A Tangle of Technology and 21st Century Skills

Technology forces a new medium for the message, the means to transmit or support learning content and skills. In our society’s rush to embrace the latest technology (and to keep up with the younger generation who are already thoroughly plugged in), many people seem to confuse the means with the method, which sometimes shows up in literature about education and technology. When people talk about using 21st century skills, they clearly mean using technology. Yet simply using more technology does not automatically to higher-level or critical thinking. 

Some writers like Dr. Bonk speak sweepingly about technology connecting people, freeing the flow of information, and transforming the educational landscape for everyone’s betterment. Some authors scold us to use technology so that our students will pay attention and presumably be “engaged.” Are the students not engaged because they have become used to digital formats and digital speeds for entertainment, and haven’t learned to focus on non-entertainment? This seems to suggest that we must entertain students to hold their focus. Interestingly, the same video that challenges us to use technology shows students holding phrases written on low-tech white boards. 

I was interested in the story about the one boy who was very plugged in digitally and yet was doing very poorly in several classes. He could not stay focused on his reading because he kept getting pulled away by the internet and the many little snippets of information and interaction available at any time. 

When this same boy was working independently on editing a video project, he was focused and productive for hours. The key phrase there seemed to be was “interactivity.” Rather than operating primarily in a “transmittal” learning model, he was actively creating something that interested him. There digital technology made it easier for him to shoot and edit outside of class so he could work both collaboratively and independently. 

Other authors focus on jobs and being “literate” or “prepared.” If, as the earlier video claims, technological information doubles every two years, how can we possibly keep up? Other phrases that came up in my readings included “exponential times.” We are generating so much information and forced to navigate so much information, that we have to sift the incoming information and decide what is relevant. 

The idea of literacy seems to be changing as well. Writing by hand has been replaced by keyboarding or otherwise manipulating digital devices. Technology looms so large that it has gained equal footing with actual content in a T-PACK model. I might argue that part of technology literacy is learning/teaching to navigate the flood of information.

The quote that resonated the most was from Mr. Mishra et al’s article about 7 trans-disciplinary skills. 

“We suggest that trans-disciplinary knowledge which emerges from disciplinary practices, and also transcends them, is critical. Trans-disciplinary knowledge helps students move beyond looking for one “correct” solution, towards an approach that integrates different solutions, viewpoints, or perspectives.”

This perspective seems to include technology as a component, but it only includes it and does not make it front and center. The important skills are the new ways of combining, interacting and creating information, with technology facilitating produced work, not as an end to itself. 

So the key component for me is not so much that we use more technology, but that we use it more effectively to engage in higher level thinking, and to teach our students to use it effectively as well. Mishra et al’s seven “trans-disciplinary” skills  – perceiving, playing, patterning, abstracting, modeling, embodied thinking (perhaps this is producing work?), and finally synthesis – seem to fall more in line with critical thinking, and even compliment the WIDA learning objectives.


3 thoughts on “A Tangle of Technology and 21st Century Skills

  1. I think you make a great point that it is not so much about the amount of technology we are using in the classroom but rather that we are using the tools we have effectively to encourage higher level thinking.

  2. 1) I am not on blackboard, and therefore do not know who I am replying to.
    2) Excellent job on your blog. It seems advanced.
    3) I agree wholeheartedly with you. Technology is so important, but we need to be literate as to sifting through the junk and understanding what is appropriate in the classroom, when it is appropriate, and to whom is it appropriate.
    Also, I really resonate with this quote from your post: ” Are the students not engaged because they have become used to digital formats and digital speeds for entertainment, and haven’t learned to focus on non-entertainment? This seems to suggest that we must entertain students to hold their focus.” I have had this thought often and would love to explore this notion further. I can provide anecdotal evidence from families that do not have televisions and a very limited computer time where their kids love to read books for hours and have no “engagement” problems. But I know that this is not enough evidence to support this claim. It’s still something interesting to think about and look into further.

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