Greenlaw, Jim (2011) Deconstructing the Metanarrative of the 21 Century Skills Movement

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Deconstructing the Metanarrative of the 21 Century Skills Movement

A Paper for the Annual Conference of the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia in Auckland New Zealand, December 1-4, 2011

By Jim Greenlaw
University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Canada


If Neil Postman, the author of ‘Technopoly: The surrender of culture to technology (1993), were alive today, what would he say to Marc Prensky (2010), the originator of the term, digital native about the ways in which teachers should approach the wonders and perils of e-learning in their classrooms? As the Dean of a faculty of education which is devoted to both creating and critiquing a variety of digital teaching and learning strategies in K-12 and adult education contexts, I have kept a close eye on the developing metanarrative of the 21st century skills movement (Trilling & Fadel, 2009). Arguments and anecdotes from the movement’s proponents concerning teachers’ technological accountability and competencies are attractive and compelling to some educators at the same time as they are oppressive and disturbing to others. In order to deconstruct the technophilic discourses of Prensky, Trilling, and Fadel, I juxtapose their work with Postman’s cautionary tales about totalitarian technocracy in schools. Postman wants educators to question their taken for-granted assumptions about the ways in which they and their students should interact with technology. Prensky and his followers wish to provide educators with effective ways to involve their students in experiential learning partnerships through the use of serious gaming, e-books, crowdsourcing, and Facebook. As the views of Prensky and Postman are contrasted, a number of interesting issues emerge. What, for instance, is the nature of moral development and cultural identity formation when collective intelligence, hypertexts, and virtual relationships displace traditional textbook and face-to-face modes of learning? In this paper, therefore, I attempt to synthesize the opposing perspectives of Prensky and Postman in order to establish a balanced and yet critical theory of the nature of e-learning.

A paper presented at the PESA conference 2011, Thursday December 1 to Sunday December 4 , AUT University, North Shore Campus, Auckland, New Zealand.