Thursday, January 28, 2010

Technology, Standards and High Jump

Last week's look at 21st century skills leads perfectly into this weeks exploration of the standards we set to help students and staff achieve/acquire these skills.

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL)has laid out an amazing document called Standards for the 21st-Century Learner. This document is based on the beliefs:
1) Reading is foundational.
2) Inquiry is vital.
3) Behaviour should be ethical.
4) Technological skills are crucial.
5) Access should be equitable.
6) Information literacy is complex.
7) Individuals need to learn unique thinking skills.
8) Learning is social.
9) School libraries are essential.

These beliefs provide the framework for an extensive set of standards in four key areas:

1) Inquiry/critical thinking
2) Decision making/creativity
3) Ethical/productive knowledge sharing/citizenship
4) Personal/aesthetic growth

The International Society for Technology in Education developed their own standards called National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) Summarizing their beliefs/standards would take more room than I have here but the following statement should give you a taste:
The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE®) is the premier membership association for educators and education leaders engaged in improving teaching and learning by advancing the effective use of technology in PK-12 and teacher education.

NETS has standards for students, teachers, administrators and technology leaders. Student skills are ultimately the focus in the areas of creativity, collaboration, information fluency, higher order thinking skills, citizenship, and technology. (Click here for a more detailed look)

Marjorie Pappas (2008) has an excellent summary of both standards systems including contrast and comparison charts. She also bottom lines the purpose for these documents:
Technology initiates change at an exponential rate, and information technologies are at the heart of the information literacy standards. No Child Left Behind and a growing body of research about both teaching and learning have changed education over the past ten years (p. 22)

That final quote hit me more than the standards themselves. For some reason a switch flipped and I realized that I personally and professionally haven't acknowledged a technologically induced societal/educational change. I still have some sort of mental barrier that views technology as cool but not as fundamentally crucial to the success of my students. How can this be? I am the tech guy for my school? I love sci fi and I teach mulimedia rich courses.

Shortly after I read Marjorie Pappas I paused to look at what I was doing. I had two monitors running with 13 tabs open plus Tweetdeck (five columns worth) and iTunes downloading podcasts. 5 days out of my week are like this almost 6-8 hrs per day.

HOW COULD I HAVE MISSED THE POINT THAT JOYCE VALENZA, WESLEY FRYER, WILL RICHARDSON, AND OTHERS HAVE BEEN MAKING? The world has changed. The rules of the game have changed (see Jackie's Thoughts on Web 2.0). As a learner and as a professional, I am exhibiting the skills that my students need. I am 35 but I can honestly say that I don't know how I could do what I do without my technology, collaborative, creative, and problem solving skills. These are the very things the creators of AASL's and ISTE's standards are focusing on.

One major implication to stress powerful can technology standards be if the people tasked to implement them don't fundamentally acknowledge their necessity? This goes even can information specialists like librarians establish their place in education if other educational leaders don't understand/acknowledge the technological shift in the world? Zmuda and Harada (2008)touch on this link between acknowledgment of need, standards development, and standards implementation but they use the term mission:
Such clarification of what the learners must do to achieve mission goals defines for all staff what good business looks like in the library media center. Good business is work (instructional activities and assessments) that develops student learning around the goals that are most important (again as defined by the mission). (p.43) This article is a must read so please see the reference section at the end of this posting.

Successful students/staff need to work in an environment where the heart (mission) drives the mind (standards) and the limbs (people) of an organization. This is a cyclical relationship as the people of an organization are the heart of the organization.

In my opinion, many schools in the North aren't ready to implement NETS or the Standards for the 21st Century Learner. As leaders we are just beginning to recognize the need for the skills outlined in these documents. Once we corporately acknowledge this need, then these standards will be essential to focus our efforts and alter our practice. At present I am using these documents as conversation starters within our technology planning group. A place to start anyway.

My classmates have expressed a different scenario. They have the heart and the passion but within their Canadian context they lack clear/concise/practical standards or direction to define their roles.

One final scenario included schools with 21st century missions and some standards in place but had problems finding new teachers with the skills to pull it all together. This scenario hit home that the issue of new standards and skills impacts learners of all ages...including post secondary learners (Marcoux, 2008).

What does all this have to do with high jumping?

In order to complete my degree I had to take an athletics course. Part of this course consisted of a high jumping competition. In essence my world had changed and I needed to acquire a new set of skills. High jumping was no longer something I watched on TV. It became an essential skill to my success as a learner/professional. Sure, I could jump. Sure I could have found anyone on the street to teach me how to jump but for me to succeed I needed to know how to do it right. Thank heavens for my coach who had a heart for the sport, competed in the sport imself, stayed on top of the latest training techniques, and was an expert at helping others to meet the required standards. This complete formula is what we need to support our learners today.

I will close with a question and a quote.

This following quote is directed at librarians but it applies to all other educational leaders as well:

Learning standards are as important as librarians consider them to be. We have to be sure that as a profession we both master and model the skills that students are expected to demonstrate. (Dickinson, 2008)

Question: Who should serve as the high performance educational/technological coaches in our schools to help staff and students meet these standards?

For those of you interested in more of the specifics of AASL's and ISTE's standards, visit Ruth Elliot's blog.

Non-hyperlinked resources:

Dickinson, G. (2008). A place to stand. Library Media Connection, 26(6), 10-12.

Marcoux, B. (2008) New standards-refreshing our work, again! School Library Media Activities Monthly, 24(7), 18-20.

Pappas, M. (2008). Standards for the 21st-century learner: Comparisions with NETS and state standards. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 24(10), 19-26. Fantastic comparison/contrast/summary.

Zmuda, A. & Harada, V. (2008) Reframing the library media specialist as a learning specialist. School Library Media Activities Monthly, 24(8), 42-46.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

It is all about SKILLS

Skills have been vital to the success of our species since the dawn of time. For some reason, the 21st century seems to have renewed educators' focus on skills. This may be in part to the rousing, unifying call of the great 21st century philosopher...Napoleaon Dynamite.

The best synopsis comes from The Partnership for 21st Skills website. Their framework suggest the following skills are critical for 21 century learners:
-Learning and Innovation
-Information, Media, and Tech.
-Life and Career Skills

While none of the above categories may seem unique to this century...many educators view this century as being unique. This perceived uniqueness is drawing many to redefine core concepts to education...especially the idea of literacy. I personally find this interesting as I have always viewed literacy as being simple. Personally, I viewed literacy as being able to comprehend written and/or numerical information where ever you may find it. Take a few moments to watch the video below. As you watch, count the various types of literacies that are referred to. Some of them go way beyond my limited definition and refer to skills that don't even involve text (ie: outdoor literacy, emotional literacy, etc.) Also ask yourself "Are the listed skills unique to the 21 century? Are the skills unique only in terms of their focus? Are the skills unique in terms of the tools present to put them into practice? Is there any real uniqueness at all?"

I personally believe that many of the skills they list, especially skills like critical thinking and creativity, are not unique to the 21st century. George Manthey agrees:

For me, it's hared to think of a century in which it wasn't important to think critically as well as be analytical, creative and collaborative. (2009, p.11)

Think of the Aztecs, Galileo, Aristotle, Archimedes, Mayans, Newton, Darwin and countless other examples of individuals and civilizations in the past that required analytical, critical, communication, and collaborative skills to survive and excel.

When I ran into the next video I realized that my interpretation of what I was reading about 21st century skills was wrong. Maybe people from this movement aren't stating that these skills are only important to this century. Maybe they are stating that these age old skills have a new twist to them now and are even more important given the challenges we are facing. Watch the video and reflect on the implications of a society that reflects the stats they share:

George Manthey (2009) eloquently summarized some of the thoughts that ran through my head and some of the thoughts that have obviously sparked debate in other circles:

I'm not sure why I should be surprised, but I am when I learn that teaching critical thinking, analytical and technology skills-as well as teaching students to be creative and collaborative-has become controversial. There seems to be a bit of a backlash against such skills, often called 21st century skills. The concern is that if such skills are emphasized, it will be at the expense of core content(p.11)

I don't know why my gut reaction to this topic was " comes another fad" but that was my reaction. After watching the videos and revisiting The Partnership for 21st century Skills website I realized I was wrong. This organization and other educational leaders are actually asking me as an educator to do my job....better. For instance, math and science curricula focus on the tools used in these areas as well as communicative, collaborative and innovative skills required to understand and succeed in related fields. Do these documents state that we are only to use the tools that Galileo had at his disposal? I don't think so. If doctors, astronauts, lawyers, city planners, interior designers, counselors and countless other professionals have always sought to used the best tools and skills available, why would this trend stop at the 21st century? If our kids are growing up in a would inundated with media...why wouldn't we pursue directions/skills/practices that would allow us to prepare them to navigate their world safely and effectively?

I would like to suggest that this topic of 21st century skills is important for teachers and students alike. Watch the news for the next week and track all of the stories related to just the topic of attention and technology. How we interact, form friendships, listen to the people we care about is being altered by technology. Parents, kids, teachers, students and almost every other group in North America is trying to learn how to live meaningfully in this type of world. With this in mind, watch Howard Reingold's lecture (at least from the 6 minute to the 20 minute mark where he focuses on the basic skill of attention) and then ask yourself how effective education/educators could ignore responding to the unique needs of our time.

What really struck me this week was reading the thoughts of my fellow classmates. My classmates are leaders within education who excel at what they do. One shared that her students prefer to stay within the box rather than wondering creatively. Another classmate shared a vision of education where learning went beyond the walls of the school and meaningfully impacted the very communities the students lived in. Another shared the tough issues students face when they aren't nurtured at home for various reasons. Most of our thoughts around 21 century skills/education came back to education meeting the needs of each individual student. Meeting these needs walked hand in hand with topics such as collaboration, community, creativity, accessibility and fairness rather than knowledge or content. None of us believe that content isn't important but we seem to be excited about the opportunity the 21st century is giving us to make learning meaningful for us and our students.

The big question...How can educators raised in the knowledge/independence/individuality addicted 20th century learn how to teach in a 21st century world that is founded on connection/collaboration/creativity?

Nonhyperlinked resources:

Manthey, G. (2009). The knowledge vs. skills debate: A false dichotomy? Leadership, 39(2), 11.