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Building Research Excellence in Canada through Relevant Science Education

March 21, 2019
By: 
Sacha Noukhovitch PhD, OCT
Founder of STEM Fellowship/ STEM Fellowship Journal

Relevant Education
The beginning of the 21st century has been marked with the transition to fully automated and highly robotized production. Whole sectors of economic and social life, such as finances and communications, are being entirely replaced with digital operations while brand new digital industries, such as gaming and entertainment, are growing exponentially. For the first time in history, there is mass automation of cognitive functions: professional and colloquial writing, translation, some mathematical and scientific computations, search and classification of scientific and general information.

The rapid development of automating cognitive functions changes the nature of learning. It creates new digital learning environments and communities that allow personalized and group education as well as skills acquisition that happens outside of traditional educational institutions. Manual math, physics etc. that are typically taught at schools, colleges and universities are complemented and even substituted, with a new way of knowledge acquisition based on computational math and science.

As Nicholas Negroponte wrote: "When information is embodied in atoms, there is a need for all sorts of industrial-age means and huge corporations for delivery. But suddenly, when the focus shifts to bits, the traditional big guys are no longer needed.1 Thus, many employers in IT already favor online, and often instructionless, training over formal degree courses and credits2.
There is a growing gap between the competencies developed through 20th-century “core” courseware and the expectations of a data-driven economy and society. Both new digital industries and digital learners put pressure on existing institutionalized education and challenge the relevance of core subjects as well as teacher qualifications.

New core subjects
A new pedagogical approach speaks to the needs and learning styles of digital learners. Their new learning practices heavily based on digital, data science, and AI tools as essential elements of skills and knowledge building.

Within this new pedagogy, the core subjects should go beyond putting traditional curriculum online or even so-called personalized learning that just allows some level of self-pacing the same old exercises. They should focus on addressing competencies required by a data-driven economy and society like critical thinking and reasoning using big data, and an exchange of knowledge as well as cultural and emotional information over electronic channels.

Taking above mentioned as a guide, it is possible to start drafting these new core subjects that will “support the next generation of research and researchers”3. For example: “E-writing and communication”, “Tele-interaction and presentation”, “Critical thinking with big data”, and “Computational Sciences”

The subject of E-writing and communication should cover the fundamentals of online reading, writing, and publishing with tools and platforms including everything from content-appropriate grammar to business, science, and social communication terminology to translation tools. This subject would incorporate creating and analyzing various forms of written communication from Tweets and social network posts to blogs and technical writing.

The Tele-interaction and presentation subject, on the other hand, would teach effective watching, listening, streaming, and broadcasting including online rhetoric and etiquette. This subject could also include online interview and negotiation skills.

Critical thinking and reasoning with big data are essential for transdiciplinary research and innovation in the digital economy. This subject should integrate computational methods from math and statistics not as subjects on their own, but as tools for the purpose of inquiry and analysis of real applications in other fields. This can be the foundation for a new approach to the scientific method.

By proposing above-mentioned subjects I would like to start a discussion about a new structure and organization for science education and knowledge exchange that will be relevant in the digital world.

1 Nicholas Negroponte (1995-01-01). "Bits and Atoms". Wired magazine. (MIT link). Retrieved 20 February 2017
2 Google, Apple and 12 other companies that no longer require employees to have a college degree https://www.cnbc.com/2018/08/16/15-companies-that-no-longer-require-empl...
3 Investing in the Middle Class BUDGET 2019, p.121 https://www.budget.gc.ca/2019/docs/plan/budget-2019-en.pdf