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Creating Opportunity Through Technology

From  online classes that make it possible to reach students who also hold down  full-time jobs to tools that show a community's changing demographics,  technology is changing the way people both live their lives and interact with  others.

At  the recent Reimagine Communities symposium in Dallas, sponsored by Capital One  and held with the Urban Institute of Washington, D.C., speakers from across the  U.S. shared ideas and stories about how technology can be used to create  opportunities for communities and individuals.

The  event was part of Capital One's Future Edge initiative that promised $150  million over five years to help prepare more Americans with the skills, tools  and resources they need to succeed in a rapidly changing, technology-driven  economy.

Sanjiv  Yajnik, Capital One's president of financial services, opened the event by  observing that the world is on the brink of another Industrial Revolution. He described  the current "AI" revolution as being one of "augmented intelligence," not  artificial intelligence.

"It's  going to change every aspect of our lives: at work, at home, the way with  interact with others," he said, adding, "Vibrant communities need everyone to  be in the game."


It's  easy to see a link between technology and education.

Sonal  Shah, executive director of the Breck Center for Social Impact at Georgetown  University, noted that technology "gives us access to more information ... not  just what's available in bricks and mortar libraries." Additionally, she said,  teachers can use technology to create personalized learning strategies for  students in large classrooms, which is already being done in some Chicago  schools.

Technology  is also essential for the changing student population, said Shayne Spaulding, a  principal research associate for the Urban Institute. Noting that more women,  people of color and students over the age of 25 are now seeking secondary  education than ever before, the needs of students themselves are changing.  "Three-quarters [of students] are ‘nontraditional,'" she said. "This is the  student body. How do we design programs for those students?"

Technology  isn't a replacement for human interaction, Spaulding added – "Students need a  human element, too" – and noted that instructors themselves need support and  education to best leverage the tools available to them.

J.  Puckett, senior partner and managing director of the Education Practice for  Boston Consulting Group, said there is still a disconnect between high school  students who say they plan to attain a college degree but then don't. Data as  simple as the number of classes missed in a semester can be used to track these  students' progress and predict their likelihood of finishing the degree.

Access  to technology is critical, especially for Generation Z (those aged 6-20) – and  those to follow – who regard technology as an "appendage," Puckett said, adding  that many K-12 schools readily already incorporate tech into teaching. "It's  not one or the other," he said. But, he added, it's essential for everyone to  have access to broadband Internet access and appropriate devices, so they can  continue learning at home.

"We  have to invest in infrastructure," Spaulding said.

Job  creation/access to employment

People  must pay attention to the connection between education and employment, Puckett  said, noting that 40% of companies experience difficulty finding employees with  desired skill sets. Technology can create data that show what jobs are hiring,  and what skills are relevant, Puckett added, thus supporting both students and  employers.

Spaulding  said Obama-era funding for community colleges allowed for building projects  that provided appropriate physical space for learning, such as labs, which  helps the education-to-job pipeline. She added that work-based learning and  apprenticeships have good outcomes in hiring and income.

Puckett  and Spaulding discussed the rise of digital badges – online credentialing that  identifies a specific area in which a person has acquired training. Spaulding  said online badges are especially appropriate for youth to quantify skills they  have learned outside school, such as in summer programs.

"A  degree from a university is an increasingly imperfect proxy, and not always  inclusive economically," Puckett said.

Caitlyn  Brazill, executive vice president for development and communications for Per  Scholas, which provides technology training for people underrepresented in tech  fields, said ethnic diversity is essential to an equitable city, one in which  every person can thrive. To that end, Per Scholas classrooms "teach skills to  create lifelong learners through technology," she said. "Skills like  problem-solving and critical thinking are essential to understand for the long  term."

Per  Scholas has partnered with companies to offer classes on cybersecurity followed  by apprenticeships, so students are ready for full-time work after they  complete the program. "There's a motivation for employers to think about hiring  creative people with tech skills," she said.


The  power of data to illuminate housing needs and issues cannot be overlooked,  several speakers observed.

Regina  Nippert, executive director of the Budd Center at Southern Methodist  University, which seeks to support children living in poverty, said "we need a  multi-sector partnership to have a collective impact" on whatever problem might  be the focus of discussion. Additionally, she said, "Data have to be in context  ... or it's just noise."

Nippert  highlighted the National Neighborhood Indicators Partnership, housed at the  Urban Institute, as an example of how data can be used to support neighborhoods  and help residents define their own communities. The NNIP is a network of  organizations that work collaboratively to support community improvement. When  organizations work together, she said, it becomes easier to "identify what's  here that works and how do we build on that.

"Data  are useful in context and in relationships, and useful for shared objectives,"  she added.

Tiffany  Manuel, vice president for Knowledge, Impact and Strategy at Enterprise  Community Partners, said data can help communities recognize the need for  affordable housing and create spaces that are welcoming and practical. "We can  share the vision of how we want a community to look through real-time data,"  she said. "We can use data and technology for engagement with conversations to  discuss community benefits. We can look at data to see how many housing units  were built, or how much money was deployed. We can ... compare that neighborhood  with others around the country and look what happened in that community in five  years."

And  housing necessarily relates to transportation, said Tim Fleming, director of  Enterprise Sustainability for AT&T. Noting that by 2030, the majority of  the U.S.'s population will be employed in urban areas, the need for efficient  and available systems to move workers where they need to be is paramount.  "Technology can help transit systems get people from point A to point B," he  said.

In the end, those at the symposium agreed that the "disruption" that is occurring  creates opportunities as well as challenges.

"We  must help investors think of social and financial returns," Manuel said. "Are  neighborhoods becoming stronger? Investors want financial and social returns.  They want data which show their return on investment outcomes."

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