Assessing 21st Century Skills

Educational leaders around the world now realize that our schools need to do a better job of fostering creativity and collaboration abilities in students. Creativity and collaboration are two of the so-called “21st century skills,” abilities that are essential to life and work in the future.

Now that everyone agrees that schools need to teach creativity and collaboration, the next question is “How will we know if we’ve been successful?” and to get the answer, we have to assess students by giving them a test. I know that a lot of people involved with education are upset about the increasing emphasis on standardized tests. But in today’s education systems, whatever isn’t tested simply won’t be taught.

An international effort, centered at the University of Melbourne in Australia, has been working to develop assessments for 21st century skills. I just returned from an academic conference, CSCL (computer supported collaborative learning), where I sat in on a workshop presented by an international team that’s developing an assessment of collaborative problem solving skills–with experts from several universities and from Pearson and ETS. I like the framework they developed to break down the components of collaborative problem solving (CPS):

  • First, they identified two main sub-skills: social skills and cognitive skills.
  • Second, they were able to identify lower-level sub-skills for each of these. Social skills includes participation, perspective taking, and social regulation.
  • Cognitive skills includes tak regulation and knowledge building.

After developing the framework, the research team is now able to develop actual test items associated with each of these five component sub-skills. One intriguing development is their decision to administer the test via computer, with the child collaborating not with another actual person, but with a computational agent. (This is the only way you can reliably measure the skills of any one person; in a real team, each person’s performance is affected by the other’s.)

This new assessment will be included in the international PISA assessments to be implemented in 2015. Look for news stories describing which countries are “better at collaboration” based on these skills! The need for standardized tests is unfortunate in many ways, but I believe that having politicians and parents focused on collaboration will lead our teachers, students, and schools to emphasize collaboration more.

Educational Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship at UNC

I have some exciting news: I’m moving to a new faculty position at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I will be the Morgan Distinguished Professor of Educational Innovation, in the School of Education. Readers of this blog know that “educational innovation” is exactly what I study, so this new position is a wonderful match!

In addition to joining the learning sciences program, my first responsibility will be to create a new master’s degree program in Educational Innovation, Technology, and Entrepreneurship. Here’s an excerpt from the job description:

The new professor will provide leadership in studying, designing, and developing new innovations. He or she will work with students, faculty, and the School and University leadership to create programs of study and forge collaborative partnerships among the academy, industry, government, and the schools.

In particular, the successful applicant will lead an interdisciplinary graduate program designed to help transform education by creating synergies among three elements: innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship. Goals of this program include creating a new generation of educational innovators and entrepreneurs and encouraging designs of sustainable organizational forms that promote educational renewal and change.

There’s no existing program like the one envisioned here, and I’m really excited about this opportunity to make a difference in education, both in North Carolina and at a national level.  If you work in educational innovation, technology, or entrepreneurship, please contact me, I’d love to hear your thoughts. And stay tuned to this blog…I may take a break for a couple of months this summer while I move to North Carolina and get settled, but starting in September things will begin to move fast.