21st century teaching

What is 21st century learning? Many of you have thought about this, read about this, engaged in dialog both face to face and online, and maybe blogged about this. Me too.

We had a meeting yesterday where we were looking at, and discussing that ‘age old’ question. There is no real need to rehash this again here. Besides, we are a decade into this century already! I did want to share a couple of interesting points from our discussion tonight.

Relative to times in the past, say 10 or more years ago, it was much easier to predict what a few years out looked like. Today, given the rate change in technology, job markets, communication tools etc. it is impossible to think what things will be like in 6 months or a year out, let alone 5 or 10 years out. I think the challenge of trying to articulate that future vision with clarity gives us a sense of being stalled in the journey to address the answer to ‘What is 21st century learning?’

However, maybe we are asking the wrong question. Maybe the question is: What does 21st century teaching look like? Imagine you have a class of students in front of you equipped with mobile learning devices – students with different devices. Some might have iPhones or Blackberrys. Perhaps others have netbooks or notebooks. Oh yes, some have iPod Touches, and throw in a couple of tablet PCs to round out the class. Now, that you have your class in with 1:1 web enabled devices in front of you, let’s think about these questions.

  • How does this change my teaching strategies?
  • How does this change my planning strategies? (lessons, units, short term, long term)
  • How do I facilitate learning in this environment where information is abundant and instantly accessible?
  • How do I manage students who will essentially be able to do many more learning activities in an environment where the learning can easily be personalized?

We discussed three key areas in thinking about this question: enablers, core tools, optional tools and innovation.

Enablers are required to provide access – wireless networking, network access control (Board/company owned and guest access coexisting), sufficient equipment, sufficient bandwidth. Core tools – perhaps the identification of a smaller set of web 2.0 tools that are used and integrated in a more systemic way. Innovation – the use of other technologies and strategies beyond the selected core tools for effective learning.

In some ways, we are perhaps back at the sand box stage. We don’t really know the right mix of technologies and instructional strategies to achieve the greatest success in the learning arena. To my way of thinking, investing energy into exploring the ‘what does 21st century teaching look like?’ question is a key aspect of really moving things forward in a planned and sustainable way. Of course, professional development and sharing of best practice are also critical ingredients. This must be looked at in a holistic manner. Success, at least in the meaningful systemic way, will not be achieved by addressing limited aspects of this agenda.

Food for thought and more thinking to go.

~ Mark

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2 thoughts on “21st century teaching”

  1. I’ve been doing some thinking about this and bandwagons lately. When the original iPods came out, there were pilots of iPods in the classroom. We had discussions yesterday about pilots of the new iPods and of Netbooks in the classrooms. I’m sure that they seem like a nice idea at the time and certainly the schools and classrooms will be delighted to have the technology. I’ve yet to see these pilots go widespread and so I wonder about the value. There are some pilots that provide long term direction – like the switch to laptops or the dual boot Macintosh. But, these others are almost momentary fancies that start nicely but times change, that technology changes, new people come in and don’t want to continue, etc. If there isn’t a long-term plan for adoption or a way to truly change practice, are these pilots not just destined to have any significant impact?

    I’m starting to think that, as these technologies become increasingly less expensive, pilots really aren’t necessary or desirable. Instead, why shouldn’t we put our energies into acquiring the infrastructure to run any technology and just allow students to use whatever they have access to to get connected to the infrastructure. Provide money to develop the knowledge base of how to use diverse collections of technologies in the classroom for the teachers and make it instantly available. At that point, who cares if a student is connected by a computer or a laptop or a netbook or an iPod or a telephone?

    So many of these initiatives are geared for the short term and will fail for so many reasons. Lets focus instead on equity, infrastructure, and teaching/learning strategies.

    The 21st Century classroom, whatever that is, it seems to me is more difficult to create universally and will morph depending upon circumstances. The one constant will be good teachers and good infrastructure.

    1. Thanks for sharing your comments and insights Doug. We are certainly aligned in our pondering!

      Increasingly, as I reflect on this topic, I end up looping back to the same few strategic points:

      – change at the systemic level
      – determining how to teach with 1:1 connectivity available (as per my post)
      – more focus on teaching/learning strategies, less on content

      I agree with your closing points: equity, infrastructure and teaching/learning strategies – all parts of systemic change.

      Maybe this topic would be suitable for a future #ontmeetup session.

      ~ Mark

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