Students need to build and showcase “social currency.” Skills matter!

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Much has been said about the role and importance of technology in education. From teacher use of technology to deliver content to the active use of technology by students to “show what they know,” notions of the traditional are in a constant evolution. As this conversation continues to deepen, it is urgent to have an appreciation of the whole student; not just as a digital child of the millennium but rather an individual who will need to build, sustain and broaden their skills within hyper competitive post-secondary and post-industrial economic landscapes.

With skills as the focus, I had the great pleasure to welcome Dr. Camille Rutherford to my classroom yesterday. Dr. Rutherford, an associate professor at Brock University in the Faculty of Education, addressed Gr. 12 and Gr. 11 students on the viability of building skills within the context of banking “social currency.” This currency reflects skills nurtured through both personal and academic growth. From volunteering at a community organization to being part of a school’s sports team, students (and teachers as well) must be aware that skills grown from those experiences are transcendent, whereas,  grades and a high final course average (in isolation) do not make for the most impressive and or attractive candidate.  As an educational culture often obsessed with high averages, it is provocative to assert that grades are not the most urgent entity. Although important to establish next steps, good grades without transferable skills are empty and do not matter.

As teachers, what should be our focus? Now that I am in my tenth year of teaching, I can confidentially assert that my concern with “content” is marginal compared to my first few years out of the faculty. Although I love my subject area of Communications Technology my concern is the learning process – those skills that will transcend any one curriculum. My concern is not grades but rather the learning journey. From creative skills that harness digital media to communicate effectively, to the student’s ability to be resilient and work collaborative and meaningfully within a team setting, the goal is not merely to “know” content but to “show” learning and importantly build life skills; a realization that “social currency” as Dr. Rutherford shared is of vital and of significant importance.

What else is needed? Importantly, within the digital space, skills and experiences must be curated and shared. As such, students must be provided with opportunities to create digital portfolios that allow them to establish and sustain a personal brand – a skill in itself. These portfolios are not a result of a final project or culminating task but rather are a progressive artefact that stays and grows with the student throughout their learning and personal journey. As such, the portfolio (and thus brand), does not live in isolation – students are to share their interests, talents and experiences beyond the academic. From sports teams to hobbies, students must use technology to create, curate, share and connect. This allows for the “social currency” to live and extend within a broadened cultural space.

What is the challenge? As educators it is a cliché to state we are at a time of change. Perhaps we are merely at a time of self-destruction if we do not embrace the important realization that our role is not content delivery and that using Power Point is not effective tech integration.  In fact, I hesitate to state that we are facilitators as that itself promotes student inactivity – the role of the facilitator is to be neutral and also suggests leadership in pushing the experience forward. Rather we must be provocateurs – challenging students to be leaders, embrace new opportunities, to be critical, to discover problems and find solutions. We must make success and failure equally comfortable – helping students discover next steps and as such build resiliency and a sense of scope. In all of this, we must challenge students to build skills – look for opportunities – and importantly showcase them.

In the end, we have to appreciate that grades are not everything and that a student’s potential post-secondary career (whether college, university or trades), will and does look much different than memories of our experiences. Times are changing and for our students to be competitive, we have to change and evolve as well.

As a side, I would like to share my deep thanks to Dr. Rutherford for spending time with my students. Her insight has surely provided for much reflection and thought. A great way to start the new school year!

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