Sunday, September 18, 2011

Skills: Mad and Necessary

Things are changing, yet they are staying the same.  The introduction of a variety of technologies, which have changed the way educational services can be delivered to students and the vast variety of ways that students can interact with that information and develop their own "reality" or "context" is probably the most important theme in education as we move forward.

It has long been understood that all students learn in different ways, whether that is in a typical classification system or something much more personal for each and every student.  It was close to 15 years ago now that I told my Advanced Placement American Government students that the most valuable commodity in the economic system they were entering was "information."  In the old educational paradigm, the one that most of us were educated in, the ability to "possess" information was the reason most teachers have their jobs.  I was initially hired as a teacher because I possessed a certain level of knowledge in the Social Sciences.  In today's economy, possessing knowledge or information is not the most important skill for today's students.  The more important skill is the ability to quickly access and evaluate information and employ it in a way that allows students to answer questions that their experiences pose to them.  

This means that students need to construct their own contexts and connections between information systems. The writings of Howard Gardner and Sir Ken Robinson illustrate the need for students to construct their own personal contexts.  Standardized tests, assess an artificial context that politicians have determined is the most important for students to have, while that may be one measurement that can be used, it is one that is artificial and cannot accurately assess the skill level of any student.  The use of rubrics in educational settings, has done quite a bit to make what was once a very 'subjective' process in assessing students personal contexts into one that is much more 'objective' and can be used to compare students' academic achievement with one another.

Employing a hierarchical structure like Bloom's Taxonomy (Cognitive and Affective Domains) can make sense of this from an academic perspective, but it is not a structure that can be easily applied in the context of traditional school.

So, moving forward, what is a structure that can allow educators to assess and knowledge, synthesis and application of the connections and contexts that teachers have? Storytelling and Folksonomies.  Storytelling and folksonomies, make it easier for the work of a variety of individuals to be compared and evaluated.  Storytelling, allows students to follow an idea or theme from beginning to end and support their context with the connections they make and how they communicate that with the audience.  The level to which they are able to connect with their audience creates a bond to their personal knowledge.  Folksonomies allow individuals to place their own filing or categorization framework on the knowledge they possess in their own minds, along with the information they can access, synthesize and create a new framework.

If you want to know what a student really knows and can employ in their personal lives, have them tell a story about it. From simple to complex.  From comical to dramatic.  From instructional to playful.  Their stories will allow them to connect their knowledge in new and different ways.  Digital technologies allow us to do this in so many new and powerful ways that we are only limited by our own minds.  My challenge to groups I do professional development sessions with is this:  Can anyone identify a project that they would like to do with their classes that cannot be completed using free technology tools?  As of yet, no one has been able to identify a project.

Why haven't we adopted this framework to move education forward?  Because it isn't easily assessed using a scantron form.