Communication and Collaboration

Skill-based frameworks for education in the 21st century have been around for nearly a decade: Framework for 21st Century Learning (2007); enGauge 21st Century Skills: Literacy in the Digital Age (2003) and survival skills outlined in Tony Wagner’s recent book The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need – And What We Can Do About It (2008). (In fact, in 2008, the Buck Institute of Education analyzed these and other 21st century skills frameworks. You can download the spreadsheet here. Registration required.)

The skills in many of the frameworks can be boiled down to four big ideas:

  1. Critical thinking and problem solving
  2. Communication and collaboration
  3. Creativity and innovation
  4. Soft skills such as agility, initiative and responsibility

Communication and collaboration are skills developed through face-to-face as well as virtual interactions. In the 21st century, the potential for collaboration is expanded beyond face-to-face interaction as a result of technology. Written communication should no longer be limited to correct spelling and punctuation. Instead, Wagner suggests effective communication “creates focus, energy and passion” (p. 36). He contrasts this kind of writing with the formulaic writing process taught in schools. Students might be successful at writing according to a formula, but it does not necessarily translate into effective communication. In a media-rich world, thinking about communication and collaboration is expanded to include contexts such as multi-media documents and social networking.

One of my favorite lecture-videos that examines this shift in communication and collaboration is This is How We Think: Learning in Public After the Paradigm Shift from Rutgers professors Richard Miller and Paul Hammond. They take us on a journey that demonstrates how learning, thinking, writing and reading in public have changed significantly because of powerful applications of technology.

How do we convince others in the education profession to expand the current paradigm of communication and collaboration to include these new ways of learning, thinking, reading and writing in public? Once we alter what we value about communication and collaboration, students will experience more easily the focus, energy and passion Wagner speaks about, and students will move beyond the formulaic writing most prevalent in schools today.


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