Are 21st Century Skills the Missing Piece?

by Coby Enteen

The introduction of 21st century knowledge and skills as a focal point for educational initiatives has reignited discussion as to the role of the teacher in the classroom.  Educators have been attempting for years to initiate a ‘paradigm shift’ in terms of the role of the teacher with the classroom; from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side’.  However, very few have been able to turn this change into a reality.

When technology was first introduced into the classroom, educators believed that computers would speed up change and that teachers would finally let go of old habits and capitalize on digital resources as a means of transforming the classroom.  This did occur on a very small scale, where forward-thinking teachers understood the value of the technology in terms of encouraging student inquiry and a higher- level of discourse in the classroom.  However, for the most part teachers continue to serve as a single source of knowledge and the technology is used as a supplementary resource if at all.

One of the most significant trends of the past decade is the introduction of 21st century skills into teaching and learning.  Although academia is still wresting with the most accurate definition of these skills and practices, they have become the cornerstone for nearly all educational endeavors.  So, what are these 21st century skills?  The partnership for 21st Century skills (www.p21.org) defines them as: Critical thinking and problem solving, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity and innovation.  The division of Assessment and Teaching in of 21st Century Skills (ATOCS) at the University of Melbourne (www.atc21s.org) further divides these skills into 4 categories:

  • Ways of thinking. Creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning
  • Ways of working. Communication and collaboration
  • Tools for working. Information and communications technology (ICT) and information literacy
  • Skills for living in the world. Citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility

Transformation of teaching and learning occurs when we begin to base our  instructional practices on 21st Century Skills.  Educators that integrate these skills into daily practice are unable to avoid more active instruction and begin to understand the importance of allowing student to construct knowledge through the development of these skills, at which point technology plays the ‘natural’ role of enabler.  This process leads to a transformation in the teaching process or an ‘instructional paradigm shift’ as illustrated in figure 1 below.

21CTI_Model

Figure 1 – 21CTI Model

Another article related to 21st century skills:

Living in a Digital World We Don’t Understand | edtechdigest.com.

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