Technology for 21st Century Learning: Part 1

Just another … on your back?

A Compillation of (cc) Flickr photos from Seeit_Snapit and Alan HL performed with Pixelmator on an iMac

This will be a two-part entry owing to some comments that I’ve heard over the past few weeks at conferences I have been working. The comments are simple and they go something like this. It’s a computer administrator, coordinator (starting to dislike the term “integrationist”), a principal or head of school, who in conversation about 21st century education mentions that, “We are implementing a 1:1 initiative, handing out Apple iPads to our 8th graders at the beginning of the year.”

To be perfectly fair, this rant could have more to do with a short bout of insomnia I am experiencing right now, but “21st century leaning has nothing to do with iPads, iPod Touches, or any piece of technology.  The only thing that is one to one that we should be concerned with is equitable access to rigorous, relevant, and irresistible learning experiences that reflect and harness the times, environment, and ultimate goals of the learning.

  • The times, “..they are a changing,” exceedingly beyond the imagination of the prophet, Bob Dylan, when he wrote the song almost fifty years ago.
  • The environment we are preparing our children for and preparing them within is one of challenges.  It is also an environment of opportunities.  Another characteristic of our environment is an emerging new information environment, where information and communication are networked, digital, and abundant.
  • And our goal is to give our children a good start on the next 50, 70, or 100 years of their lives.

21st century learning is about the experience, not about the tools you are using. The experience defines the tools, not the other way around. Any statement about handing out iPads (or netbooks or laptops) should begin with the word “So…”

“We want to facilitate … learning experiences for our students, ‘so’ we are handing out iPads (or netbooks, or laptops) in September.”

So what kind of experience is it that we want to facilitate? What is 21st century learning? How might our children spend the first years of their lives?  What can learners do that reflects and harness the times, environment, and goals?

To use the verbiage I have been sharing with educators over the past few months, it is an experience that is responsive. Learners are not simply passive vessels to be filled.  They are players within a game that plays back.  It is inquiry fueled. It provokes conversations that factor in the learner’s identity and measures his standing. It inspires the personal investment of time and skill.  ..and it is guided by safely made mistakes.

When the conversation finally comes down to the appropriate information and communication technologies (ICT), then the question should become, “Which ICT best channels these experiences?”

In my opinion, if that question strings like this, “Does the technology help me to teach?” then you haven’t had that first conversation yet, or you still don’t get it.

But if it strings like this, “What ICT is going to help my children learn by helping them to become resourceful and habitual learners — engaged in a learning lifestyle?” then you’re well on your way.


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Edited on an iMac…

35 thoughts on “Technology for 21st Century Learning: Part 1”

  1. Here’s is what I hope for: learning environments where the tools aren’t “handed out” but where the children can get them when they need them. Environments where the adults and children understand what tools are needed and have easy access to what is needed. Even children in the primary grades, when given guidance and opportunity, can engage in projects independently and can choose the right tools to help them with their work. For example, my 2nd graders don’t wait for a computer. They go get one, saying, “I need a computer because I have to…(work on a blog entry, respond to a blog, search for information about something, work on my poetry book, edit my movie, etc.) And if they NEED to do some work and the tools aren’t available, they roll their eyes and are clearly not happy. They are so invested in their work (not in the equipment) that the idea of not having the tools they need to be successful is unacceptable to them, and I agree.

    1. Maryann, I agree with what you are saying and that you say it very well. But at the same time that I say that it’s about the experience, not the tool, the “appropriate” tool must be handy — like an arms length away. I think that 1:1 is now long and “if” — it’s a “when.” It’s just that the 1:1 technology has to be front loaded with the 1:1 learning experience.

      1. I am afraid that we are spending too much on technology. We are pushing the curve, for the profit of industry at the expense of true teaching. Besides technology, what makes us better teachers? I turn to the great thinkers who had no technology besides agriculture (and other food related capabilities), metal working, and fire; like Socrates. I’d argue that the great minds of history show that there is more to education than the technology of electrons. Some great thinkers created their own technology which they needed for study or applied prior technology in new ways. No doubt that technology leads to learning for some. But look at some great philosophers and humanists like Jesus, Mohammed, or Voltaire (humanist?). These people taught people through words. Communication has to be one of the most powerful tools for learning and teaching.


  2. I would guess that school district who is implementing iPads 1:1 did not look at the learning first. Our district considered buying some iPads for our new Project Based Learning pilot. I panicked. I knew enough from what I had read, they were not suitable for creating projects. But the argument was put to me that they might still be okay for research.

    So I put it to the test. I found that it could only access half of the websites I had my students use last year and likewise, it could only access half of the research resources our AEA and library provides. This was mostly due to the lack of flash. Even “old standbys” like World Book have flashed things up a bit and use multimedia to deliver information.

    I liken this scenario to the olden days of brick and mortar library research. Remember when that perfect resource you managed to locate in the card catalog or Periodicals index were not actually on the shelves??? Why on earth anyone would spend that kind of money to give students a tool that limits their resource access and that cannot create much, is beyond me. By the way, I made the case here and we are getting Macbooks.

    1. What concerns me was the statement from your colleagues, that “..they might still be okay with the research.”

      Now I do not know the situation or the context of that statement, but my interpretation points very clearly to my rant, that educators are too often willing to make compromises for the sake of the technology they want to integrate.

      1. Actually, I think that educators/admin may not be aware of the compromises they are making. I am astonished at the assumptions that are made and the lack of thorough research into the tools they are considering having their students use.

        I wonder at the reason for this. I think part of it is that so many educators/admin have such little experience with the tools and their applications (esp IN the classroom) that they don’t even know the questions to ask.

      2. A very expensive research tool what is more.
        In our country our government is rolling our Fibre to our schools in a $1 Billion project to bring Ultra fast broadband to the country. Imagine my dismay when the national television interviewed one of the first principals lined up to receive it and asked what impact it would make on the students’ learning.
        “Oh, it will be wonderful. They will be able to go on the internet to research information for their PowerPoints”!
        Ok, it may hahve been a soundbite out of context, who would know? But I suspect that will be a common response from Principals.
        Very frustrating for those of us wishing it would be arriving at our schools in the next couple of years….

  3. This is a good post, David. The point you bring up about how we conceptualize 21st century learning in an important one. The term “21st Century learning” has become synonymous with using technology in the classroom, but so much as having students simply use technology will not necessarily result in their preparation for life in the world as it is today and will be tomorrow. Technology, of course, needs to be interwoven within students’ learning experiences in schools, and as you said, should be used to facilitate an experience that is relevant to the needs of our environment.

    Extending your idea, I also feel that it is important for us (educators) to consider the nature of the environment for which we are preparing today’s learner. Such an environment is one that is, yes, characterized by meaningful and purposeful integration of technology, but it will not be one lived solely in the digital world. Literacy in our modern society, rather, necessitates the ability to navigate and communicate fluently across both digital and physical spaces. Provided that I’m correct (and that my students’ future will not be devoid of human contact), the appropriate use of technology in 21st Century teaching goes beyond how it is used to fuel and facilitate students’ learning experiences. It also involves how its integration is balanced with meaningful physical and interpersonal experiences.

    1. Technology for 21st Century Learning.

      Steve you are correct when you say that technology needs to be interwoven within students learning experiences in school. I have been an educator for thirty-five years and I am a big fan of technology. The extent of my technology growing up was a twelve inch t.v and a battery powered radio.
      I use technology in the classroom, computers, digital camera elmo, e.t.c. but I fully agree with you that it is necessary to teach social skills and work on relationships.

      Three weeks ago my husband and I took our three year old grand-daughter to her ballet and tap class. It has been many years since we have been in this environment and we were both amazed at the changes among the waiting parents. Many had i-pads, DVD players, cell phones ( they were texting) and i-pods. Parents and children had some form of technology. I turned to my husband and said, ” what happened to the art of conversation?”.
      Are we going to go from a ” Me Generation” to “An Isolation generation” ?

      Evelyn Canavan

  4. Technology assist us to keep the pace of the information highway with the press of a button. Teachers and students are introduced to technology via the classroom or on there on. i.e. cellphones with internet access, email, or hands free dialing. When introduced in the classroom, the instructor can assure student learning via projects, exercises, or some type of feedback to kno that that student has learned. I believe that new technology application will assist the students to be thinkers as well as learners. The use of the type of technology will be dependent upon the purpose of the assignment.

    Thank you for your blog post.

  5. I couldn’t agree with you more, David. It seems as though everyone buzzing about one-to-one computers, but the instruction in the classrooms is changing very little. Students may be using the computers to research as they would in an old encyclopedia, but they still aren’t collaborating with others across the world and using creativity to invent new learning. I love your statement that students need to have “irresistable” learning experiences. I am going to use that term a lot! I enjoyed your presentation at SAI in Des Moines so much!

  6. I have been looking for the experiences to provide to my students and by using the technology I have, I can get them to the research, ideas, and places they might not find without it. I also see too many teachers wanting computers in their classroom and they end up playing typing games and math games that take the place of worksheets. My team is wading through the “basal” technology that we are provided and searching for experiences that bring “irresistible” learning. The one thing we are working on is “carefully guided mistakes”. Guiding Elementary School students is where I find being careful sometimes gets in the way of providing experiences. That is what we are researching and learning about right now. You have provided me with many answers to my questions and problems. Thank you.

  7. After 2 years of a 1:1 laptop (MacBook) programme in our Year 7/8 classes I offer the following comment. It was clear in 2008 that to run an effective inquiry learning programme in the 21st century it was necessary for the students to have the tools that would facilitate this. The students had a need for effective research, effective presentation and effective communication with the local community and the world. They also needed a programme that would motivate and involve them in learning and first and foremost they needed a teacher who had clear understanding of what 21st century learning meant. All of this was possible without 1:1 laptops but the laptops have enhanced the inquiry learning programme significantly. The students are far more engaged in learning, they communicate and share on a regular basis, they are much more confident to take risks and expand their learning, they have taken a much greater control of their learning, they have much more regular 1:1 feedback with their teacher and they have a more positive attitude to school in general. All of these points are far more obvious for the students who may be described as “slow learners”. These factors all reflect the research done before the laptops were introduced. What was unexpected was the degree to which teaching practice would have to change and in effect be able to change. Professor John Hattie states that the greatest effect factor on learning is 1:1 feedback. The 1:1 laptop programme is a very effective way to facilitate this. Just the fact that the other students are so engaged allows this to happen. It can also happen face to face or electronically at any time. The teacher needs to be prepared for this. The down side is that unless the teacher and indeed the school is prepared to take a serious look at teaching practice and make the required changes the laptops will still be expensive toys. As a final comment the iPad is not ready (yet). The old adage “you get what you pay for” applies.

  8. I really like this post, David, and the comments that others have left. I agree absolutely about with the general position that the the tech is not the objective but a tool. In our tiny elementary school in rural England, we’re trying to make the tech invisible: we have a mix of netbooks, laptops and desktops running Win XP, Jolicloud and OSX, iPods and now iPads, and the kids just grab whichever one they need, exactly as MaryannM describes. Sadly, when they go up to high school at 11, they are taught to become proficient in MS Publisher for nearly everything, but that’s not going to deter us: our kids have learned to be adaptable by that stage!

  9. As a teacher of years 7 & 8 students with 1-1 laptops, I feel that this is a tool/resource which I would hate to be without. My students are engaged in their learning, challenging themselves to achieve well in all aspects of their work. They also use ipods and Flip and we are looking at integrating the use of their cell phones. The trick is to have quality PD for the teachers to pass onto the students. Without the PD, teachers are not realising the laptops full potential.
    It should not be forgotten that the laptop is a tool and that skilled teaching is still required, in fact essential,(just like any class.)
    I had an interesting comment from one of my students who I taught last year and teach again this year. He said, “I had a look at our wiki from last year and it was rubbish!” He’s right, it was. Quality PD and a bit of perseverance has made it one we are all proud of.

    1. Do you think that one day students will be given laptops to take home and will be given ebooks to read instead of hard copies?

  10. As a music teacher my principal is not really concerned about me at all. Any music teacher for that matter is not important to the school system. That statement burns me up. How can we as music teachers contribute to learning in the classroom if we are not furnished with the equipment that all other teachers receive. I will introduce a new design for learning through music and corroborate it with the academic teacher. That’s my goal. This would really be 21st century learning.

  11. Thank you for the post – indeed, I am sure many hardware companies apply the term “educational” just for add, they may even give some 20 computers to a class to show how they are concerned about education. And then the teachers will invent how to use it, and somebody will probably write an application and then probably it will become educational but th company wouldn’t care much because anyway schools, even having bought some piece of hard/software, would not change it to the newer version once released and probably they had a negative experience with selling to schools. Again, educational software needs to be worked on by an educator, experienced and positive towards the hi-tech future. (Like D Walrick:)?)

    1. I am sure they will find someway to integrate it into the schools. This is the computer age. It will eventually happen computers being brought to the classroom and ebooks instead of hard copies.

  12. I am currently attending school to become a teacher and when I learned about all of this 21st century for teaching I was frightened. I was intimidated and it kind of turned me off from it. But once my professor started making us use some of tools that are out there I feel in love with it. There are so many different ways that you can now get your children engaged in the classroom! And the best part is that most of them are for FREE! I am excited to keep on learning about this new technology and excited to share it with my students! But you are completely right when you say our “experiences define the tools” 🙂

  13. I am particularly drawn to your statement regarding “Learners are not simply passive vessels to be filled. They are players within a game that plays back. It is inquiry fueled. It provokes conversations that factor in the learner’s identity and measures his standing. It inspires the personal investment of time and skill. ..and it is guided by safely made mistakes.” In particular, I find that allowing students to make safe mistakes not only enables them to develop the skills needed to become self-sufficient learners and collaborative team players but allows them to become resourceful entrepreneurs of knowledge.

    1. Stephanie- I agree. It troubles me that we don’t seem to (as a society) want to allow our students/children to make mistakes. How will they ever learn to become self-sufficient and good problem solvers if they have no experience. It’s quite scary. I notice this with parents also. They run interference for their child- thinking it will “damage” their child’s psyche if they are allowed to fail.

  14. David you make so many valid points. First of all, the tool with which you are teaching is not where the learning takes place. What is being learned from the instrument is what will have the most impact on the students. We are preparing our students to be productive citizens and what better way to teach them to be this way except by using the very tools that they will need to be equipped with. We hear so much about the 21st Century learning classroom. It does no good to have the technology and allow dust to accumulate. Students want the challenge and it is up to us as educators to give it to them.

  15. My school doesn’t even have laptops for the students or multiple working computers in each classroom… I can barely fathom the idea of ipads. Luckily, we have technology class and a computer lab. I just wish my students had more technology throughout their day instead of only 45 minutes once a week. What are the optimal things I should be in doing in that short amount of classroom technology time?? I am open to any and all ideas!

  16. I enjoyed the post. We read so much about 21st century skills. You mentioned that it is “players playing within a game that plays back.” I never looked at that, but now it makes a whole sense. To me, the game is simply life, indeed. Life is always throwing you curves, and it is up to us, the players, to try and play along with whatever tools we have, and we educators have to teach our students how to play their hand at life as they do not get many chances to play the life game before it is “over”. I agree that 21st century is not necessarily all about technology. To me, 21st century skills is about becoming a well-rounded person with all the skills being applied. More and more businesses are interested in hiring individuals who can ask questions, collaborate, and be a team player along with the ability to work in their job field. We cannot only teach our students how to read or write, but we have to teach our students how to be creative, think outside the box, and be able to work with others.

  17. I am in the process of working up purchasing requistions and developing a budget I was given to replace all the comptuers in my classroom/computer lab. I am so excited to be getting new machines.

    However, I’m finding a slight drawback amazingly enough.

    With the crappy equipment we have now the kids have had to get creative and circumvent all of the various problems with technology that the old, ancient equipment gave them. It frustrated them and me when it came to bigger animations and bigger projects however it also challenged them to problem solve and thinking creatively to try and complete their assignments when hindered so much with broken or half broken equipment. We are constantly having to troubleshoot equipment in my classroom and to find “work arounds” in completing large projects with the old machines.

  18. I completely agree. We need to ask when is it too much? I understand that times are changing and students are different now then they were 20 years ago. Sometimes I feel lost in having to implement so much technology into daily lessons. I am not sure how I feel about the 1:1 computer ratio. There are processing skills that need to be learned and are helpful for further education. On the same token, students need to learn how to revise and edit their own work. Technology can be very useful in the classrom if used effectively. I think it sad when my third graders do not know what an encyclopedia is or how to look up words in a dictionary.

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