Saturday, January 16, 2010

21st Century Skills – how can technology help?

I just finished reading 21st Century Skills – Learning for Life in our Times by Bernie Trilling & Charles Fadel. 
“The premise of this book is that the world has changed so fundamentally in the last few decades that the roles of learning and education in day-to-day living have also changed forever.” p. xxiii
Okay, think about that for a minute.  Now think about “school”.  Has it changed significantly in the last few decades?  Hmm, probably not hey.  But, we have been using computers and progressively more technology since the early 80’s of the 20th century.  Why hasn’t school fundamentally changed, yet?
“One of education’s chief roles is to prepare future workers and citizens to deal with the challenges of their times.  Knowledge work – the kind of work that most people will need in the coming decades – can be done anywhere by anyone who has the expertise, a cell phone, a laptop, and an Internet connection.  But to have expert knowledge workers, every country needs an education system that produces them; therefore, education becomes the key to economic survival in the 21st century.” p. 6
That quote suggests that education is key to our survival – we intuitively know this.  But what if our current education system, stuck in the 20th century (early part), doesn’t adapt in time?
“It has been observed that today’s education systems operate on an agrarian calendar (summers off to allow students to work in the fields), an industrial time clock (fifty-minute classroom periods marked by bells), and a list of curriculum subjects invented in the Middle Ages (language, math, science, and the arts).” p. 12
I just saw a tweet tonight (Jan. 16th, 2010) from @jagill
I think this teacher shows a way to break free from the past.  This particular teacher uses technology in a very integrated / supportive way – whatever the students bring and the school can provide.

I was meeting with a couple of educators last week to prepare for an upcoming Board presentation on our my43 virtual classrooms and our One 2 One projects.  During our conversation I asked why can't learning be more relevant, interesting, cross curricular, and dynamic?  I said, imagine this…  the teacher takes a current topic (eg. Haiti earthquake and devastation) and builds curriculum on the fly with the students.  Maybe the kids have ipod touches, netbooks, cell phones, etc. and the teacher says get into teams of 5 and one team researches the Haiti situation, another team Haiti history, geography, political situation, and financial details, another team researches earthquakes, another team is responsible to assemble and present the findings of the others, and so on.  They use the tools they have in the classroom and go to work.  The teacher creatively ensures that there are clear links to curriculum and learning, and to social responsibility – they discuss in future classes ways they can help the Haitians.  They also make arrangements for their students to present to two other classes at the school and they stream the presentation on the Internet, later that afternoon – notice of the presentation is tweeted, email, and posted to the school website.  Pretty difficult to pull this off without relevant technology in the hands of students in their classroom.

The book, 21st Century Skills, refers to “Four Converging Forces”: Knowledge Work, Thinking Tools, Digital Lifestyles, and Learning Research as a 21st Century Learning Convergence.  They refer to these coming together like a “perfect learning storm” that will usher in new ways of learning.  However they list a number of forces that still resist these changes:
  • Industrial Age education policies (efficiency of mass education)
  • Accountability -- Standardized testing
  • Centuries old teaching practices – transmit knowledge to students
  • Textbook industry makes money from books not flexible digital content / tools
  • Fear of abandoning focus on rigorous content
  • Preferences of parents who learned the traditional way
How to break free?  We need to…
“In times of change learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer
Mass education is not working – kids are getting more and more bored.  We need to make it real!  Teachers are no longer the tomes of knowledge they were – every 18 months what is known, DOUBLES.  Textbook companies face the same challenge as music companies and they will lose eventually.  Content isn’t king – process is.  Today’s kids will become parents and will demand different.

Back to the blog title…  I believe that technology can and will help disrupt our current ways of “doing school”.  There’s lots written about differentiating learning, experimentation with UDL (universal design for learning), and an invasion of personal devices that’s just begun.   UDL has great promise to meet the individual learning and engagement needs of all students using 21st century technology tools.  On it’s own technology is agnostic but with skilled 21st century learning coaches (teachers), and content guides, skilled in applying technology to learning, technology can be the lever that makes a difference.
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it." - Alan Kay
What do you think?  Is technology essential to developing 21st Century Skills and reinventing school?