If we accept the premise of the role of technology as that of a tool, it is important to speak to the goals of education or defining what it means to be educated in the 21st century. So when we talk about either the "promise" or "peril" of using technology in education, it is important to keep it in the context of how the technology can or could be used (as a tool). The benefits and risks will then begin to have deeper meaning.

Defining an Educated Person in the 21st Century

Critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and global connections are commonly referred to as critical skills or attributes required to be successful in the 21st century economy. Organizations like the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and many others are working to infuse 21st century skills into education. When defining what it means to be educated in the 21st century, it is important to understand that success in such a rapidly changing world requires a commitment to learning.

Every child in American needs 21st century knowledge and skills to succeed as effective citizens, workers and leaders in the 21st century. There is a profound gap between the knowledge and skills most students learn in school and the knowledge and skills they need in typical 21st century communities and workplaces. To successfully face rigorous higher education coursework, career challenges and a globally competitive workforce, U.S. schools must align classroom environments with real world environments by infusing 21st century skills into their teaching and learning. - Partnership for 21st Century Skills

An article entitled by William Cronon, "Only Connect...: The Goals of a Liberal Education". The American Scholar. 1998. 67(4) identifies the characteristics of what it means to be educated in the 21st century.

  1. They listen and they hear.
  2. They read and they understand.
  3. They can talk with anyone.
  4. They can write clearly and persuasively and movingly.
  5. They can solve a wide variety of puzzles and problems.
  6. They respect rigor not so much for its own sake but as a way of seeking truth.
  7. They practice humility, tolerance, and self-criticism.
  8. They understand how to get things done in the world.
  9. They nurture and empower the people around them.
  10. They follow E. M. Forster’s injunction from Howards End: “Only connect . . .”

“More than anything else, being an educated person means being able to see connections so as to be able to make sense of the world and act within it in creative ways...listening, reading, writing, talking, puzzle‐solving, seeing the world through others’ eyes, empowering others, leading—every last one of these things is finally about connecting.”

William Cronon

Beyond Abstract and Into Education for Today's Student

Beyond our understanding of what it means to be educated in a cerebral sense, we should challenge what our implicit notions of an educated mind include. In a question to his readers, John Brockman requested they pose "hard edge" questions that "render visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefine who and what we are." Roger Schank , in his article entitled "What Does it Mean to Have an Educated Mind in the 21st Century?" offers that we all live in an outdated notion of being educated with its roots from the late 19th century. Schank goes on to ponder over why our society fails to review its notion of being educated while the remainder of the world around us is in a constant state of change.

Most of us would offer that being well educated includes the ability to reason, knowing how to read and ponder the classics, appreciate poetry, the sciences and mathematics. Being versatile with language and appreciating history add to this generalized list of our notion of being educated. However, as Schank concludes, how to reason is rarely taught in schools. HTML and networking are more important than basic chemistry and mastery of French to today's students. His argument, that we're fostering outdated concepts of what should be taught to become educated is an interesting concept that deserves attention.

If we agree that a classical form of education is primary in importance, are we sure we're positioning our students to live in a 21st century world? According to Schank, we need to free ourselves from this 19th century notion of education and embrace an updated set of ideas and subjects, most of which encompass new forms of technology. Students will be considered well educated if they know how to operate a computer and understand global communication skills more so than if they simply know how to perform trigonometry. Does this mean the end of classical notions of being well educated? If Schank has his way, we need to rethink the very idea of what it means to be well educated beyond the abstract and classical notions and formulate a criteria more along the lines of what we expect of students in the coming years.