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21st Century Literacies

My vent about Arne Duncan’s six-day school week kicked up a lot of discussion over the past few days. I can’t remember the last time one of my posts attracted 40 comments. Of course many of them are my replies, but still…

Unrelated: Here are some photos I took yesterday. I just can’t get enough of these dogwood blossoms. They won’t be around much longer. (click to enlarge)

Reading through those comments reminds me a bit of a debate that was held more than 10 years ago at a CoSN conference in Washington, between Judy Salpeter, then editor and chief of Technology and Learning Magazine, and Todd Oppenheimer, who had just written a piece (The Computer Delusion) for The Atlantic Monthly, critical of technology in education.  They both made points — and very effectively so.  But they were both taking aim at different targets — at different visions of what education should be doing for us today.

It’s what I see here.  There is a dramatic difference between what Arne Duncan (and many politicals) probably sees when he envisions appropriate education for today’s children, and what many of us are certain needs to be happening in our students formal education.

I love it when someone smarter than me, says it better than I ever could.  In his opening blog post for Online Instigator, Howard Rheingold explains that our children and grandchildren need to…

…grow up knowing how to pluck the answer to any question out of the air, summon their social networks to assist them personally or professionally, organize political movements and markets online? Will they collaborate to solve problems, participate in online discussions as a form of civic engagement, share and teach and learn to their benefit and that of everyone else?

In my vision of the formal education that inspires these skills in our children, the classroom plays only a very small part.  These are not just literacy skills.  They are learning skills — and they can not merely be taught.  To do so only insults and irritates our children.  These are skills that must be practiced authentically in order to become habits, not just skills — and the most authentic place to practice them is outside the classroom.

What I’m suggesting is less time in the classroom, not more.

Rheingold continues pressing the point of the importance of these skills when he says that…

The speed, scope, and spread of knowledge might be more critically important at this historic moment than microchips, initial public offerings, business models, 3G networks, Web 2.0 services, or fiberoptic cables.

The nature of information has changed — not in what it does and what it means, but in what it looks like, how it flows and grows, and where and whom it comes from, how we find it, what we use to find it, …  It means that there is still much that needs to be taught.  The teacher and classroom, though I suggest might take up a smaller part of our students’ day, has actually become far far more important.  The library and librarian has become far far more important — if they can re-image themselves to reflect a new information landscape.

Rheingold continues…

And don’t swallow the myth of the digital native. Just because your teens Facebook, IM, and Youtube, don’t assume they know the rhetoric of blogging, collective knowledge gathering techniques of taggers and social bookmarkers, collaborative norms of wiki work, how to tune and feed a Twitter network, the art of multimedia argumentation – and, by far most importantly, online crap detection. (Rheingold)

Our children know how to play the information.  They still desperately need us to teach them how to work the information.

I have to smile when I consider that the fellow who shares such insight into our children’s education still wears tie-died shirts — but so be it.

Education researcher, James Paul Gee, writes (article) in the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research that…

We live in a high risk world of interacting complex systems. A world subject to dangerous global warming, a now melting high-risk global economy, and massive destruction due to unchecked poverty and population growth.  Natural systems are no longer independent of human beings.  Urban environments and human energy seeking now affect temperature and storms.  Things that were once “acts of God” and are now also “acts of man.”

In my view, in the twenty-first century we need the following—and we need them fast and all at once together: embodied empathy for complex systems; “grit” (passion + persistence); playfulness that leads to innovation; design thinking; collaborations in which groups are smarter than the smartest person in the group; and real understanding that leads to problem solving and not just test passing.  These are, to my mind, the true twenty-first century skills.  We will not get them in schools alone and we will never get them in the schools we currently have. (Gee)

We need to reinvent education, not just prolong it!

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Gee, James Paul. “Games, Learning, and 21st Century Survival Skills.” Journal of Virtual Worlds Research 2. 1. April 2009 Web.11 Apr 2009.

Rheingold, Howard. “21st Century Literacies.” [Weblog Online Instigator] 10 Apr 2009. SFGate.com. Web.13 Apr 2009. <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/rheingold/detail?blogid=108&entry_id=38313>.


Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
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Raw Materials for the Mind
(2005)

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