Promoting 21st Century Skills Through Quality Course Design

Concurrent Session 8
Streamed Session

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Session Materials

Brief Abstract

Explore with us how quality course design can promote a 21st Century Skills agenda within courses and prepare students for career success and life-long learning.


Instructional Designer for Oregon State University Ecampus. Previous experience with ePortfolios at University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and with OER, metadata, and repositories at CETIS and CLDR at the University of Strathclyde.

Extended Abstract

About 40 percent of the unemployed in the U.S. are between the ages of 18 and 34 (Goodman, 2015). And more than one third of college graduates are underemployed (Bowyer, 2014). A survey in January 2015 revealed that college students perceived themselves as well-prepared for their future careers, but the employers felt differently (Jaschik, 2015) . The above data revealed a gap between skills needed for success in work life and personal life and the skills of college graduates prepared by higher education.

There are two common approaches to address this problem. One is seen in efforts such as Liberal Education and America's Promise (AACU LEAP ) program. In this and other initiative, institutions seek to tackle the outlined problem as part of their general education component of degree programs (One of the challenges in developing such programs is to help instructors consider how their andragogy (or pedagogy if you prefer), objectives, and assessments integrate into the wider picture of a program). This approach may work for full time college students. However, it may not fit so well for adult learners who are more focused on degree completion and particular career paths. Another approach is seen in efforts to develop Competence Based Education programs that specifically target workforce skills. However, such approaches are usually expensive, not standardized currently, and students may struggle to integrate specific competencies with their general development.

As a team of instructional designers at Oregon State University Ecampus, we advocate for quality online course design. Through this advocacy, the authors found that we are also promoting 21st Century Skills ( for our online students. We propose a new approach to help instructors and institutions close the gap between what employers demand and what higher education institutions supply. Through implementing best practices of course design and aspects of effective andragogy for engaged learning, active learning, transformative learning, and responsive teaching, students gain strengthened skills in creativity, collaboration, communication and critical thinking. Ultimately, students are equipped with skills to help them survive and thrive in the job market.

At Oregon State University's Ecampus (, in 2014-2015 academic year we served a student population of 17452 individual students across 43 programs and have been recognised as a top-ranked program by US News. Our goal is to equip students to be successful for both career and life as self-regulated and lifelong learners. We think that this approach provides a simple and cost-effective solution to quickly improve how institutions prepare students. It is scalable as it integrates easily into familiar patterns of course creation and professional development, enabling instructors to focus on their courses rather than grappling with new programs. Integrating this approach to supporting 21st century skills into regular online course offerings may help make such skills more accessible to online students who are unable to participate in traditional first year experience programs or expensive vocational boot camps.

In this session we will explore and engage with what it means to design courses and activities for 21st century skills. We will briefly review 21st century skills and how they are typically presented. We will suggest that our approach is suited to online and hybrid course development and present a series of examples. For example,
In BA 101 Business Now, students are taught team-building skills each week and practice team building skills in their group term project "The greatest new business" . Students also have opportunities to be creative and modify their ideas based on the feedback they received from the instructor and peers.
In RUS 232 Russian Culture, students develop mastery through providing detailed and constructive feedback on their peer's work. Guided by a rubric, students are encouraged to provide balanced feedback demonstrating critical thinking and showing an ability to provide and receive constructive criticism and evaluation. The instructor focused attention on the peer review component by making it worth twice as much as the original submitted work.
In IE 587 Management of Business Information Systems, students are exposed to 10 case studies. As a scaffolding tool, the instructor provided video instructions on how to conduct a case analysis. After students submit their draft analyses, the instructor and two peer reviewers are assigned to give constructive feedback according to a rubric. The students can revise their drafts in light of the feedback and then resubmit.

In the process of designing such assignments, we are encouraging students to build their creativity, their collaboration and teamworking skills, their critical thinking
abilities, and communication skills.

In the session we will then collaborate in small groups to share and collect examples of similar practices. We will then discuss in groups the proposed approach. We anticipate questions for discussion will emerge from participants. However, as a fallback we have the prepared the following questions for discussion:

1) does good course design implicitly support learning 21st century skills?
2) do the skills need to be explicit or can you hide them in the design of the course?
3) do you think instructors tend to avoid explicitly teach these skills in their course? why?
4) does including 21st century skills mean cutting content?

Bowyer, C. (2014, August 15). Overqualified and Underemployed: The Job Market Waiting for Graduates. Forbes. Retrieved from

Goodman, L.M. (2015, May 27). Millennial College Graduates: Young, Educated, Jobless. News Week. Retrieved from