In light of the interesting back and forth that occurred on my last post, I’ve been thinking about what the fundamental lessons of schooling ought to be and the role of technology in helping us teach them. “ceolaf,” someone who is new to commenting here, has spent a lot of time pushing back and articulating in some pretty compelling ways the friction between creating lessons to fit the technology or vice versa. I think at the core, we agree that the larger lessons are the larger lessons (or at least that there are larger lessons). And while at the heart of it I don’t think we disagree that technology can be a useful tool for learning those lessons, there is obviously a difference in the way we approach it. It’s been a good conversation, one worth digging into a bit more.

I think “ceolaf” sums it up pretty well here (and if this isn’t the best kernel then I’m sure he’ll tell me):

I fear that Will would lose sight of the real importance of the lasting lessons for the possibilities of today’s technology. (I think that Will might fear that I am not giving enough credit to what a different world our students live in, and therefore must learn to operate in.)

Assuming that we can can come to some general agreement on what those lessons might be, no doubt we need to question and examine the choices that we make around these technologies in our own practice and in our classrooms when it comes to learning those lessons for ourselves or for our kids. We can’t take those choices lightly, and we have to be able to make those choices from a certain foundation of personal learning with technology in those contexts. It’s one of the reasons that I get continually frustrated with NECC sessions and Tweets and blogs that celebrate tools without giving weight to the considerations that goes into choosing a tool in a pedagogical sense. We need more sessions on “why?’ not “how?”, more thinking about teaching with technology and less of what Gary classicallly described as “Burping with VoiceThread.” (That’s a whole ‘nother post.)

Regardless, I believe that used well, these still nascent Web technologies can help us teach those larger lessons, and do so in a way that engages our students and has more relevance than “old” pen and paper, face to face ways. Not all of the time, but some of it. “ceolaf” pointed to this post by Diane Ravitch titled “The Partnership for 19th Century Skills” which eloquently makes the case that in terms of those big lessons, nothing much has changed.

I for one have heard quite enough about the 21st century skills that are sweeping the nation. Now, for the first time, children will be taught to think critically (never heard a word about that in the 20th century, did you?), to work in groups (I remember getting a grade on that very skill when I was in third grade a century ago), to solve problems (a brand new idea in education), and so on. Let me suggest that it is time to be done with this unnecessary conflict about 21st century skills. Let us agree that we need all those forenamed skills, plus lots others, in addition to a deep understanding of history, literature, the arts, geography, civics, the sciences, and foreign languages.

She goes on to list 16 such skills which are definitely worth the time to read, and many of which thoughtful use of technology can enhance. And, I would argue, many to which  social media add a new layer of complexity which we must be able to model and teach. While many if not most of these lessons can be learned without technology, I think transferring those lessons into the contexts of online networks and global, cross-cultural, sometimes anonymous interactions is not necessarily fait accompli with our kids. Self-discipline and idealism and certainly communication (among others) in these environments have additional complexity that compels us to explore the affordances of these technologies (again) for ourselves, for our classrooms and for our kids.

There’s much more here, obviously, in terms of even bigger questions about the roles of schools and teachers and classrooms in a networked learning world. But I agree that here is where we have to start. What is it we most want our kids to know about what it means to be a person of this world, and how do we best convey it in ways that make sense for the times we live in? Everything else flows from that.

What do you think?

(Photo: “Playing Water Games and Learning” by Ivan Makarov.)