As you may know, this summer many are eagerly anticipating the refresh of the ISTE NETS (National Educational Technology Standards) first published in 1998. Gary Stager recently interviewed Don Knezek, CEO of ISTE, and published their discussion as a new article titled “Refreshing the ISTE Technology Standards” on the District Administration website.

This update to the NETS for students, teachers and administrators may provide good opportunities to renew or start conversations with other educators about the need for and strategies for preparing students to be digitally literate in the 21st century. I am particularly glad to see the inclusion of innovation and creativity as identified requirements for 21st century digital literacy. In response to the question “Why did it take so long to identify creativity and innovation as important aspects of learning?” Don responded in this interview:

That is a really good question. Many educators, even in 1998, talked about the importance of several of the “noncore” areas of the school curriculum (the arts, for example) and some of the less structured learning opportunities as major forces in developing creativity and innovation in students. However, until recently most education stakeholders assumed the United States had a lock on world leadership in these two areas. Evidence of the last decade the boom in applications for patents from Chinese nationals, for example have made it clear that the world is rapidly cutting into our lead. Also, as more routine jobs have gone off shore, there is a realization that creativity and innovation generate salaries and employment opportunities that continue to be desirable to the U.S. workforce. I suppose it took so long because trends take time to come into focus, and people take time to react to those trends once they are evident.

Although not specifically mentioned by Don, I’m sure Tom Friedman’s book “The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century” played significantly into this “refresh.” Reports by groups like The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce and The 2007 Horizon Report by The New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative are also likely strong motivators. Look for a lot more discussion and buzz related to the revised NETS at NECC this summer and elsewhere. Gary’s article provides some good analysis and further background about the NETS and what they should mean for U.S. schools. In his own analysis of the refreshed standards, Gary observes:

A great deal of attention is being generated by the NETS Refresh’s addition of creativity and innovation as the number one standard for what students should be able to do as a result of technology access. The order of the standards from the first document to the latest document has shifted the focus from “competency with technology tools” to “skills required in a digital world to produce and innovate.”

These ideas are not new, Seymour Papert, Dan Pink, Ken Robinson, Richard Florida and others have been writing and speaking about these issues for some time. It is good, however, to see creativity and innovation included in the NETS so these ideas can perhaps gain more mainstream awareness and acceptance.

The diversity of perspectives when it comes to “digital teaching” and the assumptions belying many of those perspectives should always be open to examination. In his concluding analysis, Gary encourages others to take a critical and discriminating view of both the revised NETS and the vision for teaching and learning which they may endorse:

Despite its lofty rhetoric about the global economy and the need for new educational experiences, the NETS Refresh assumes that schools will remain relatively unchanged and includes few novel examples of technology use. Standards documents by their very nature are aspirational. Do classroom PowerPoint presentations, often requiring little actual knowledge construction, represent the cutting edge of 21st-century learning schools should achieve?

One-third of the scenarios in the NETS Refresh draft involve PowerPoint presentations. Is PowerPoint use critical in preparing students to be lifelong learners and contributing digital citizens in a global society? What if my school uses Keynote instead? Regardless of the presentation software employed, the educational value of making presentations continues to remain an open question.

Many people want to merely promote the use of digital tools to make the TRADITIONAL educational experience more efficient, technologically sexy, and more profitable for vendors. As Gary points out, we need to be aware that the constructivist / learner centered / problem-based learning agenda is not necessarily part of everyone’s vision for “school 2.0.”

For that reason, I almost always discuss Anderson and Krathwohl’s 2001 revision to Bloom’s taxonomy when I share workshops about using educational technologies appropriately. As Marco Torres shares, we need to stop simply asking students to read pages 1-20 and answer questions 1-10 in the textbook. We need to change the tasks and change the questions, elevating our conversations and our inquiries beyond the knowledge and comprehension level. Knowledge and comprehension level learning is the easiest to assess, but it falls WAY short of providing the sort of learning experiences and preparations students need to thrive in the 21st century digital information landscape and economy.

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