I have vivid memories of my doctoral studies when we talked about the antiquated educational approach of putting students in rows. The practice was designed to acculturate and prepare future factory workers. It was used as a counter example to the needs of good teaching practice in the 21st century. Of course, we never talked about the reality of contemporary society and the fact that our current pedagogic approaches have equal flaws to that of the factory style classroom.
In secondary school, we teach a series of (often) discrete content areas that may or may not have applicability or value to students’ personal lives or careers. Few really know whether knowledge about cellular biology or the quadratic formula will be useful to students as they move on to university or in to the workforce. Yet, we still teach ever subject as we did 100 years ago.
My real problem lies in the separation of the content areas and their glaring weakness. I find it to be the norm that schools separate their faculties by department and content area rather than looking for cross-disciplinary projects to connect learning across the curriculum. A student studying writing mechanics, will not have their skills (purposely) reinforced in a Geography class or a Math class or a Science class. Further, our teaching and learning model in the secondary focuses so much on knowledge and so little on skill. We teach students the what most often, leaving the how and the why to the back burner.
Also, look at our assessments. We quiz, mark, and evaluate the knowledge students attain not the process by which they learn or accomplish tasks. And as the old adage goes, “You assess what you value.” What does that say about what education thinks is important?
Now, let’s talk about the realities that await our students outside the classroom door. They are not expected to be experts or stewards of retained knowledge. Their success will not be gauged on discrete or summative assessments. They will not be asked to perform. Rather, their work and personal lives will be governed by communication, information literacy, creativity, task analysis, and collaboration.
This encompasses a subset of what are known as the 21st Century Skills. Read that word: skills (ignore the 21st Century bit, we are after all 15% of the the way through it already). These skills, and the ability develop more skills, are what researchers have been telling us are the important foci of education for student success in contemporary education. I suggest that they real goal should be skills and knowledge taught as a holistic approach to living and learning.
Luckily, we live in a time when we have a tool to bridge our recent past with the needs of contemporary teaching and learning: Digital Citizenship. Digital Citizenship comprises the skills, attitudes, and basic knowledge students need to have in order to be safe, effective, and productive users of the Internet for work and life.
Many people see it as fancy way to talk about Internet Safety, but it is so much more. The tenets of Digital Citizenship include safety, information literacy, online persona, creativity, communication, commerce, and collaboration. Sound familiar? These are the skills students need to be productive. (Note: There are several definitions of Digital Citizenship. None are definitive…this one is a quick mash-up of other’s ideas.)
What makes Digital Citizenship so valuable is that it can be taught and assessed in schools. There are curricula, lesson plans, pedagogic frameworks, and standards based rubrics for assessment on all the areas of Digital Citizenship. Which means we can treat it like we would PE, Physics, or Humanities and put it on the same report card.
Beyond this, though, Digital Citizenship is not a standalone subject. Much like reading for comprehension or expository writing, Digital Citizenship is a subject area that transcends ALL content areas. It can be taught as an integrated part of other subject areas or as an add-on lesson to any instructional unit.
By being a connector of content areas, assessable, and a set of skills students will need and use, Digital Citizenship is an ideal bridge for educators to move their practice into contemporary times. This allows us to draw upon the knowledge-based successes of 20th century teaching and learning and give students a strong skills foundation to excel in their current and future realities.