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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 With the fast pace of change with technology, this approach is outdated since a process learned in an application or even the application itself can change in a short period of time or even become irrelevant.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.

A Sharing and Collaborative Culture

In order to effectively promote 21st century learning and technology integratration in our schools today, the culture within our schools needs to become an open culture of sharing best practice and collaboration.

It became clear in a recent “high level” high school meeting at my school (about the role of technology in learning) that one of the biggest barriers to effective and compelling technology integration seems to be the culture of isolation in which many colleagues work. Even though colleagues are talking to each other about various issues throughout the day, they aren’t often explicitly sharing best practices. This especially includes best practice with technology and creating 21st century learning environments. At the same time, colleagues don’t often seem to seek out this information either. For example, a few colleagues and I often offer various tech oriented workshops, but the attendance at these is often low and often have the same people in attendance. This problem of isolation isn’t only happening in my school. It’s been a problem in most schools for most of the history of education, I would say.

In a recent post on Academic Commons called “Opening Up Education- The Remix,” the authors stated:

“The failure is harder to put into words. It could be described as our lack of progress on sharing “pedagogical know-how” among educators. We have systems to run e-learning courses and content to view, but we have not captured the teaching processes that expert educators use to bring learning alive in their e-learning courses. If an educator creates a great sequence of learning activities that leads to a rich learning experience for students in an e-learning class, how does this educator share the activity sequence with colleagues so that they can automatically run the same activities or adapt them to suit local conditions? How does the educator share the thought processes that led to the design of the activity sequence?”. . . Put simply, what we lack is an agreed way to describe and share the teaching process, regardless of whether the activities are conducted online or face-to-face. As a result, individual educators spend heroic amounts of time on planning and preparation, but with enormous duplication of effort and no economies of scale. Apart from the lack of efficiency in preparation, educational quality also suffers: While some educators regularly create outstanding learning experiences for their students, some do not. How could the best teaching processes be shared among the widest number of educators?”

This culture of sharing best practice and collaboration can happen in many different ways. Professional development conferences, both regional and local, have always been a great place to learn what other educators are doing. For educational technology and 21st century learning, a couple of great regional examples here in east Asia are the Apple Leadership Conference in Hong Kong which occured this last weekend and the Learning 2.008 conference that happened in September 2008. An upcoming conference in September 2009, the 21st Century Learning Conference in Hong Kong, will surely be a great one, as well. These regional conferences only happen a couple of times a year, though, and not all faculty attend these. Furthermore, those conferences that have a educational technology focus (like the examples above) tend to be attended by ed tech leaders and teachers who have already shifted toward 21st century models of education. We obviously need to be sharing with more educators than those that have already shifted and are doing the sharing. “Regular” teachers need to be encouraged and given incentive to attend these conferences.

When time and money constrain people from attending distant regional conferences, local weekend workshops can provide wonderful opportunities for sharing best practice and building collaborative relationships. Of course, these types of workshops aren’t uncommon. They just need to be promoted more explicitly at times, I think. One that I know will be great for those in the Bangkok, Thailand area will be TechTrain 2010: Beginners Learning Technology Tools Together which will occur in January 2010. Events like this will surely achieve great in-roads to helping educate the faculty that need the most assistance. Presenters at these local workshops will be local themselves and possibly from the same school, so getting further face-to-face assistance beyond the workshops will be much easier.

The last way this culture of sharing best practice and collaboration can be promoted is by creating a viable and explicit intra-school model. For those teachers that don’t have the time or motivation to attend external workshops, having situations for learning how to effectively integrate technology and create relevant 21st century learning environments is essential to move the whole school forward. Examples can be collated and presented through online showcases; there could be face-to-face show-and-tell sessions, and there could be the usual in-house workshops that promote these instances. An example of the latter is the 7 Steps toward 21st Century Education that two colleagues and I created. Trying to make time for workshops like these during the school day is critical, however. Some people can’t stay after school or come to school early due to family or other commitments. So, it’s often these people that miss out and are getting left behind. At my school, we will tackle this time problem by having early release Wednesday’s starting next school year where we will have two hours every Wednesday afternoon for professional development.

Even if you can’t physically attend a face-to-face session in any of the contexts above, social media technologies make it easy to follow what’s happening. Most conferences and/or presenters will have a wiki or a Ning site that will delineate most of the information shared in person. At the same time, many attendees at a workshop will Twitter the backchannel. By following the hash-tag #hksummit, this is how I kept up with the recent Apple Leadership Conference in Hong Kong. Though not as much as those physically in attendance, I still learned a lot from the backchannel of this conference. Following the backchannel is so easy to do and doesn’t require much time and/or effort. We just need to teach people how to do it.

All of these are important ways to build understanding of best practice in technology integration and relevant learning in today’s ever changing world. All of these situations need to be promoted and encouraged in a school. Moreover, administrators need to be attending these situations along with strongly encouraging common faculty members to attend, not just the ed tech leaders in the school. When this happens, and everyone has opportunities to learn that fit their schedule and style of learning, I think isolation will lessen and a sharing and collaborative culture will be achieved.

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