There is no real choice between basic and 21st-century skills. Both are essential learning outcomes for students. In schools, this must be applied to outcomes (standards) and curriculum. Neither can exist independently as the history of human affairs cannot annex or isolate one from the other. At the same time, schools cannot continue to make outlandish claims about being ‘the new technology school’ and be taken seriously. We are well over a decade into cheap, reliable and plentiful laptops, tablets and software connected to fast fixed and mobile communication platforms.
Even more important, delivering better learning hinges on preparing and supporting quality teachers who can deliver this “must have” combination of basic and advanced learning to all students using models which reflect broader media experiences and skills children have acquired in their own generational timeline. Teachers have selectively chosen digital tools which reveals their media-view of the world – whether they like it or not.
The best have shown us how games can transform how kids feel about school and the worst replicate the same dull skinner-box experience of clicking boxes in shovelware services in return for petty icons and badges.
The Internet is awash with lists of what skills kids need, backed up by vague warnings that schools are not preparing kids for the world, or for jobs that are not yet known. These things are useful to those selling solutions – which also exploit the difficulties associated with attempting to measure a wide range of open-ended and performance-based assessments of 21st century skill. Time and again, the research raises concerns about the reliability of results which, according to the salesmen and EdTech pundits will be resolved by buying newer technologies.
We are immersed in media we can’t control (but think we can) in order to feed our bias and create un-realistic perceptions about the world – past, present and future.
This long-term immersion into fake, imaged and self-representing digital worlds lead to the need for educators to grapple with another reliability question: whether 21st-century skills can be coached or “faked” – on a test or in a more open-ended project. A student, for example, might answer in ways that suggest she is a computational thinker when in fact she is merely demonstrating that she has learned what types of answers make her seem that way from her experience of using some software in a certain modality.
The research tells me that there are several areas that teachers need to be confident in when it comes to attempting to teach 21st Century skills: information literacy, collaboration, communication, innovation and creativity, problem solving, and responsible citizenship. But this is hardly a new insight … and conversations about these things don’t go deep enough to produce any useful frames for assessment,
There are three types of knowledge necessary for the 21st century: foundational, meta, and humanistic. These are being provided 24/7 by games such as Minecraft, Overwatch, Rocket League etc., and anyone who’s talked to kids about their game-life will see them declare this constantly. On the other hand, adults don’t know what the meta is, harp on about foundational skills (when they mean morality) and bemoan the decay of society and lack of connectedness IRL as they swipe and tap at their virtual-reality creating phonecuff on Facebook.
Although 21st-century frameworks are thought to advocate new types of knowledge, little has actually changed in the new century with respect to the overall goals of education. Until teachers are confident in delivering new types of knowledge though outcomes (standards) and assessment then 21st Century skills will remain vague and worse, students are more likely to be given operant conditioning software rather than allowed the kind of freedom and experience they enjoy in games and multi-user worlds.