriculum aimed at building on content knowledge foundations, with skills for enquiry, communication, critical thinking and data analysis. The effort necessary to transform the university’s curriculum, including the way it is designed, delivered and consumed, is in large part to support the graduate qualities identified as critical for future jobs.

What’s Next?

The University of Sydney’s graduate employability ranking for 2017 is 4th in the world (Munro 2016), suggesting employers do see the relevance of skills in current graduates of the University of Sydney, but the future of work suggests little time for resting upon the laurels of past achievement.

For these new graduate qualities to be effective, the desired outcomes must be reflected in teaching feedback and assessment practices, as it is assessments that are the drivers of learning for students (Flipcurric 2016). There should be less emphasis on passing exams and more attention given “to confirming that what graduates are actually capable of doing, is going to be of benefit to their professional work and, more broadly, to the social, cultural, economic and environmental sustainability of our planet” (Flipcurric 2016).

The Role of the Humanities in the Future

In response to an oversupply and a decline in the demand for engineers, the Department of Education and Training’s 2017/18 Skilled Occupations List has been revised now exclude many engineering professions, such as civil, mechanic and agricultural engineering. When considering this in conjunction with labour market trends, it seems clear there is an increasing opportunity for the Humanities and creative arts to thrive, as our species’ most future-proof skills are intrinsically the most ‘human’.

As more tasks are transferred from labour to capital, there comes the risk of under-employment within the economy. This begs the question, what’s going to happen when there’s more free time than work? On one extreme, this could result in a dystopia of falling household incomes for those without capital. A more hopeful outcome is that we see an increase in leisure time, as technology growth reduces the time people need to earn the same level of real income. What will people do with this leisure time? Could we encourage creativity, and reinstate culture and art into the mainstream of modern society? This would hardly be the worst outcome.

In this time of political uncertainty, people are looking for alternatives to existing socio-political systems. The outcome of the US federal election and the Brexit referendum highlights an underlying issue of world leaders and their ability (or inability) to understand the needs of the people; these election outcomes echo the voices of those who feel like they have no voice.

The Humanities and social sciences, essentially the study of human relationships and culture, are the medium through which we can understand this modern ‘disconnect’, and change the notion of what leadership means today to something more meaningful than a reaction to populist loud voices.

The Future of Work

In the face of the precarious nature of our labour force future, our leaders need the Humanities to ‘synthesise complexity with meaning and emotion’ (Shultz 2016) and to engage the people in culture and the arts, and everything that is ‘human’.

2016 has been quite a year, what will 2017 bring?


95 Theses on Innovation — Lee Vinsel

via 95 Theses on Innovation — Lee Vinsel

Vinsel spoke yesterday at the SOH Festival of Dangerous ideas. It was a slightly annoying session – I wanted to believe and disbelieve (in innovation) at the same time. In his talk, I felt Vinsel argued one-sidedly the dichotomy between ‘innovators’ and ‘maintainers’, without acknowledging the sense I felt all the way through, that it’s a question of balance of both (and more). My  concerns were partially addressed on the day – Vinsel noted his comments were ‘polemical’, but better mollified in the comments of his original post, where (in response to comments about the Maker movement) he notes, ‘This work is polemical obviously, and my strategy in it was to pull together things that aren’t juxtaposed frequently enough… some of what I say is unfair–or at least is only partial–but that’s the nature of the genre.

My feeling is that innovation remains very valid, but I share a lot of Vinsel’s concerns about both its (1) being used as a panacea (and/ or proxy) for many other (critically important) things, and (2) the increasing use of innovation jargon/ rhetoric, to obscure what is really going on.

So, I feel that a better understanding of Vinsel’s concerns is going to help me a lot better in understanding and performing my day job, and a few things besides.

Paul Gilbert on Vinsel and digital innovation

More to come, I hope.

Roll over Beethoven. Sydney Writers Festival 2016

2016-05-21 13.32.12.jpgI skipped the 2015 Festival as I felt no affiliation with the authors that year, largely by dint of not having read any of their most recent books. Eve and I went to a lot more of the 2016 Festival than in 2013 and 2014, in part out of FOMO. It was well worth the effort!

I bought ‘A brief history of seven killings’ by Marlon James, and planned around that. We attended a talk by Gloria Steinem with Jennifer Byrne at 6.15 on the Friday night (20May), followed (after dinner in the QVB) by Richard Glover hosting a panel on The Book That Saved Me that included Jeanette Winterson, Kate Tempest, Vivian Gornick, Herman Koch, Marlon James and Andrew Denton. It was a lot of fun, but we agreed Gloria won the day.

Taking up a curated package on the Saturday saw us at another panel (Gloria Steinem (again), Indian writer and activist Ira Trivedi and Australian journalist Laura Tingle) on Why Women Should Rule the World, then Richard Fidler interviewing James Rebanks. I attended an interview with Marlon James and after lunch we attended a wonderful talk by Stan Grant. We bailed on the last session, which was trawling the familiar ditch of ‘Donald Trump. WTF?’

We ended up with multiple copies of Gloria’s My Life On The Road, a couple of Stan Grant books, signed for the girls, and Rebanks’s A Shepherd’s Life, which I’m reading now.

University of Sydney SWF Recount featuring Gloria Steinem and Marlon James

Star Man. A session with John P Milton

Another refugee from Evernote, from a SoLA session Wednesday, November 24, 2010, some stream of consciousness notes:

International college of management, growth – info systems a mess, Indigenous work, sacred passage, mungo park, book synchronicity, Joe someone, Lapps, sami, the last wave, look 7 generations ahead, impact of innovation, co2 change impacts, limits to growth, club of Rome, book of constraints, Gaia, ecological principles book, not building sustainable principles into systems, mental models flawed and inadequate, holonomics, indigenous cultures 9 years in darkness to get in touch with earth, dark retreat, how to connect the species w sustainable life for all species, Cheryl Esposito, sky based meditation, rock chairs, Presence, Senge, sky seats, also Baja California coast, ocean as metaphor for vastness and complexity of life, learning to use the senses to connect with the inner sense, focus, mind in one place, mandalas, stay in tents, 12 principles, awake, design map for the experience, presence allied with relaxation, relax first, enacting emerging futures, re-enacting patterns, listening with the whole being, open to receive the totality of an individual, nature as gateway, create the space for creativity, great illustrations, do a course, Otto and Joe, offering substances, Sweden, lake siljen, tograd forum, sustainable forum, nature quest,   How to live together on peace, Bo Ekland

Ripped from the event details:

Professor John P. Milton has worked with CEOs and leaders worldwide including Royal Dutch Shell, Kraft, Sony Ericsson and Nokia, led work for the World Bank and advised governments.

He is the spiritual mentor of business luminaries including, amongst others, Peter Senge (5th Discipline), Otto Scharmer (Theory U) and Joe Jaworksy (Presence) and he is referenced in these books.

John will be in Australia in November to lead and teach a Sacred Passage on Flinders Island, and will be giving a talk to SoLA, to share:

    How he works with Peter Senge and Otto Scharmer – both in the corporate sphere and in the more personal, spiritual space. 
    The work he has done with the Talberg Forum in Sweden, where 500 World Leaders were taken on a solo experience in nature, in the French Pyrenees
    How this work impacts on the individuals and organisations he works with,
    About Professor John P Milton:
    John, a revered global Elder of the environmental movement, served as one of the first ecologists on staff at the White House, studied as a Woodrow Wilson Scholar at the Smithsonian Institute, and for many years directed the International Programs Division of the Conservation Foundation, now a part of the World Wildlife Fund. He is one of the founding members of Friends of the Earth and has served on various committees at the National Academy of Sciences.

    In addition John has spent decades studying with practitioners of Ancient Eastern spiritual pathways, including Taoism, Buddhism, Shamanism, Tibetan Dzogchen, Tantra, and Hindu Vedanta – as well as the Native American Way and Christianity.

    From these broad and deep experiences, John has developed a powerful approach to leadership in both business and life, which he calls the Way of Nature.  This is taught on the nature retreats which he leads.