How to graduate globally competitive students

Microsoft executive Cameron Evans discusses the skills that students will need to succeed in the future—and how schools can teach these skills

Here are four skills students will need to be globally competitive.

According to a recent report from the World Economic Forum, the United States now ranks fifth in the world in terms of national competitiveness, behind Switzerland, Singapore, Finland, and Germany.

With that statistic in mind, are the educational opportunities we’re providing for our students going to help the U.S. compete as a nation—and are these opportunities going to help students themselves be competitive in a global, information-based economy?

These questions were the focus of a recent eSchool News webinar sponsored by Microsoft. During the webinar, Cameron Evans, chief technology officer for Microsoft Education, identified four key skills that students will need if they want to succeed in the new global economy.

These skills will never become obsolete, he said, because they can’t be automated or replaced by machines.

• Creativity and intuitive design.

“We have computers that can solve problems,” Evans said. “What we don’t have are computers that can innovate.”

In a world with so many choices for everything from what type of ketchup to buy to where to eat a steak, “design matters,” he added—it’s how to make new products or ideas stand out.

• Narrative building and story telling.

“Our ability to tell stories is as old as humanity itself,” Evans said.

Whether it’s telling stories with data, or being able to defend a position or persuade someone, “this is a skill set that all companies need … Storytelling is a constant skill across the board.”

(Next page: Two more essential skills—and how a new initiative is helping to foster them)

• Cultural context and empathy.

“In the 21st century, our students are going to be competing with kids around the world,” Evans said. “But it’s also [about] understanding that we’re all interconnected across everything we do.”

• Remixes, mashups, and collective innovation.

“Being able to mash up ideas that other people have built before, and being able to build on top of that knowledge, [is] super important,” Evans said.

“Whether your kids can author a document at the same time online is really a moot point. Whether they can actually produce something that the world needs—[something] that is truly novel and necessary—is where true innovation is produced.”

To help foster these skills, Evans said, Microsoft’s goal is to empower students by creating the capacity for “anywhere, any time, any skill learning for everyone.”

The company has answered President Obama’s ConnectED challenge to connect 99 percent of the nation’s students to broadband access and digital learning opportunities within the next five years by launching a “Digital Learning Transition” initiative.

This initiative includes mobile learning devices powered by Windows 8.1 Pro; creativity and collaboration through free school licenses to the cloud-based Office 365 for Education software; and educator development through an online community of practice.

There are now Windows 8.1 Pro devices starting below $300 from several manufacturers, Evans said—and he expects to see sub-$200 devices by next year. That means schools can provide students with a device that allows for content creation and exploratory learning “for less than the cost of a full set of textbooks.”

This development “is taking cost off the table,” he said—and success with digital learning then becomes more “about execution.”

Because time is a significant barrier for educators, Microsoft has created an online community of practice, called the Microsoft Educator Network, with free tools and teacher tutorials to aid in this transition to digital, exploratory learning. All of the resources on the Microsoft Educator Network are available free of charge, Evans said.

“Don’t let cost be a constraint” in making this transition, he concluded, noting there are resources on this website for teaching with a single computer “and still building these competencies” among students.

Editor’s note: To experience the full archived version of this webinar, click here.

Also, join us for another webinar on Thursday, July 15, at 2 pm ET that will explore the skills that students will need for the high-paying, high-growth jobs of the near future in even more detail.

By analyzing millions of actual job postings and hiring requisitions, research by IDC uncovered the skills that will be widely in demand by employers in 2020 and beyond.

In this webinar, titled “Skills in Demand,” you’ll learn the 20 most common skills required across nearly 15 million job postings—and you’ll hear examples of how those essential skills can be taught and reinforced in most classroom environments using readily available technology tools.

To register for this free webinar today, click here.

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