Jul 27 2006

21st Century teaching curriculum

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Published by at 5:23 pm under Communities of practice,Technology

The Portland Ed Cluster ( http://www.portlandedcluster.com/ ) is a consortium of Portland companies working in the learning / elearning area. It’s a small community of practice that I’ve felt I should connect with, even though what I do seems pretty different from their norm. I’ve been to a couple meetings and hopped on my bike on Bastille Day to hear Ken Kay, chairman of Infotech Strategies, ( http://www.itstrategies.com/ ) talk about “21st Century Skills: A New Vision for K-12 Education.” It turns out that Infotech is a consultancy that combines “public relations, public affairs, marketing strategy, business consulting, and coalitions & alliances services to deliver maximum results” for their clients.
The good folks at http://www.learning.com/ provided box lunches and there were about 15 of us that showed up for the presentation. The main topic that Kay was talking about is the Partnership for 21st Century Skills — consisting of many companies and funded in part by the US Department of Education.

Among other things, Kay was asking, “Why are 21st Century Skills so critical?” His response:

    “Twenty-first century skills, combining technology literacy, critical thinking, creativity and mastery of core subject matter are the lifeblood of a productive workforce in today’s global, knowledge-based economy. “

He’s mostly talking about high schools and high school curriculum. Kay is a really good speaker.
It’s hard to quibble with his argument for change. But I wondered about some of his answers.

  • First of all, I can imagine schools as institutions being less “bricks and mortar” than they used to be. The trend toward home schooling in the US or toward online education generally may change the experience of high school students a lot. Creating online community, of course, may be a critical element for that online world to succeed.
  • Second, the way high school students use technology changes their world a lot more than curriculum can change it. See this panel discussion at a Microsoft Research Conference on Social Technologies suggests that high school students can organize a lot of their own learning. Planning a curriculum without a clear vision of a student’s world seems dubious to me because the informal communities that students create are so very powerful.
  • Finally, I was struck by the apparent assumption that “professional development” to help teachers live and contribute in this new world would be no different from what we have today. It can’t bee that all we need is more of what we have, can it? It seems to me that communities of practice for ongoing professional development have to be a key element for the kinds of improvisatory skills that a 21st Century workforce will need.
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