Thursday, January 7, 2010

What 21st Century Skills Should Look Like in a School/Classroom.

Considering this question led me to take another look at several documents stating goals and objectives for K-12 education. The first is the North Carolina State Board of Educations most recent goals ( Although most of these stated goals do impact what happens in a classroom, the second goal – specifically, NC public schools will be led by 21st Century professionals, lays a foundation for what the NC State Board of Education envisions what a 21st Century classroom should look like. This goal specifically addresses the expectations that teachers will have the expertise, both technically and pedagogically, to effectively utilize technology in instruction in their respective classrooms. Although this expectation is stated by the State BOE, it gives no specifics as what being a skilled teacher using effective technology entails. Since consumer technology and instructional technology is continually changing, it would be very difficult to specify which technologies should be utilized uniformly and what skills a teacher would need to be proficient in its use.

The second goal of the SBE also implies, in two separate points, the use of technology by teachers and administrators to assess and evaluate instruction. Although this may not be considered to be an instructional technology, it does involve the use of technology to improve instruction. By continually collecting and evaluating student performance using technological solutions, immediate feedback on student performance can be obtained and instruction can be adapted to ensure individual student success. This goal also states that teachers and administrators should be aware of the interconnectedness of the world via the Internet and be continually offered high quality professional development to maintain those skills.

The second document I re-visited was the International Society for Technology in Education’s Educational Technology Standards for Teachers ( These five objectives contain several of the same points listed in the SBE’s goals. Specifically, these are; teachers who have the skills and instructional tools to use, as well as model the use of, technology in instruction. The ISTE standards take another step by stating that teachers should be creative and innovative in their instruction so as to engage students in the instructional process. According to the ISTE Standards these should include real world problem solving, collaboration with others in project-based learning, and simulations using technology to create virtual world and experiences.

So what does this mean 21st Century Skills should look like in a classroom? I think the chief component of such a classroom centers not around the equipment in the classroom but the teacher. If the teacher is not a skilled and motivated technology user then the classroom will most likely not reflect 21st Century skills. As stated earlier, technology changes rapidly and it is difficult for schools to keep up with these changes for a number of reasons. A highly qualified teacher is a teacher who is skilled at adapting to changes both in technology and to the students in his/her classroom. These teachers are not only a dedicated life-long learners but also models life-long learning to their students. These teachers are creative in their approach to instruction using the skills they have to motivate and engage their students in learning. They have the skills to use whatever technological resources are available to them to demonstrate digital learning skills to their students. They make use of instructional management tools to minimize the time necessary for routine daily tasks and they have the skills and tools to use data driven decision making practices to ensure each student makes adequate progress in their class. These teachers also use digital communication tools to regularly update parents, students, and administrators on their students’ progress or to alert them to potential problems.

It may seem that these types of skills would be difficult for a teacher to develop and maintain and indeed that would be the case if we were talking about a single individual. What is necessary is a system to support teachers and students in accomplishing these objectives. This involves numerous support personnel to acquire and maintain appropriate technological resources. It also involves an on-going, up-to-date professional development program to continually facilitate and coach teachers to constantly improve instruction.

Several years ago, I taught a course in Instructional Technology to undergraduate education majors. In this course, we defined Instructional Technology as a process. 21st Century Skills in today’s classroom would reflect a shift from a linear, assembly line approach to education to a non-linear, highly adaptable educational process which allows students to learn in a way which accommodates the different ways in which they see and approach their worlds outside the classroom.

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