Education in the 21st century requires an ongoing understanding of your students’ needs. This includes an understanding of technology, but more importantly, it demands an understanding of the way the world works in the here-and-now on a much broader scale.
In defining “21st century learning,” we often limit ourselves to thinking about ways to wedge social media and other popular forms of technology into the classroom to appeal to students. While it’s fun to compose a subtweet @ Daisy Buchanan from the point of view of a Jay Gatsby, assignments like these often come off as pandering to your students more than relating to them. This type of assignment demonstrates a very shallow understanding of how your students interact with the world.
To truly understand my generation* of learners, you must look past the superficial-- beyond memes and tweets and Let’s Play videos-- and into the values that these constructs produce and reflect. We have grown up with access to information unlike any generation before us. Contrary to what older generations are inclined to believe, this has implications beyond the fact that we have short attention spans and a lower work ethic or whatever Fox News wants you to believe about us. We are constantly in tune with everything going on in the world at once. We are exposed to everything-- the good, the bad, the political-- all at the same time, without escape.
So as we reexamine education in the 21st century-- we must keep in mind the demand for constant adaptation. Yes, this means integrating technology into the classroom in a big way, but it is beyond that. We, as teachers, (and yes, I’m including myself), must have an understanding of what influences and motivates our students.
So what does this look like, in practice? How can we actively relate to our students, rather than simply pandering to them? Let’s first examine what pandering looks like. Memes. Cat gifs. Compose a tweet/make a facebook page assignments. These types of things scream technology-for-technology’s-sake. Instead, integrate technology in a more seamless way by using it as a support for your lesson, not the basis of it.
Relate to adolescents by making an active effort to understand their values. Social activism via social media is rapidly growing in popularity. Students are increasingly engaged in human rights and political issues. Tap into these interests to give your students a greater understanding of the world at large.
Let us stop defining 21st Century Learning by technology. Let us emphasize instead the values of “kids these days.” Diversity. Culture. Activism. Human Rights. And maybe a little bit of technology.
*Defined by the The Center for Generational Kinetics as Centennials, GenZ, or the iGen, referring to those born between 1996 and 2012