Media Seasons

The Wide Open Range of 21st Century Learning

Back in the 1990’s when I designed my first webpage as a library media specialist, I wanted to use the site as a teaching tool so that my elementary students might easily use it as a springboard to make meaningful connections.  I borrowed the persona of a cowboy–a digital representation of Wes Tern, a character brought to life by my principal at the time, who on Halloween donned his chaps, boots and hat as if he were the prequel to the movie Night of the Museum. 

This digital representation was far removed from any depiction of virtual reality.  The computer graphics of the time left Wes Tern’s facial features blank.  He was little more than a glorified Pac Man with cowboy boots and hat.  Now I might use software sophisticated enough that I could insert original art. 

As I emphasized then, Wes Tern’s most important tool was his lasso.  Just as the cowboy’s lassoes reached out to gather something and bring it back to be used, I encouraged my students to gather information they needed and wanted to use.  Our use of the Internet at that point was focused on information literacy. 

Now, instead of challenging our students to be merely consumers of information following a well worn course I’ve traveled over and over, each group of students are also producers blazing their own trails out on the open range.    21st century learning is exciting because now each of my students can be that cowpoke out on the open range with greater freedom to chart his or her own course. 

One might sing using GarageBand.  One might paint the landscape.  Another might document in film or animation the highlights of events.  Many might choose to text, or twitter or chat.

Legends of cowboys have not disappeared.  Today’s trailblazers, though, are more likely to gather round the laptop than the campfire.