The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has developed a Framework for 21st Century Learning that identifies key learning and innovation skills, otherwise known as the 4 C’s: Creativity, Critical Thinking, Communication, and Collaboration. In the Bring Your Own Technology (BYOT) classroom, facilitating the 4 C’s becomes a logical extension of classroom instruction as students are connected to their learning and each other with their personal technology devices. With their own tools, students are able to practice and develop the 4 C’s as the teacher coaches, scaffolds, and models the learning. Of course, the students are the experts in their own devices, but the teacher has to create an environment that is conducive of exploration and inquiry so that students have the opportunity to learn how to learn with their technology. One way the teacher can encourage this type of environment is by learning alongside the students.
Another strategy for implementing the 4 C’s within instruction is to promote them with the use of web tools and project-based learning. Although there is some overlap among the 4 C’s depending on how the tools are being used, I have provided some specific examples below:
Creativity – VoiceThread
A VoiceThread is an online slide show that enables students to upload and present images, documents, and videos and then share comments by writing or recording messages. They can also draw on the slides in order to annotate them during the presentation. Although VoiceThread is a great tool for supporting all of the 4 C’s, it can encourage creative expression with the students’ devices. Students can take their own photos and create presentations to demonstrate what they have learned, and the other students can provide creative comments. For example, in a study of similes (comparisons using like or as), a student can take a photo of an object with an iPod Touch and optimize it in a free photo app (one of my personal favorites is Pixlr-o-matic). The student then saves the photo and uploads it into VoiceThread. The other students can then provide interesting similies in their responses that involve the object in the photo. There is an app for VoiceThread that can be downloaded on the iTunes store for iPods and iPads, or VoiceThreads can be created online on Macs or PCs.
Critical thinking – Socrative
Socrative is a web-based student response system that enables teachers to ask multiple choice, true/false, or short answer questions that students answer on their own devices. Teachers can also create and save quizzes ahead of time for students to complete, or they can begin ad-hoc sessions during class discussions with students. One aspect of Socrative that promotes critical thinking is that after asking an open-ended short answer question, the teacher can easily choose to have student vote on their answers. Teachers can also have students participate in an activity in Socrative called Space Race in which students can compete in random or assigned teams to complete a teacher-made quiz and be the first to get their team’s rocket to the finish line. I have seen this activity increase collaboration even in a high school AP Calculus class as the students worked in groups to solve problems and answer the questions. It works effectively even if every student does not have a device because the students can take share a device to answer questions and the new concepts are more likely to be retained as the students learn them in groups. The short answer option can be useful for the students to text in their own questions, and the teacher can then pose these questions back to the class or use them in a future quiz. Socrative also provides a preset Ticket Out the Door to assess student understanding of the learned content. There is a teacher app for Socrative (iOS, Android) as well as a student app (iOS, Android), so teachers are able to conduct the session from their smartphones or laptops, and students can participate via smartphones, laptops, or desktops.
Communication – Edublogs
With Edublogs, teachers and students can develop blogs for education that help to provide opportunities for communication in the classroom and in a global community. When students have their own blogs, they are able to publish the results of their project-based learning and collaboration and share what they have accomplished with others. Writing becomes more authentic as students have a purpose for their writing assignments, and students are able to customize their blogs according to their personal learning interests and styles. Although a blog is useful for publishing creative writing, it can also be used to communicate technical concepts like the steps in a scientific process accompanied with photos of the activity. Edublogs also publishes an annual list of the best blogs in education as well as additional web tools and apps on The Edublog Awards Blog. This list can be a useful resource for teachers and students as they begin developing their blogs. A teacher can sign up each student in the class for a blog, even in elementary grades, because an email address is not required. There is no app for Edublogs, but blogs can be edited through the Internet browser on smartphones, tablets, netbooks, and laptops.
Collaboration – Wikispaces
A wiki is a collaborative space for teachers and students to construct their learning experiences together. Teachers can develop class wikis in Wikispaces and easily upload all of their students, even if they do not have email addresses. In the wiki, the teacher and students can encourage a sense of community in the classroom by sharing files and creating content. As the students edit their work within the wiki, the teacher can track who made all of the changes to determine student participation. Like a blog, a wiki makes a good launchpad for encouraging BYOT. Since the students are working independently or in small groups, the wiki gives them a place to continue their projects or assignments while the teacher is learning alongside and coaching other students in the class. One example of how a wiki was used in a middle school math classroom, is that the teacher divided the students into groups to explain particular problem solving strategies and mathematical concepts. In this manner, the students in the class actually produced their own math “textbook” as an on-going project that they were able to use as a resource. Although, there is no app for Wikispaces, the students are able to edit text on the browser of their handheld devices, and they are able to use tablets, laptops, and desktops to complete all of their other editing in the wiki.
Some final thoughts…
The above resources are currently free, at least for individual teacher accounts, or a district may choose to subscribe to them in order to receive analytics or more customization. Their use in the BYOT classroom can be a good way for teachers to begin implementing BYOT and encouraging students to bring their own technology tools to school to facilitate their learning.
What other tools and strategies can be used to promote the 4 C’s in today’s digital age classrooms?