Thursday, May 9, 2013

What is 21st Century Learning?

The phrase is buzzing around: 21st Century Learning!

So I've been thinking about this and wondering what do people think it really is?

Instinctively I think we go to the idea of technology. What do we need to BUY to prepare our students for life in the 21st century? What do they need?

After all, every teacher I know was born in the 20th century. Even all the students I currently teach were born in the 20th century. But that changes next year with the incoming freshman class. Many of them were born in the year 2000, the 21st century.

So what do they need to survive in this constantly connected world they were born and raised in?

As a Computer Science teacher you would think my first response would be a computer, tablet, or similar device ... but I don't think that is the answer. I know, it's shocking, but there is something more important that they need.

I don't think we need to teach them the mechanics of technology. They have it in their pockets and know how to use it better than most adults. They are like the Borg, wired to each other in ways we would have never imagined 20 years ago, and resistance is futile. The devices aren't going away, even if we put signs on our wall forbidding them. Thou shalt not ..... oh never mind. It is one of those battles that teachers keep fighting, sometimes of their own accord, sometimes at the directive of administration.

It is exhausting, especially for those who want to let the kids embrace the very technological fabric of our 21st society. Having the devices locked away feels like locking the classroom door and making them try to learn from the hallway by peering through the shatterproof glass of the locked door. The technology we have to offer is so much older than what they carry around that it must feel like trying to connect to the Internet with a typewriter.

So if it isn't about the hardware, then what is it about? I believe we have to look past the hardware and into the human machine instead. I think we need to teach them how to be digital citizens. I'm not talking about the surface stuff, like cyberbullying & plagiarism. Those are important, but what I am talking about is ethical use of technology and information.

We need to train students to think critically about information: where they get it and how they use it. Digital citizens should be aware of copyright laws, fair use laws, public domain options, and creative commons. We should be teaching them how to collaborate across the room, across the building, and across the world. Instead of directing them on how to do something, we should be making them ask why they should do something. They are consumers of information, and very hungry consumers at that. That is why they Google everything!
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We also need to teach them how to be flexible. Technology doesn't always work the way it is supposed to (really, you're surprised?) so they need to become troubleshooters. They need to be able to learn how to use forums to find answers. They need to participate in discussions about problem sets with people online, because the collective world mind can reach the solution faster than the collective few in the classroom.

We need to start connecting our classrooms with other classrooms throughout the world. We now have the ability to bring in a diversity that didn't even exist 10 years ago. Students in many rural areas may have never had a chance to meet someone from another culture, but now they can through conferencing software. A creative teacher with an eye on the 21st century will seek out that opportunity. It opens up the possibility of collaboration aligned with the skills they will need beyond school, preparing them for the world of higher education and/or work.

We need to break down the classroom walls and thread the use of everyday technology into our everyday curriculum, and be willing to change, learn, and grow as the available technology dictates. We need to be connected to our local and world communities at every possible level, so we can learn from each other. We, as the adults, need to model digital citizenship and tap in to our own virtual professional circles by becoming active participants in Professional Learning Networks (PLN's) in areas that are important to us with others who hold our passion. If we, the teachers have passion as digital citizens, so too will our students.

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