Sunday, April 1, 2012

What are 21st century learners and how do we teach them?


     I came across this video from the MacArthur Foundation and the Pearson Foundation while looking for some resources as part of a National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) course I am currently taking. The video raises some very important issues regarding the definition of  21st century learners and how to best use technology in education to benefit these learners. 








     John Seely Brown, chairman of the Deloitte Center for the Edge, argues the fundamental importance of getting children to embrace change and to get them to have curiosity and a questioning disposition. In referring to the gaming culture, he points out that hard core gamers seek to be measured because they seek to improve and that it is the learning that makes the game fun. 


     Seely's arguments have important implications for education. As educators, we ourselves need to embrace change and give children the freedom to be curious and ask questions. We must provide them with the standards and feedback they need to grow as learners. 


     There is a lot of talk among educators of the notion that we must use technology more in the classroom because children of today are digital natives. What exactly does it mean to be digitally native and what implications does this have for the role of technology in education? 


     Nichole Pinkard, founder of Digital Youth Network, doesn't believe that any kid is born digitally native. She argues that kids are born as media consumers but not media producers. In her definition of what it means to be digitally native, it isn't enough for children to just be comfortable with using technology. They need to use it as a tool to actually create new content and new ideas. This is a belief that shared by many people leading the way in pedagogical beliefs about the role of technology in education. 


     At the ICTLT conference which I recently attended, Keynote speaker, Hall Davidson from Discovery Education, reiterated the point that it isn't enough to use media by just hitting play. He argued that children need to be able to make the content their own by interacting with it and mashing it so that it becomes something new and personal for that child. 


     This argument is echoed in the video by Diana Rhoten, Director of the Digital Media and Learning Project, Social Science Research Council.  She states that "part of the opportunity here is learning the content which is very much the 20th century idea around education. But in 21st century, its learning the tools and the skills of remaking that content and becoming the creator and the producer". 


Another one of the keynote speakers at the ICTLT conference was Dr. Larry Johnson, head of the New Media Consortium and co-author of the Horizon Report. He argued that people tend to over simplify what it means to be a digital native by focusing on the idea that children are digital natives by the mere fact that they are so comfortable with using new technologies. He also points out that knowing how to use a tool is not enough to make you an expert. Knowing how to use tools effectively and how to actually create the tools is what is more important. 


 Mimi Ito, Lead researcher of the Digital Youth Project,  stresses the importance of being more active in linking together the informal learning that children engage in outside of school with family, peers and the community, with the formal learning that takes place within the school. 


It is important to not let technology itself drive the learning that takes place. It needs to be used as a tool like any other which is used when needed.  Katie Salen, Executive Director of the Institute of play, argues that technology is something we take out when needed and put away when not. 


Professor Henry Jenkins argues that 21st century skills are not simply technology skills or skills for the workplace but include  "skills for creativity, for civic engagement, for social life -  the full range of experiences  that young people will be involved in in the future". This provides important lessons for how we use technology in education. Students do not just need to be taught the skills of technology to be successful, but rather technology needs to be used as a tool to help students achieve much broader and more important life skills. 


Connection to NETS 


My original goal here was to find resources related to NETS so let me tell you more about what these are and how they connect to the video above. 



"The National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) are the standards for learning, teaching, and leading in the digital age and are widely recognized and adopted worldwide."  (ISTE website)

     There has been a shift in education away from technology as a subject to integrating technology across the whole curriculum so that students can use it as a tool to develop the key skills needed to be successful in the 21st century. These important skills are included in NETS for students (NETS-s)






     While it is important for children acquire the skills needed to use technology, it is more important that they learn to use technology for much broader learning goals. Students need the opportunity to make the content their own through creativity and innovation and have the opportunity to communicate and collaborate with others, both in the classroom and remotely. In a digital world full of information of all sorts, children need to be taught how to find information effectively and be critical of the information they encounter. They need to understand the importance of using their values to navigate the digital world responsibly and safely. This requires them to have teachers who serve as good role models in the 21st century classroom to enhance teaching and learning. This is why the NETS for teachers (NETS-t) are so important. 








     It is important that teachers encourage students to be creative and to set up learning experiences and assessments which support such creativity. They must give students the important skills they need to get the information safely and responsibly. This  requires teachers themselves to serve as positive role models in how they use technology and to be lifelong learners who seek to better understand and use technology. Of course no teacher can be really successful in doing this without the support of administrators. This is why the NETS for Administrators (NETS-a) are so important. 




     For teachers and students to be successful in the 21st century classroom, they need a larger school culture in which there is forward thinking and a culture which supports effective technology integration. Administrators must provide the resources and training needed for effective teaching and learning with technology and must seek to continue to improve how technology is used in the educational environment. 


Ultimately, for technology to be used effectively in the 21st century classroom, it must be used to support the needs of the 21st century learner and the world he or she lives in. Any good use of technology requires a solid pedagogical foundation be in place which supports the learning of the key skills needed for children to be successful in the modern world (creativity, innovation, collaboration, communication, social participation, research and critical thinking skills, responsible digital citizens). When the learning objectives are established in advance, educators will be able to select the best tool available (technological or otherwise) to help their students better learn.