Five Simple Skills

There always seems to be a lot of talk about the need for more teachers to embrace “21st Century skills”. Of course, there’s a lot of discussion about what these “21st Century skills” actually are. Many people have debated and discussed this issue, asking the question of what exactly should today’s learners know in order to function in the “21st Century”.

I’m sure there are a whole lot of really good answers to these questions that dig deeply into effective pedagogy and the deeper philosophy of education. This post is not about those things.

Instead, here is a list of simple, easily-learnable skills that I think would make life as a teacher in the 21st Century simpler and much more productive. While they’re not exactly earth-shatteringly profound in terms of the big issues of education, they are greatly useful skills to have… and in my experience they are also skills that all too few teachers seem to actually possess. I find that possession of these skills is often a reasonable indicator of a teacher’s progress along the “21st Century teaching” pathway – if they can do these things, they often “get” the bigger picture about technology and its role in modern learning.

Actually, I think I’d go beyond just calling them just “skills”… I’d tend to see these as entirely new types of literacies, because the ability to do these things is beginning to define our ability to function with fluency in these times we live in.

  • Learn to search. It’s amazing how many people cannot do even a moderately complex search, using some sort of boolean thinking to narrow search results. What’s even more surprising is the number of people who do not even think to use a web-based search engine to find answers to questions that puzzle them. I find it astounding that so many people wonder about the answers to questions that are just a quick Google search away, but they never think to do it. Learn to use a search engine to find a simple answer, a fact, a quote, a statistic, a song lyric, a recipe, a price, or any other useful snippet of information. The time taken to learn this simple skill will pay for itself many times over.
  • Learn to resize and crop a digital photo. Being able to crop and resize a digital photo is an incredibly useful skill that has applications in so many areas. There’s not a lot to it, and it doesn’t require any particularly exotic or expensive software. It’s useful to understand issues like how to make an image suitable for use in print versus the web. We live in a very visual world and once you know how do simple image manipulation you will find uses for this skill everywhere.
  • Learn how to edit video. I once heard Hall Davidson say, given the right 2 minutes of video footage, you can teach anybody anything. Video really is shaping up to be the next important literacy, and for a teacher, the ability to manipulate short chunks of moving images is extremely valuable. Video editing is quick and easy to learn these days, and has many, many applications. Spend a little time with free tools like iMovie or Movie Maker and work out how to edit and remix video footage. You won’t regret it.
  • Learn to use a HTML Editor. If you want to participate in the 21st Century you need to know how to create content for the web. And while there’s no real need to know how to write raw HTML code, it’s hugely valuable to be able to competently use a web-based HTML editor. Every web-based environment has one, whether it’s WordPress, Moodle, Wikispaces or something else, and every time you add content to a site you need to interact with the rows of buttons above the text input field called the HTML Editor. Beyond just making things bold and italic, it’s really worth understanding the function of other tools for adding tables, embedding web media, adding images and so on. If you believe that the web has an important role to play in our future, then learn how to create simple content for it with a HTML Editor.
  • Learn to think in hyperlinks. I was going to include this in the previous item, since a HTML Editor is where you’d normally create hyperlinks, but I think this skill is important enough to have its own category. Hyperlinks ARE the web. In a world that is becoming more and more reliant on the web for every aspect of our lives, you really do need to know how to create these links that help us tie ideas together. For teachers, connecting students to ideas is what we do, and the ability to create a hyperlink should be a fundamental skill. Hyperlinking totally changes the way a reader interacts with text and is therefore an important new literacy, yet so many teachers have still not come to terms with the importance of explicitly teaching their students to read using hypertext. Hyperlinking is easy to do, but it requires a different mindset to constantly think in terms of hypertext. Learn to link!

So there you have it. Five simple, easy-to-learn skills (or literacies) that will help you function better in “the 21st Century”. How many do you possess? And are there any others that you think should be on the list?

CC Photo:

CC BY 4.0 Five Simple Skills by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

12 Replies to “Five Simple Skills”

  1. Our school has been using “My Map” as a PD tool. Many of our staff have a good idea of where they need to work to further develop their “literacies”/”skills”. I know I am competent in many areas but I also realise that there is ever so much more to learn & explore and I LOVE doing so.

    Teachers need to be adaptable to change. They need to be interested in learning. They need to explore and experiment with web 2.0 tools. They need to allow students to share their knowledge and abilities of new tech tools. They need to plan to start using new tools in their teaching. They need to have “fun” learning. Teacher need to show their students that learning can be “fun” and “stimulating”.

  2. Great article. I think that is a great place to start. I’m going to share this with some colleagues and my PLN too!

    Here are some other resources to help teachers get started with educational technology.
    and here are some resources about 21st Century Skills:

  3. I love this, “to function with fluency”, they are the pencil and scissor skills of the 21st Century.

    I believe I use all five skills well, although I need to learn more about iMovie this year. I have been making a list of ICT skills I want to teach my students this year, and all of your skills were there.
    My list is much longer, but contains some of the smaller steps along the way. I think if a learner is fluent in these five literacy they would have taken those steps on the learning pathway, better to keep the list short.

    “Learn to resize and crop a digital photo” struck a chord with me. Our school has medium internet connection at best, but it is impossible to upload the size photo that most digital cameras produce. Very few teachers and students even understand the reason for this. A definite teaching point for me this year.

  4. I used to do online treasure hunt races with my students to get them thnking about how to search effectively. Just set a certain number of things to find out (facts, statistics etc.), put them in teams in the computer lab and see which team can find out all the info fastest.

    They all thought it was great fun and because they wrote down all the searches they made along the way, we were able to think about which were most successful and why.

  5. I agree. I would add that developing a crap detector (Neil Postman) is my number 1. Another is knowing where u saved your files – how you organise your info including RSS.

    1. Interesting that you’d include RSS, While I find RSS a valuable thing, I don’t think I’d put it in the same “simple, essential basics” category as some other things. Certainly not for people who can’t yet create a hyperlink or do a web search.

  6. Chris, a succint list that is realistically achievable by any person, student or teacher. Beyond needing these to teach effectively in modern education I believe these are necessary to learn more effectively also. Great reading once again. I’ll post a more in depth reflection on my blog shortly.

    1. I agree that touch typing is a useful skill, but I think it’s a slightly different kind of skill. I can’t touch type, despite having typing lessons when I was at school, having taught typing to students, and having made a few earnest efforts at breaking all my old bad habits and trying to force myself to apply what I know I should be applying. Try as I may, I just can’t seem to do the whole touch typing thing.

      The difference in this as a skill is that, while being able to touch type is useful and very handy and makes it a more pleasant experience (I imagine!), not being bale to do it doesn’t actually stop me from participating in the new world on the 21st century.

      By contrast, I’d argue that the ability to not know how to search, not know how to manipulate simple media types, or to think in hypertext does in fact limit our functional fluency.

      I’d still like to be able to touch type! Maybe I’ll give it one more shot. (he writes, trying to keep his fingers over the correct keys as he writes this!)

      1. Chris,
        You (as many “oldsters” who found it necessary to type to communicate and yet never did get teh hang of touch typing) probably have developed a touch-typing all your own. Who ever said that there was only one way to do something. Certainly is is much more important that you CAN communicate as effectively as you do.

        Much more important are the other steps you’ve laid out as essential.
        🙂 Keep communicating however it works best for you.

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