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Technology Skills for the 21st Century Learner- A Course at SIS

I developed a new course for my school’s 10th graders this year called Technology Skills for the 21st Century Learner. Being that technology is such an important part of our lives today and will certainly be in the future, as well, having a class that emphasizes effective use of technology in context of real world situations is an important part of the curriculum.

This course is different than your traditional computer class, however. In the past students may have learned step-by-step how to use certain applications, then were assessed on their knowledge and/or skills in using that application. With the fast pace of change with technology, this approach is outdated since a process learned in an application or even the application itself can change in a short period of time or even become irrelevant.

The “skills” involved in this class focus more on the approach and frame of mind in using technology in authentic contexts. The approaches/frames of mind are derived from the Information Literacy standards that look at how technology can be used to create, collaborate, communicate, think critically, and be responsible digital citizens. These are then set into real-world contexts. Yes, knowing the specific processes within a device or application are important in order to do something, but those specific processes can be learned “just in time” through the plethora of video tutorials available on the web, from more skilled friends, and, of course, the teacher. However, with all of these other sources of knowledge available, the teacher doesn’t have to be the application or device expert anymore- just a coach giving feedback and one-on-one assistance. Lastly, there may be more than one application that could be used in the context of the project, so to limit what application a student can use would not properly reflect what happens in the world outside of school.

In regards to assessment, students aren’t necessarily assessed on how well they execute a certain process within a specific device or application. Rather, they are assessed against the standards in how effectively they used the technology in the context the project provides. Some students may choose to develop their use of more advanced features of a technology because they are already an experienced user, while other beginner students may use more basic features. In either case, students can achieve Proficient or Exemplary levels based on how effectively the technology-based process and/or product accomplish the task.

SIS Student WordPress ePortfolio

For example, one of the class projects has the students using photo-editing software to build a header for their SIS ePortfolio. Students come into the class with varying levels of experience with photo-editing applications. The goal in this instance isn’t to get everyone using the application at the same technical level. The goal is: how can each student, as an individual, harness the application to design effectively and visually demonstrate who he or she is as a unique person and learner in context of their web-based portfolio of learning. Some students achieve this wonderfully using basic features of the application; others achieve it by using more advanced features of the application.





This portfolio header project and the development of the SIS portfolio is part of a larger theme called “Personal Branding” where students work to build their professional image on the web. Student learn to distinguish between the “Professional You” and the “Social You” and how we present both in the large online presence many of us maintain in today’s world. This is a critical understanding to have since our profiles and what we post in different online contexts are becoming scrutinized by possible university admission agents and prospective employers.

Included in this Personal Branding process is a video resume that students can use for university applications or internships for which they might apply in the future. They learn how to put together a video that effectively shows their unique qualities as  a global citizen and what represents them as a learner. This will hopefully help them stand out above the sea of other applicants!

Students Facilitating Ethics & Internet Lesson

Students are also given the opportunity to help develop digital citizenship among the SIS Bayside community by delivering lessons to the middle and high school students. The theme of their lesson is “Ethics and the Internet.” Here they educate the students (and teachers!) about ethically using media like audio, video and images in their school work. They show how to find Creative Commons licensed photos along with how to create and license their own work that is published to the web.

In another project called “Presentation Transformation” students learn how to be more effective presenters by using the Presentation Zen approach. This has the students thinking about presentations with the mind of a designer and storyteller, using more image-based slides that are thoughtfully produced and including more “story” in the script rather than factual information only. The use of the visual support application actually becomes more simple rather than complex in this instance.

SIS Flat Classroom Participants

Other projects, like the Flat Classroom conference, will pop up as opportunities arise. The second semester students had the once in a lifetime opportunity to participate in this conference in Beijing where the students collaborated and created content with students from

Overall, Technology Skills for the 21st Century Learner is a fun and very useful class that the students seem to enjoy. As other opportunities arise and technology continues to evolve, so will the class.

Technology on the Rise at IS Beijing

Ok, this isn’t written in a first person point-of-view fashion as is typically presented in a blog since I wrote it in collaboration with the fantastic Jeff Plaman. However, It does present my first published musings on the role of technology in learning, so that’s why I’m presenting it here.
A new school year often brings exciting, new changes and opportunities for teachers and students alike. This year is no different, especially as it relates to technology. Over the summer, all high school teachers were issued a laptop which has been set up to be used in offices, classrooms, and around school at the wireless hotspots.  The ISB (International School of Beijing) network and student-accessible computers were updated to include current software and faster network access. At the same time, two teachers, Thomas Galvez (social studies) and Jeff Plaman (science), have been designated as Technology Integration Specialists. Each have been given release time to work with high school teachers as they begin to infuse technology to promote and enhance student learning as it relates to curricular goals and learning targets.

Traditionally, “technology” (or ICT) refers to computers, software, their peripherals, and the Internet being used as tools in the learning process. Other devices (smartphones, PDA’s, electronic readers, gaming, etc) are gaining popularity as network access and availability improves. One thing that we can certainly count on is that we can’t predict what technology tools will be available in the future.  Because of this, we try to focus on the process of learning with technology rather than the tool itself. Many studies are being published on the benefit of teaching with technology. Teachers can create more engaging, differentiated lessons and assessments.  Technology opens more avenues of communication, collaboration, and networking between teachers, students, and parents. Access to information from diverse perspectives, professionals, and media formats from around the world inform our decision making processes as we tackle real-world problems.  And, it allows for students to be more creative and innovative in their problem solving and communication, a key quality that many universities and employers are looking for as the 21st century evolves. Being able to use technology effectively is a critical 21st century skill.

Many teachers have already taken steps to incorporate the use of technology in meaningful ways. Along with the now “traditional” use of computers for word processing, creating presentations, and facilitating online research, some teachers have been using wikis and social networking applications to better facilitate communication, collaboration, and activities outside of the classroom; YouTube videos are being used to visually enhance concepts being presented in class; collaborative projects are taking place with schools around the world via Skype, Google Docs, and VoiceThreadLast year a new ASA was created called High School Podcast which gives students the chance to create an audio news broadcast that can be downloaded or listened to directly from the Internet. More examples of technology integration are occurring every week.

With the creative inspiration of the teachers and the assistance of the Technology Integration Specialists, the meaningful use of technology as a tool and environment for teaching and learning will continue to grow here at ISB.

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