Tuesday, October 24, 2006

21st Century Skills and the Infinite World of Information

Three years ago Steven Glyer, Director of Educational Technology at the Newport-Mesa Unified School District in California, introduced me to a document called enGauge: 21st Century Skills for 21st Century Learners. The framework presented by NCREL and the Metiri Group includes Digital Age Literacies, Inventive Thinking, Effective Communication, and High Productivity. Each of these sections include elements you would expect, but there are a few surprises I find important.

For instance, there are eight Digital-Age Literacies, which include multicultural literacy and global awareness. Also, within the area of inventive thinking, we find my favorite 21st century skill, risk taking. (Teachers often ask me how to teach risk taking, and I think that is another post, but I'm certain it requires a learning environment in which it is ok to fail - and to learn from failure.) Under Effective Communication you'll find sections on personal, social, and civic responsibility. And the most significant element under High Productivity is the ability to produce relevant products.

My perspective on all of these skills was changed about a year ago when Clark Aldrich (author of Simulations and the Future of Learning and Learn By Doing) remarked as I interviewed him that these are more than just 21st century skills... they might be called life skills (except for the potentially negative connotations) or success skills - and they have been the skills of the successful for centuries, at least.

Some of these skills, though, are changing in the 21st century, particularly information literacy. Students need to be able to make sense of the overwhelming amount of information available today, particularly on the web. In fact, I thought I would use this topic to illustrate some of the search tools that can help make sense of the "infinite world of information" that is at our fingertips.

A quick web search reveals that the enGauge document is not the top hit. An organization called the Partnership for 21st Century Skills at www.21stcenturyskills.org shows up first. They may have a better URL, but their site is much harder to navigate. Still, with a little digging I turned up this alternative framework of 21st Century skills.

Recent news on the subject is equally easy to come by. A news search reveals, among other things, an article from September 25th titled Partnership for 21st Century Skills Calls for Innovative NCLB Reauthorization. Note that adding quotes to this news search focuses the results even further.

More indepth and more scholarly resources are also available. A book search reveals a wide variety of related volumes and excerpts. Similarly, a search of scholarly sources produces still more resources, and if you find one that is relevant to you, such as J Salpeter's 21st Century Skills: Will Our Students Be Prepared, you can then click on Cited by to discover sources that cited the article. (This is the reverse of looking in Salpeter's references to see who he cited... and this produces newer and potentially more relevant results.)

Of course, if you are interested in what people are saying informally about 21st century skills, you can search online groups, which reveals many people with questions (and perhaps answers) about this topic - or better yet, do a blog search. In this case, we discover a relevant post at one of my trusted sources, Jeff Utecht's The Thinking Stick.

And if other media than text interests you, there is always an image search, from which I located the image for this post, or a video search, which brings us to a video in which you can listen to a "Nppissing University Instructor discuss technology in learning and how Nortel LearniT helps his pre-service teachers develop their 21st century learning skills." Whatever your learning style, there is information out there for you.

I even tried a map search, which made me curious about the connection between the Partnership for 21st Century Skills in Tucson, Arizona and this office in New York.

This is only scratching the surface of the research process of course, but my fellow ITM bloggers and I will be returning to these tools often I'm sure. Meanwhile, these links can get anyone started in their own exploration of 21st Century Skills and what they mean to you and your students.