21st century skills in the workplace?

ib_ipod_hero_051012.jpgText messaging while in class, listening to an iPod, and skimming through Google links, the behaviors our students are demonstrating in the classroom are the ones they are also carrying into the workplace.

This post  on Assorted Stuff drew my attention to the Pew Internet study, Digital Natives Invade the Workplace, (among other studies on Pew’s site).  The study summarizes five ways in which our multi-tasking, ever-“on” students are changing the workplace.

All of these have relevant implications for the classroom.

First, video games–over 70% of teens and almost all college students play video games, according to the study.   One impact–workers/students want a project to complete and then want to “move to the next level,” and not be dictated the number of hours required. Actually, schools already do assign homework in this way,  but the workplace generally doesn’t.

Second, according to the report–students are “technologically literate but that does not necessarily make them media literate.”  One insurance company, Swiss Re, is actually offering a program next year to train their new employees how to find and evaluate quality information, including that from subscription databases, because they have a problem with employees grabbing the first thing they find on Google.  Dow Jones has a similar training effort with their employees.

As a librarian, this as always leads me to the questions–how can schools help students in this regard?   If we as teachers are satisfied with our students finding all their information on Google and don’t teach them to use databases or to evaluate their sources, or dig deeper, then they will carry poor habits away with them.  When we complain about the poor quality of the local news or the poor writing in a news article, where do we think those reporters are coming from? 

Third–today’s students are content creators.  Over half of students have posted something(blog, photos, myspace page, etc) online.  But often new employees (and our students) don’t know where to draw the line between what is appropriate to post or what’s not. 

There are an increasing number of cases where employees have used cell phone cameras to capture an image embarrassing to a company and posted it, consequently losing their jobs.  

Are we teaching them in schools how to manage tools like their cell phones?  Is banning them from classrooms enough?  Do we need to teach them how to draw the line or create policies for what is appropriate to photograph and post?  How do we create a set of internal controls that doesn’t feel emprisoning, but offers students guidance on what crosses the line?  Are we having conversations about that in the classroom?

Fourth–our students are rankers.  This one hadn’t occurred to me, but makes sense.  Our students are used to ranking teachers online, ranking their school, ranking American Idol contestants , ranking music, ranking teams, etc., and making very public comments in their rankings.  

Two questions arise to me here–are we ever capitalizing on that skill and asking them to rank things in our classrooms and libraries, so we can talk about ranking?
And again, some word about the public nature about what they are doing and appropriateness seems like it would be helpful here. 

We tend to ban those sites from the network, but does that prevent us from discussing them and helping students be more prudent in their use or comments?  Employers are finding difficulty with employees freely posting information, ranking, or commentary about their employer in ways that aren’t necessarily appropriate to be aired in the public forum that is the internet.

Fifth–our students are multi-taskers and they will be bringing that quality to the workplace.   Like our lives, their lives are increasingly a blend of work and play, simultaneously, as they listen to their iPod while doing homework online while imming with their friends.  Work/homework becomes a more fluid thing.  

A skill I find I myself need work on when online is how to remember my original task.  I start reading one site, jump to another that’s mentioned and five sites later am trying to recall where I came from or what was my original intent?   I’m trying to train myself to use tools like bookmarking the sites on delicious or in my favorites so I can recall them later.

The Pew report has interesting implications for the classroom, and it’s definitely recommended reading.  The overarching need I see  is the need for conversation with students as opportunities arise in classrooms across the curriculum, and the need for it to happen on a more institutional basis, that is, not just by accident, but by design.  How can we build opportunities into our curriculum and where, so that we are helping our students be ethical, wise and constructive contributors to this enormous global conversation?

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