Career and Vocational Training Gets a Virtual Reality Upgrade

By: Braden Becknell

Across the country, school districts are doubling down on workforce readiness, helping students begin to bridge the gap between the classroom and their future careers. In Texas, where I live and work, students are now required by the state to identify a career track before even entering high school. While districts must often rely on career aptitude tests and other similar tools to help students with this important decision, a handful of rural schools in South Texas have shown a flair for innovation in solving the decades-old challenges of career and technical education.

Five junior high and high schools have now partnered with Coastal Bend College to use virtual reality as a tool for career exploration, giving students a real glimpse into potential future career paths. Built in collaboration with an immersive learning startup called TRANSFR, the program allows learners to sample a wide variety of jobs in interactive virtual environments. Students who previously could only see themselves within a handful of careers — those of their parents or those most common in their community — are now able to not only visualize but also experience new pathways and possibilities for themselves.

Using virtual reality for career exploration brings careers to life, and puts learning directly in the hands of students.

Districts have good reason to introduce students to career pathways from an earlier age. Fewer than half of high school students believe they are prepared to go to college or start their careers after graduation. Just 34 percent of U.S. 12th-graders report feeling engaged in school. Only 44 percent of 11th-graders say they feel excited about the future. Schools are working hard to get students more engaged and looking forward to life after graduation.

This has proven particularly challenging in rural schools like those that have partnered with Coastal Bend. For many students, career paths can appear somewhat limited. Prior to participating in the virtual reality program, the students we work with tended to provide the same answers when asked what careers they were considering. The majority said they were likely going to find work in education, healthcare, or oil and gas. While these are all fine career paths, discussions with students revealed these answers were often less about passion or even aptitude but familiarity. These are simply the jobs they saw around them.  

While many tend to think about the cutting edge of education innovation as something that happens at major research universities and large school districts, it turns out rural community colleges and school districts have a thing or two to teach the sector about breaking down historic barriers between high school, college, and the world of work.

Braden Becknell

The virtual reality program is helping open students’ eyes to what else is possible. They are able to try out jobs that are common in their communities as well as jobs they never would have considered pursuing. For some students, the experience serves as confirmation that they were on the right path all along. For others, it helps them realize that a job they always thought they wanted isn’t a good fit at all. They can then explore new and exciting career paths.

Surveys given before and after the simulations show the program can dramatically boost the confidence students have about their career options. Students also become more engaged in their classes, knowing they are now working toward a destination they are enthused about. Some come away from the experience so excited about the future they decide to participate in their school’s dual enrollment program and get a jump start on preparing for college and their career.

VR training

One student who participated in the program always knew he wanted to join the army, but he had little idea about which track within the military he should focus on. Virtual reality helped him discover a love for firefighting. Another student, who is from a low-income family, is now interested in exploring a career in hospitality, a field he never would have considered otherwise. Before participating in the virtual reality experience, he had never seen the inside of a hotel.

These rural Texas schools are betting on this state-of-the-art technology to help students better plan for the future and become more engaged in their education. And it’s paying off, providing schools with tools to bridge the gap between the classroom and careers. While many tend to think about the cutting edge of education innovation as something that happens at major research universities and large school districts, it turns out rural community colleges and school districts have a thing or two to teach the sector about breaking down historic barriers between high school, college, and the world of work.

Braden Becknell is the Director of Workforce Development and Continuing Education at Coastal Bend College.

What Happens when you Launch Students’ Interests into the World?

By Chris Unger

On July 20, we will be convening educators from across the CAPS Network along with partners in our experiential learning educator network to showcase what happens when you launch students into the real-world around meaningful, authentic projects and work. Vocational schools for years have worked to re-engage youth in potential career pathways that could contribute to their gainful employment. But these new schools are far more focused on supporting the students to explore and pursue their sense of possibility as designers of their own futures. One Stone’s Living in Beta program would be an example of this, where students dive headfirst into the ideas of wayfinding – what are the skills and practices that can help you find your way through life. At Olympic HS, a leader in industry and community-connected learning with over 700 industry partnerships, they are building their own wayfinding curriculum based on Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ highly popular Stanford class and book, Designing your Life.

​And last week, I posted this tweet, with a short video of a rocket launching out of the stratosphere. (The sound effect is important.)

​So what is the sound of youth given the opportunity to explore their interests if not pursue their passions in the “real world” through meaningful, authentic activity? Over the years, I have videointerviewed dozens of youth on this point, and thought others might appreciate the value of hearing what they have to say about such opportunities provided them by some revolutionary schools across the country, putting student agency and possibility front and center.

Below I highlight just a few of these schools and the opportunities provided to students through the words of the youth themselves.

BVCAPS – Blue Valley Center for Advanced Professional Studies (Overland Park, KS)

The CAPS Network has grown to over 60 programs across the country that puts profession-based learning in the hands of students by co-designing curriculum and real world experiences and internships with local industry partners. But it all started at BVCAPS.

Listen here to the value of the CAPS program through the experience of students in their veterinary medicine program and Neeha & Hannah who were doing original bio-science research in the CAPS program supported by researchers at Johns Hopkins and the Kansas University Medical School.

To learn and hear more, go here.

Olympic High School ​(Charlotte NC)

What Mike Realon and the staff and industry partners at Olympic High School has created is amazing. With over 700 industry partnerships, youth are learning through hands on experiences and internships what it means to engage in the world of work. Not only that, students are developing the skills to be gainfully employed beyond high school and position themselves for meaningful post-secondary learning. It is amazing what they are doing. Hear India Gregory, Jenny Dam, and Faith Gowen share what they gained from going to Olympic HS – and how they see that experience as having changed their lives.

For more about Olympic HS and what they do, feel free to watch the video conversation below with the amazing Mike Realon, the Academy & Community Development Coordinator at Olympic, along with Principal Erik Olejarczyk, Engineering instructor Matt Wykoff, and industry partner Mark Rohlinger, of Bosch-Rexroth in Charlotte NC.

Tri-County Early College (Murphy NC)

​Cole Kordus graduated from Tri-Country Early College (TCEC) in 2016 and went on from their to UNC-Chapel Hill after obtaining his Associates degree at Tri-County Community College while at TCEC. Cole’s story is not unlike many others attending the very rural small, project-based early college, where not unlike Cole students comment on how their lives are very different than they imagine it would have been if they hadn’t attended TCEC.

If interested, you can hear more about TCEC, how it got started, and the impact on this video:

Learning through Real-world Authentic Work: Supporting the Revolution in Education

The last example here revolves around three students from Barrington HS in Rhode Island, who, through my relationship with the Assistant Superintendent, Paula Dillon, were invited to be part the second season of our A Revolution in Education podcast series, with my good friend and co-host Jim McCue. After much discussion, Jack Culton, Xan Maddock-Mark, and Hunter Kuchenbaur decided to joi the team and, in fact, took the reins in the audio and video editing, website design and architecture, and much of our social media engagement. We worked as a team. We never “dictated” to them the menial tasks we wanted them to undertake but engaged them as colleagues and collaborators in producing the podcast and all of the associated media that came with it. In our last recording, which was discussion with them about what they gained by taking on this collaborative effort, they had much to say, including the value of being engaged in meaningful, authentic activity in the world. Listen to snippets of what they had to say here, but feel free to listen to the entire episode as well if you would like on our website or on Apple Podcasts.

Come See, Hear, and Engage with this Network of Schools

Join us July 20 from 11-5PM ET to hear from extraordinary educators and students sharing and discussing the promise of profession-based experiential learning, as well as the power of social networks to propel students into futures they hadn’t imagined before.

See the Agenda, speakers, topics, and sessions here and REGISTER!

Hope to see you there!

Chris Unger is a Teaching Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Northeastern University and supports the Graduate School of Education’s Network for Experiential Teaching and Learning (NExT) with a number of his colleagues at the University. You can follow him and NExT on Twitter @Chris_Unger and #NUNExT respectively.

The Time for Action is Now: Get Ready For Careers of the Future

By Corey Mohn and Gregg Brown

Do you ever just want to put all the talk aside, roll up your sleeves, and blow stuff up? If so, keep reading.

Great progress has been made in raising the awareness that learning connected to the community and aspects of work and life is powerful and possible. New initiatives, programs and schools are lifting up by the day, providing niche opportunities for handfuls of students. Even when you work in the “industry” of education, on a weekly basis you find new efforts of which you were previously unaware.

When is awareness and “lighthouse” programming not enough? How do we assist those that want to provide powerful, community-connected experiences to all of their students?

Today we launch the “Innovating Education for Careers of the Future” playbook courtesy of the CAPS Network. This resource gives all of us a chance to move from awareness to action. It shouldn’t matter if you are a single teacher in a classroom or a district superintendent with the authority to redesign a district’s learning approach – anyone inspired to make impact should have support to make a move.

This playbook will allow you as an educator to:

  • Design learning that builds professional skills in your students.
  • Prepare your students for a wayfinding journey by exposing them to the real world.
  • Position your students to put professional skills to work, maximizing their positive impact on the world.

The CAPS “Innovating Education for Careers of the Future” playbook is a “freemium” offering from CAPS to support teachers in the transition and implementation of profession-based learning from any classroom, a powerful resource to encourage experimentation and scale around meaningful, authentic student learning.

This playbook is not a proprietary resource to be held for the select few that can afford it.

The movement around profession-based learning is for all, not limited to any brand or school.

This is about changing the world. All of us. Better together.

Make your next step, which might just be registering for the NExT/CAPS Summer Bash on July 20th. At this event you can “experience narratives of resilience, solution-finding, and inspiration; catalyzing empowered leaders focused on profession-based learning as a means of addressing opportunity gaps in K-12 schools.”

Corey Mohn is Executive Director of CAPS Network
Gregg Brown is CAPS Network Coordinator.

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Getting Clearer: Career and Technical Education

It was a whole party or what popular culture would say, “a whole mood.” In the parking lot after graduation, a recent graduate with ROTC honors and Wastewater Management certifications (a certification unique to this graduate) celebrated with his large family. He left high school with the grades and the networks to choose college, career, or the military. With his Wastewater Management certification, he chose to start his career as an 18-year-old making $45,000 and a hefty benefits package.

To that young man, and many others, college and career are not two separate entities. “There’s no such thing as college and career readiness. It’s all career readiness. Some careers require a four-year degree and beyond and some don’t.” Those words from my former director constantly echo through my head every time there is a discussion around Career and Technical Education (CTE). Too often CTE is put into a bucket for “kids not going to college,” but now the tides are shifting and the value of having hands-on experience combined with rigorous academic knowledge is becoming the priority.

CTE is a form of education for high school students that allows them to gain industry experience, skills, and credentials before graduating. CTE looks different in every school district. In some areas, students leave their high school for a half-day program and travel to a career center to pursue interests in automotive, culinary, health care, emergency medicine, and other professional areas. In other districts, students remain in their high schools to pursue those interests and others such as graphic design, engineering, architecture, and computer science. Students that engage in a CTE course of study are well prepared for postsecondary career opportunities, regardless if those start in an apprenticeship program, on a college campus, or in the military.

Students in CTE courses also take advantage of the opportunity to earn CTE-embedded college credit from their local community colleges and universities. By accessing courses such as Project Lead the Way, postsecondary institutions are working with local school districts to ensure that students have options and that the hurdles are removed to create greater equity and access for all students. School districts are also working to pair CTE and Advance Placement together in courses such as engineering, computer science, pre-law, and cybersecurity. Instead of leaving high school with a piece of paper, students are now equipped with the academic knowledge, transferable skills and industry credentials to navigate future opportunities. According to the United States Department of Education, eight years after graduation, students who participated in CTE programs had higher median incomes than students without a CTE focus.

For students, the future earnings are important, but engaging in their passions is the biggest draw to CTE. They see participating in the different programs as a win-win for them and their families. Families get excited when they see their child light up about what happened at school and students get excited to share their experiences, the professional connections made, and the assessments passed. Admittedly, students and parents are sometimes skeptical about dedicating part of the educational day to learn in CTE spaces, but the draw of project-based learning, scholarships, and job opportunities entice students to take advantage of a different learning opportunity.

I remember meeting an engineering student and understanding the importance that her family played in her life. She started life with severe health problems and was given the prognosis of not having long to live. Using the fierce determination to not only fight for her life, but also to succeed as a young lady in a predominantly male field of engineering, made her stand out. She got stronger, mentally and physically, dug into her love of figuring things out, and signed up for engineering and agriculture classes. Although she had to endure other life struggles, she leaned on her love for her CTE classes to give her purpose. By connecting her interests to her life lessons, she learned the importance of being a steward of the earth and using that to make life better for everyone. As a result of her mastery of 21st Century skills of resilience, accountability, problem solving, and more mixed with her passion for STEM, she earned internships with large corporations. Now enrolled in college to continue working on becoming a STEM champion, she is another example of how CTE looks different for everyone.

It’s important to remember that students are all unique and need a personalized plan of study that truly gives them the chance to chart their own course. The interests are varied and students deserve space to explore their interests and have the opportunity to fail. CTE allows students to create, reimagine, collaborate, and critically think their way through problems and projects. They quickly realize the need to think on their feet and lead others through challenging situations. They learn to be ok with not achieving success the first time but learn how to become a leader, be flexible, and use their social skills to help them move forward.

CTE bridges the gap between high school and postsecondary options. There is a large skills gap in the United States and high school students are able to fill in the gaps when CTE is prioritized in schools. By removing the rhetoric that college is the only pathway to success, students will be proud to channel their hands-on passions into careers. Helping students understand that learning is a continuous process throughout their careers allows them to know it’s ok to have ideas, it’s ok to work on those ideas, and it’s ok to go out and build their dreams.

The purpose of school is not to teach students how to get jobs, rather right after high school or after college. Our purpose, as educators, is to teach them how to think, how to be global citizens, and, as my previous student said, “How to be a steward of the earth.” Students are looking for more as they have access to lots of information and see how people should and should not be treated. They have a voice and they aren’t afraid to use it. They are no longer willing to tolerate the “traditional” way of life and their education should reflect the world around them. They have choices in all they do and education should not be the exception. Let them learn what they want, and let’s celebrate their choices along the way.

For more, see:

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Crossing the Skills Gap Between Industry 4.0 and CTE Programs

By Robert Graff

Manufacturing technology is getting more efficient and providing a better framework for more jobs and career pathways for students who want to move into Industry 4.0.

The concept of Industry 4.0 has been developing over the last five years, and the skills gap between worker training at high school career and technical education (CTE) levels and Industry 4.0 is being driven by the new technology incorporated into smart manufacturing. This skills gap preceded the current disruption of COVID-19 and is being exacerbated by it. Although hands-on training is now more difficult as a result of COVID, manufacturers are pushing schools to develop better versions of training for students to bridge the skills gap and prepare them for highly technical careers in manufacturing.

Demand for trained workers for STEM jobs has never been higher. Manufacturers need workers with multi-disciplinary skills and training as they are using technologies such as mechatronics, vision technology, the Internet of Things, and collaborative robotics. What manufacturers are asking for is upskilled workers with experience in areas like integration, virtualization, simulation, and data analytics.

Changing the Process

Creating more cost-efficient processes with a higher level of skills will be one of the most important priorities for manufacturers when the economy stabilizes post-COVID.

The delivery mechanism for education in these skills is usually STEM or CTE programs. It is critical that schools have the ability to provide the training for Industry 4.0 jobs that manufacturers are expecting. Right now there is a revolution in curriculum and certification processes in the career pathways schools are developing. One model is establishing a partnership through a regional training hub that can offer more comprehensive Industry 4.0 classes with hands-on blended learning in a central location.

Educators note the difficult challenges of creating education programs that align with state and STEM/CTE standards. While manufacturers are asking for help in collaborating and partnering, training at the school level is supported by state standards and aligned with outcomes that have already been established.

Some states are working to change the education process at the state level to incorporate more Industry 4.0 programs that are industry-based. Even this provides a challenge for high school students in completing a career pathway. In a perfect world, the best kind of programs to develop would build student skills as early as possible through a STEM program that develops core skills they can use in a robotics career pathway, for example.

Even though schools are beginning to incorporate Industry 4.0 programs, there is still a big gap between CTE programs and what manufacturers need. Some of the challenges include funding, finding good instructors, appropriate professional development, and allocating the time necessary for teachers to take specific training. Where we have seen success is when students graduate with certificates. They are being snapped up and start working for $24 to $28 per hour without going to college. Programs like these usually have good relationships between the industry partner and the school where they work together to build a pipeline they can hire from every year.

Recommendations to Close the Skills Gap

For those of us in workforce development and Industry 4.0 training, there are four areas that need improvement to narrow the gap between educational programs and the needs of the manufacturing industry:

1. Manufacturing needs to make a more concerted effort at the state and federal level to support schools that are embracing workforce development and training. They can raise awareness by helping with funding, marketing, or branding. The industry can educate the public, parents, and stakeholders that Industry 4.0 is like the cool stuff from Silicon Valley ten years ago. There should be an ongoing campaign supported by national, regional, and state stakeholders.

2. Funding needs to be incorporated or allocated differently for schools to win grants to push Industry 4.0 technology training. Seek out public/private partnerships to create new projects or pilots and help find the funding. The Arm Institute is an example of an organization that collaborates with partners to accelerate the use of robotics and education to advance U.S. manufacturing capabilities.

3. The education industry needs to partner with schools to create more certification and career pathways. We need a more focused effort that prioritizes partnerships at every level, local to national, private, and public. Education programs like the Intelitek Industry 4.0 initiative should work with a manufacturer across the country and with regional programs that touch several states.

4. There is a new convergence of technology that will push industries to embrace new technology and they will have a need for training. Schools need to expand their CTE course offerings to help facilitate this training, which will create new opportunities for students, workers, and companies. The focus on multi-disciplinary skills, integration, big data, and creating higher-skilled graduates at all levels is important.

Convergence of Opportunities

Schools are currently disrupted and retooling their teaching methodology as a result of COVID-19. With so many people out of work, there is a sense of urgency to take advantage of this moment to create the kinds of partnerships, programs, and pilots that will help shift to a new training model to close the gap between education programs and Industry 4.0. And to be ready to go when we emerge from this time of national crisis. The coronavirus has revealed the dark side of the global supply chain as it has caused critical supply shortages during the pandemic. Technological advancement provides an opportunity for small to medium manufacturing to again be part of the U.S. industry. With the right equipment and a trained workforce, small manufacturing can once again become a significant contributor to the U.S. economy.

For more, see:

Robert Graff is an Industry 4.0 market expert and advisor to K-12 and higher education curriculum developers including Intelitek, building training programs to meet the demands of Industry 4.0. For more information about Intelitek’s Industry 4.0 Certification Initiative go to

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Human Work: Learn Stuff Computers Can’t Do

Throughout the 40-year information age, we continued to educate youth as if computers did not exist. We teach courses that focus on memorizing content. We teach long division and factoring polynomials as if they are important skills. We give small problems with known answers when the real value add is attacking big problems we haven’t seen before (like climate change and pandemics).

We’re now four years into the innovation age with massive computational ability and code that learns–sometimes in helpful ways (like drug discovery) and sometimes in harmful ways (like social media info gullies). Novelty, complexity, and speed are watchwords in every sector. There has never been more opportunity –and inequality has never spread so quickly.

To add value, people should learn stuff computers can’t do. That’s the conclusion of Human Work in the Age of Smart Machines, a new book by Jamie Merisotis. As CEO of the Lumina Foundation, Merisotis has a good view of the work of the future. He sees computers getting smarter and more capable and, over the next decade, displacing repetitive tasks in many jobs and wiping out some jobs altogether.

The value add is in “human traits such as compassion, empathy, and ethics,” combined with “people skills, problem-solving skills, and integrative skills,” said Merisotis.

Merisotis makes the cases that “The worlds of work and learning are merging into a single system based on credentials whose meanings are clear and transparent.” As a result, schools should focus on skills that matter most–skills that are uniquely human, skills that leverage smart machines.

The old boundaries of learning about the 3Rs for 12 (or 16) years and then working for 40 years no longer exist. “Human work,” said Merisotis, “by its nature of earning, learning, and serving, engages our full range of abilities and capabilities.”

He argues for breaking down traditional walls between work and learning with earlier access to work-based learning and a lifetime of access to learning opportunities. Like the real-world learning initiative in Kansas City that will result in high school graduates with valuable experiences and credentials, Merisotis urges learning goals that reflect the skills and dispositions most important to citizenship and contribution.

Like Merisotis, our colleagues at Altitude Learning urge new learner outcomes: agency, collaboration, and real-world problem solving (featured image). The framework incorporates a student-centered approach, social and emotional learning, and global citizenship all in a very succinct easy to use and remember framework.

Schools Adopting New Learning Goals

The problem to be solved is that school success is currently defined by a test score and a list of classes taken — both are weak signals of interest and ability.

The invention opportunity (with a little unexpected pandemic flexibility) is articulating a new relevant shared mission and learner goals that prioritized success skills, wellbeing, and contribution.

Thousands of schools have adopted new learning goals expressed as a Portrait of a Graduate including fostering critical thinking, communication, collaboration, creativity, and other 21st century skills young people need to thrive in this complex, rapidly changing world.

Schools in the EL Education network share a character framework grounded in purpose, agency, and belonging. At the heart of developing effective learners and ethical people is learning to contribute to a better world.

XQ Learner Goals encourage young people to become “original thinkers for an uncertain world” (sense makers and generative, creative problem solvers), “generous collaborators for tough problems” (inquisitive world citizens and self-aware team members), and “learners for life.”

Summit Public Schools has a broader definition of success and a comprehensive outcome framework based on Turnaround’s  Building Blocks for Learning (discussed in this post on curiosity).

CZI, which shares the Summit platform through a network of 400 schools has a framework for whole child development based on six domains: academic development, cognitive development, identity development, social-emotional development, mental health, and physical health. (You’ll see a great new outcome framework based on these six dimensions soon.)

The crisis could be an opportune time for your school to make contributions to the community a priority. Our new book suggests that difference making can be a great way to build agency, exert leadership, and practice problem-solving.

These outcome frameworks may be adopted as student learning goals or a graduate profile but bringing them to life requires translating them into grade span expectations and embedding them culture, curriculum, and communication.

North Kansas City School District administrators gathered yesterday in order to enrich plans to bring their learning goals–adaptability, empathy, learner’s mindset, communication, problem-solving, and collaboration–to life. The district is committed to making their portrait of a graduate a reality by embedding the competencies across their system.

Reconsidering learning goals in the middle of a crisis may seem ambitious, but it is a great time to clarify what is most important.

How Kids Grow Not Just What They Should Know

As communities consider new learning goals, it is important to consider the protective factors around students — like family support, connection to culture, routines, and consistency in school.

The Building Blocks progression from Turnaround illustrates that you can’t get to higher-order outcomes without a strong foundation of belonging, habits of self-regulation, the resilience to manage stress, and a growth mindset.

As a developmental progression, the Building Blocks help teacher teams “reimagine goals for youth learning, beyond academic standards, and then realize that these skills and mindsets need the same design, attention, and support, just like academic skills,” said Dr. Christina Theokas, Vice President of Applied Science at Turnaround for Children.

These Building Blocks “need to be integrated into authentic learning experiences, modeled, scaffolded with opportunities to transfer their learning to new settings,” added Theokas who helps schools integrate developmental supports into systems and practices.

During this pandemic, turning all the D’s and F’s out there into C’s (for curiosity) and A’s (for agency) requires teachers to focus on both individual factors and context around individual learners.

To provide this kind of whole child support to students, schools and communities need to provide whole teacher support (remember, there are a lot of teachers trying to teach their own kids while they are teaching your kids).

I know it’s crazy out there but it might be the right time to consider a simpler set of student-centered learning goals like agency, collaboration, and real-world problem-solving. They could provide a much-needed sense of priority and freedom to support learners where they are.

For more, see:

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Lining Up Career Dreams with Reality

By: Dr. Suzette Lovely

Offshore wind farmer, app designer, drone photographer, an UBER driver are all jobs that didn’t exist a decade ago. Today these occupations are on the rise. In our variegated labor market, job opportunities and requirements change on a dime. The question for educators is: How do we build exposure and aspirations around careers no one is able to imagine?

Out of Sync

The roots of Career and Technical Education (CTE) date back to 1917 when the federal government first began funding vocational education. At the time, skill development was centered on agriculture, homemaking, industrialization, and post-war job training.  By the middle of the 20th century, astronaut and rocket scientist had emerged as the dream jobs of the future. Since that time, an array of state and federal grants have been offered to expand CTE access to K-12 students.

Despite this surge in CTE coursework, a recent report in Ed Week noted that the dream jobs of today’s youth mirror the dream jobs from twenty years ago. For example, in 2020 high school sophomores said they aspired to become doctors, lawyers, teachers, business managers, architects, and police officers. Separately, girls identified nursing, psychologist, designer, and veterinarian among their top ten dream jobs. This reflected a slight change from the girls’ 2000 list, which included hairdresser, writer, and secretary. Boys, on the other hand, identified information and communication technology (ICT) professionals, sportspeople, and mechanics as their top ten dream jobs, which is exactly the same as it was in 2000.

Over the last two decades, CTE programs have been rebranded and millions of dollars have been spent to ensure workforce readiness meets the demands of regional economies. Yet, the career interests of teenagers have remained static. Clearly, students need authentic experiences to envision an array of occupations that not only generate excitement but are also within reach. Raising aspirations has to start early.

Ready for Anything

So what should students be learning in the age of robotics, artificial intelligence, global pandemics, and myriad social justice issues?  According to employers, the lessons students need for their future are less about reading, writing, and arithmetic and more about influencing others, seeing beyond the obvious, adapting to changing environments, and engaging with others across time zones. Our graduates have to differentiate themselves by rising beyond average and bringing a spark of imagination to whatever they do. It’s hard to envision how a student trained in passive listening will be ready for anything.        

Opening Doors to Work-Based Learning        

Work-based learning is a growing trend that can synchronize students’ career interests with emerging economies.  While countries like Germany and Austria have infused work-based learning programs into their schools, the United States is still trying to find the sweet spot between participation and outcomes.

In 2015, a consortium of fifteen school districts and five community colleges in San Diego County joined forces to build a career development program focused on robust employer engagement. With a $13 million Career Pathways Trust Grant (CPTG) in hand, our imperative was to ensure efforts focused on the needs of the regional workforce. To that end, a continuum of work-based learning experiences was developed to fully immerse students in a field of interest by the time they left high school. Through direct interactions with career professionals, students would be able to learn about work, through work, and for work.


As lead superintendent of the consortium, I listened to concerns from industry leaders like Qualcomm, Cox Communication, NRG, and others about the haphazard way business-school partnerships were formed. Individual teachers, principals, and school foundations inundated companies with requests for support. Yet, there was no centralized way to track requests, evaluate needs, or align resources with corporate goals (Lovely, 2020).

To streamline collaborative efforts, an eportal was developed with the help of ConnectEd Studios and the Linked Learning Alliance. The goal of the eportal is to connect students with transformative work experiences using a one-stop-shop. Not only does the eportal provide a plethora of resources to improve how students learn about careers, but it also links teachers and students to industry professionals who help design authentic projects, assess student work, and engage learners through job shadowing, mentoring, and internships.

This catalytic use of on-line and offline tools has helped bridge academics with the world of work throughout San Diego County. Curriculum, classroom activities, and school projects offer students a foundational understanding of available job opportunities. This is coupled with firsthand interactions with industry professions that give learners a bird’s eye view into the ‘dream jobs’ within the region. Not only are these jobs in high demand, but they also pay well too.

Conclusion: The Sandbox Manifesto        

While the K-12 landscape is dotted with collaborative undertakings between industry and education, efforts have shown mixed results. Absent a framework for disparate groups to come together, educators and industry professionals will struggle to work in unison. Forming alliances with people who aren’t accustomed to playing in the same sandbox require new rules and tools. Consider four tenets to work better and stronger together (Lovely, 2020).

  1. Get the right people in the room: Before forming any type of coalition, make sure the right people are in the room. Everyone should agree on the issue and goals of the partnership before proceeding.
  2. Use structure over strategy: To build momentum, educators and the business sector have to collectively see, learn, and do together. Rather than create a running list of activities, focus on how teachers and industry professionals will engage with one another over a given period of time. When structure precedes strategy, it builds a foundation on which group efforts and behavior are framed.
  3. Enroll partners to your cause: While many outside professionals want to help schools, don’t assume they’ll automatically include your organization in their cause. To enroll local industries in work-based learning, develop a compelling story, invite prospective partners to participate in key school events, and involve students in the ‘enrollment’ process. Industry experts who make an emotional connection with your work are more eager to play on your team.
  4. Share credit: In any joint venture, sharing credit is far more important than taking it. Draw attention to industry contributions through mutually reinforcing activities and public relations campaigns.

No matter what ‘dream job’ students might pursue, our responsibility as educators is to make sure they’re ready.

For more, see:

Dr. Suzette Lovely spent 35 years serving K-12 schools in every capacity from instructional aide to teacher to principal to central office administrator. During her role as Superintendent in Carlsbad, California she spearheaded several efforts to bridge classroom learning with career readiness. Dr. Lovely’s latest book Ready for Anything builds a new world of meaning for educators in preparing students for college, career and a good life.

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Artificial Intelligence is Solving Cybersecurity Staffing Shortages in Higher Education

By: Sam Bocetta

The lack of cybersecurity jobs in the United States has turned into a major crisis. Many universities have been investing in a number of long term solutions to solve the problem of a labor shortage in cybersecurity positions.

One of those solutions involves using artificial intelligence, and specifically through pairing college students, several of whom have very little cybersecurity experience themselves, with AI software to monitor and scan for threats.

The theory goes that pairing cybersecurity students with AI will help to fill up missing cybersecurity staff positions and train these students for roles in future jobs. Since the major universities face literally millions of cyberattacks each month, taking these kinds of actions to help mitigate the risk of hackers.

How Bad is the Shortage of Cybersecurity Professionals For Higher Education?

Cyberattacks are always incredibly costly regardless of whether the attack is ultimately successful or not. But cyberattacks against educational institutions are not just a major financial risk. It’s also a significant risk to the safety of students and the reputation of the institution as a whole, and if anything, this risk has become even greater from the dramatic increase in remote teaching thanks to the ongoing pandemic.

Nowadays, cyberattackers are making use out of cutting edge methods and technologies that can easily exploit outdated university systems. Simply put, enterprise-level cybersecurity systems are severely lacking when it comes to their overall effectiveness, while in several cases some supposedly credible solutions, in reality, do more damage than good.

Even though this is not an issue that is specific to education, the shortage in cybersecurity personnel puts universities and colleges at a greater disadvantage than other industries as most cybersecurity talents are far more likely to turn to higher-paying private-sector jobs in other industries.

Cybersecurity teams across multiple industries are turning to artificial intelligence to help bolster their cybersecurity defenses and make up for the shortage of cybersecurity personnel. The education industry is no exception.

How Can AI Help?

Cybercriminals have already been using more sophisticated AI-based cyberattacks to go after their targets, which means that universities and colleges are wise to likewise turn to AI-based security tools to better manage their vulnerabilities.

Specifically, educational institutions can leverage machine learning and artificial intelligence to automate much of the process of detecting, preventing, and patching security threats and with far fewer staff resources.

Here are three primary reasons artificial intelligence can be used to bolster cybersecurity at educational institutions:

Pairing Students with AI Technology

As noted in the introduction, many universities are following a policy of pairing cybersecurity students with artificial intelligence. Students come into a classroom to learn about artificial intelligence and apply what they learn to help keep their university safe from cyberattacks.

Each class day, the students are presented with a board showing which exact threats the university is facing and how to use AI to detect abnormalities and suspicious activities. This is mainly done by comparing these existing abnormalities with past attacks.

Speeding Up Threat Surveillance

As the networks of educational institutions expand, so does the number of vulnerabilities that they face as well, in addition to the speed at which these threats move. Fortunately, this is another burden that artificial intelligence can take upon itself as well.

It’s very essential for higher education institutions to respond quickly to cyber threats because of the speed at which cybercriminals will launch attacks against the institutions’ networks.

This is precisely why many universities (such as the University of Tennessee, for instance) have been turning to AI cybersecurity systems that can speed up threat surveillance, which means that the process of detecting and preventing threats is sped up too.

The reason why AI can speed up its threat surveillance is because it learns and evolves. Feedback is continuously fed into the system, so it improves over time. This doesn’t mean that artificial intelligence can fully replace cybersecurity teams to look for threats, but it does mean that it can identify cyberattacks faster so teams can make more informed decisions about security threats as they happen.

Monitoring Cloud Platforms

Universities have largely made the shift over to cloud-based platforms. This is because cloud platforms such as Google Drive, iCloud, DropBox, and OneDrive offer a number of important benefits, including better protection of private user data, reduced IT costs, efficiency of collaboration, and scalability.

When it comes to cybersecurity specifically, cloud security offers monitoring capabilities that will greatly reduce the risk of cyberattacks. These capabilities can be beefed up with the aid of AI. Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) platforms in particular are actually embedded artificial intelligence into their software to offer improved functionality and security.

As AI is embedded into cloud IT infrastructure, it can be used to better monitor and manage cyberdefenses. Over time, AI can also create analytical capabilities to formulate better processes that can run independently of security staff, meaning that routine processes can, therefore, be managed by the cloud platform itself so university cybersecurity staff have more time to focus on more critical vulnerabilities.


It’s very clear that artificial intelligence has a big role to play in the education industry, and especially when it comes to cybersecurity.

As universities and colleges can no longer keep up the page with the sheer volume of threats, which is being made worse by the cybersecurity staffing shortages, artificial intelligence is stepping in to fill the gap through detecting anomalies, improving cloud security, and speeding up threat surveillance.

For more, see:

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ConnectEd Links Learning to Career Pathways

Want to improve the outcomes of your big urban high school? ConnectEd has a bundle of common-sense reforms that improve graduation rates and college and career preparation.

The formula includes clarifying what graduates need to know and be able to do to succeed in college, career and life, build support systems and implement college and career pathways to help teacher teams create coherent applied learning for a cohort of students.

The program, called Linked Learning, was designed by the staff of the James Irvine Foundation and launched with a $100 million grant awarded to nine California districts.

ConnectED has taken the program national through long-term often grant-funded district partnerships. This month we observed two of these partnerships in action.

Clairemont High, San Diego

In the northern suburbs of San Diego Clairemont High School (@clairemont_high) serves 900 students. More than half live in or near poverty.

With support from the Moxie Foundation in 2015, the Clairemont staff implemented career pathways in 2015. Students in the four academies–business, engineering, health and IT– take a sequence of core and career classes together in a 4×4 schedule. With the help of industry partners, teachers use project-based across the curriculum.

With a menu of options, the staff is aggressive about involving business and community partners in career exploration, work-based learning, client connected projects, and school and student supports. Partnerships were the big push in the second year of implementation (2017-18).

Eleventh graders have a monthly meeting with a career path mentor (4 students to each business mentor). Interns visit their career path site three times a week for 10 weeks. Employers receive a handbook and some training for how to best support and supervise their youth interns.

Elizabeth Rush, the Academy and Linked Learning Coordinator, created a step by step process for managing mentorships and internships. Systematic preparation ensures that every student has a productive experience.

Elizabeth Rush explains Clairemont’s intern program

Students build a portfolio of work, culminating with a senior capstone, that showcases essential career skills, ethical behavior, civic duty, and fiscal responsibility.

Mark Colombo, pictured in the blog feature image, teaches stock market investing in his 11th-grade finance class in the business academy. Business students also take UCSD extension courses that result in a business management certificate.

Freshman in the information technology academy takes an introduction to IT. The day we visited, the freshmen were critiquing games designed by 11th graders. Juniors take a class in Unity, the leading game development platform (and they can earn a certificate if they take and pass the test).

Business Academy Video Production teacher Daren Sparks

Taking Linked Learning National

In 2014, ConnectED began expanding outside of California with major initiatives in Detroit and Houston.

Beginning in 2016, ConnectED (with Jobs for the Future and Education Systems Center)  supported high schools in four regions in the upper Midwest through the Joyce Foundation sponsored Great Lakes College and Careers Pathways Partnership (GLCCPP). Case studies show the increased representation of students of color and those with special needs in college and career pathways; more students earning college credit, and more students on track for graduation.

ConnectED is also supporting college and career pathway initiatives in Boston, New Orleans, and Portland, Oregon.

For more see:

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