3 Lessons from Jennifer Tan at 21CLHK: When 21st-Century Skills Become Visible

This is post by Ritchie Wong a final year education student in Hong Kong about his experience at 21CLHK.

One big question educators always ask about the ever-growing role of 21st-century skills: How can I identify, develop and assess vague soft skills like creativity, and collaboration?’ Thanks to Ms. Tan, at least, we have one clue make these skills visible, and evidence-based. She illustrated how this can work in K12 education, by sharing her on-going experiments to develop students in Singapore with creativeness and collaborative-ness through dialogic evidence.  Below are the three lessons learnt.

1. To Change Education Is To Change the Rubrics

Clearly inspired by the idea of backward design, the 21st-century-skill framework proposed by Dr. Tan starts commenced with explicitly defining indicators of success in creativity, and collaboration—in her case, the exemplar dialogues generated by students. She added: not only should positive indicators be listed out in the rubrics, but also the negative ones—though things get more subjective here. When every stakeholder shares the understanding of what and how the learning of these skills can and should be demonstrated, this synchronised transparency can lead to a higher likeliness of the development of these skills.

2. Don’t Over-Script the Learning Experience for Students

While a carefully designed learning experience seems to be well-intended, its hidden protectiveness though unwanted by any educators might be silently destroying opportunities for students to better demonstrate their uninterrupted creativity. Of course, we need a plan: learning objectives, rubrics or learning experiences. But, in this era of self-paced education, controlling the time spent, the space used or steps adopted is what Dr. Tan described as over-scripted learning experience’. Something, we might consider avoiding when designing the next unit of learning in our classrooms.

But…Who Should Define Creativity?
It’s always good if every teacher has the shared rubrics to guide through students in our carefully designed problem-based tasks. Step by step, then a solved problem, as well as competency is attained. Everything sounds so perfect that I almost forget to ask…’but who says this is creativity? Who says this is the best procedure to solve the problem? Do the real-world experts do things a bit differently?’ Eric Ries might think Lean Startup is the best model, while David Kelley might argue that Design Thinking is better. This likely development of endless debate on reaching a consent for the definitions of such vague terms has led me to think about one possible solution in the future: if leaders in every industry, from NASA to IDEO, can collectively generate an experientially approved rubric for all the success skills, it would be wonderful.
Photo Credit: @cecilwmack 
3 Lessons at 21CLHK from Mark Treadwell: Everything Redefined from Scratch

This is post by Ritchie Wong a final year education student in Hong Kong about his experience at 21CLHK.

1. To learn is to learn what learning is, first

“Can anyone tell me how learning actually works? Mr. Treadwell silenced the delegates at 21CLHK with this question which, ideally, every educator should be able to answer. If I were an IB student, Theory of Knowledge (TOK) could have provided some clues. Then, he introduced a 4+1 Learning System’ concept. The oldest learning techniques our ancestors (and we) have been using include: senses, sequencing, ideas/concepts and creativity—all, in Mr Treadwell’s words, are efficient and effective, given the solid proof of their long history. However, the most popular’, and unpopular’, system—rote learning, which was only created for the sake of industrial revolution in these 200 years—not only was described to be least efficient, but also against our core human nature of understanding the world. 

This was a piece of shocking, and relieving, information. Shocking, because I hadn’t never expected how artificially harmful this technique is; relieving, because my resentment against this system has finally been justified. Though it might be a bit late for an educator-to-be to understand better the nature of learning, one thing is definitely not too late: if we want our students to learn the best, they must learn what learning is before actually learning what the best learning means.

2. The Controversial’ Power of Video and Oral Literacy

Mr. Treadwell made a joke at the beginning of his speech: Feel free to come and talk with me after my sharing. But don’t come to me with a knife or any weapon, because what I’m about to say to you is going to upset you.’ He might have indeed upset some audience, who reacted with a defensive response to his acclaim, but he definitely opened a new window of understanding intelligence and literacy for me. Video (listening, speaking and story-telling) should and would, one day, replace reading and writing (justified by Facebook’s prediction on the absolute status of video on its site). Any visionary idea sounds intimidating at first, no exception with this one.

While, as he remarked, the traditional written medium won’t go away over night, we as educators are obliged to catch up with the world, by doing two things. One see through the medium, and dig deep into the knowledge, message and wisdom underneath. Language, in the end, is only a medium to deliver something more useful, meaningful and valuable—something Mr. Treadwell thought more emphasis should be placed on. Second just include video’ as part of education. Encourage students to use YouTube’ as the new major source of research. Replace Google Form with Flipgrid as the exit-ticket formative assessment. Such small steps might bring Mr. Treadwell’s vision closer to a reality.

3. Common Language for Scalability

The biggest barrier to our educational innovation, as Mr. Treadwell put it, is the lack of common language. He questioned, If we already have different definitions on what idea or concept mean, the same would happen to reach a common understanding on learning, knowledge or the word understanding’.’ This is so true that project-based learning, problem-based learning or challenge-based learning kind of share similar substance, but the language. 
This has given me a sudden inspiration. What if…what if education learns from what Java, C+ or Ruby Rails have done for programming, and creates its own shared glossary of terms. The benefit? A lot. Parents are going to get it” quicker; teachers are going to innovate easier; most importantly, the educational innovation is going to scale better!
Photo Credit to @shaunyk
3 Lessons from the 21CLHK Opening Keynote: Time to Update Our Job Descriptions!

This is post by Ritchie Wong a final year education student in Hong Kong about his experience at 21CLHK.

Any great conference has a great opening keynote. Likewise, Dr. Marie Alcock, from Learning Systems Associates, kickstarted the 9th Annual 21st Century Learning Conference (21CLHK) great with her moving energy, groundbreaking ideas, and refreshing inspirations. From reviewing the common struggles educators face today to the six capacities every contemporary educator are expected, Dr. Alcock ended her speech by asking the audience to update their job descriptions, and start becoming a contemporary educator today.

Here are three big takeaways from her:

 1. Know Our Learners

Be honest. Do we actually know our students? Through their hands raised to answer your question in the classroom, or through the cold-blooded letter printed on their year-end reports? Yes. Some better educators spend their free time interacting with them, design on-going checkpoints to assess their mastery on the intended learning objectives or support one of their inter-school basketball competitions but, aren’t we still understanding our students’ through our own lens to understand ourselves?

This is what Dr. Alcock proposed: to design a truly student-centered curriculum, is to truly understand who our students of today are. Listing 7 qualities of the contemporary learners (as shown above), exemplified by how differently various generations approach to text-messaging, she has reminded me of what a student told me—when I asked the whole class to give one piece of advice for every teacher in Hong Kong: If you want to know whether your teaching is effective on us, just imagine you were learning as we do, and you will know it.’

2. Stop any excuse, teachers!

‘I don’t have enough time’; I am afraid of failing in front of my colleagues, parents and especially my students’; That’s not the place I want to be’. We all have thought of these—when the little evil that is doubt steps in our big heart of innovation. You can call them excuses, fears, or whatever, but one thing is for sure they are unhealthy to us, our goals, and our educational development. Getting rid of them is the only way out.

The victim of a heart attack would never refuse the necessary treatment because he/she has no time’. Our students would never learn to reflectively fail with style, and stand up again, if their influential models (us) did not do the same. A parent would never tolerate teachers who are responsible for preparing their child for the uncertain future if they did not fulfill their commitment because they are self-constrained in their comfort zones. As cliched as it sounds, nothing indeed is impossible if the heart to make a difference is strong enough.

3. The world is assessing you, you and you!

Today, there should be no wall, between students and teachers, or the classroom and the world. Everything is so connected that teachers’ performance might be assessed by someone outside their classroom in another part of the world via the uploaded lessons online. Students’ demonstration of understanding—their assignments in any sort of medium—should also be involved by the real-world experts. That means no one can monopolise the key metrics imperative to the effectiveness of learning and teaching today.
Though this idea of bringing authenticity into the classroom is not new, Dr. Alcock’s reminders on including outside experts in mentoring students’ work, or giving real-world-based feedback to students, do reinforce my belief in bridging what students are doing in schools with what experts in different industries actually do—their metrics of success, tools, process of working, or even the projects that are most urgent to them. Only through this can we truly become the contemporary educators as every attendee in 21CLHK wants.