21st Century Skills


With a title like that, I’m sure that this posting will draw all kinds of readers.

I guess that it started on January 1, 2000.  The world as we know it was going to end.  Systems that relied on computers were going to fail because the computer wouldn’t be able to handle the rollover in date.  I could just see my Southern Hemisphere friends lying on the beach watching as all of our furnaces, electricity, and so much more failed because of this.  As we know now, this situation was rectified with some patches and life goes on.

In addition to this situation, when the clock struck midnight, the world welcomed a new set of skills for education and society.  In education, we are slow to adopt so in the year 2011 we’re still talking about the need to develop 21st Century Skills for ourselves and our students.

Recently, I had a conversation with an educator who was going on about 21st Century Skills and I guess I rudely interrupted and asked “Name One”.  There was a pause and then the first answer was “Curation”.  When pressed, it was about the ability to find and collect resources.  So, I guess it’s the new skill formerly known as “Bookmarking”.

OK, then how about Critical Thinking?  Certainly, this is an important skill.  If you’re 11 or younger and reading this blog, first of all, welcome and enjoy the new world of thinking critically.  The rest of us who researched and wrote essays before January 1, 2000 just didn’t put much thought into it, I guess.

Well, you know what I mean.  Collaboration – students working together so that the sum of the parts is greater than the contribution of any individual.  Uh huh!  I guess those rearrangement of tables in math class or late night coffee and work sessions in the MC Lounge were just goof-off sessions.

Blogging?  Wikis?  Twitter?  Facebook?  The conversation just kept going and going.

Eventually, we stepped back and took a look at where this particular conversation was headed and came to agreement on a number of things.  Most importantly, good teaching is good teaching.  It involves grabbing the best of breed pedagogies and incorporating the technology where it is appropriate.  It’s this appropriateness that is so important.  Trivial use of technology is worse than not using it at all.  Using it where appropriate can be so powerful.

I drew in the concept of gaming in education.  Not necessarily just the playing of the game but also in the creation of the game.  My first experience dealt with a game called Zork.  I’m not sure that it would capture the imagination of players today with its command line interface and the need for an imagination to picture in your mind’s eye just what was happening.  But, it was the best game in town.  In fact, you can still play it online.  In the computer science classroom, my students wrote their own games.  It required massive working together strategies – mapping out virtual universes, parsing instructions, applying the instructions to the present location…

But time and sophistication moved on.  With a simple instruction like inkey$, you no longer had to be able to wait for an instruction and then the enter key to make things happen.  You could scan the keyboard, read a key press, and take an action based upon it.  Games became more sophisticated with things like Doom leading the way.  Our games became more entertaining because we were able to do other things not previously possible.

I recall seeing the Apple Lisa at a MACUL conference.  Wow, this could change everything from the use of higher resolution graphics to a pointing device.  This could change everything.  But, it was the beginning, of course and things got better, with better graphics and better input devices from sophisticated mouses to trackpads to joysticks and now to present day devices like Kinect.

But, does a better input device create a new skill?  I argued no.  The underlying skills of problem solving, design, and understanding the end user are absolutely the key for success.  You also need to look at it with your 2011 eyes.  It’s the possibilities, the sophistication, the power that technology delivers including the chance for enhanced connections.

We then revisited the original topics – curating, critical thinking, collaboration.  We did agree that all of these concepts are important but also that their use is amplified by the use of the best technology at hand.  We can always write but now we can write for a wider audience.  We can do group work and group projects but now have better tools for creation and sharing and connections beyond belief.  We can do research but now have access to better resources and need to determine which are worthy of our efforts.  We can work on things like the environment or other issues of social good, not because the concepts are new but because we have incredible tools to do so much more.

There, I just had to get it off my chest.  Bottom line – don’t sit next to me at an airport and talk 21st Century Skills!

OTR Links 11/13/2011


Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.