A new literacy for a new world? (I)

We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us, and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves. It is time, in other words, that we change out attitude toward learning and the educational system in general.

Stephen Downes, Huffington Post, October 18, 2010

But, do we know where this journey is going?

Tuesday 26th october 2010, invited by Apple Education-Spain , I went on the “K12 Roadshow” Seminar for schools held at W Barcelona Hotel. The seminar speakers during the morning session were Richard Tevershan ( Director of Education Mobility and Content at Apple EMEIA) and Hans Renman ( Principal  of the high school YBC in Stockholm and founder of Business Creative Sweden, a consulting & education company ).

They both spoke about the education challenges of the 21st century world and how ITC can help to improve some of the skills that our children will need to adapt to the knowledge society. Certainly most of the ideas spoken during the event weren’t new for me. I have written about that changes before (some of my posts on The Grey Havens Chronicles , for example in 2006, 2007 , 2008, 2009 and 2010 ) , I ‘ve read and I listened to a lot of information about this in the last five years since I began my research journey. Despite this fact and the feeling of “déjà vu”, it’s always interesting to have more input and visions from other point of view to find common reasons or new ideas.

Are we preparing our children for the world that is coming? that is the question we must respond to in an evolving world with a globalised economy, were future works, problems and technology don’t yet exist. I seems obvious that we need a new literacy for a new world, so, how to prepare today students for future context? We can see the Did You Know?/Shift Happens video and wiki developed by Karl Fish to remember which are the changes we are facing:

While I was listening to Richard Tervershan doing his presentation talking about Learning with Apple, I remembered the lessons learned about how to use technology for education  masterly lectured by Tony Bates at CosmoCaixa BCN 3 years ago (see post I and post II). I’ve strong convictions that educational technology can empower teachers to improve student’s learning, but I also believe that technology in classroom isn’t miracoulus without good teaching, engaged and commited teachers with educational change. As Michael Fullan has well explained in his researches of Change Forces , scholar organizations needs something deeper than technology to change their professional culture . To change isn’t easy, isn’t quick and ins’t free. We always pay a price for change so we must to be sure that it will be worth to adopt it.

Futhermore, technological change is never neutral as  Neil Postman , the renamed rebel thinker critic with an indiscriminate use of media, point out and resume in his famous conference Five Things We Need to Know About Technologial Change (Postman, N. 1998):

  1. “Culture always pays a price for technology”.
  2. “The advantages and disadvantages of new technologies are never distributed evenly among the population”.
  3. “Every technology has a philosophy which is given expression in how the technology makes people use their minds, in what it makes us do with our bodies, in how it codifies the world, in which of our senses it amplifies, in which of our emotional and intellectual tendencies it disregards”.
  4. “Technological change is not additive; it is ecological”.
  5. “Media tend to become mythic”.

If we want to promote a new literacy for a new world through the use of technology in education we must avoid naïf acriticism. But, to be critic with the adoption and classroom use of ICT beforehand it’s necessary to have clear educational criteria (for example as Larry Cuban expressed recently) . After I have listened Richard Tevershan and Hans Renman I convinced that they are two of these people with a poweful discernment both with technology and education.

Richard Tevershan explained Apple’s vision and mission about learning. Envisioning “a world in wich all learners are empowered to realize the one unique talents“, the Apple education is not about how to sell more digital devices, said Mr.Tevershan, it is about “to define, create and support the best possible learning environment for learners of all ages“.  Because in a world with new challenges to education: global competition, workplace innovation, global interdependence, ubiquitous information and so on, it’s necessary to provide to students with new learning experiences and skills for the 21st century.

Common workplaces of knowledge society requires up-to-date abilities such as: analytical reasoning, communication skills, willingness to experiment and innovate, workteam capacity …But, one moment,  that’s not really new, or yes? (In that sense I recommend to you to read the post  It’s New! It’s New! by George Siemens). In others words it’s just what was said fourteen year ago by Jacques Delors , who chaired a UNESCO International Commission on Education for the Twenty-first Century from 1993 to 1996.

Fruit of this task force labor was published in 1996 a final report named Learning: The Treasure Within. By means of that report the commission established that education throughout life in the new century is based upon four pillars:

  1. learning to know
  2. learning to do
  3. learning to live together
  4. learning to be

Since then, this new basic set of education skills has been well studied by others institutions, for example in OECD‘s projects like Schooling for Tomorrow (SfT) developed by the  Center for Educational Research and Innovation (CERI) or the New Millenium Learners (NML) project launched in 2007 (fore more information see the first NML International Conference documents and the working paper: «21stcentury skills and competences for new millennium learners in OECD countries»).

And, between others, we could also talk about similar initiatives such as:

  • 21st Century Learning Initiative
  • 21st Century Schools
  • 21st Century Collaborative
  • Specially, I would like to emphasize  The Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) organization, who has proposed a framework for 21st Century Learning based on items such as:

  • Problem solving (to know more about Problem Based Learning see PBL)
  • Teamwork
  • Find, produce and communicate information (ITC literacy)
  • Leadership
  • Time management
  • Enriched multimedia learning
  • Interdisciplinary
  • It’s well-known that since its beginnings Apple has a strengh relation with innovative technology and education solutions. Twenty-five years ago Apple started a research project named Apple Classrooms of Tomorrow (ACOT) oriented to develop its educational vision. Between 1985 and 1995 ACOT  has provided teachers and students at five public school sites with individual computers for use at school and at home (see pdf reports from project library for more information: 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22). ACOT’s goal was:

    to study how the routine use of technology by teachers and students might change teaching and learning. ACOT identified effective models for teaching and learning with technology, developing the professional lives of teachers and diffusing innovation.”

    Following ACOT project, actually Apple is funding ACOT2 (see complete ACOT2 report for more information) with a new goal:

    to help high schools get closer to creating the kind of learning environment this generation of students needs, wants, and expects so they will stay in school.

    Mr. Revershan continued explaining that Apple, taking ACOT2 project as powerful experience and P21 framework as reference, has developed a new approach to education, an evolved idea of PBL: the concept of Challenge Based Learning (CBL).  According to Apple :

    “[...] CBL applies what is known about the emerging learning styles of high school students and leverages the powerful new technologies that provide new opportunities to learn to provide an authentic learning process that challenges students to make a difference. [...] is an engaging multidisciplinary approach to teaching and learning that encourages students to leverage the technology they use in their daily lives to solve real-world problems”

    Some of the characteristics of CBL are:

  • based on and connected to real life
  • after school learning
  • adapted to 24/7 access to tools and resources connecting learning
  • students must collaborate in teams
  • social and emotional connection
  • encourages working across subjects
  • promote culture of creativity and innovation
  • students find, communicate and apply information
  • students can respond to a challenge in a variety of ways
  • prioritisation
  • relevant and applied curriculum
  • students work published
  • scalability
  • informative assesments
  • 21st century skills outcomes
  • In that point Mr. Revershan ask to us: what is nowadays a student digital life? Thinking a little about it and young people, he said, we can see that they’re connected all the time and they would desire a learning that:

    • provides the equivalent funcionality as their school environment
    • accomodate a mobile lifestyle
    • adapts to individual learning style
    • encourages collaboration and teamwork

    So, how the 21st century school would have to be to satisfy these challenges? How the teachers and the principals would have to be to satisfy these challenges? and, how the technology could be help to do it?

    (to be continued)