Memo from the future: A 2050 vocational teacher's message to a substitute

Captured from the future with Advanced Spy Technology from the Dr. Emmett Brown Trade School in Skillsville, Elisium, during a 2023 conference called Skills ®Evolution Understanding and Developing Skills for a Digital Era in Turin, Italy.

Dear substitute learning facilitator,

I am sorry to be absent today, especially when so many learners are finishing modules and starting new ones. As you probably know, module transfers can be tricky for some students.

Due to the recent budget cuts, we now have 32 learners in Year Two of our Green Technologies and Sustainability programme; however, 11 of them have off-site internships or apprenticeships as part of our work-based learning option. They are with us Monday-Wednesday and on the job Thursday-Friday. Lucky you, since it is Tuesday, you’ll have everyone. I had a consultation scheduled for today with a representative of a company that has accepted one of our learners. I have rescheduled that.

I know that the administrators ask you to arrive 30 minutes prior to kick-off. That will give you time to consult the Learning Analytics Dashboard, which tracks the progress of all students and outlines the next likely steps for each. As you know, we can intervene to change the course of study. Given that I`ll be away for only a day or two, there’s no reason for you to bother with that.

We no longer need to play the national anthem at the beginning of the day, so you can take roll and dig right in. Usually, we have a short briefing in the front of the room near the entrance with the large screen and old-school white board.

Since our “classroom” occupies a former retail store in a mothballed shopping mall, we have three main connected spaces. The old checkout section, with the screen and pews, hosts group discussions, class presentations and the rare lecture; behind that, we have several rows of cubicles where students work independently on modules; behind that, in the old storage area, we have a practical lab.

The cubicles come equipped with screens, headphones, microphones, virtual reality headsets, and boards that feature keyboards, toggles, and hand-arm slots for the simulated manipulation of virtual objects. The later sometimes misfire, so be prepared for complaints from learners. The only solution is to reboot. Make sure they manually save their work beforehand. They should know that, but sometimes they forget since the system usually saves their work automatically.

Most of the modules are game-based, meaning that learners navigate through realistic interactive fake realities to solve whatever problem has been posed. This encourages critical thinking and problem-solving skills. While the learner needs to accomplish the task, there are no points awarded as in the old days. Get it right, got it right. Done. Move to the next stage. Most learners enjoy these challenges, although some think it is dumb.

The practical lab is pretty much fully equipped. Learners work in groups to perform experiments, create prototypes, and whatnot. For example, one group is focusing on solar panel efficiency analysis. After all these years, we’re still in search of a breakthrough. Your main job in the lab will be to serve as traffic cop, as we don’t have sufficient facilities to allow everyone to use every machine or device at the same time. It can be a bit of a hassle. We have a sign-up sheet to keep things in order. Make sure that people sign up for their desired times.

Our programme is divided into three tracks: Renewable Energy Systems, Green Construction, and Green Practices. Our learners are divided roughly equally among the three. In addition to sector-specific work, everyone must complete coursework in five areas: Digital Skills and IT Proficiency; Business and Entrepreneurship; Soft Skills; Communications Skills; and Language and Cultural Proficiency. We rotate those subjects on a Monday-Wednesday calendar, to accommodate the work-based learners.

Today is Communications Day. We are focusing on public speaking. Learners have been asked to prepare individual presentations about some aspect of their work or projected work. A handful of presentations are scheduled for today. The presentations are required, but there are no grades. All you need to do is confirm that they have done the proper preparation and completed the presentations. Basically, pass/fail. We have no grades at Emmett Brown. All students should be in the pews for the presentations, which will begin at 11 a.m. Please ask them to encourage their colleagues with applause at the end of each presentation.

All of the students are working in groups of roughly five on practical projects with learners in other countries. Today our traditional food group has a virtual conference scheduled with their counterparts in India. Their project is called Diversifying the P(a)late and involves the revival of long-ignored edible native plants in farms, markets, and kitchens – including restaurants. We’re talking to chefs, farmers markets, and the local agricultural association here in Skillsville about joining this effort and perhaps mentoring our learners. Meanwhile, students are already growing traditional grains in the school nursery (in the old parking lot). One learner dug up his great-grandmother’s old recipe book, and they are trying out different dishes in the campus kitchen lab. The conference is scheduled for 09:30 ECT, which is just after lunch in New Delhi. Please make sure that they are in the conference cubby hole in the lab by the appointed time.

As a special occasion this afternoon, there will be a school-wide assembly to hear a talk by Danielle Fong, the Canadian entrepreneur and expert in renewable energy and energy storage and co-founder of LightSail Energy. As part of this global presentation, she will appear via hologram in our auditorium, one of the former movie theatres of the mall. The talk starts at 15:00, so please start moving the students by 14:45. There will be an interactive question and answer session after her talk.

Finally, at the end of the day, we have old school reading time. Screens, games, and interactivity are great, but reading affects the brain in a different and positive way. We allow learners to choose novels from a list of Great Books, which include authors of widely different backgrounds and who write or wrote in sundry genres. As long as it is high quality, you can read what you want. Just read. Old school, but important. Please make sure that the learners do not access their personal devices during this period.

That might seem like a lot, but you will have two AI robot assistants and two retired mentors to help you. At the most basic level, the AI assistants can use augmented reality or holographic displays to resolve doubts and answer questions. One will be stationed near the cubicles, and the other in the lab. Meanwhile, we have a revolving set of retired human professionals to help us to mentor students. Tomorrow we will have Mateo Fernandez, a retired renewable energy consultant from Solaris Energy Solutions, and Amara Khan, a former environmental scientist from the EcoSolutions Research Institute. They are both great.

The old mall’s food court now serves as the school cafeteria, offering breakfast, lunch and dinner (for night learners). A corner outlet remains continually open for snacks and beverages, but the tables generally remain empty. Often mentors and their protégés will stroll in the hallways of the mall or sit at one of those tables for discussions. They will advise you when they plan to leave the classroom.

Finally, a heads up about a few individual students:

  • Most of our learners are aged 16-18. But we are open to everybody, and we have seen an influx of older people who need retraining and upskilling. Kaan Demir and Adil Ahmedov both lost their jobs during the recent layoffs at Harmony Industries. They are both in their 30s. Understandably, they sometimes feel out of place. They are both smart guys but can seem demoralized at times. Keep an eye out for them.
  • Many of our learners face emotional problems that infringe on their ability to study. A small handful of them are seeing the campus psychologist. Sofia Al-Farsi has an appointment today at 10 a.m. Please make sure that she gets to that.
  • Luca Rossi just joined us from the Napoleon Learning Institute in Meadowbrook. Coming from a rural background and a less well-endowed institution, he is behind on several fronts, notably language. He needs remedial help with his English. He hasn`t even started with his required second foreign language. Please keep an eye on him, too.
  • Leila Abadi is hearing impaired and uses AI-powered speech-to-text and text-to-speech. It can sometimes be cumbersome, and even hard to understand or confusing, but please be patient. The cubicles automatically accommodate such issues, so no worries there.

Thank you for filling in. Good luck. If things work out well, we hope to have you back.

Joy Sparkle

Head Learning Facilitator

Green Technologies and Sustainability

(*) Author Bill Hinchberger would like to thank Faton Deshishku, Farhod Furkatov, Maha Gmira, Assel Mussagaliyeva, Kemel Toktomushev, Tom Wambeke and Begench Yazov for their input for this article, recorded during the conference "Skills ®Evolution Understanding and Developing Skills for a Digital Era" which took place in Turin, Italy, on 9-10 October, 2023. Mr. Hinchberger takes full responsibility for the contents.

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