21st Century Skills Development and IT

21stcenturyI am due to present at a conference during 2014 and will be presenting under the theme of how educators can help develop 21st Century Skills with the aid of technology.     This seems to fit with a lot of discussion occurring in schools around how teachers can develop 21st century skills in their students and how ICT can be used to enhance learning.    As such it seemed like a good topic for discussion here ahead of at the conference.

So where to begin:  Well I think the best place to start is to look at what the 21 century skills are.   The Partnership for 21st Century skills identified 6 key areas:

  1. Thinking critically and making judgements
  2. Solving complex, multidisciplinary, open ended problems
  3. Creativity and entrepreneurial thinking
  4. Communicating and collaborating
  5. Making innovative use knowledge, information and opportunities
  6. Taking charge of financial, civic and health responsibilities

The question then becomes how can IT help in develop these skills required for the 21st century, or is that the right question?    Consider the world we now live in and the 6 areas listed above; which of the areas could or maybe more accurately, would be, done without IT?

Points 2, 4 and 5, I would argue, would not normally be undertaken without IT.   To solve complex, multidisciplinary problems requires collaboration, communication, research and analysis.   Communication and collaboration in the current world involves the likes of skype, twitter, google drive, pinterest and a whole manner of other software and apps, to bring people together such that geography is no longer an issue, and sharing ideas, thoughts and questions is easy.    As to knowledge and information, and also research I do not think we can discuss these areas, in the current world we live in without the word “Google” popping to mind.   Now that covers 50% of the points, so 50% of the 21st century skills would normally involve IT so why isn’t  IT more embedded in education?   Why are we still looking to use IT as an “aid” to develop skills which actually necessitate the use of IT?

Now I could also argue that IT has its part to play in critical thinking and in creativity however I am not going to do so, as I think another problem lies here.      In what way do we teach students to be critical and creative thinkers, to question to norms, to be innovative?      I don’t think we do quite enough of this, mainly because we are busy teaching students the “right” answers, so they can pass the tests, get good marks, improve league tables and help to make the country look better in the all important standardised tests.   As such students’ critical judgements are only valid as long as they are in the domain of the teaching they have received, but outside this domain who is to say they will fare as well?   As to their ability to be creative thinkers, I think almost no time is set aside in schools to help develop this area.   Please note I am talking creative thinking here, and not Art, Music or Drama, as I am sure I can hear some people reading this, in the far corners of the web, muttering regarding the fact students receive lessons in these subject areas to provide them an opportunity to be creative.

All in all education has a way to go in terms of helping students develop the skills required of the 21st century.   Let’s just hope we get it right before the 22nd century is upon us!


21st Century Skills, Education and Competitiveness (2008),The Partnership for 21st Century Skills.
Image from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net : “Technology In The Hands Of Businessmen” by KROMKRATHOG



Bring Your Own Device/Technology (BYOD/BYOT)

ipadSchools have traditionally spent significant parts of their budgets on IT equipment, software and infrastructure, however does the use of Bring Your Own Device/Technology represent a solution to this, and an opportunity for schools to redeploy funding?

Traditionally IT within schools has taken the form of IT labs filled with computers.   In some schools these may be in use all of the time, however in other schools these are often empty and underutilised.   Recent years and the reduction in the costs of mobile technology and wireless infrastructure have allowed some schools to exploit technologies which can be redeployed easily within schools, in ways the traditional IT lab hardware could not be.   Moving a little further forward to today we find large numbers of students with access to personal devices they can use in learning.   These may be mobile phones, tablet PCs or various types of laptop, however they belong to students and therefore could support students in their learning across all subjects as they carry it with them.   Isn’t this want integrating IT into learning is all about?   My son already uses my phone to use apps when we are out and about, he uses an Android and a Blackberry tablet at home, and he is only 7.

At this point I normally hear people comment about what a simplistic view I am taking.  Some of the arguments against this approach are:

  • What if the equipment is lost or damaged at school?
  • How do we keep control of student school data?
  • How do we keep students safe when using their own equipment in school?
  • How do I create lessons for use across different platforms in school?
  • What about students who don’t have devices to bring to school?

For those without IT equipment, surely schools can provide for these students at cheaper cost and greater impact than they can when installing traditional IT labs which result in very variable student:computer ratios, which do not even taken into consideration actual machine utilisation.     Looking at the other arguments I could present an answer to each of the above issues however I am choosing not to right now.   Instead let us consider a common factor of the above: school.     In schools we assume students have to be perfectly safe, data mustn’t be lost and all equipment must work.   We also provide a set of software which we decide is appropriate.    In other words we create a separate IT world in which to teach.    Schools, their teachers and leaders assume responsibility for all aspects of IT usage however due to the predominance of technology and in particular Wifi and cloud based apps is this reflective of the real world?    Should students not be taught and required to take responsibility for equipment and data as they will need to in life beyond school?   Should they not be taught to deal with issues with technology as they arise?

We aim to use IT in a little safe bubble, where we can use IT without concern and as such we limit ourselves.   Now this is not to say that some things, such as certain websites, don’t need to be blocked, controlled or limited, however surely educating students to the dangers and also harvesting student ideas as to technology, especially given they have grown up with it, would yield greater long term benefits.

Now some schools are using BYOD/BYOT and embracing the opportunities it presents, and also the restrictions and difficulties it brings, as surely any new approach will, however why is it that so many, if not the majority, of schools persist with traditional IT Labs?    This is more surprising still when you consider the potential budgetary advantages as well as learning opportunities which the use of BYOD/BYOT may bring to schools.

Image from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net, Contributed by adamr