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Review: 21st Century Skills (by Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel)

Book: 21st Century Skills: Learning for life in our times
Author: Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel
Publisher: Jossey-Bass (2009)

Some ten years into the 21st century, I find it amazing that we are still having conversations on what skills are necessary to succeed in this new century. We’ve explored some ideas of what skills are relevant before (see this, this, this, and this, for example), and there appears to be a general consensus that there are needs for skills development in creativity, innovation, smart use of ICTs, and social leadership. This is exactly in line with what Bernie Trilling and Charles Fadel, co-board members on the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, identify (lifted from the book jacket):

  • Learning and Innovation Skills: Creativity and Innovation, Critical Thinking and Problem Solving, and Communication and Collaboration
  • Digital Literacy Skills: Information Literacy, Media Literacy, and ICT Literacy
  • Career and Life Skills: Flexibility and Adaptability, initiative and Self-Direction, Social and Cross-Cultural Skills, Productivity and Accountability, Leadership and Responsibility

What makes this book valuable to practitioners, however, is that instead of building up chapters of reasoning for why we need to adopt the P21 skill set in education, they focus more on what each of these skills mean. Moreover, they tie in examples of the skills in practice with an included DVD, containing real-life classroom examples.

While the book excels at understanding each of the P21 skills and their implications, it falls short on how to build these skills in broader contexts – i.e., as a replacement set for NCLB standards. For this, the text could have benefited with an invitation –and mechanism– for its readers to join the conversation on adopting and embracing new skills for the 21st century. Instead, leading the conversation seems left to us: Where shall we begin?

Note: The publisher provided a copy of the book for review. Please read our review policy for more details on how we review products and services.

Is YouTube bursting higher education's bubble? Not so fast…

Last Sunday, Jeffrey Young wrote about the use of the Internet to deliver lectures in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The article centered on the work of Salman Khan, who posts home-made lectures on YouTube:

The lo-fi videos seem to work for students, many of whom have written glowing testimonials or even donated a few bucks via a PayPal link. The free videos have drawn hundreds of thousands of views, making them more popular than the lectures by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, famous for making course materials free, or any other traditional institution online, according to the leaders of YouTube’s education section.


[…] called up one of the donors, Jason Fried, chief executive of 37signals, a hip business-services company, who recently gave an undisclosed amount to Khan Academy, to find out what the attraction was.

“The next bubble to burst is higher education,” he said. “It’s too expensive for people—there’s no reason why parents should have to save up a hundred grand to send their kids to college. I like that there are alternative ways of thinking about teaching.”

A review of the comments appended to the article suggest that many readers agree that higher education faces serious competition from online knowledge repositories. What the article misses however, is consideration of the conversion of information acquisition/collection to personal knowledge. Schools such as MIT, through their support of the OpenCourseWare Consortium, have demonstrated their understanding that the real value of higher education is not the downloading of knowledge through texts and lectures, but rather through the production of new and personal knowledge that their unique environments offer. This tacit, added values provided by the institutions are what define quality higher education.

European colleges and universities are notorious for having embraced lectures over other course formats (i.e., seminars, laboratories). In these environments, student learning does not occur as much within lecture halls as it occurs outside of the classroom — through interactions with other students, individual and informal study groups, independent or directed research, etc.

In the age of YouTube lectures, universities need not worry about their bubbles bursting, but rather, what they should be doing in the classrooms instead of lecturing.

Is it too late to bring creativity to schools?

An interesting conversation on creativity is emerging on the blogosphere.

Many people saw Sir Ken Robinson’s TED talk on reintroducing creativity into schools, and undermine assembly line approaches to creating automatons out of students. On Sunday, North Carolina 6th grade teacher Bill Ferriter countered, “Creativity is dead, Ken,” and outlined barriers in his classroom that makes creativity impossible:

  • States define MASSIVE curricula for our kids
  • No one is measuring creativity
  • Teachers are rarely encouraged to be creative
  • Progressive thinkers aren’t making policy

(More in Bill’s post…)

The Guardian, however, posted an interview with Ken Robinson last week, getting his take on the state of education after the UK abolished much of its testing regime:

He suggests the education system needs to be not just reformed, but transformed – and urgently. In times of economic crisis, we need to think more creatively than ever, he says. “Just about everywhere, the problems are getting worse.”

The history of education has been centered on educational “reform,” but very little has ever been reformed. If we have failed at reforms for so long that education needs a radical transformation, then would it be easier for us to work outside of the education system rather than inside of it?

Other people who put their two cents in:

Knowmads in Society 3.0

Remember nomads?

In the pre-industrial age, nomads were people that moved with their livelihood (usually animal herding) instead of settling at a single location. Industrialization forced the settlement of many nomadic peoples…

…but, something new is emerging in the 21st century: Knowmads.

A knowmad is what I term a nomadic knowledge worker –that is, a creative, imaginative, and innovative person who can work with almost anybody, anytime, and anywhere. Industrial society is giving way to knowledge and innovation work. Whereas industrialization required people to settle in one place to perform a very specific role or function, the jobs associated with knowledge and information workers have become much less specific in regard to task and place. Moreover, technologies allow for these new paradigm workers to work either at a specific place, virtually, or any blended combination. Knowmads can instantly reconfigure and recontextualize their work environments, and greater mobility is creating new opportunities. Consider this coffee shop in Houston:

The coffee shop has become the workplace of choice for many knowmads. What happens when the investment banker sitting next to the architect have a conversation? What new ideas, products, and services might be created?

The remixing of places and social relationships is also impacting education. Students in knowmad society (or, as I also like to call it, Society 3.0) can learn, work, play, and share in almost any configuration. Remember our videoconference with a fifth grade classroom in Owatonna? The purposive use of technologies allowed standard desks to be removed from the classroom and for students and teachers to instantly reconfigure their social learning environment, allowing for more individualized instruction …and co-instruction among students and their teacher. The differences between students, teachers and colleagues are beginning to blur.

Who are these knowmads in Society 3.0? Workers, students or coffee shop patrons?

(To find out, click on the picture)

Are you a knowmad?

Study: Calculators okay in math class

…but, only if students know the math first.

Media guru Griffin Gardner forwarded this article from ScienceDaily, which suggests that calculators are useful tools in elementary-level mathematics classes.  Citing research by Bethany Rittle-Johnson and Alexander Oleksij Kmicikewycz at Vanderbilt, and recently published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, ScienceDaily writes:

“So much of how you teach depends on how you market the material – presentation is very important to kids,” Kmicikewycz added. “Many of these students had never used a calculator before, so it added a fun aspect to math class for them.”

“It’s a good tool that some teachers shy away from, because they are worried it’s going to have negative consequences,” Rittle-Johnson said. “I think that the evidence suggests there are good uses of calculators, even in elementary school.”

From the JECP article:

The impact of prior knowledge on the benefits of generating information highlights an important constraint that teachers should consider. Initial practice in generating answers seems important to support procedure acquisition; once procedures are learned, the benefits of generating answers may be reduced or eliminated. This converges with teachers’ beliefs that ‘‘calculators should be used only after students had learned how to do the relevant mathematics without them” (Ballheim, 1999, p. 6). Reading answers from calculators does offer some potential benefits for higher knowledge students; it increases opportunities for practice of individual items and removes exposure to incorrect answers. Associative memory models predict that greater exposure to problems and their answers improves recall of the answers and that exposure to incorrect answers decreases recall of correct answers (e.g., Shrager & Siegler, 1998; Siegler, 1988). In the current study, using calculators increased the number of times the problems were practiced and decreased the number of errors during the study session. This may explain why higher knowledge students did not seem to benefit from generating answers. Over additional study sessions, benefits of calculator use for learning arithmetic facts may accrue. More generally, teachers should consider the potential trade-off in practice using procedures and frequency of exposure to correct information and should consider that this trade-off may vary for students with different knowledge levels. (p. 80)

The Chinese are using hand-held learning devices to help them pass English exams, and the U.S. is starting to see the benefits of the use of calculators in the classroom.  Is “ethical cheating” becoming mainstream?

Computers will revolutionize education?

Dick Pelletier wrote a fun piece on the near future of education, built from computer-based technologies most people are already familiar with.  He writes:

These sophisticated new computers will understand ordinary everyday spoken words in English, Spanish, Chinese, or any major language, and will use avatars – on-screen images that could appear as Einstein, Columbus, or even a local classroom teacher – to communicate on a personal level with each student.

The place for these computers, he writes, is in schools –which I believe is a dangerous assumption about the future.  I mentioned this before, but perhaps I should put out the question again:  Does the future need schools? Also, we need to consider, given the large number of computers in schools already, why hasn’t there been a revolution in education, yet?

That said, the piece is actually good.  So, please read it at Future Blogger, and post your thoughts there.

A campus for rent in Chaska


The StarTribune reports that the town of Chaska, Minnesota, is planning for a new higher education campus, built by an outfit called “EdCampus.” What makes the site unique is that it is being built without a sole tenant in mind:

The company plans to erect classrooms as shells, line up higher education institutions as tenants to fill them, then customize the rooms for satellite classes or lectures offered by as many colleges and universities as it can line up.

“They could lease space to anyone from Harvard to North Dakota State,” Chaska Mayor Gary Van Eyll said.

According to the Mayor of Chaska:

EdCampus located in Chaska. It is hard to explain this facility. It will be an innovational educational model that leverages the power of combining dynamic students from diverse institutions into a single campus – outfitted with customizable classroom space and student-centric services.

EdCampus will offer state-of-the-art technology, never seen before in post-secondary education.

Since secondary education institutions develop a tremendous amount of educational technologies, I’m not sure what technologies have never been seen before in post-secondary education. (Also, does this high tech EdCampus have a website?) The real innovation, however, is that such a “campus” concept allows higher education institutions to create a presence in a community without outlaying a huge investment. Some institutions may wish to try certain communities/markets before making a large investment in facilities. Others will appreciate the pathways for rapid egress afforded by lease arrangements.

What does this ability to enter and exit new markets rapidly mean for land grant universities, which are intended to create lasting presences in the communities they serve?

Can Shibuya save Antioch?

From this morning’s Inside Higher Ed:

Antioch University’s announcement last week that its board had “reconfirmed” plans to shutter Antioch College at the end of this academic year has prompted a flurry of activity to prevent that from happening.

Most notably, alumni and professors are working on plans for the faculty to continue to teach students — even if that takes place without the university’s endorsement. Plans being discussed would have classes held in various locations in Yellow Springs, Ohio, so that there would be no stoppage of Antioch instruction. Alumni announced that they have raised $1 million to support such efforts, called “Non-Stop Antioch.”

Antioch College likes innovation in education, but if they had Leapfrog on their mind, they might look to the Shibuya University Network for an innovative operational model. The Shibuya model would provide a lifelong learning approach that is infused into the community Antioch serves. In effect, the entire city of Yellow Springs could become a classroom. What need would there be for a formally organized Antioch College?


Moving beyond Education 2.0

There’s a lot of talk about moving to “Education 2.0” –but, what would Education 3.0 look like?

Here’s my take on the Education 1.0 – 3.0 spectrum:

Education 1.0

Education 2.0

Education 3.0

Meaning is… Dictated Socially constructed Socially constructed and contextually reinvented
Technology is… Confiscated at the classroom door (digital refugees) Cautiously adopted (digital immigrants) Everywhere (digital universe)
Teaching is done … Teacher to student Teacher to student and student to student (progressivism) Teacher to student, student to student, student to teacher, people-technology-people (co-constructivism)
Schools are located… In a building (brick) In a building or online (brick and click) Everywhere (thoroughly infused into society: cafes, bowling alleys, bars, workplaces, etc.)
Parents view schools as… Daycare Daycare A place for them to learn, too
Teachers are… Licensed professionals Licensed professionals Everybody, everywhere
Hardware and software in schools… Are purchased at great cost and ignored Are open source and available at lower cost Are available at low cost and are used purposively
Industry views graduates as… Assembly line workers As ill-prepared assembly line workers in a knowledge economy As co-workers or entrepreneurs