Honing 21st Century Skills in a Digital World

Developing technologically literate students is prime in our expanding Internet age, says MENC member Matt McVeigh. Students invariably ride the cutting edge of Internet tools, and blogs, podcasts, Facebook, and YouTube are their venues. Teachers must help students deal with the “constantly changing, unpredictable terrain of the digital world,” says McVeigh.

McVeigh uses the 21st Century Skills framework to hone in on the Information, Media & Technology categories of Information Literacy, Media Literacy, and Communication Literacy:

Information Literacy: Google, YouTube, and Wikipedia

21st Century Skill—Accessing information efficiently and effectively, evaluating information critically and competently, and using information accurately and creatively for the issue or problem at hand.

“Students are being raised in an environment where the answer is just a short Google search away,” says McVeigh. “The challenge for our students is not finding the information; it’s evaluating the credibility and accuracy of that information.” Regardless of whether teachers find the Internet a credible source, it’s what students use.

McVeigh suggests a few ways to help students develop skills to evaluate and assess what they find on the Internet.

  • Ask students to search online for instructional videos on concepts you’re teaching (i.e., solfège, recorder, or instrument technique). Then discuss the effectiveness of those online lessons.
  • Have students compare and evaluate different online performances.

“Thus students can deepen their understanding of music concepts and learn to cross-check sources at the same time,” says McVeigh.

Media Literacy: Interpretation and Influence

21st Century Skill—Examining how individuals interpret messages differently, how values and points of view are included or excluded, and how media can influence beliefs and behaviors.

“The media holds great power in shaping public opinion,” says McVeigh. “To be successful, students must be skilled in deciphering these messages and thinking about world issues.”

  • Have students examine the power of music to shape a media message, so they’ll learn to dissect the media messages that bombard them.
  • Lead discussions on personal music interpretation, which can translate over to interpreting how music reinforces media messages.
  • Ask students to compose music to accompany a media message.

Communication Literacy: Communicating Digitally

21st Century Skill—Using digital technology, communication tools and/or networks appropriately to access, manage, integrate, evaluate, and creat information in order to function in a knowledge economy.

Music instruction covers both abstract communication (playing music in meaningful and artful ways) and concrete communication (explaining music concepts in plain language). “Computers and the Internet have become the 21st century’s paper and pencil,” says McVeigh. He encourages embracing the new technology to teach students to effectively and responsibly use these modern tools.

  • Ask students to contribute to blogs and Wikis, interacting with the source and asking follow-up questions.
  • Have students take part in online discussions.
  • Have students produce a video supporting an idea or point of view to post online as a class project. (This can involve copyright issues; see resources below.)

“The 21st Century Skills framework promotes teaching about technology with the complex ethical perspective students need,” says McVeigh.

This article was adapted from “21st Century Skills: A New Paradigm for Using Technology in the Music Classroom” by Matt McVeigh in Wisconsin School Musician (September 2008). Used with permission.

Matt McVeigh teaches band and jazz band at Woodworth Middle School in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin. He’s the Wisconsin MEA State Chair for technology. Visit him online at www.mattmcveigh.com.

–Linda C. Brown, October 22, 2009, © National Association for Music Education (nafme.org)