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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Are our ICT skills really failing?

There has been lots of conversations around the water cooler this week about the results of the ICT survey that NAP conducted.

As someone who has taught in schools for over 20 years, this does not surprise me. You would think that with the dollars that parents have put into technology programs over the years, ICT proficiency should be through the roof. Operating systems are getting easier to use and applications are so much more intuitive than before WYSIWYG operating systems (can you remember WordStar). So the decline in results is a bit worrying from every perspective.

When laptop programs first came into schools, there was an emphasis placed on induction or technology orientation. Acceptable use, formats, conventions, tips and hints and typing skills were all explicitly taught. Schools also actively trained their staff in applications that they could use with their teaching. At one stage, many schools had Professional Learning points to encourage teachers to do and deliver regular ICT professional development. There would also be an assumption that new teachers have these ICT skills already -  of which they don't.

Over the years, this part of the technology program implementation was overlooked, dropped and taken for granted. As the perceived technology proficiency of students increased, the perceived need for explicit teaching declined. The students were so confident with the technology they didn't need to be taught anything as they were all "digital natives" of course! Teachers who wanted these skills taught were told that they were old fashioned and that the school needed to move with the times.

Was this perceived confidence a reflection of the evolution of operating systems rather than skill level? It amazes me how my son can navigate the iPad and get his TV shows or games to work. My daughter the other day made a movie on her iPod about her trip to the Zoo. The pervasiveness of the technology has increased and so has the opportunities. But has our technology teaching kept up with the innovations. Once upon a time, I taught Year 7 Information Technology. I had the students for one period a week and my job was to teach and reinforce the skills that were not being taught in class. Formats, conventions, typing, layout, problem solving.

For years I have observed students in the senior years being unable to organise their files properly or update their computers. The teachers just expected the students to do it. Of course once in a while there is a whiz bang student who comes along with a skill level that just amazes everyone, but overall are we doing our students a disservice if we don't explicitly teach and reinforce these skills?

Are the skills that the National Assessment Program survey evaluated appropriate? I noticed that the Year 10's were tested on changing font formats and conventions. How does this align with Information Literacy and Digital Fluency skills?

Is there a correlation with good ICT proficiency results and an effective School Library? Many teacher librarians teach information literacy skills and conduct technology orientation sessions. We deal with students every day who are trying to print, save and convert files and yet this part of our role isn't acknowledged.

There is certainly food for thought in the National Assessment Program report, but the scope of the research needs to be widened to include more factors that might impact on skill development. I am sure that there is a PhD in there somewhere ;-)

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