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Posts Tagged ‘skills

The latest podcast episode from the Pessimists Archive was Do We Lose Skills Because of Technology?

It was a bit of a squeaky wheel in that it repeated how technology evangelists might accuse technology luddites of romanticising old skills and bemoan new ones.

For example, there is somehow still a debate about how handwriting is better than typewriting on a laptop [prime example]. More recent research debunks that myth and research results differ depending on the nature of the questions students answer (factual vs conceptual) and how students take their notes (attempted verbatim vs reflective).

The latest podcast added some oil to the squeaky wheel by offering something more nuanced. Human skills evolve with time based on need, i.e., we adopt shifted skills.

We used to need to know how exactly to start a fire in the wild. Now we need to know how to control a thermostat, get the gas going, or know the difference between an induction and gas cooker.

We used to have to write relatively slow and deliberately with a fountain pen. Now we need to know how to tweet or blog effectively.

One other drop of oil was the discussion of specialist vs generalist skills. The podcast host suggested that many specialist skills could be replaced with robots and AI. I think he meant repetitive and routine skills like manufacturing, or more challenging and collective motor skills like controlling vehicles.

It is more difficult to lose generalist skills to robots and AI. These are the skills that cross disciplines, e.g., a plumber knowing not just how to change a pipe, but also about replacing structure (architecture) and applying knowledge of whether this was allowed (policy and law), and convincing/dissuading a client to do so (strategies of persuasion).

In the realm of education, I consider generalist skills to include metacognition and the ability to unlearn. These would require learners to have component skills of reflection and generation of strategies. Such skills are not just un-losable, they are critical for creating and embracing of even newer technologies that will challenge our skillsets.

KSA is short for knowledge, skills, and attitudes. It is an old scaffold for teachers to plan activities that might address all three aspects of learning.

I wonder if teachers use KSA to guide their own learning of the educational possibilities with technology. I use a personal experience to elaborate.

A few weeks ago, I was unexpectedly asked to help a relative measure a room’s dimensions. The problem was that he did not have a tape measure.

I had read about the iPhone app, Measure, that could get rough measurements but never had the opportunity to use it authentically. My knowledge of the app that came from my daily consumption of all things technology.

The iOS Measure app.

Using the app was a matter of following on screen instructions and iterating by trial and error. This was the simple skill by practice and refinement.

I was willing to use the app because I am open to possibilities. I also prefer to find authentic or otherwise meaningful uses of technology. This was my overall attitude towards technology use.

You cannot leave out any of the three elements when learning about and integrating edtech. Knowledge alone of the existence of an app or how it was used in some context is empty without skill. Competent use of that app without purpose or passion is directionless. A positive attitude without knowledge of the efficacy of that technology is blind.

A frontline teacher or educator does not need a Masters degree to learn about various forms of design, affordances of technology, or edtech frameworks like TPACK. But at the bare minimum they need to practice what they preach — KSA — as they tinker with edtech.

This is my longer form response to a tweet I was included in.

I do not buy in to people labelling skills that you do not teach directly as “soft”. To that extent, I agree that they are as essential as any other teachable skill.

But not all such skills are learnable. Take conflict management, for instance. They are as much part of a person’s character as they are a skill. Folks who are more patient, empathetic, and resolute are better at it. This is why not all people are managers or good ones at that.

I also do not think that such skills and traits are more important than before. Who are we to say that these were not important 10, 100, or 1000 years ago?

Schooling then and now, apprenticeships, mentoring, and all other human interactions provide opportunity to hone such skills. It is easy to ask why schools are not doing more because they seem to focus on content. But they also teach these other skills even if they are not as measurable or possibly not as emphasised.

Employers should not expect young hires to have all the skills they need. Part of growing up and work is learning on the job. Employers can complain all they want about “young people these days”, but they need to ask why they decided to hire them in the first place. They also play a critical and authentic role in nurturing such skills.

I say we look at learners and novices as LEGO sets or IKEA products. They have promise and potential, but somebody has to take this instruction seriously — some assembly required.

When I saw the items listed in this vote board, I wondered how some of them qualified as skills.

For example, how exactly are the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, creativity, and emotional intelligence skills?

Various providers of such skill-based courses recently came under legal or financial scrutiny. The most recent example was Kaplan, a well-known entity here.

It should not take deep audits to fish bad apples from the barrel. A cursory evaluation of the questions they ask or the bait they put out should raise alarms.


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This video snippet from the BBC painted a positive picture of the possible effects of mobile use by babies or toddlers. It was a better clip than the CNA video last year [1] [2] not because it was tech-positive, but because it was less biased.

The CNA video last year asked the question “Can e-learning make you dumb?” and sought to back up its answers with what its writers had already decided instead of what they could investigate.

The BBC video was not as negative, even when the narrator seemed to sneak in negative associations with mobile device use like “young children sat down using technologies won’t be as good at coordinating their bodies”. It was simply repeating a commonly held concern by lay folk.

The takeaways from the video should not be that the small sample of kids was representative of a larger group nor that kids who used technology were no worse with gross motor skills and better at fine motor skills.

If we learn anything at all from these videos it should not be the opinions on the effects of e-learning or mobile devices. It should be that we need to read, listen, watch, or otherwise process all sources of information with critical filters.

One coarse but vital filter is identifying bias. The CNA video asked questions and rushed to answer them with unbalanced certainty. The BBC video, while seemingly positive, asked questions and left room for even the child expert to express doubt.

One video tried to tell you WHAT to think; the other video could teach you HOW to think.

There is much we can learn from newspapers. Perhaps not so much from the news but from the mistakes they make.

STonline tweeted these two videos of an interview with our Prime Minister. The tweets are a teachable moment on the need for digital skills, literacy, and fluency.

Poor optics.

Optics is everything in politics and policymaking. If you take a look at the original screenshot, our PM does not look his best in both thumbnails.

Had the ST folk(s) the skills to select a better thumbnail in the video? Did they know they could do this or upload a better image to represent the video? This is a basic digital skill that one must have to share embedded videos on behalf of an organisation.

Did the tweeter or social media team have the digital literacy to consider how the current screen grabs send a different message from the ones in text? Do they know the importance of optics? Do they possess the ability to recognise when and why to apply their digital skills?

Can the people behind the tweets strategise and apply their skills without being told? Have they practically forgotten that they possess these skills and apply sound strategies automatically? This is digital fluency.

I have shared a teachable moment. Is this a learnable moment for the ST team? How about teachers who are responsible for far more prosumers (producer-consumers)?

@elfgoh is wondering what skills students should learn. He tweeted in #edsg and shared his question on Facebook.

Here is my response.

I do not think he was referring to school-based skills or values or attitudes. In the context of the last #edsg chat, I think he might be thinking of 21st century skills or competencies. Or he could just be thinking about how students might be prepared for an uncertain future.

My suggestion is that students learn to LAMP: be Literate, be Adaptable, have Multiple Perspectives.

Why LAMP? Simply because I believe that education is the lighting of the lamp, not the filling of the pail.

By being literate I mean that students should have have literacies basic, information, digital, social, and more. (Yeah, I cheated because this is actually a suite of skills, but this does not make them any less important.)

Learning to adapt is a skill that helps when circumstances change unexpectedly. Adaptability is useful in emergencies, in business, and in various aspects of daily life.

Finally, being able to take multiple perspectives keeps a broad and inquiring mind. I would argue that you have only learnt something when you adopt someone else’s perspective.

These are skills that current schooling does not necessarily emphasize or provide. They are what I expect of my son and my learners to master. These skills are are all enablers of lifelong, lifewide learning.

I think that these are timely skills given today’s context. They are also timeless because you could mention most of them 100 years ago (digital literacy being the exception) and they would still be relevant.

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There are several iterations and remixes of the Did You Know/Shift Happens video by Fisch and company. Now from New Brunswik, Canada, comes a video I’d like to call Do You Realize.

The Did You Know series presents thought-provoking factoids that might stimulate questions or discussions about whether current schooling prepares students for the 21st century. The Do You Realize video goes a step further and provides some examples of how we might actually do this.

But we might need to take a step back before pushing forward. I think that we do not have a common and clear vision on what these desirable 21st century attributes are. A quick search will reveal many definitions and frameworks of 21st century thinking, skills, attitudes, behaviours, etc.

For example,

One could try to identify the similarities from all these examples and say that this distillation represents the wisdom of many parties. But I think we need to be more critical. Just what makes a 21st century property something that is uniquely 21st century?

A commonly cited 21st century trait is collaboration. Is collaboration only important now or in the future? Did generations in the past not collaborate? The obvious answer to both questions is of course not! The same could be said about other traits like communication or creativity or empathy for others.

At the risk of oversimplifying the argument, what these separate bodies have suggested as 21st century traits are actually ones that are mediated, emphasized or exacerbated by rapidly evolving technology.

Current and future technologies are allowing us to publish, share and communicate more easily. The world is flatter and smaller because we are not only acutely aware of what is happening in some other part of the world, we are possibly working with someone there. A call to create a shared document, video or Prezi can originate anywhere and find collaborators and contributors all over the world.

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The video above is oDesk’s vision of the Future of Work but you already see some of it happening today. We are doing this with various technologies and over a distance instead of being face-to-face and over a handshake. This in turn creates problems and opportunities. But these problems and opportunities are not what schools prepare students for.

Yes, there is talk of revision, reform or evolution in schooling. But there is little action. Compared to the rest of the world, schools are used to life in slow motion. Its returns are not immediate and its primary clients (the students) influenced by so many other factors that one cannot fully attribute success or failure just to schooling. If education has not changed much since the 19th century, what is its hurry for the 21st?

Fortunately, some educators on the ground sense the need for change and do not wait for administrators and policymakers to make up their minds (see Will Richardson’s recent entry on this). I am particularly heartened by Richard Byrne’s blog entry and I hope that more teachers think and act this way. It is part of the culture and expectation of the 21st century to believe and behave as such. If we put our children and our students first, we will figure out what we must do, with or without help from the higher ups.

Andrew Churches suggests some skills that a 21st century educator needs to survive. The list is a good start point but it probably isn’t a surprise to anyone actively sensing our environment. Most employers nowadays might require the same skills of their workers.

What strikes me about the list is its not-quite-21st-century format. In particular, I think that the photos used as examples for the skills pale in comparison to a more current and engaging YouTube video of what education professionals might need to do.

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That said, the list is something that is easier to extract information from. But it is not rich in terms of content and it does not necessarily bring across the values or attitudes required of the educator quite like the video does. The skill sets in conceptualising and creating the video as well as interpreting it are far more valuable now and in the future.

To put it another way, evaluating the list requires traditional and information literacies. Creating and interpreting the video requires those skills as well as digital and media literacies.

Footnote: This entry is not intended to attack Churches or his ideas. They are timely and relevant. This is my way of adding to the emerging pool of knowledge on what we might consider to be 21st century skills.

There has been a small flurry of bloggers writing about 21 century literacies or skills. This is important to me as I am part of a small group of researchers that wants to know if the 1:1 computing scheme in NIE has a role to play in promoting or even enabling these skills or literacies.

Howard Rheingold focused on the values and ethics of 21st century learning. Rheingold wondered “how many of us learn to use digital media and networks effectively, reasonably, credibly, collaboratively, civilly, humanely.”

Stephen Downes ruminated on what I’ll label design literacies. Like most other people wondering out loud what 21st century learning is, I think he has a nebulous group of concepts that will be refined over time. But like some educators, I too am convinved as he is that “education in this new literacy can – and must – replace the naive memory-based retention-based fact-based text-and-test model of education that has dominated for the last century or so.”


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