What does offline 21st Century Learning look like?

sparksIn a recent post, I argued against the assumption that 21st Century Learning requires a constant, always-on connection to the Internet. Such a requirement assumes that 21st Century Learning consists of blogposting, wiki editing, research, etc. This always-on connectivity would doom large chunks of the human race to old-style learning: many countries in Africa, South America and even Asia, rural areas in the US or Australia, various parts of Europe, etc.

In my view, “21st Century Learning” is more than just getting on to the Internet and using Twitter or Voicethread or WordPress or whatever. It’s a far richer experience than that. There are various definitions of what “21st Century Learning” is, but a quick summary and often-used convention is the 4C’s: Creativity, Communication, Collaboration & Critical Thinking. This moves beyond the basic “3R’s” of content (Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic) into a skillset that is needed in the post-industrial, digital & connected world.

Can this be done without 24/7 connectivity? Certainly.

What would it look like? Here are just a few examples:

A Passion for Making and Learning and Sharing

A fantastic “poster child” for 21st Century Learning is Super-Awesome Sylvia. This young woman makes and builds things, creates “how-to” videos and shares them with the world. Simple, yes? What’s so special about that? You’d really have to watch one of her videos to understand. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

Wasn’t that exciting? She definitely has talent and skill …and knows quite a lot, too. I predict big success for her throughout life. But how does this fit into education? She’s not doing this at school. (Quick question: COULD a student do this kind of thing in your school? How? When? With what tools? With what supervision? With what encouragement?) And is it really “21st Century Learning”?

Let’s look at the 4C’s:

  • Creativity: Sylvia’s work reeks of this. From her projects to the videos to her performance, she is a true creator.
  • Communication: With her fame and followers, she’s definitely an effective communicator. But even if she was working in obscurity, the way she can clearly and enthusiastically explain how to do something is fantastic communication.
  • Collaboration: Perhaps this is the least “21st Century” area of her work. She is collaborating with her dad to make projects & videos. But this is not group work.
  • Critical Thinking: Sylvia is constantly solving problems, working across traditional disciplinary boundaries, etc.

So how much 24/7 connectivity does she need? None. She’s doing her work offline: planning & working through projects, recording and editing videos, etc. She only needs a connection to upload her work.

Using Digital Tools to Demonstrate Skills – even non-existant ones!

Lasse Gjertsen was a post-secondary student studying animation. He created a video, called “Hyperactive,” as a result of an assignment.  This article by the Wall Street Journal describes his reaction:

The teacher “didn’t like it all,” Mr. Gjertsen recalls bitterly. Academic rejection, both at the British school and back at an animation program in Norway, left Mr. Gjertsen out of sorts.

Then, Gjertsen created the video “Amateur” . Both it and “Hyperactive” went viral. Gjertsen became famous, got job offers, etc. If you haven’t seen  “Amateur,” you really should. Go watch it.

Clever, isn’t it? It’s gripping and funny, too. And, if you read Gjertsen’s final notes, it’s amazing that he doesn’t play the drums or the piano. (He obviously has musical ability!) But what is most impressive is that this young man created something unique and original (“Creativity”) using basic digital tools (music composition software, videocamera, video editing software, etc.), working offline. He had to carefully plan out his video (“Critical Thinking”) and work out how to show himself playing two instruments – that he cannot play. He showed off a musical idea, and was able to produce funny and entertaining video (“Communication”). Weakness? Again, there’s no Collaboration here.

It’s telling, however, that something so unique, interesting and appealing (lets not forget that “Hyperactive” has over 7million hits and “Amateur” nearly 14million) was rejected by teachers.

Using 19th Century Tools in in a 21st Century Way

Another video that went viral was the movie that was made about Caine’s Arcade. Caine was a 9 year old boy who made a game arcade out of cardboard. He spent a whole summer planning games, thinking about what would work and what would be fun (“Critical Thinking”), and then building the arcade out of cardboard (“Creativity”). He got some help promoting his arcade, which then became a viral hit and inspired others to make their own cardboard creations (“Communication” and “Collaboration”).

Is there any question why multitudes of people have donated money to help send this clever young man to college? Do any of his teachers wonder how they can harness this boundless creativity and ingenuity in their classes?

Lessons for schools

The most notable thing about all these examples is the lack of collaboration. These creative people worked on their own outside of school. Collaboration is difficult in such a situation. Within school, however, collaboration is an easy thing to accomplish – it does not have to be collaboration around the world. Collaborating with classmates is an excellent and valuable skill. If these students’ teachers were able to harness their passions and creativity, imagine the phenomenal learning that would happen in the classroom.

Another point: these are all famous people. Their work went viral, spreading out around the internet. While that’s fantastic “communication,” it doesn’t happen to many people. What about non-famous examples? Are there examples of students doing offline creative, critically thoughtful, collaborative, communicative work?

In a forthcoming post, I will share some work that students I know have produced. Meanwhile, teachers  – share your students’ examples.


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