Saturday, March 21, 2009

21st Century...Are We Ready?

Last Friday, I was lucky enough to have been given the opportunity to present at the Queensland Studies Authority's Senior Schooling conference. When they first approached me I had just won my award and was totally awed that they'd want me to speak - after all there's all sorts of "big" educational names presenting at these things!

Despite my reservations, I agreed and decided that I'd use the opportunity to talk about what I believe about 21st education and the need for our schools and teachers to 'shift' in order to provide the best possible education for our students. I knew not everyone would like what I had to say, so when one or two people decided it wasn't the session for them and walked out I wasn't too worried - afterall, there's no point attempting to convert the ones who refuse to hear the message. At the end of the session I was pleased have people from all sorts of backgrounds - policy developers, university lectures, teachers and school leaders stay back to talk briefly about my message. Generally, their feedback was that I'd given them a great deal to think about. Bonus for me!

It may be cheating slightly as a blog post, but I would like to share what I spoke about with those who read my blog. You are the ones I have found inspiring, challenging and truly enriching as I have made connections through a vibrant online personal learning network and I would love your feedback - the good, the bad and the ugly about what I shared. Did I miss the point? Did I leave something vital out?
My presentation was titled "Here comes the 21st Century...are we ready?" and I started by discussing what exactly we mean by 21st Century and why it is really only quite recently that we've started talking about "21st Century Skills" and "21st Century Education" when the 21st century is already upon us.

I started by talking about the fact that when the Industrial Revolution sparked global reform of things such as family life, work and education it was a slow change in many places because of certain change barriers - communication, speed of travel and concentration of 'experts' and tied that with the fact that in the last 100 years (or less) we've been experiencing a Communication and Information Revolution which has snowballed across the globe far quicker than anything like it before, and that this has had a transformational impact on our society which has led to some fundamental changes in our world.

One of the biggest changes we need to deal with in our schools is the learners in our classrooms. I see so many teachers frustrated with the teenagers in their rooms and so many teenagers frustrated with their teachers - all because they don't understand that both groups are simply different. Last year I stumbled upon Michael McQueen's book, "New Rules of Engagement" and it resonated with me when it spoke about the paradigm rifts that exist between each generation. The rifts McQueen identifies in his book are:
  1. Concept of Truth
  2. Respect
  3. Patience
  4. Communication
  5. The Future
  6. Loyalty
  7. Work Ethic
  8. Learning

I honestly believe that if we understand these rifts, these points of conflict, we have a far better chance of connecting with our Gen Y learners and therefore facilitating their learning - in fact I've been priveldged enough to see a teacher very close to me make the shift after reading the book himself. McQueen's book was such a vital find for me in terms of me finding a way of explaining what it is that I see going wrong between so many Gen Y learners and the older generations, I highly recommmend it to anyone working or living with Gen Y.

It was about then I put the challenge out on the table - are we teaching the students in front of us, or the students we were? And shared a story about how the generational divide affects me as someone born towards the end of Gen X and beginning of Gen Y:

My father doesn’t own a computer, he’s never had an email account (let alone done an internet search) – he has no way of understanding my husband and I when we talk about wikis, blogs, RSS, ipod Touch, Twitter, Skype. Guess what that means? We don’t talk much about my work – and let’s face it my work is a big part of my life. There’s a generational divide there making the connection a lot harder – and we’re seeing that in schools between teachers and students too.

Technology isn’t going away, if anything our society is becoming more and more technology saturated. Educators have been doing the same old thing for a long time. When I was in my first year out of university I lost count of how many times I was told, “Why reinvent the wheel?” when I suggested new ways of doing things. The thing is, the essence of the wheel (a round object used to move things) may stay the same but over the years wheels have changed a lot – new materials and new technologies have found ways of making the wheel better at it’s job. For me, that’s what teachers finding ways to effectively integrate technology into their pedagogy is about.

At that point I asked the hardest question for those new to the 21st Century bandwagon:

Picture: ‘1/0’ by sbfisher, from Flickr,
made available under a Creative Commons License

It was then that I flipped my own switch and showed them some of the tools I use in my classrooms and spoke about how easy it can be to use ICTs in meaningful ways to enrich their students in a 21st Century learning environment. Audacity, Twitter, Voki, Voicethread, Wikis, Blogs, Google (as more than a search engine), Ning, Piclits, BigHugeLabs all made it to my short list - although as we'd had to submit our presentations a couple of months ago it was slightly out of date. Go2Web20 also got a special mention as one way of finding great little Web2.0 applications.

As I wrapped up my 60 minutes I made sure to make the point that using ICTs in a 21st Century learning environment isn't about the technology, it's got to be about pedagogy first and foremost and talked about Andrew Churches' revised Bloom's Digital Taxonomy found at Educational Origami as one way we can look at the pedagogy behind our ICT use.

I tend to think in questions (which my students find frustrating at times, especially when instead of giving them the answer I ask them questions to guide them towards it themselves) and so I asked a lot of questions throughout my presentation, and I chose to leave them with the question which has stayed with me and pushed me to constantly review and adapt what I do in my classrooms:

Picture: ‘No More Miracles’ by birdbath, from Flickr,
made available under a Creative Commons License
I left the room feeling positive and my colleague who came to watch was buzzing about it the whole way home - it was wonderful for me to hear him start to make the connections between what he and his staff are currently doing and what the next step for them in terms of 21st Century education needs to be. Now, it's back to the grindstone and getting my hands dirty helping those around me make that step - I love being able to share what it is I'm passionate about.


agrei8 said...

i like the story you weave throughout this entry Nic. personal yet something for eveyone at every level. It would have been a great presentation to sit through. Cheers!

bethstill said...

Congrats on your presentation. How cool! What caught my attention in your post was not the part about the technology, but rather the part about needing to understand our students.Before we can teach students anything we have to build a trusting relationship with them the second they walk into our classroom. In order to do that we have to accept the fact that they are not the same as students were a generation ago. This does not make them better or worse than past generations of students; it means they are different. My strongest asset as a teacher is my ability to connect to my students. I always start the year off slowly with ice breaker activities so my students can get to know each other and so I can get to know them. This approach allows them to feel comfortable and safe in my classroom because it sends them the message that they are more important than the curriculum and much more important than any standardized test.

Nic Mobbs said...

Thanks for your comments, guys.

Adrian, I learn through stories and that's how I teach. So many teacher underestimate the power of sharing real stories with their students - and quite honestly isn't that what PD should be about sharing and connecting? Can't do that without the personal touch.

Beth, I agree completely. One of our biggest challenges is connecting with our students. So many of them come to us determined to disconnect for whatever reason, but we can't let them. Some of my colleagues probably think I over share with my students, but I find if they know you as a person the job of "teaching" becomes easier. My students know I'm a nerd, am training for my blackbelt, am disorganised and have a cat that rules my house.