Our students are living and competing in a digital age. An interesting list of cultural observations about this year’s college freshmen — last year’s high school seniors — comes from Beloit College in Beloit, Wisconsin. These students are connected to each other through cell phones, tablets and other digital devices. Most of the students will take a few courses taught online by a professor they will never meet through a university they have never visited.
A few items from the list I thought were interesting include:
- As these students started to crawl, so did the new across the bottom of the television screen;
- Their screens keep getting smaller;
- With GPS, they have never needed directions to get someplace, just an address;
- They have never really needed to go to their friends’ houses so they could study together; and
- They have always been able to plug into USB ports.
As this list grows, I think of our kindergarten students and the world they know. Few students will have home phones; they’ve grown up using their parents’ cell phones. A tablet is a tool for learning, exploring and playing, and they are able to connect with others through video chats. This is the world of our students.
How do we as an educational institution respond to these changes in our students’ world?
We talk about the importance of 21st century skills. However, in using education jargon we may lose understanding of what is really needed for our students. We are talking about the skills students need to be able to compete in this digital society both at home and in the world at large.
When we talk about 21st century skills we are talking about ways of thinking, ways of working, tools for working and skills for living. The skills are not that different from what we have wanted for our students all along. The technology has changed, and we have become digitally connected. Students need to understand that while technology is powerful, there still are important skills such as creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration.
Creativity is a skill we have nurtured throughout the history of education. There are studies about the loss of creativity as a child progresses through school. We need to nurture that creativity through reading, through the arts and through active learning.
Critical thinking is an important part of education also. Students need to be able to tell the difference between opinion and facts, understand the vast amount of information available, and determine what information is based on fact and is useful.
Communication and collaboration are strong skills that need to be nurtured through our schools. These skills are useful for working and for everyday learning. As we become more individualized we need to be able to work together and collaborate. This may not always take place in one room, but collaboration and communication may be available through devices and other means of technology.
As a district, Moorhead Area Public Schools is working hard to make sure each student has the knowledge and skills he or she needs to be successful after high school. Whether these skills are labeled as 21st century skills, college and career ready, World’s Best Workforce or something else, we know we have to nurture these skills for our students’ future.
Our district goal demonstrates this commitment to each student. Each student will have the opportunity to acquire 21st century skills, knowledge and expertise to succeed in life and work in the 21st century. Specifically we are looking for maximum growth in basic skills, creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication through innovative technology.
Together as a community we can educate our students to make sure they are ready to take on a future that is rapidly changing.
Dr. Lynne A. Kovash
Moorhead Area Public Schools