EdTech Events: Boston at the Crossroads of Tech and Work

This March, I shared a piece covering the Northeastern Massachusetts STEM conference, hosted by North Shore Community College in Lynn, MA. During this event, Fady Saad of MassRobotics was a keynote speaker and employers led the conversation in front of an audience of faculty and students.

Later that month, I attended another event on a similar theme, this one hosted by the Massachusetts Technology Leadership Council, Rocky Hill School (of East Greenwich, RI) and MassRobotics. In full disclosure — I advised on this event. Just prior to it, my colleague Hannah Nyren and I were treated to a tour of the MassRobotics Lab.

The Robot Pre-Show

It was very interesting to see how this robotics escalator, as described by Fady Saad at the NEMSTEM conference, really looks and how it functions. The site is tucked away in a quiet corner of Boston’s Seaport district. Once you enter its doors, you can clearly see some of the amazing work happening there. Russell, the lab manager, showed us around then hopped into an Uber with us as we headed to the Old State House. This was an interesting location for an event around technology and work— the “revolution” theme seemed very appropriate.

The evening started with a cocktail reception in the museum, manned by costumed docents to add to the ambiance and learning experience.

The Tech and Work Discussion

Dr. Jim Tracy, headmaster of the Rocky Hill School, opened the event with thoughtful remarks about how the world of work is changing — and so our preparation of students must change too.

He was followed by Liz Reynolds, executive director of MIT’s Industrial Performance Center. Dr. Reynolds began by saying that the “future of work” should be reframed as “work of the future.”

She then followed with a discussion of equity in the working world and some of the steps that need to be taken to bring us forward in this area. Some important questions were posed — the most poignant to me was: “When workers need to upskill to remain marketable and seek better job opportunities, how will they afford this ongoing need for education?”

Next to speak was Daniel Theobald, co-founder of Vecna Logistics. Mr. Theobald dialed in via robot, specifically the VGo Robotic Telepresence. In this case, the robot displayed Daniel’s face on the screen and his voice through it’s speaker. He was dialing in from California and could remotely manipulate the robot to “see” (via webcam) and hear the other speakers and audience in the room. Here’s what it looked like!

Mr. Theobald and Tom Ryden, executive director of MassRobotics, explained which industries would be impacted most by automation and robotics. Logistics automation (picking and packing in warehouses, for example) is one top growth area for robotics.

Here’s another:

Dr. Kathleen Kennedy, director of special projects with the Center for Collective Intelligence at MIT, spoke next. Her point was that a collective of human beings can design more impactful solutions than one person alone and when that collective is supported by data, it’s potential becomes even more powerful.

Finally Greg Toppo of Inside Higher Ed asked the key question — what needs to change in today’s education in order to prepare students for this working world of the future? The following competencies made his list:

Students Aren’t Worried

The evening closed with some thoughts and questions from the audience. It was very interesting to hear the students present express that they were not worried about the work of the future. They shared that they had grown up surrounded technology and did not see it as an adversary. Whether educators and their institutions are prepared or not, automation and robotics are here and their role in our world (working and otherwise) will only grow. It was valuable to hear from experts about what we can do to be ready to evolve alongside these new technologies in the world of education and work.

Hester Tinti-Kane

Hester Tinti-Kane

Hester Tinti-Kane is the CEO of EdTech Times. She's worked in digital media and education for over 10 years. Hester is passionate about transformative technology in education and business.