Sunday, February 10, 2013

SMUMN - 21st Century Learning

Cross-Post for St. Mary's University Master's Program:

It's a little absurd, isn't it? We're over a tenth of the way into the 21st Century and we're still talking about what a 21st Century education is and should look like. Shouldn't we be there already? Shouldn't these have been conversations taking place decades ago? Shouldn't massive changes have already taken place? Why are we still talking about the whats and the hows of a 21st Century education? The talk needs to stop, the action needs to begin.

We live in a world that is constantly changing and growing, it is becoming more and more complex by the day. The rise of the internet and mobile communication has created many challenges. Tackling these new challenges will require critical thinkers to be able to identify and solve these problems. The students of today need to be equipped with the tools to think critically, to collaborate efficiently, and to understand the world around them. Our students need to master the 21st century knowledge and skills required to thrive as effective citizens.

The 21st century citizen must be proficient in the "Four Cs": Critical Thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity. Strong critical thinkers will not only be problem solvers, but problem identifiers as well. The master collaborator will have no problems reaching out to those around him or her to accomplish the tasks at hand. Of course, none of this collaboration will be possible without clear communication between all parties. Lastly, creativity means that students will be able to examine the world to find new innovative solutions.

The Four Cs will not be all that is needed, but they will be at the heart of being a 21st Century Citizen. They will also need the support to develop transferable skills that will prepare them for everyday life and future careers that don’t yet exist. These skills include the ability to quickly adapt to new environments, to take risks and rise to challenges, and to learn from failure.

This generation is the first in the history of the world to have nearly instant access to an almost limitless source of information. However, this access is useless unless we have the skills necessary to find what we’re seeking. We live in an age of instant news and information and our students will need the ability to identify the difference between bias and objectivity. The ubiquitous access to technology and mobile devices opens a world of opportunity, and problems. We need to make sure that our students know how to responsibly use this technology for good, and not evil.

What we need are students that are products of a new educational system. Our educational system needs to reflect the expectations and challenges of a 21st century citizen and needs to keep its eyes steadily fixed toward the future, rather than leave its feet firmly planted in the past.

So far I would say that my learning with St. Mary's has begun to reflect the expectations that we have for our students and the 21st century learning environment. We are asked to challenge ourselves and to really use the "Four Cs". However, so far I'm we haven't had to do much in the way of identifying problems and creating solutions. I suppose to an extent we are doing that with our action research. As we go forward it looks like we'll be doing more investigating and collaborating with the world around us.

Personally, I feel as if I know enough to teach and understand the challenges of 21st Century education. What I really feel I am lacking are two key components. One, is that my students and I aren't fully equipped to learn and teach in this new environment. For example, we currently lack even basic things like WiFi in our schools and our students are still prohibited from using their own personal mobile devices in the classroom. I know that both of these limits/policies are changing, but not fast enough for me or my students.

The other big limitation is the current educational system. We are still stuck in an archaic 19th Century (let alone 20th Century!) factory model where your age determines your grade, and you are essentially learning the same core material that generations gone by have learned. Sure, we jazzed it up by putting an iPad in our student's hands and a SmartBoard in every classroom...but really, what has changed? A couple of years back I had the chance to hear Ken Robinson speak at the TIES Conference in Minneapolis...he does a great job explaining this dilemma. If you haven't already, take a moment and watch the video below.


  1. The two drawbacks that you referred to are some of the same that I addressed in my blog. However, unlike you, I do not feel equipped to be able to implement the technology portion of what 21st Century Learning entails. Time commitment, training, and the ever changing world, how do we keep up in an underfunded profession?

  2. I agree that this shift in education has been too slow in developing, and that it is essential for student success. While many of the 4 Cs can be implemented using simple resources, the technology piece is directly correlated to school resources and funding. I am concerned that rather than closing, the gaps are increasing between the quality of education received by students in "have" and "have-not" schools.

  3. While you hit on the 4 C's, you missed the 2 A's (ANGER, and ANGST). Programs stress the importance of technology but rarely provide teachers with the training and support to implement a successful transition hence the anger. As a result, teachers have a sizable portion of their 21st century professional development left unfinanced by their district and hanging over their head, hence unneeded angst.