By Maricarmen Gonzalez and Erick Izaguirre
The Business Dictionary defines a professional as a “Person formally certified by a professional body or belonging to a particular profession by having completed a required course of studies and/or practice”. And whose competence can usually be measured against an established set of standards.”
The term professional is commonly used to refer to a person who holds a college degree. Reason why exist a marked distinction between the terms profession and occupation where the latter is associated to physical work and the former related to mental activity.
Being a professional has, for several decades, been considered a high-status position in society. However, more and more teenagers and young adults around the world, and especially in Latin America are starting to question the benefits of studying from four to five years in the university. “Should I really spend four or five years of study to become a professional? Is it worth it?” These are just some of the queries that have become increasingly common in realities like Latin America. Unemployment, Lack of job opportunities and well paid “professional” employments have led thousands of teenagers and young adults to choose technical careers instead of an undergraduate education.
Career technical education teaches a broad range of skills which apply to different jobs. Technical education entails learning solid academic skills that students can put to use in real life situations at work. According to SITEAL (2005), the percentages of students between the ages of 18 and 29 who finish their secondary education and continue to a higher education, to then drop out of college are alarming. This means that the option for vocational training open doors to employment.
These numbers clearly show a new trend in education that meets the needs of both, the employers and employees. Among the most attractive benefits of technical careers are a larger demand for technicians, higher earnings, and the service provided to the individuals and the country.
Today vocational and technical careers are in high demand. In fact, there are more job openings for technical careers than for undergraduate professionals, especially those that are related to accounting, business and health, among others. However, it has not always been so.
Towards the end of the twentieth century, a bachelor’s degree was a must if a student wanted to succeed or secure for a higher position within a company. The best grades and performance during the career reflected preparation and success, regardless of the hands-on training or real-life practice, the college graduate may have had. Technology and globalization changed the scene quite a bit, not only changing the skills required for a job but workplaces themselves. Modern workplaces are constantly changing, and those who will succeed should possess and develop a diverse set of competencies that will allow them to perform not one or two roles in the company, but take over any position needed to face the situations that companies nowadays do.
Technical education prepares students with the skills, competencies, and practice to deal with the present and future technology. Looking back in history, after World War II, higher education represented a standard of living. It represented a safe path to security and a brilliant future. Big businesses were in high demand of professionals to manage and increase production. During the late 80s, big companies changed to small businesses where many kinds of skills were required to execute diverse tasks. Such performance claimed for a different kind of education, more dynamic and diversified. Thus, technical education fulfilled these requirements in less time and reaching healthier and better wages.
According to Forbes, technical and vocational jobs are not only better paid but considerably growing and on high demand. Undoubtedly, the tech industry is among the best-paying ones, a crucial factor to take into consideration students, who find themselves in the currently so common dilemma of professional or technician, have become much more aware.
In addition to the great demand for technicians and the so attractive wages technical careers offer nowadays, people who study a vocational career can also find their realization in their significant impact on their society and their countries. Compared to the end of last century when health and social work were not valued; nowadays, jobs known as community and health services are essential for society’s growth and development. Thus, these occupations provide countries with a better level of life, adding competitiveness and productivity to the working sector. Workers in health and human services supply assistance in their areas which are helpful and valuable, and by helping their society, they help their country. Such services careers are an important vocation.
Even though the term professional has for so long been restricted to an exclusive list of occupations, usually related to college degrees, the emergence of so many highly-valued areas of work has sparked the debate on what a professional is. In his article “Traits that convey character also define a professional,” Peter Post beautifully lists and describes some of the characteristics that any person performing an occupation should possess so as to be considered professional. Among these traits, Post mentions consideration, respect, and honesty. Taking such characteristics and the benefits of studying a technical career herein previously mentioned and described into consideration, there is no trace of doubt that our modern society and the new economy are eagerly awaiting for a giant wave of brand new professionals, professionals in technical careers committed to constant learning and service who become experts in a specialized sector of any given industry.
SITEAL (2005). La educación superior en América Latina: acceso, permanencia y equidad. Datos destacados. Buenos Aires: IIEP-OEIUNESCO
“What Is Professional? Definition and Meaning.”BusinessDictionary.com. Web. 10 May 2017.
Post, Peter Globe Correspondent 2014 August “Just what does it mean to be a professional? – The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com. N.p., 17 Aug. 2014. Web. 10 May 2017.
By Dr. Ken Beatty, Anaheim University
“I read through the whole textbook and found a word that was only used once. I was sure the students wouldn’t know it!” Lillian, a teacher trainer in Peru, was explaining her conversation with a teacher who had written a test for his English students.
“But,” Lillian asked, “Why would you choose to test the students on something you thought they wouldn’t know?”
The teacher did not have a right answer; it showed his lack of understanding of the principles of assessment and went against Swain’s (1984) principle of bias for best: “Do everything possible to elicit the learners’ best performance” (p. 195). The teacher thought, as too many teachers do that the purpose of assessment is to trick students or to cheat them out of marks. The teacher didn’t understand that an evaluation was meant to give students an opportunity to show what they know. Race, Brown & Smith (2005) suggest that the consequences of inadequate assessment are serious:
Nothing we do to or for our students is more important than our assessment of their work and the feedback we give. The results influence students for the rest of their lives and careers–fine if we get it right, but unthinkable if we get it wrong. (p. xi)
Every assessment needs to consider what Brown (1996) explains as construct validity, “The degree to which a test measures what it claims, or purports to be measuring” (p. 231). In the case of the teacher posing the difficult vocabulary item, the test should instead have been a chance to students to use high-frequency vocabulary that they had studied as key part of his class. Assessing that vocabulary would demonstrate that the teaching was effective and that the students were able to acquire the language in an efficient way.
If the students were not able to identify and use the target vocabulary, then it would not be a question of whether or not they had worked hard enough. The teacher should also reflect whether his teaching strategies were weak. These include motivation for students to want to learn, understand, and use new vocabulary items and strategies that make vocabulary more memorable.
Imagine students had instead been directed to study 100 new and useful vocabulary items as part of the course. What would be a sensible way to assess their comprehension? Teachers often choose multiple-choice tests for the simple reason that they are easy to mark. However, multiple-choice questions are not authentic language experiences. After all, how often does someone stop another on the street to ask a question, giving the correct answer and three or four choices clever distractors?
A more authentic approach would be to ask students to use each word in a sentence. However, this may also be unsatisfactory as the sentences may do little to show the students’ comprehension. For example, by knowing that a word is a noun (e.g., car, cat, cup), a student may write, “I bought a ________ at the store.” In such cases, a teacher cannot be sure whether the student understood the word other than knowing it is some physical object.
A better approach is to mirror how people use language in the real world. People often forget a key word and find synonyms or circumlocutions (round-about ways of explaining things) to get their meaning across. If someone is going to work on a farm, he might want to ask for a shovel but, forgetting the word a moment, substitute the synonym spade. Alternatively, as a circumlocution, he might say, “I need something to dig with.”
Hopefully, the 100 vocabulary words the teacher is assessing are not random, but rather part of a semantic field (see Moore, Donelson, Eggleston & Bohnemeyer, 2015; Evans, 2011). A semantic field ties together groups of words because they have something in common. For example, they might focus on a particular part of speech, like adverbs or prepositions, or be used in particular contexts, such as a courtroom, or deal with a particular subject, such as farming.
If the vocabulary is bound together in a semantic set, using the principle of showing what you know should give students the opportunity to use the vocabulary in context. For example, “You and your partner are planning to start an organic coffee farm. Discuss the what you will need to start and write a list of the ten most important things, defining and explaining each one.”
This approach likely sounds complicated, and it is! A multiple-choice test would be far easier, but this type of assessment task accomplishes much more:
- It is a learning task, not just an assessment task. Having students work together creates opportunities for peer teaching. Students have the chance to learn or re-learn the target vocabulary and grammatical structures.
- Students negotiate meaning (clarify what they and others are saying) and scaffold their learning, (build on each other’s ideas). In these ways, they likely expand their vocabulary beyond that which is part of the task.
- The task allows students to use all their language resources, just as they would in the real world. For example, beyond using synonyms and circumlocutions, they can also use body language, facial expressions, and even draw to make their point. Communication is the goal, not memorization.
- There is an increase in motivation because students see that there is a real-world application to the type of task. They can imagine themselves in such a scenario or a similar scenario, e.g., starting a business.
A related concern is how–or whether–such an assessment should be marked.
All assessments require some kind of feedback, but that feedback can be either formative or summative. The purpose of formative assessment is to give students feedback to help them improve. Typically, this involves giving a student a test and then the answers–but not collecting marks. Instead, the students are made aware of what they do and do not know and are hopefully motivated to improve.
This shifts responsibility to the students to make them understand where they need help and further study. Alternatively, summative assessment is about making decisions about whether students are able to proceed to the next level. That might mean the next course, or graduation, or professional certification.
Summative assessments are essential, but if we only give them without formative opportunities for students to improve, then classrooms quickly become places where students see themselves as “good” or “bad” at learning English, rather than as a place where they can hope to make progress toward their language learning goals.
Returning to the question of how more unstructured assessments should be marked, there are several options. The first and simplest is to ask students to reflect on their performance on such a task. Having them ask themselves questions such as “Did I demonstrate that I understood the key vocabulary?” and “Where do I need to improve?” is another strategy to make them more responsible for their own learning.
For students who need more direction and support, another option is to provide rubrics in the form of a grid that shows the teacher’s expectations in a range of areas. Besides vocabulary, these might include the use of grammar, sentence complexity, pronunciation, and other factors. With such rubrics, it is important for students to be aware of them before they begin the task, so they know where to focus their attention. To engage students to a greater degree, ask their help in writing the rubric: “Class, for this task, what language concerns do you think are important for you to show what you know?” List the areas on the board and create a grid of what might be considered exceptional, good, and in need of more study. Creating such a rubric becomes a useful language-learning opportunity for the class.
At first, these approaches may seem to be more work for teachers. They may also seem to take up already-valuable classroom time. But being efficient is not the same as being effective. Simply “finishing” a chapter is not necessary if some–or even all–of the students in a class have not understood or acquired the knowledge in ways in which they can use it in the real world. Instead, in every assessment, teachers need to ask themselves the question, “How can this test help students show what they know?” It is the starting point both of helping students improve and improving one’s teaching practice.
Brown, J. D. (1996). Testing in language programs. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall
Evans, N. (2011). Semantic typology. In J. J. Song (Ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Linguistic Topology, pp. 504–533. Oxford: Oxford University Press
Moore, R., Donelson, K. Eggleston, A. & Bohnemeyer, J. (2015). Semantic typology: New approaches to crosslinguistic variation in language and cognition. Linguistics Vanguard. Retrieved from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/5cb3/1d3385930fba90647c4267e356a24478e099.pdf
Race, P., Brown, S. & Smith, B. (2005) 500 Tips on assessment. London: Routledge
Swain, M. (1984). Teaching and testing communicatively. TESL Talk 15, 1 and 2. 7-18.
M.Sc. Maria A. Mora
The issue of digital citizenship has become a relevant topic to discuss at school. Should it be a subject in our schools? Who is in charge of teaching all the elements involved in the responsibility of using technology, parents or teacher? Are we aware of the risks that technology involves for learners?
Problems such as cyber-bullying, time spent on social media, plagiarism, and inappropriate use of technology or disclosure of information are some of the issues teachers have to deal with in modern classrooms, and it seems as if they were always one step behind all this ordeal.
Schools trying to avoid further problems have found a solution on forbidding the use of tablets, cell phones and other kinds of technology in the classrooms, along with the use of social media, blogs and any other type of communication on the web.
On the other hand, there are schools which are promoting the use of technology, teaching their children and teenagers how to use technology responsibly, ethically, and safely. First of all, they include the instruction of digital citizenship as part of other subjects. In some cases, students have to sign an agreement where they will accept the responsible use of digital devices, networks, and software for educational purposes and activities. Learners have to agree on keeping personal information and others, private, showing respect on social media, giving credit to others for their work, and reporting immediately any improper use of technology. Such measures are ruled and regulated in schools by organizations like the Child Online Protection Act (COPA), and the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA). They have found the need to make an alliance with schools and parent to inform and protect young ones from unawareness and inexperience of the effect and consequences when surfing the net.
In addition to these agreements, teachers can look for pages online to instruct their students on how to make healthy choices online, the same way they would for their health. One of the best places to start is Common Sense Media where they offer eBooks and printable digital citizenship curriculum for grades K-12. These resources provide a printable scope and sequence that allow teachers to prepare students for engaging in a digital space.
Furthermore, institutions must involve parents in this process of technological education to seek that before-mentioned wellness beyond the school premises. The search for such knowledge turns out to be quite a challenge for schools, parents, and instructors, since technology is always in motion, and one can never be well trained in the use of an application when another appears. Then, agreements, programs, and curriculums to instruct on digital citizenship have to go under revision to cover every angle once more.
Institutions need to implement efforts and commitments on behalf of every part involved once the technology is integrated into the learning process, incorporating classes on digital citizenship. The main principles to promote and develop a healthy digital culture in our classrooms are transparency and trust. Blocking pages and the internet itself is not the solution anymore, but empowering students with the right element, and trusting them to make the right decisions regardless of the supervision they may have.
M.A. Maria del Carmen Gonzalez
When teaching another language all the input, exposure, and practice that the students may get becomes priceless to their learning concerning exposure. Technology provides English language teachers with an endless source of tools and applications which can make their classes much more interactive and be engaging for learners. Instructors have the opportunity to communicate with other teachers, creating networks to share not only knowledge but also advice and tips for their classes. Such groups have formed communities where they can find everything and anything to make classes more enjoyable to students. Learners get in touch with authentic material and practice in real contexts, putting the language into use right from level one.
Thus, language instructors have a great responsibility once they open the gate of technology inside and outside their classrooms. Teachers have to train students on how to use technology effectively regarding ethics and responsibility. They cannot teach them how to use a particular tool, but on the contrary, a whole set of required skills to discriminate information, respect authorship, and develop competencies to use any tool, page or application as students, and later on, for their professional life as well. These measures will guaranty learners to move responsibly in the digital world, with or without a teacher by their side; in other words, they will unfold digital citizenship.
Technology opens a broad range of possibilities for students, as they can surf the web for any material, information, application or tool, as well as be a part of learning clubs or communities to exchange ideas or simply have a pen pal. Once trained into the elements of digital citizenship: literacy, access, security, etiquette, health and wellness, commerce, communications, law, rights and responsibilities, students will be protected to use technology and digital information safely, responsibly, and ethically.
Furthermore, technology provides the creative teacher with the occasion to create their material using faster and more efficient tools, save it for further use and even sell it to other teachers in pages set up for that purpose. Teachers can download a great variety of free material for their classes, saving time and effort; moreover, lesson plans and all kinds of games and worksheets, along with another large variety of online exercises and games.
There is no question about technology being part of our lives; the dilemma resides on the knowledge we have of its significance and effects on our existence. As teachers, we must become digital citizens, teaching by example, guiding and instructing our students on how to surf correctly on the web.
About the authors
Bernie Trilling is founder and CEO of 21st Century Learning Advisors and the former global director of the Oracle Education Foundation. He has participated in different organizations which work on the development of 21st-century methodologies.
Charles Fadel founded the Center for Curriculum Redesign and has worked in a variety of educational projects around the world.
The book is written from an educational point of view, providing information on the skills and attitudes needed by teachers, administrators, parents, and students. Authors appeal to the significant changes suffered in the last years which require certain adaptations to the classroom, programs, and lessons. The book includes a DVD with examples of education programs adapted to the 21st century.
The book entails three parts. First, it describes the environment surrounding the 21st century. Second, the authors describe which would be the skills required to succeed in the 21st century, and in the last part, they focus on a proposal for learning in this age.
The 21st-century skills covered by the authors are divided into three broad groups:
- Learning and innovation skills such as problem-solving, critical thinking, creativity, teamwork, and collaboration.
- Computer literacy skills such as digital citizenship, as well as research and the accurate use of information, media, and technological systems to achieve effective communication.
- Professional and life skills such as adapting to changes, developing initiative and self-direction, global and cultural awareness, and interaction, productivity, leadership, and accountability.
By Academic Committee
Changes in the workplace are necessary to match the 21st-century skills demands. Global citizens today agree that as time goes by the place of work changes, but the competencies that go along with it should too. We cannot deny that the skills required in the 21st-century gear towards factors such as competitiveness, innovation, and creativity.
Workers nowadays need an advanced mentality, open mind and disposition to unlearn and relearn putting into practice soft skills such as time management, leadership, resilience, and self-direction, among others.
Workplaces are changing. Many workers are still illiterate when it comes to succeeding in the involving work environment, taking into account that company’s know-how goes hand in hand with technology. The power of technology will promote modern devices and a more efficient communication network as the workplace setting improves. If a company wants to keep its quality and be competitive in its market, then workers will need to keep up with the latest technology trends and adapt rapidly to the changes that occur on a daily basis.
Companies have also seen the necessity to make adjustments in their infrastructure to promote spaces where workers can interact in different ways. Moreover, design places where creativity and innovation flourish. The need for spaces that nurture teamwork and discussion contribute to the development of creative solutions and distinct concepts gathering different opinions and points of view. Thus, generating change too.
As times change, society and minds also change. Back in the days having domain and knowledge in the core subjects at school were enough to be considered a successful person and prepared for the real world. Currently, this era takes much more skills than just being able to read, write and solve mathematical equations.
To gain success, we must now have a range of knowledge in diverse areas of expertise such as science, technology, and culture, as well as being creative, innovative, flexible, and possess the ability to work in teams, solve problems, think critically, and communicate effectively.
Assumptions regarding success in the workplace have also changed. It is not just about inventing a product that allures people because it is not costly and it works. Now it has to be original, significant and prepossessing. Moreover, many jobs are being delegated to other countries because they can save money by having other people do the same job for less pay. Technology in itself poses dichotomy as it advances, the workplace changes in a way where humans compete against it for the same job. However, if the personnel can adapt, learn and innovate it will outsmart computers and avoid a worker’s replacement since jobs now demand specialization.
Employees need to keep pace with competencies so that managers and directors can see that they possess the skills from the 21st century. They have to prove and make visible, making the right decisions, using the right information and tools, that they can do the job right, come up with the best solutions and produce the most incredible and rewarding product or service. Many professionals have already embarked in these skills adopting technology and software as essential to getting the job done making them a limited, yet valuable source due to the attitude rather than their expertise on the subject.
by Erick Mariano Izaguirre
“Why do I need to study this? What for do I need to know this? How is this going to help me in the future?” Do these questions sound familiar to you? If you are a teacher, you must have heard these questions dozens of times. Decontextualized new content usually leads students to this uncomfortable query.
Director and writer Spencer Cathcart, known for The Lie We Live (2015) claims: “We discover the world through a textbook. For years we sit and regurgitate what we’re told. Tested and graded like subjects in a lab. Raised not to make a difference in this world, raised to be no different. Smart enough to do our job but not to question why we do it.” His words seem to make much more sense now that the concept of “21st-century skills” is catching on.
Nowadays an increasing number of business people, politicians, and educators are sold to the idea that the new generations of students need the provision of “21st-century skills” to be able to succeed in our fast-evolving reality. Today we are experiencing such an incredible amount of changes that what students learn at schools is obsolete in a couple of years. The reason why teaching students competencies instead of content has become much more urgent now than any time before.
An article published by The Glossary of Education Reform in the year 2014 suggests that “21st-century skills can be applied in all academic subject areas, and in all educational, career, and civic settings throughout a student’s life.” It is of high relevance to highlight that some of the most common characteristics considered as 21st-century skills, critical thinking, and problem-solving, have been neglected for many years in our educational systems. Some claim this has been the result of deficient assessment tools since we have been immersed in evaluation methods that force students to learn the necessary content to pass an exam, thus leaving aside the sole purpose of education, learning for life.
In addition to critical thinking and problem solving, there is an extensive list of characteristics that companies around the world and the planet itself demand from every single citizen. Civic, ethical, and social justice literacy as well as, global awareness, multicultural literacy, humanitarianism, ecosystems understanding, and environmental and conservation literacy are just some of the skills we have not been able to master yet due to their lack of economic productivity. It is well-known that education systems will respond to the needs of those who fund them, especially now that education is a private and very lucrative business. However, understanding the extent of the situation is just the beginning. Now the big challenge is to come up with a way to tackle the problem we face in our educational systems.
Those who concern the most about this education crisis seem to be, as mentioned before, governments and large enterprises. But why has this become an issue in these times specifically? If education has always responded to the economic needs and productivity, and students have been trained to do their future jobs well, then we should wonder: Are they simply being taught how to earn a living, or how to live as well? It is evident that the economic needs grew much faster than our awareness on topics such as social justice, global issues, and humanitarianism.
Finland, for example, pursuits to become the first country in the world to get rid of all school subjects. The Finnish education system is considered one of the best in the world. It is common to always appear in the top ten rating. According to an article published by Bright side in November 2016, “Instead of individual subjects, students will study events and phenomena in an interdisciplinary format.” The purpose of this is to empower students in making decisions about what phenomenon they want to learn more in detail about depending on their future professional interests. The suggested changes also contemplate the end of the old-fashioned way of teaching in which students just sit behind school desks waiting to be asked a question by the teacher and answering based on the content of a particular textbook or material. All this will surely provide society with a new generation of professionals who do not only know how to do the jobs they are hired for, but also can be active participants and decision makers in a world of ever accelerated transformations.
Once we become aware of the whole picture of how the economic, political, and educational system is intertwined and understand that the 21st century and the planet need more active participants rather than just followers, we will also be able to change the way we teach and learn. The actions we take after this will hopefully contribute to not having more students wondering what for they have to learn something.
Abbot, S., editor. “21st Century Skills Definition.” The Glossary of Education Reform, 25 Aug. 2016, edglossary.org/21st-century-skills/.
The Lie We Live: Information Clearing House – ICH.” The Lie We Live: Information Clearing House – ICH, Information Clearing House, 3 Mar. 2016, www.informationclearinghouse.info/article44357.htm.