The question is not whether high school students should be taking online courses. It is whether they should get out of high school without taking one. As students negotiate the 21st century, the skills that students employ in taking an online course are the ones they need to negotiate their productive working lives and 21st century citizenry. What are the skills that students must master in an online learning environment? Independent thinking, self-motivation, self-directed learning, information seeking, and information giving—these are all elements of online distance learning. Students must not only have basic reading and numeric literacy to negotiate the content of the online courses, but must also be able to persevere and bring to completion a course of study. To further stretch the 21st century student, the work must be completed outside the school walls and school day, on the students’ own turf, blending a learning environment and living environment all in one. Perhaps most important, the absence of a teacher’s physical presence means that the student must find inspiration from within.
Why Focus On 21St Century Skills?
Since the introduction of the computer in the early 1980s into classrooms across America, the landscape of the contemporary classroom had begun to change. Seymour Papert, professor at MIT, shared with the K-12 education world a simple basic programming language called “Logo,” which allowed students to move an icon forward, back, across the screen through a set of inscrutable commands that here-to-fore had been the province of rocket scientists and those launching spacecraft to the moon.
Papert (1993) in later writings referred to the computer as “the children’s machine.” He suggested that the computer changed the way students think. Perhaps it was because the children could make a turtle robot do things by command, or because the computer allowed the interaction and feedback to progress at whatever pace the child desired. One truth was becoming evident: student learning was more active and self-directed, and the computer became a “teacher.” Perhaps more importantly, the computer was the teacher under the student’s control.
More than a quarter of a century after the introduction of the computer to the classroom, students find themselves immersed in an information-rich school environment, and preparing to take on a world of work in a global marketplace and in a knowledge-based economy (CEO Forum, 2001). The skills students need to be prepared for their future are:
21st Century Skills
Digital Age Literacy:
Basic, Scientific, and Technological Literacy
Visual and Information Literacy
Cultural Literacy and Global Awareness
Curiosity, Creativity, and Risk Taking
Higher Order Thinking and Sound Reasoning
Teaming, Collaboration, and Interpersonal Skills
Personal and Social Responsibility
Prioritizing, Planning, and Managing for Results
Effective Use of Real-World Tools
Relevant, High-Quality Products (CEO Forum, 2001, p. 8; EnGauge, 2001; NCREL, 2000)
The Secretary’s Commission on Necessary Skills (SCANS) (1999) suggested that several of these skills are essential to the productivity of the workplace. The ability to prioritize and produce high-quality products allows Americans to compete in a global marketplace. The ability to collaborate, the value of teaming, and managing for results leverages American workers’ skills in a global arena. Also critical are the global awareness, cultural literacy, and the ability to be adaptable and manage the complex tasks of a 21st century world. These 21st century skills are based in the last decade or more of research on technology in education (NCREL, 2001).