Wednesday, July 30, 2008

21st Century Skills?

Can you spot the role of design education and design thinking in the work of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21)?

There is a list of core subject areas that is quite inclusive - even including the arts - but the place to look for design is in the basic skills. Too often, the Partnership (P21) still emphasizes reading, writing and mathematics as the core basic skills. Greater attention needs to be paid to the primary importance of basic skills such as looking and making. In the Framework developed by P21 the processes for designing anything (Design Processes) and the methods (Design Thinking) are presented, in slightly different form, as 21st Century Skills.

Among the Learning and Innovation Skills are Creativity and Innovation Skills; Critical Thinking and Problem Solving Skills; and Communication and Collaboration Skills.
Among the Information, Media and Technology Skills are Information Literacy; Media Literacy; and Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Literacy
A separate category lists Life and Career Skills such as Flexibility & Adaptability; Initiative & Self-Direction; Social & Cross-Cultural Skills; Productivity & Accountability; Leadership & Responsibility.

These are a basic description of the use of images, objects, environments, and experiences that make up the design education curriculum and the design thinking processes used in design education classes. What most educators fail to fully internalize (even the top people in P21) is that people learn, think and communicate powerful ideas with objects and spaces as well as words and numbers. Recognition of media literacy is one way in which there is recognition of the power of images but there is much to be done in the areas of object learning (consult Neil Gershenfeld, Don Norman and Henry Petroski) and spatial learning (see the American Planning Association, American Institute of Architects, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum's City of Neighborhoods and CUBE's Box City.) Think about the spatial items typically included on any IQ test - where are those in the 21st Century Skills?

Partners like Apple, Ford Motor Company Fund, Hewlett Packard, and LEGO group need to be more forthcoming in the acknolwedgement of how people who design objects are using different basic skills and are helping shape the 21st century through the power of design. New Partners must join to represent the design of environments and the importance of carefully designing spaces and places in the creation of a sustainable future for the planet and beyond. Where are the voices representing the importance of basic visual and spatial skills used in architecture, urban design, and sustainability design?

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is the leading advocacy organization focused on infusing 21st century skills into education. The organization brings together the business community, education leaders, and policymakers to define a vision for 21st century education in an effort to ensure every child’s success as citizens and workers in the 21st century. The Partnership encourages schools, districts, and states to advocate for the infusion of 21st century skills into education and provides tools and resources to help facilitate and drive change. 21st Century Skills Leadership States include: Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, Wisconsin and West Virginia.

Member organizations include: Adobe Systems, Inc., American Association of School Librarians, Apple, ASCD, AT&T, Atomic Learning, Blackboard, Inc., Cable in the Classroom, Cengage Learning, Cisco Systems, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Davis Publications, Dell, Inc., Discovery Education, Education Networks of America, Education Testing Service, EF Education, Ford Motor Company Fund, Giant Campus, Hewlett Packard, Intel Foundation, JA Worldwide, KnowledgeWorks Foundation, LEGO Group, Lenovo, Measured Progress, Microsoft Corporation, National Education Association, Oracle Education Foundation, Pearson, PolyVision, SAP, Sesame Workshop, Texas Instruments, THINKronize, Verizon, and Wireless Generation. Organizations interested in joining the Partnership may contact

Click on the heading above to go to the Partnership site.

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