Being Programmed: The 33 Digital Skills Every 21st Century Teacher should Have

Approximate Reading Time: 4 minutes

Educational Technology and Mobile Learning: The 33 Digital Skills Every 21st Century Teacher should Have.

I’ve been teaching an EdTech course the last few weeks and we had our last class on Friday. I spent some time reading from Douglas Rushkoff’s book, “Program or Be Programmed“. The entire book is about how important it is to learn programming. Today, this article (link above) lands in my inbox. It claims to lay out the “The 33 Digital Skills Every 21st Century Teacher should Have”. They’re not bad. I might even agree with most of them – except of course that every last one could be combined into one single skill: Use current tools to teach effectively. As cheerless as that is, that’s not even the most disturbing part.

What is so deeply disturbing is not what’s there, but what’s NOT. Note how many times the following words appear:

  • use [19]
  • create [7]
  • understand [1]
  • write [0]
  • program [0]
  • code [0]

This article is encouraging teachers to become even more entrenched as mere users than they already are now. The article says almost nothing about actually understanding any of this technology. The sad (and dangerous) truth is that the vast majority of people who write these articles – usually with the best of intentions – have really no idea how any of the tools in which they claim expertise work. Here’s the list:

The 21st century teacher should be able to :

  1. Create and edit digital audio
  2. Use Social bookmarking to share resources with and between learners
  3. Use blogs and wikis to create online platforms for students
  4. Exploit digital images for classroom use
  5. Use video content to engage students
  6. Use infographics to visually stimulate students
  7. Use Social networking sites to connect with colleagues and grow professionally
  8. Create and deliver asynchronous presentations and training sessions
  9. Compile a digital e-portfolio for their own development
  10. Have a knowledge about online security
  11. be able to detect plagiarized works in students assignments
  12. Create screen capture videos and tutorials
  13. Curate web content for classroom learning
  14. Use and provide students with task management tools to organize their work and plan their learning
  15. Use polling software to create a real-time survey in class
  16. Understand issues related to copyright and fair use of online materials
  17. Exploit  computer games for pedagogical purposes
  18. Use digital assessment tools to create quizzes
  19. Use of collaborative tools for text construction and editing
  20. Find and evaluate authentic web based content
  21. Use of mobile devices like tablets
  22. Identify online resources that are safe for students browsing
  23. Use digital tools for time management purposes
  24. Learn about the different ways to use YouTube in your classroom
  25. Use note taking tools to share interesting content with your students
  26. Annotate web pages and highlight parts of text to share with your class
  27. Use of online graphic organizers and printables
  28. Use of online sticky notes to capture interesting ideas
  29. Use of screen casting tools to create and share tutorials
  30. Exploit group text messaging tools for collaborative project work
  31. Conduct an effective search query with the minimum time possible
  32. Conduct A Research Paper Using Digital Tools
  33. Use file sharing tools to share docs and files with students online

When I was an undergrad, learning how to program was the only way to really get involved in the evolving digital world. That’s no longer true, but learning to program is more important now than it was 35 years ago.


To quote Rushkoff, By learning to program, we

“came to understand what programming is, how programmers make decisions, and how those decisions influence the ways the software and its users function. For us, as the mysteries of computers became the science of programming, many other mysteries seemed to vanish as well. For the person who understands code, the whole world reveals itself as a series of decisions made by planners and designers for how the rest of us should live. Not just computers, but everything from the way streets are organized in a town to the way election rules are tilted for a purpose (vote for any three candidates) begin to look like what they are: sets of rules developed to promote certain outcomes. Once the biases become apparent, everything becomes possible. The world and its many arbitrary systems can be hacked.” [p.134]

What was once a transparent tool, has become so obfuscated by interfaces and ‘helpers’ under the guise of “user friendliness” that most users no longer have any idea how the actions they request are actually carried out.

Remember how the computer refereed to the ‘user’ in Tron with both fear and reverence? That was because they KNEW how to control the machine. The original storyline was written 30 years ago when you had to be a programmer to use a computer.

These days, most users know as much about how the software works as a medieval peasant knew about disease. Re-booting your machine, whether it be a PC or a cellphone has become the same sort of action as blood-letting. Sometimes, it fixes the problem, but if it does, it is complete magic.

If you think that those peasants were at the mercy of the aristocracy of the day (who were, by and large, the only people with an education), it is nothing compared to today. Only today’s aristocracy aren’t the programmers – they are those who run the software companies.

Because of the wonders of modern technology though, every person with access to a computer has the option of being more than a peasant. The choice is up to you.


There are only two industries that refer to their customers as ‘users’.  (Edward Tufte)

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Being Programmed: The 33 Digital Skills Every 21st Century Teacher should Have — 2 Comments

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