Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Return to Sender -- THE Journal

Return to Sender -- THE Journal

From the article, "Work readiness is no longer just about the three R's; now it's also about turning information into knowledge through Web searching and vetting. It's about developing effective multimedia presentations. It's about seamlessly using digital tools to collaborate and problem-solve."

The phrase "21st Century Skills" is ubiquitous in education speak right now, but the bridge to the effective development of this skill set continues to evade educators. Gordon's article points to technology as a critical tool in fostering creative, multifaceted, interactive, and collaborative problem-solving skills, but while the necessity of technology is unequivocal, technology--even the best technology--is not enough to render 21st century competency.

In order to fully actualize the new picture of a graduate, other paradigm shifts must take place. As Gordon's article implies, the focus must shift from content to skill in the assessment of student achievement. Measuring what our students can do rather than what they know is far more complicated than providing tech tools. It means providing creative, collaborative, and open-ended environments; it means putting the problem ahead of the content to allow for diagnosis and discovery; and it means developing a different system of assessment. Even while the the recently published Core Common State Standards focus more heavily on skills than content, states are already at work creating 2D standardized tests to measure what are in fact 3D competencies.

An even more daunting opponent to reform is the antiquated higher education model which is proliferated by our continued reliance on 2D forms of student assessment for college acceptance and our continued reliance on school brand for job placement. While the collective higher education voice has been strong in pronouncing a problem with the high school "product"--pointing out the dearth in critical-thinking, problem-solving, and communication skills among the ranks of new students at even the most illustrious universities--there have been mere whispers of admissions reform at these same universities. As long as the universities who set the pinnacle standard of achievement continue to focus on traditional, 20th century skills, the prioritization of these skills will preclude the full integration of 21st century skills. Similarly, if as Gordon's title implies, employers of college graduates are inclined to "return" the products of our current college system due to inadequate skills mastery, then these same organizations should not look to the traditionally hallmarked names of universities as the sole measure of the quality and depth of an applicant's skills.

To successfully effect change, we need to redefine accountability for educational reform. It cannot rest solely with educators and their ability to provide technological resources for students or even their ability to develop the types of learning environments conducive to 21st century skill development. It must be shared with university admission boards and workforce constituents who have authentic power to not just sanction but demand the change by themselves changing the measure of success at the finish line of each "race".

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