Engineering digital careers for tomorrow’s world in the cloud

Mr Brendon Thomas, Co-Director of Technology Studies Faculty

John Seely Brown, co-chair of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, noted in the film titled Digital Media: New Learners of the 21st Century (2011), ‘Probably the most important thing for kids growing up today is the love of embracing change. In a world of rapid change, the need to memorize something is a 20th-Century skill. The need to navigate in a buzz of confusion and to figure out how to trust the information you find, if you can feel confident doing that, the world is yours.’

Technology plays a big part in this buzz of confusion, especially in schooling. Just how much are we investing in our students’ technological readiness for their living, learning and earning futures? (McWilliam, 2012). Over a decade of teaching and parenting has assured me that young people are curious learners; quite happy to navigate this whirlwind of digital confusion. But as they venture out the school gates for the last time, will they actually be conscious of the big shifts in global technological change? Young learners are good with technology and adapt intuitively to the latest digital devices, but will they be acquainted enough to be innovative with technology systems of the future? Will they have the digital literacy edge to be competitive in design thinking with technology systems?

Academic pursuit through the study of technologies has an image problem and bears battle scars from the splendid mythology of its past. While the rise of social media and advances in technology systems are changing business strategy and the digital economy, technology as a standalone subject remains undervalued compared to traditional study precedents in our schools.

Examination of the 49 common curriculum elements used for the Queensland Core Skills (QCS) Year 12 exiting test scarcely reflects any fostering of theory relevant to computational thinking and digital technologies, other than structuring a mathematical argument. Common curriculum elements are based on well-researched traditional educational value but do little to extend the trial and application of digital coding syntax, abstraction in control system scenarios or the opportunity to test technology systems using an algorithm sequence. QCS is more likely to present a paper-based stimulus material that includes prose passages, poetry, graphs, tables, maps, mathematical and scientific data, cartoons and reproductions of works of art (Queensland Studies Authority, 2012).

Educational institutions that offer a value for technologies and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) as a professional discipline include Harvard Business School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Cranfield University UK (Grant, 2012). Despite the apparent reluctance of schools to embrace technologies as a fundamental subject for core curriculum, it is now widely recognised and accepted that many students will be going into digital careers that are not yet conceptualised. This is not a new perception, technology has long shaped our world, digital or not. The rate at which technological advances are occurring however is believed to be much faster now, and this phenomenon is causing displacement of workers in nearly all sectors of the economy (Brynjolfsson, 2012).

While effective integration of ICT in teaching and learning is important for young learners, we need to think carefully about the general hierarchy of traditional educational contexts and the prospective counsel process for students. Clever use of ICT for teaching and differentiated learning is quite different from the use of technology to nurture creativity in a design process and computational thinking. My desire is not to cast judgement on tried and tested traditions of academics, but rather to promote a more expansive view and awareness of the technological divergence in general business models and system processes going on outside and beyond schools.

The comfort and security of scholarship in a traditional status field may get put to test through the rapid rise and change that digital technology is having on global economics. Counselling young learners about what constitutes a good choice of study is usually answered through personal reflection on past experiences and consideration of our cultural values. In times of such change, it is difficult to look over the horizon and confidently promote anything. This is not a bad thing, but it is necessary to ensure that those charged with the responsibility of providing counsel are open-minded about the span of ICT careers and acknowledge the preparedness required to embrace rapid digital technological change. Consider current professions: Could they be replaced, refined or made obsolete by future advances in technology?

ICT is an expansive term covering a wide variety of digital contexts that are no longer an ‘add on’ to industry. The major shifts that are currently occurring in industry infrastructure are, in most cases, due to technological change. The relevance of this shift is not necessarily viewed in association with the importance of academic study of ICT for young learners. Today, the new breed of young ICT specialists manage key changes in business models to design new enterprise, transforming business into the 21st century. ICT specialists span all industries from social sciences, business, architecture, engineering, health and security (Grant, 2012).

Cloud computing is here now and it’s tomorrows architecture (Grant, 2012), presenting the next big shift for the ICT industry. Supporting this argument is the fact that private and public sectors alike are rushing to the web to save their commercial security due unprecedented growth in global communications. Digital online shop fronts continue to grow with shoppers expected to spend $16 billion online this year as the sector grows at more than six times the pace of the overall retail sector (PricewaterhouseCoopers, Frost, & Sullivan, 2012).

In studying ICT, students learn to develop and apply technical knowledge, processes and computational thinking skills such as algorithmic logic and abstraction to transform data into information solutions for real-world needs using mainstream industry software. ICT incorporates a broad range of creative digital design and development elements learning about the commercial application of technology systems and peripheral devices. The study of ICT involves in-depth digital literacy development and knowledge, practices and attitudes associated with the disciplines of computer science, security and ethics, copyright, informatics, communication, social media studies, project management, business and graphic design. Participating, using, analysing and identifying new literacies (Freebody, 1999) in today’s multimodal digital literacy world is much different from 20th century schooling. Literacy and numeracy will always be important both within curriculum and society, but literacy has always been defined by the technology of its time. Before the printing press, the ability to orally recite meant you were literate. Is someone literate today if they cannot critique media and take media in? (Pinkard, 2011).

The image problem relates to education on a broader scale. Transforming pedagogy to attune to today’s learners is complex and fraught with glitches. How do we nurture digital creativity and inventiveness if only basic operations of standard software are modelled and accepted? Digital media offers far more opportunities for new forms of creativity than producing a PowerPoint. The challenge is real and disconcerting in consideration of the research surrounding future careers based on 21st century skills. Industry leaders of global change and innovation play a key role in revamping our educational institutions processes and agendas.

The words of John Dewey resonate loudly and clearly for contemporary educators who have a keen interest in online pedagogies and young learners’ prospective vocations. Dewey wrote ‘If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow’ (Dewey, 1916, p. 167). Consistent with Dewey’s perspective, developmental psychologist Jean Piaget argued that ‘the principal goal of education is to create people who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done – people who are creative, inventive and discoverers’ (Piaget, 1964, cited in Pulaski, 1971, p. 200).

So how can we engineer digital careers for tomorrow’s cloud architecture?

• Firstly, signup to edX for free interactive study via the web with Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
• Overhaul teacher education and qualifications to reflect the breadth and depth of technological readiness, design thinking and digital pedagogy
• Network with various professions currently adjusting to technological change
• Have students work with authentic business clients to develop real technology solutions as well as master the theory and scholarship of the discipline
• Create an abundance of technology problems that require experimentation, collaboration and encourage curiosity
• Promote technology entrepreneurship
• Lastly, recognise that as teachers we cannot teach young learners all they need to know for tomorrow, but we can provide them with innovative programmes to encourage systematic curiosity and engagement with their contemporary learning needs.


Brown, J. (2011). Digital Media – New Learners of the 21st Century. Retrieved July 3, 2012 from

Brynjolfsson, E. (2012). MIT professor warns of ‘enormous disruption’ from rapid technological growth Retrieved July 3, 2012 from

Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and Education. New York: Macmillan Company.

Grant, P. (2012). Keynote Presentation at QSITE State Conference. Retrieved July 5, 2012 from

Luke, A. & Freebody, P. (1999). Further notes on the four resources model. Retrieved July 4, 2012 from

McWillian, E. & Taylor, P. (2012). Personally Significant Learning. Retrieved July 5, 2012 from

Pinkard, N. (2011). Digital Media – New Learners of the 21st Century. Retrieved July 3, 2012 from

PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). & Frost Sullivan. (2012). The rapid growth of online shopping is driving structural changes in the retail model. Retrieved July 3, 2012 from

Pulaski, M. (1971). Understanding Piaget: An Introduction to Children’s Cognitive
Development. Harper and Row, New York

Queensland Studies Authority. (2012). About the QCS Test. Retrieved July 4, 2012 from


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