AI and 21st Century Skills
This is the first in a series of blogs that will explore the intersection of 21st century skills, project-based learning, and artificial intelligence. Written by a former New Tech High School Project Based teacher, David Ross. Up next: Generative AI and language arts standards.
Like millions of Americans, I’m rushing to develop the skills and knowledge that will allow me to function effectively at work, home and play in a world dominated by artificial intelligence.
I recently enrolled in Google’s online (and free) Cloud Skills Boost generative AI path of online modules. As described by Google, “This learning path guides you through a curated collection of content on generative AI products and technologies, from the fundamentals of Large Language Models to how to create and deploy generative AI solutions on Google Cloud.”
Sounds great, but that’s not enough. In fact, I think it misses the point.
The Importance of 21st Century Skills
I worked in Washington DC for three years as the CEO of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, the industry-founded non-profit that created the 21st Century Learning Framework, versions of which shaped how the world thinks about the skills necessary to be an effective learner, worker and citizen.
At the core of the Framework are the 4Cs: Creativity, Collaboration, Communication and Critical Thinking. If you think of these foundational skills now with thoughts of Bard, Chat GPT, Scribe and Liama 2 floating in your head, you’ll recognize that it’s time for industry, government and education to partner once again to create a new 4Cs.
All learners and workers must become skilled in generating creative works side by side with an AI partner, collaborate and communicate effectively with an AI partner, and use AI-mediated critical thinking to analyze and solve problems (some of which will in fact be generated by AI itself). The Center for Excellence at New Tech High School wrote a blog recently about tips and tricks on how to use artificial intelligence in the classroom.
Let’s sample the 4Cs skills as defined by P21 two decades ago.
For creativity, these phrases resonate:
- “Create new and worthwhile ideas (both incremental and radical concepts)”;
- “Demonstrate originality and inventiveness in work and understand the real world limits to adopting new ideas”
My youngest son, who will receive his BFA in Graphic Design in December, recently completed a summer internship with one of the biggest educational technology companies in the country. He was tasked with using generative AI to produce rough drafts of the landing page of a new website. With AI-generated drafts in hand, he mixed and matched what he thought best for audience and purpose and submitted his proposal to his manager and team.
For critical thinking, these phrases resonate today:
- “Analyze how parts of a whole interact with each other to produce overall outcomes in complex systems”;
- “Synthesize and make connections between information and arguments”;
- “Solve different kinds of non-familiar problems in both conventional and innovative ways”
My oldest son is completing his MBA at a private university in the Bay Area. He was asked in a recent assignment to generate a business plan for a proposal he and his classmates would present to members of industry. He was required by the professor to use Chat GPT to generate four draft business proposals as part of the process.
My son chose the best elements of those drafts and synthesized them into the plan his group submitted.
Communication and Collaboration
For communication and collaboration, these phrases resonate today:
- “Use communication for a range of purposes (e.g. to inform, instruct, motivate and persuade)”;
- “Utilize multiple media and technologies, and know how to judge their effectiveness a priori as well as assess their impact”
It’s not just the youngsters who will have to learn these new AI-mediated 4Cs. Folks, I’m 67 years old and use Google tools every day. AI is already part of my life, in part because it was added into Google’s communication suite of tools years ago. That’s what Smart Reply, Smart Compose and Help Me Write really are. I’m going to begin working again on a government-funded education project in Korea. I don’t speak Korean, but I can guarantee you that my slides and white papers are going to be translated into flawless Korean without the help of a human assistant.
The Overlap and Intersection of the 4 C's
As you read this overview you surely noticed that the 4Cs often intersect or overlap. Critical thinking filters into creativity or communication interweaves collaboration. The new overlap – I would argue the foundation upon which the new 4Cs should be built – is in fact generative AI.
P21 is now part of the Battelle for Kids Foundation family of networks. Important thought partners such as Pearson (which produced the fabulous Skills for Today series) and the OECD (Future of Education and Skills 2030) have done notable research and writing focused on education and workplace skills. Dozens of huge corporations as well as small non-profits participated in the development and later implementation of the Framework. Both major teaching unions (AFT and NEA) provided funding and leadership. Even the federal government, which got this ball rolling in 1993 with the Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS), was a key partner.
A call to action
It’s time to round up the posse again. There’s a new sheriff in town and he’s not going to wait for us. We need a new framework.
David Ross (@davidPBLross) is the retired CEO of the Partnership for 21st Century Learning and the former Senior Director of the Buck Institute for Education (now PBLWorks). David was an 11th grade American Studies (History and English 11) team teacher. David created curriculum design templates, exemplary projects, rubrics for critical thinking and collaboration, and project management techniques.