NETS Refreshed-Do we need tech standards?

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My last full day in Shanghai before flying out tomorrow to Seattle. It’s also the first day of summer vacation, so as I try and wind down from school and gear up for the projects ahead of me this summer I opened up my RSS reader to catch up on some reading. When I clicked on Warlick’s A Magnetic Field of National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) post, I knew I’d better set aside some deep thinking time for this one.

I was right!

The post itself is excellent as conversations about the NETS Refreshed are starting to take hold as we draw closer to NECC.

I’ve read over the standards a couple of times, and after reading Warlick’s post and the comments that followed I’m still asking myself do we need technology standards?

I asked this question at the beginning of the year. The comments left back then were great and throughout this year I have returned to this question wondering if we are on the right track with technology standards.

Warlick in his post…and often…refers to this new literacy we need to be teaching. Warlick even shows in his slideshare slides how the new NETS fit into reading, writing, and arithmetic. If these new standards embed themselves so well into our core content areas isn’t that where they should be?

What we’re talking about here is a focus on skills. That there is a new skill set that needs to be taught, but cannot (in my opinion) be taught in labs separate from the core curriculum that is being taught each and every day in the classroom.

I think David Jakes’ list of these skills is as good as any:

Be able to connnect
Be able to create
Be able to communicate
Be able to coollaborate

A skill according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is:

2 a : the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively and readily in execution or performance b : dexterity or coordination especially in the execution of learned physical tasks
3 : a learned power of doing something competently : a developed aptitude or ability skills>

We know that David is talking about skills because he starts each one with “Be able to” which tells us we want students to gain/use their knowledge to demonstrate to us as teachers that they can do something.
There are two things I really like about the NETS Refreshed. 1) They focus on Information and 2) They focus on skills not content.

What if we wrote the standards in skill form:

Students will:

Be able to create and innovate
Be able to communicate and collaborate
Be able to research and demonstrate information fluency
Be able to think critically
Be able to solve problems
Be able to make-decisions based on data
Be able to demonstrate responsibility

What if we look at the standards as a skill set that is completely removed from technology and just as skills we want students to have as they move through our school system?

The problem with this I guess is what Jeffrey Branzburg brings up in his comment on Warlick’s post.

Most of the teachers I’ve worked with are still, in this day and age, very technologically hesitant.

And in that one sentence I think Jeffrey sums it up. Will there ever be a day when we can have skills run our classrooms instead of content? When being able to do something is more important than knowing a specific piece of knowledge? With information changing so rapidly and continuing to accelerate is there ever going to be a point when the education system realizes that by focusing on content we teach students the past, but by focusing on skills we prepare them for the future?

I know core classroom teachers like Darren Kuropatwa, Clarence Fisher, Chris Craft, Mark Ahlness, and probably everyone else reading this would look at these skills above and think technology, use technology to meet them and teach them, but would the average teacher?

I guess the problem is I look at these Standards as skills that students need to have in order to be successful in the 21st Century. They are not related solely to technology, although technology is the reason why these skills need to be taught. These are lifelong skills that every child from Kindergarten through 12th grade should be learning and using.

I understand we have technology standards because we need something to wrap our head around, we need a focal point to start with, but do we really need technology standards? Or are standards part of an old system that wants us to focus on content, and what we really need is a core set of skills that every child when they graduate from high school should be able to do and demonstrate?

I know there is going to be a lot of conversation around this at NECC and probably in the coming months as schools look to adopt the new Standards and figure out how they fit into this system we call education. But as Jakes put it, maybe we’re trying to fit a square peg in a round hole and standards are no longer what we need. Maybe we need something new, something dynamic and ever changing like information itself. How do you create a target in a time of rapid change? How do we teach 21st Century Skills in a system built for the 20th Century? And how do we bring everyone along at the same time?

Enough thinking for my first day of vacation. 😉

(I would have added a picture but flickr is blocked here in China. Another reason I’m looking forward to the flight to the States tomorrow!)


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I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. Jeff,

    Certainly looking forward to seeing you at NECC. Don’t forget that microphone 😉

    I truly appreciate your post, your continuing this conversation. I’d missed Jake’s TechLearning post and am especially glad that you pulled him into this picture — another thinker.

    A problem with this blogging thing is that it always involves two minds. The mind and perspective of the writer, who is in expression mode, and the mind and perspective of the reader who is in processing and cataloging mode. I say this to express that content is important — but only in the sense that context is important. It is important that children learn who, when, where, how, and why the are. Our personal, historical, social and cultural, and environmental context is essential, if only that we have common languages and concepts with which to communicate and collaborate.

    But that wasn’t the plane you were on, and I’m glad. Because you made it so clear to me, the step that I did not take in my little mode in the slideshare. I think that Jakes’ listing shines the brightest light on it. There is one ability that we need to teach. The skills that lead to it are changing because the technology is changing, and as a result the nature of information is changing. What every child must learn to do — the standard — is to teach themselves.

    I think that that is where all roads lead. If the student can connect to content (find it, decode it, evaluate it, organize it), and create from that content (add and subtract, process and synthesize, manipulate, mix and remix, and build new knowledge), communicate (express compellingly their ideas), and collaborate (test their ideas on others, and build from perspective and specialization) — and do all of that to successfully learn something new and valuable — then that’s the standard.

    Can you teach yourself?

    Again, looking forward to seeing you in Atlanta!

    — dave —

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