I am frequently asked to respond to a question that I think can be ridiculous – “what are the 21st skills we need to teach students?” Nobody can predict this and if you scour the media chat chat, you will find numerous articles running with a theme of ‘today’s graduates will invent their job that doesn’t exist yet’. Who knows what these “21st century” skills are or should be?
Skills are not static or finite and learning is incremental and infinite: two fundamental principles that academic institutions often overlook. Incorporating technology into a course through digital tools and processes reliant on technology (such as collaborating online globally) does provide useful transferable skills and experience in incremental learning that can be built upon: from any perspective (faculty and student). You can build upon what you already know and if you are experiencing the technology for the first time. There is a high probability that you will catch-up or leapfrog very quickly to the same levels as others in the course.
Here is one example from my class a year ago where a significant amount of coursework work was completed using Skype multichannel (with the group subscription) and a student base scattered across 20+ different countries and timezones. By using this platform, participants quickly adopted the following skills:
- Find, download, install and update the Skype application on their desk computer, laptop, smartphone or tablet
- Establish their user accounts and identities and then create and maintain their contact list (using a search process to locate these contacts)
- Install and update a webcam and microphone or a headset with a microphone, including completing audio and visual checks prior to every call
- Know how to send and receive chat text messages, uploading and downloading files being shared, record the session for replay, incorporate screen-sharing with multiple other participants and participate by audio stream (talking into their microphone)
- Troubleshoot any technical issues that impacted their participation
Other valuable skills also emerged as the participants developed experience in communicating through technology with a single user or groups/multiple participants – very asynchronous/synchronous in nature, requiring universal common sense, good manners and a form of patience and understanding. The participants had to establish their online personality to deliver their message and communicate effectively, often reflecting on feedback such as are they talking too softly or are too shy to be understood through technology? They also developed an innate sense in accessing and evaluating content, learned to work in teams effectively in a wide variety of real-time scenarios and to use critical thinking and problem solving skills in equally very innovative ways.
Next time I am asked that same (ridiculous) question my response will be simple: I am doing everything I can with technology TODAY so that participants have a vocabulary to draw upon as they create their next experience TOMORROW. Academic institutions can do a lot to build that bridge between today and tomorrow, if they catch the real meaning of ‘today’.
Sometimes someone says it as it can be:
This semester I have the privilege of tutoring a graduate course with a strong emphasis on technology. The technology is relied upon for delivering the learning content and integrating opportunities to create new learning and content (through the topic of micro-finance and development).
The challenge faced in this type of class is finding the “magic way” to help students become comfortable with the changing face of education (including technologies being introduced) and connecting to the changes the students are experiencing personally as technology sublimely seeps into their lives. There is always great inspiration when someone suggests an alternative point of view, questions a paradigm or expresses divergent thinking, demonstrates a fresh perspective or gives a wake-up call to any number of assumptions we all get lazy with. In our model of learning we are using this semester, uncovering the collective potential of a cohort is the goal, where every individual can contribute from their strengths instead of forcing a ‘one size fits all’ approach top down upon them. As Sir Ken Robinson says:
“These are among the core skills that students now need: They need to be creative. They need to be able to communicate. They need to able to work in teams. They need to be cultural literate, and they need to be able to respond to other people’s points of view and to empathize.”
The insights and observations that come from the students in this course are inspiring as much because of their authenticity as for the value they contribute from their busy, time scarce unbalanced study and professional lives. Without this new type of course design we wouldn’t be learning from each other, creating networks or discovering individual perspectives. That is the privilege I speak of – learning from each other, creating networks and discovering the individual perspectives that automatically makes a single topic and discussion full of creative, innovative rich dimensions.
When you watch the animated presentation (11 mins) capturing the wisdom of Sir Ken Robinson he mentions paperclips There are many other videos on YouTube and TED.com showcasing his perspective.
Recently I asked a colleague (also a tutor) about what technologies the tutor uses at work. The response was swift – email, scanning, printing, video conferencing, collaboration projects in online spaces (wikis), facebook (uploading marketing videos and images), youtube channel (where the keep their mission related videos), twitter handle, company website, company blog, online newsletter….
Then I asked how many of these technologies does the tutor incorporate into their graduate level course. The response was equally swift – just one. Email.
So, why is there such a gap between what the student experiences in higher education and what they are working with daily in their professional role? And why does academia ask the student to turn their technology off when they come to class?
MIND THE GAP!
Under the guidance of Professor Reina Ichii, we have redesigned the micro-finance course. With an emphasis on helping participants develop professional skills and be able to carry their coursework evidence with them, the course includes experiential elements such as blogging, peer evaluations, creating an ePortfolio, collaboration-based projects, creating presentations using digital story-telling, and extending the presentation experience beyond the walls of the classroom.