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Access the Real World To Inspire Career Awareness and Readiness

In 2001, Mark Prensky coined the terms "Digital Natives" and "Digital Immigrants" to describe the differences between adults and students in using technology. Educators are the "Digital Immigrants" who have to adapt and learn how to integrate technology into their lives. Students are "Digital Natives" born into a culture and lifestyle where technology immersion is the norm.

Although I know a lot of educators who argue that immigrants can use technology in the same ways as the natives and that being a native does not necessary guarantee proficiency, I have found the Digital Immigrant and Native comparison to be helpful in understanding the essential differences in childhood experiences that separate educators from the students.

To explore these differences in perspectives, this occasional series features a discussion between me, a tech savvy old immigrant, and, GSD, a high school aged tech savvy native. This year, we've discussed the ideal technology device, firewalls, technology examples in the curriculum, and Cloud Computing.

GSD and I recently had the opportunity to visit the Innovation and Integration Center at MicroTech, a technology firm specializing in a variety of services from cloud computing, communications, network systems integration, social media analytics, and other products. We are thankful for this powerful learning experience.

GSD, the Digital Native, writes:

My head is still spinning days after the visit.

I learned that there was software that could search through the content of videos in a foreign language, create English transcripts, and provide contextual searches. I learned that you could build a parking-spot sized server system that could meet the needs of two hundred thousand people in dozens of buildings with just power, a gardening hose for cooling, and an adequate Internet connection. I learned about the ever-growing field of social media management and analytics to understand what was being discussed on the Internet.

Leaving MicroTech, I couldn't stop thinking about how much more motivated I would have been throughout the entire school year in my AP Computer Science class had I toured a company like MicroTech at the beginning of the year.

The technology was amazing, yes, but a huge part of what stood out to me was getting to see what jobs were available in the real world. It was eye-opening to see that there was a job in the real world similar to my work managing social media accounts for my school' student government.

Real world careers was something that's never really been discussed in any detail in my computer science class. It's one thing to hear that you can become a "IT professional," but it's another thing entirely to see that someone designed a parking-spot sized system that can handle petabytes (about 1,000,000 gigabytes) of data.

And, it's very exciting to understand how these technologies can have life saving applications, such as in large-scale disaster relief. I can imagine being part of a response team someday that would be responsible for setting up a temporary network infrastructure for the relief efforts for, say, when a natural disaster cripples a large city.

And how many more students would be inspired to pursue Science Technology Engineering Mathematics (STEM) careers if they had seen what I had?

And, what about all these other emerging jobs that are empowered by technology?

Take my friend Sarah, for example. High school to her is largely pointless and irrelevant. But I swear, this girl knows everyone at my school. She's connected with over 2,000 people on Facebook, and nearly 1,000 on Twitter. She loves to write about fashion and trends, and has a large following because of it.

Yet she has no idea that the audience she's built on the web and how she curates it is a skill that could earn her a job at a technology firm someday.

More students should have real world opportunities to explore their interests and careers. I think there is a huge disconnect between schools and the real world. Little is talked about in regards to how technology is changing traditional careers. Why not? I don't have the answer, but it's a question that's worth discussing.

The Old Digital Immigrant Says:

Many high schools have internship programs and special academies that both educate and prepare students for specific careers. Many students apply or choose to enter these specific courses or programs and often graduate high school with certifications ranging from automotive to network administration. Career and work awareness is also an emphasis in special education meetings with students and parents to prepare for life after school.

Perhaps schools need to find ways to ensure that ALL students have similar opportunities to envision their future.
Educators also need to better understand the real world employment conditions and opportunities in our respective subject areas. If we aren't aware of these jobs, we can't help students learn what we don't know. To that end, there is some learning on our part.

My takeway questions from the visit:

1) How can schools provide more real world learning opportunities for possible careers to ALL students?

2) What role can technology serve in this purpose? Many teachers in various subject areas use technologies like Skype in classrooms to interview professionals in the field.

3) What kinds of projects can educators give to help students pursue their own career interests?

4) And most importantly, for educators working with students with diverse socio-economic backgrounds, how can we help students understand that the careers they see in these technology companies can be their future?

Tough questions, and more business-school partnerships are needed to find the solutions.

Follow me on Twitter at @Patrick_Ledesma

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