Learning the tools and skills for (re)making tomorrow


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: