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Dr. Idit Harel Caperton Headshot

Focus On What Is Working

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"Focus on what is working." That's the simple but powerful summons Arianna Huffington has issued last month at the Aspen Institute, a call "to do something right now about the nation's employment problem." And she launched a new section on HuffPost called "Opportunity."

OK, Arianna: we are excited to join your Opportunity Campaign with a creative and results-proven solution. My team and I at the World Wide Workshop have been focusing on "what is working" for some time, and our efforts, which started small and continue to grow, both carry an immediate and direct impact on joblessness and, perhaps more significantly, plant the seeds of employment skills that can close divides and turn into real jobs in just a few years.

We are a small organization and we create amazing jobs and internships for young people. But, maybe even more important, we are educating today's schoolchildren in the skills they will need when they are ready to go to work. In fact, those skills we teach kids are already needed now; they are the skills required for the 3.6 million unfilled jobs the Labor Department has counted thus far in 2012.

One of Arianna's readers posted this comment on July 11:

"Here's a list of jobs we can create in the millions right now: locally, regionally, nationally and Internationally that focuses on repairing, redesigning, regenerating, restoring, replanting and refurbishing our Planet, environment, our Commons and communities.
1) Build millions of miles of bike and horse paths
2) Replant diversified forests, grasslands and hedgerows
3) Tear down derelict buildings and parking lots and plant urban farms
4) Retrofit all buildings
5) Build light rail and trollies
6) Clean up every creek, stream, river, lake, beach
7) Put solar hot water and micro wind on all buildings
8) Develop clean energy
9) Put water catchment on all buildings
10) Modernize water, sewage systems
11) Put all power lines under ground ...."

I strongly believe that at the heart of many required skills for these and other 21st-century jobs is digital literacy, digital design, computational problem solving, and coding. It requires learning a new language that can facilitate the organization and coordination of even the simplest of jobs and infrastructure tasks.

As a universal system of communication, computational thinking and coding are portable skills that those adept in it can take to any job and market just about anywhere on earth. Coding also enables collaborative crafting, simulating, and cross-cultural sharing that can significantly leverage the diverse knowledge and strategic expertise of people in multiple places, independent of linguistic ties and cultural differences. It means that if you know coding, you can work as part of a team on projects that cross borders and boundaries of every kind.

In fact, the demand for the skills coding inculcates -- computational thinking, digital prototyping, team problem-solving, communicating without boundaries on a learning network -- is the most profound economic requirement of our era; it defines our future global growth. Learning this "language" means not just consuming its products by playing videogames and watching YouTube; it also means knowing how to create and produce in that language. This instruction must be equivalent to learning to read and write text, and it must start at just as young an age.

But how? It won't happen if the learning consists of playing a math game for a few hours a week, or using textbooks on iPads, or looking at PowerPoint presentations. It will happen through initiatives like Udacity or CodeAcademy or Codecademy.com or Udemy -- all are teaching coding online and incorporating the essence of social media -- learn with friends! -- to do so; i.e., learn a common language as a team. Anyone can do it. Jack Hidary recently wrote a HuffPost blog about new online learning models that are bridging the educational divides and preparing people for contemporary jobs and careers, on demand. Shai Reshef of UoPeople and Gabi Zedlmayer of Hewlett-Packard partnered this month to provide scholarships for 100 women working toward associate's degrees in Business Administration or Computer Science through the University of the People. They announced it at DLD.

Enter Globaloria, the program we began six years ago, the first and largest social learning network on which kids can learn computational design and programming by creating their own educational videogame systems. To help make it happen, we have been hiring teachers and interns from economically-stressed communities, and have been boosting our teachers' STEM capabilities (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) through intensive training -- two direct ways in which we are contributing to employment today.

But our main concern is the students in elementary, middle, and high schools -- girls included -- whom our programs are readying for the future in an economic reality that might otherwise be out of their reach (see my two-part post here and here). Globaloria has been aimed at economically underprivileged and technologically underserved communities in places as disparate as rural West Virginia and inner-city Austin, Texas. It assigns kids in teams to create videogames on subjects of their own choosing in the fields of mathematics, science, or civics. Basically, they take it from there -- mentored by those teachers we have trained and supported by wide-ranging technical resources they access via network. They study their chosen topic; they create a concept; they visualize, design, prototype, and program the game from start to finish. They do it in the language of programming, animation scripting, computer technology, and Web 2.0 tools. They also learn how to edit, revise, go through cycles of trial and error, pull together disparate elements.

Students also go on field trips to learn about jobs. For example, last April, Globaloria Middle school students from San Jose visited Adobe Systems Headquarters to share their Globaloria games with executives and employees and learn about what is I like to work in a "software factory." A hundred and twenty young game designers, from two middle schools and two Boys & Girls Clubs, received feedback and advice from Adobe executives on their interface design and programming and future STEM careers. Among the Adobe Execs that met with the students and offered suggestions and encouragement were Flash Gaming Evangelist Allen Ellison and Vice President Danny Winokur. "Their projects were just awesome," commented Jon Perera, VP, Worldwide Education Marketing. "Making their games not only teach them technology skills and digital storyboarding skills, but also key concepts to educate others on math, science, or key issues facing society."

Check out the students game gallery to play the Flood Escape game about how destructive floods are and what you can do to help people in need during flood times. At every level, the players encounter a series of obstacles they must overcome in order to move on. Another game is entitled It's a Jungle Out There! created by Team Keebie, three high school students in West Virginia. This adventure game takes players to East Africa to save endangered species from poachers, starvation, and restricted living environments. In Texas, a team of younger students devised No Gang More Maze, in which players escape from the grip of gang violence.

It doesn't hurt that along the way these students are learning-by-doing, starting young, some of the most complex job skills of conceptualizing and prototyping an interactive digital software system, content research, graphic design, user interface, computational problem-solving and critical analysis, and team collaboration and production that will also be essential to filling those 3.6 million jobs now going begging -- and the millions more to come.