The following commentary discusses my viewpoint on 21st Century Teaching and Learning, based on responses to a PLN survey conducted by Lucy Gray, Technology Integration Specialist at the University of Chicago, on August 8, 2009.

What is your personal definition of 21st century learning and/or teaching?
21st Century learning is the process whereby digital natives utilize the power of modern technology to learn anything, anytime, anywhere. Classrooms are no longer necessarily defined by rigid walls, as hybrid learning models blend the virtual with the physical into a truly engaged and collaborative educational experience. 21st Century pedagogy requires an evolution beyond the 19th Century "sage on a stage" role to that of a facilitator as a "guide on the side". Effective teaching in the 21st Century must be student-centric, must infuse technology into the learning experience for both rigor and relevance, and emphasize higer-order thinking skills.

What does a 21st century learner look like?
A 21st Century learner appears to be someone who is engaged in educational gaming and multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs), collaborating through social media (blogs, wikis), listening to Podcast lectures on iPODs and Smartphones, watching YouTube videos, connected to and communicating with the global village through wireless laptops and PDAs. Always plugged in, always on, 21st Century learners are mass-consumers of information on demand at the speed of thought.

What does a 21st century teacher look like?
I think there are three types of 21st Century teachers. There are the early adopters who have fully embraced the use of technology in the classroom (blogs, wikis, podcasts, Smartboards, online assessment tools, cloud resources). These tech savvy educators truly define what we would normally think of as 21st Century teachers. Then there are the teachers who struggle with the technology, but want to learn and incorporate modern tools into their instructional practice. Although they are not on the cutting edge, they nonetheless want to relate to the high-tech world their students live in and teach in a way that addresses the needs of those digital learners. Finally, there are the anachronistic rejectionists--essentially technophobes who want nothing to do with technology in instruction and who are quickly becoming obsolete, soon to be left behind in the dust of the modern age. For that contingent, their days are numbered, and will likely die out altogether in the mid-21st Century.

How has your professional life changed with the advent of various technologies?
As an Educational Technology Director focused on leveraging student achievement through educational technology in the classroom, I have had to engage in extensive research to understand what tools are available and how to competently apply what works. In order to implement more progressive policies in our district regarding the appropriate use of Web 2.0 tools and social media, I have taken on the challenge of learning these technologies first-hand.

What resources do you find useful on the topic of 21st century teaching and learning?
Some of the resources I have found useful on the topic of 21st Century learning include books such as Educational Technology that Works (Marzano), ISTE's Web 2.0 New Tools New Schools (Soloman & Schrum), and Digital Literacy (Gilster); Magazine publications such as Learning & Leading, Tech & Learning, Digital Directions, eSchoolNews, Converge / eRepublic, District Administration, and Edutopia; Also useful are the Journal of Technology Education, and Journal of Instructional Technology. In addition, the most useful resources of all are on the web, including my PLN contacts on Twitter, Classroom 2.0, School 2.0 Ning, Second Life, various wikis, blogs and numerous other sites as well as professional organizations such as ISTE, AzTEA and ASTD.

Are specific initiatives around 21st teaching and learning going on in your district?

If yes, what are some of these initiatives?
This past year, the Superintendent, Curriculum Directors and I established a new set of 21st Century technology standards for our district. With the advent of our newest K-8 school this fall, we saw the opportunity to build it as a model school with a 21st Century learning environment. It includes projectors, Smartboards and document cameras in every classroom, along with wireless laptops for both teachers and students. We are heavily invested in professional development training for the teaching staff to make it a success, with research-based practices and modeling, for true curriculum integration of technology in the classroom. This summer we began retrofitting other schools in our district with this same standard. The next phase will involve adoption of Web 2.0 technologies into the classroom. Next week I will be unblocking a couple of Ning sites, and Shutterfly share sites, from our web filtering software so that classrooms can begin collaborating with the use of these tools. This is just the beginning, and it is a very exciting time to be a technology director in our district.

What are some of the barriers you are experiencing?
Despite the progress our district is making toward establishing a School 2.0 model for the 21st Century, we still have a ways to go. Since we are just embarking on this journey there is much work to do, like training site admins on how to instruct students in appropriate use, perform CIPA-compliant monitoring practices, and enforce AUPs through disciplinary consequences as needed. Social networking sites are categorically blocked by our web filtering software, along with useful sites such as YouTube and Google Images. Our policies are evolving, and becoming more progressive--but are not yet where we need them to be.

How have you built buy-in around any of these initiatives? How would you get people on board if this hasn't happened in your district yet?
The strategy we employed to obtain buy-in for the 21st Century learning environment initiative in our district incorporated principles set forth in the School 2.0 model ( All stakeholders in our learning ecosystem provided input into the collaborative re-design of our schools and instructional practices, including students, teachers, administrators, technologists and the community.

What projects have you seen or created yourself that are compelling examples of 21st century teaching and learning?
My personal involvement in a Web 2.0 social media research project has been quite a journey in terms of learning about what resources are available and identifying best practices from other schools that can be applied to improve our own learning environment. Some examples include:

The Twitter Experiment at UT-Dallas

Twitter in the elementary-school classroom

Twitter in the middle-school classroom

6 Examples of Using Twitter in the Classroom

Minneapolis Roosevelt HS video of Twitter in the classroom

Twitter in the Kindergarten classroom

The Kindergarten Twitter Project

K-12 Computing Blueprint case studies of one-to-one computing results

iPhones being used academically in college

St. Mary's, Ohio pilots PDAs in elementary classrooms

Project K-Nect Smartphones in the classroom

4 case studies of cell phones used in K-12 education

Oakland University Honors College - Course Taught in Second Life

ISTE Second Life project

Mr. Grizzelle's 5th grade science class wiki

Marzano study of Promethean ActivClassroom

Also, during a couple of IWB pilot programs last year in our district, I noticed a profound impact the incorporation of that technology had on the classroom for both teachers and students. When the students become engaged, their learning was much more effective.

If you could give a different name to this term 21st century skills, what would it be?
Digital Fluency in Higher-Order Critical Thinking

What advice would you give to teachers who are just starting to redefine their teaching in light of technological advances and increased awareness of 21st century teaching and learning?
Today's digital learners need us to teach them in a new way, with new tools, in order to really reach them. I encourage today's educators of tomorrow's leaders to bravely explore and learn about their students' digital world so we can more effectively leverage their achievement and inspire them to become lifelong learners.

Additional Notes:
For a wealth of Web 2.0 resources, you are welcome to share my research findings on

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Tags: 2.0, 21st, Century, Digital, Environment, Learners, Learning, School, Teaching, Web, More…and


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