Foundation for 21st century schooling

Kelly, McCain and Jukes (2009) offer research and ideas on how to teach today’s “digital generation.” As others, they assert that today’s traditional, “cookie-cutter” high schools have become outdated. In its place, Kelly et al. suggest that we need to develop a vision that moves us away from the common high school practices in order to better address the learning demands of the 21st century.

They recommend that high schools accept the reality of the online digital world and those associated implications it would have on teaching and learning. At first glance, we might acknowledge that their recommendations are not necessarily novel. This should not, however, detract us from the need to consider them carefully, as these form the foundation upon which 21st century schooling should be based.

1. Schools need to shift instruction to focus on those higher-level thinking skills needed for the 21st century. This call for reform and action is not new. What is different is that additional skills beyond those often associated with the higher-order cognitive processing skills of Bloom’s Taxonomy (analyze, evaluate, create) are being considered more and more as “higher-order.” Organizations such as The Partnership for 21st Century Skills and The 21st Century Fluency Project offer a framework in which to consider these skills.

2. Schools need to embrace the new digital reality. Educators need to acknowledge that technological change is a given in today’s culture. We need to use technology to keep school and the schooling experience relevant to our society. As such, we need to connect with the world that the students experience. They are already using numerous digital tools in their after-school lives, but students need to be taught, and then empowered, to use their tools to apply the higher-level thinking skills mentioned above for learning’s sake. In this way, instruction in the classroom can become more relevant to students as it us linked to their world.

3. Schools need to establish greater connections between in-class experiences and the “real” world outside. The goal of such efforts is to develop greater relevancy of what students are learning at school. Contextualizing content with real-life experiences, field-trips, guest speakers, job shadowing, digital simulations, etc., can lead to more meaningful learning.

4. Schools need to broaden their evaluation policies to include assessment activities that provide a complete picture of student learning. Assessment practices cannot only follow established text-based and/or standardized tests. Alternative assessments, such as student portfolios, presentations, etc., need to be considered in which students are asked to demonstrate their knowledge and developing competency on 21st century skills, abilities and fluencies.


Kelly, F. S., McCain, T., & Jukes, I. (2009). Teaching the digital generation: No more cookie-cutter high schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.


Bringing online learning to the school classroom

More and more schools are venturing into online learning so as to expand their choice of courses for students. Especially for rural and/or smaller schools, online courses help expand an otherwise limited selection of electives, advanced placement courses or foreign language courses that would not otherwise be economically feasible for the school.

There are some benefits to this model of schooling:

  • It offers students the opportunity to explore unusual interests and personal learning goals.
  • It allows students to take charge of their own learning.
  • It allows students to use various technological skills that will benefit them for years.
  • It allows students to access a greater repository of knowledge, information and resources than can be found in a traditional classroom.
  • It may help students achieve college credit in high school.
  • Overall, it helps build learning skills for more self-regulated, independent learning later in life.

I have learned that there are numerous online vendors who are ready to provide either stand-alone courses or complete curriculum series online. Smaller schools on a limited budget need to review student course requests and carefully consider staffing and scheduling when vendors are considered. There are some important questions to consider when consulting with vendors:

  • Is the course designed with the high school student in mind?
  • Is there a syllabus that can be previewed of the course?
  • Is the course semester- or year-long?
  • What is the availability of the virtual instructor?
  • To what extent will the on-campus facilitator/supervisor be required to assist in the teaching of the course? Is content knowledge assumed in this individual?
  • What type of assignment requirements will be required of the students?
  • Is there a final project?
  • Is there anyway for the school to track student progress in the particular course?
  • What monitoring tools are available for the on-campus teacher/facilitator/supervisor?
  • How will the student be graded in the course?
  • Can the course be used to fulfill the school’s graduation requirements?
  • Can college-level credit be awarded upon completion of the course?
  • Is there a voluntary withdrawal period without cost if the course is not what was expected?

Caruso (2008) recommends the following from a couple of hard lessons that were learned through her school’s own experience with online learning:

  • Schools are encouraged to develop a contract that outlines the financial responsibility for courses if they are dropped past a vendor’s voluntary drop date. Since withdrawing from a course after such a date usually entails some sort of financial commitment by the school, the contract specifies that the student and parent will agree to reimburse the school for the cost of the course. Such a contract should be signed by the student, parent, student advisor, and perhaps another teacher from the discipline area of the course, if possible.
  • Schools are encouraged to develop a policy for the use of class time on campus for any online classes. If a student prefers to work at home on an online course, how is the scheduled time on campus to be used?
  • Schools should determine if any grading responsibility for the course can be assigned to the on-campus facilitator who monitors the students while on campus. Should points for participation be included in the course grade?
  • Schools should establish a course completion policy and outline how students are to account for their time if they finish a course ahead of schedule. This acknowledges that some students work quickly, while others progress at a slower pace.


Caruso, C. (2008, May). Bringing online learning to life. Educational Leadership 65(8); 70-72.