Friday, July 17, 2009

Core skills

It's funny that there is so much debate about whether we should use technology in education (ie. computers, cellphones and all sorts of net-based tools). The question should really be why shouldn't we? Why don't we expand the definition of technology to include books, pens, whiteboards, calculators, paper clips and so on?

Back in the early 19th century some educators questioned the usefulness of the blackboard and the slates that pupils wrote on. They were considered expensive and unnecessary (sounds familiar). This interesting historical perspective is featured in an excellent blog post by Ira Socol, Technology: the wrong questions and the right questions. One important point is that the way we were taught is completely irrelevant to today's situation. We learned the skills required for that period; learning by heart, handwriting, exam-based study, hierarchical management etc. Students today need the right skills for the future, in some cases skills for jobs that don't even exist today.

The paradox of the education sector is that today's new generation of teachers enjoyed their own schooldays and therefore tend to model their teaching on their own favourite teachers. The tendency is for the new teachers to simply continue the tradtional forms of teaching since that is the way they learn best themselves. The people who did not succeed in traditional schooling would probably be more interested in experimenting with new methods but they are highly unlikely to be attracted to a career in teaching. So traditions are hard to break.

Howard Rheingold points the way with a presentation of 21st century literacy skills on Personal Life Media (Have a look at the whole presentation video). Here he names five key competences that students will need to build:
  • Attention - in an age of multi-tasking we need to learn how to focus
  • Participation - active participation is the key to working in networks
  • Cooperation - sharing and openness
  • Critical Consumption - critical thinking is vital on the net (read Howards excellent advice on this - Crap Detection 101)
  • Network Awareness - build and nurture your networks
All levels of education should foster these skills and we should never be too complacent. All too often we assume that students already have these skills on the grounds that they are so-called digital natives.

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