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ISTE Identifies 7 Traits of Digital Learners

Student learning standards developed by the International Society for Technology in Education challenge schools to prepare learners for future jobs.

It's been five years since Cathy N. Davidson, co-director of the annual MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions, declared that 65 percent of grade-school kids may work in jobs that haven't been invented yet, but the statistic is still relevant. The educators responsible for teaching these students skills to succeed in jobs of the future, however, sometimes teach about devices instead  — devices that likely will be irrelevant by the time today's students enter the workforce, said Thomas C. Murray, director of Innovation for Future Ready Schools at the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Enter standards for student learning from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). For the third time since 1998, with the last update occurring in 2007, ISTE is leading a collaborative effort to revise its standards, which help schools understand what skills students should learn in the education technology space. Three major trends prompted the update:

  1. Broadband and mobile device access has increased in schools.
  2. More students and teachers are comfortable with technology in their personal lives. 
  3. Learning environments and digital resources became available at a rapid rate.
This year, middle and high school students shared their feedback on the proposed standards, noting that they were ambitious, but made sense. They did question, however, not only how they would learn the standards, but also what their teachers could do to design environments where they could learn them. 

The draft identifies seven traits of students: 

  1. Empowered learner
  2. Digital citizen
  3. Knowledge curator
  4. Innovative designer
  5. Computational thinker
  6. Creator and communicator
  7. Global collaborator
"The standards are really focused on moving beyond just productivity to really realizing the promise technology offers for that more authentic, deep learning," said Carolyn Sykora, senior director for ISTE standards. 

Each of these traits includes four signs of how students will behave once they incorporate a trait into their identity. For example, an innovative designer would solve problems by asking questions, working with digital and physical tools, and testing solutions. 

And overall, educators should give students opportunities to explore, design and create something with the help of technology tools, Murray said. Instead, educators often give students digital worksheets.

"This is a teaching and learning conversation that's empowered by technology," Murray said. "It's not a technology conversation that then determines learning. It's leading with the learning piece that's key there." 

Educators can provide feedback on the second public draft through March 31. In June, ISTE plans to release the final version.