In the first post of this series on mobile devices and 21st century skills, I focused in the use of mobile devices in developing communication skills. We move now to a discussion in the use if mobile devices and knowledge construction.
In the days before computer technology and the Internet, access to information was scarce. If one needed information, one needed to consult books which where mainly found in libraries that one had to travel to specific locations in order to access information that may or may not be up-to-date. Alternatively, one could access the knowledge of an expert. Teaching was often about information dissemination and the ‘just in case’ teaching philosophy prevailed (let us teach X and Y just in case student need to know it in the future).
This teaching mindset is now obsolete. True, information is important, maybe more important than ever, but access to the most up-to-date information is not longer restricted and information is no longer difficult to attain. As stated time and again in this blog, most people, in fact most students, walk around everyday with immediate access to the Internet – the largest and most dynamic library of information humans have every built.
Therefore, knowledge construction is about a change in focus from knowledge attainment to skill development. Knowledge construction is about using information in consecutive ways.
How Do we Construct Knowledge in the 21st Century?
1) Is it Knowledge Construction and is Knowledge Construction the Main Requirement? It is very easy to confuse research or information discovery as knowledge construction. The idea here is that students still need to research and collect information in order to move along in the learning process. However, constructing knowledge does not begin until students begin to use the information they have gathered and do so in meaningful ways. Finding information on a topic and then presenting what the findings mean and offering ways to address needs based on the information found is knowledge construction. A specific example could include students researching crime rates in a particular area of the country. Students then use the information they have gathered and, in a presentation or a written paper, offer an opinion on what strategies have worked to lower crime rates and offer ideas in implementing similar or new strategies. They may even go as far a to state that certain strategies, while they work well in some areas, do not work well in orders because of the variations in local conditions.
2) Are Students Applying Their Knowledge? Similar to what is stated above, mobile devices can easily support information attainment by allowing students to access information online. Lessons designed for the development of 21st century skills have provide opportunities for students to use the information that they attain. In a Geography lesson, students can use demographic information of a country to analyze why that country is scoring poorly on the Human Development Index. Students can then extend their knowledge by providing ideas on how that country could improve by analyzing the data of high scoring countries.
3) Is the Work Students are Doing Interdisciplinary? Some subjects, like math and science, are natural matches. Others, like science and history, are less so. Lessons developing 21st century skills need to connect subject areas that are not necessarily natural fits. One example I have worked with in presenting on this topic links history and mathematics. Students are given the task of creating several designs of a catapult and are to measure which design achieves the goal of tossing an object the furthest. History can be brought in to provide context as students can take on the role of a Roman military engineer tasked with creating the most power and efficient catapult for use by the Roman army it it’s attack of a Carthaginian city. In this way, students are applying skills of experimentation and mathematics while learning about the social circumstances around the use of the catapult. The mathematics provides the how, history provides the why.
Therefore, the 21st century skill of knowledge construction goes beyond simply gathering information – it moves students to think critically about the information they have researched and use it in meaningful ways. Application of information and interconnecting ideas across multiple disciplines helps to develop learners that are ready to deal with the complex challenges of today’s digital society. Empowering students to use digital tools is only the starting point – application is what follows.