Saturday, 21 November 2015

Erosion of Pupils' Digital Skills

It was with interest that I read these articles over the last couple of days:

A report just published by the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority found that the ICT literacy performance of students in both Years 6 and Years 10 decreased between 2011 - 2014. Their conclusions certainly caught my eye, and that of the press around the world:
"The decline does not appear to be a result of changes in the test content, in the way the test was administered or sample obtained. One of the possible interpretations of the decline in ICT literacy is that the increased use of mobile technology devices has resulted in less emphasis on skills associated with information management and processing but more emphasis on communication applications. It is also possible that there has been less emphasis placed in schools on the teaching of skills associated with ICT literacy, with the development of young people’s ICT literacy competencies increasingly being taken for granted. Such a shift in emphasis may have contributed to changes in ICT literacy achievement between 2011 and 2014. The reasons for the decrease in Year 6 and Year 10 students’ ICT literacy levels remain issues for further investigation." (National Assessment Program - ICT Literacy Years 6 & 10 Report 2014, Page xxvii, 2015)
Those of you who know me, or have read some of my tweets or previous posts about 'bright shiny things' will know of my concerns about the increasing use of the tablet technologies, especially in the primary classroom. As I have said often, the iPad (I say iPad because that is the mobile device overwhelmingly used by primary schools) is a fantastic device. But educators have to know how to get the most from it. What does it do better than any other piece of technology they might have, and what pupil ICT skills are being developed? As a head teacher said to me recently, when discussing iPad use in schools, "It's all a bit 'smoke and mirrors', it looks like there's a lot happening but are we just being deceived?" I often ask head teachers, ICT coordinators and teachers about how they are using their iPads. In the overwhelming majority of cases "research" is their answer, closely followed by apps that support numeracy or literacy, and probably book creator apps. When I ask them about what ICT skills are being developed things tend to get a little woolly, and very quiet when I mention data bases, graphing, spreadsheets, modelling and simulation. Therefore this report from Australia shouldn't really come as a surprise. From what I've observed, and from the open and honest conversations I've had with schools, I believe there has been a decline in basic ICT skills. The ICT scheme of work that I've recently developed is an attempt to refocus primary schools on a progressive range of basic ICT skills for creating and communicating, finding and analysing, digital citizenship, e-safety, along with some coding. In my opinion primary aged pupils should have a firm foundation in a range of ICT skills, in the same way that they are taught English and maths skills, which are then applied across the curriculum through the literacy and numeracy frameworks in Wales. There are a couple of iPad apps included, such as iMovie and Garageband that focus on video and audio editing skills, and Autodesk Tinkerplay to support 3d graphical modelling. The rest of the time the iPads (and other technologies) can be used to access cloud technologies such as Google Apps for Education / Office 365 / 2Simple PurpleMash / Just2Easy, using the built in tools to support word processing, desktop publishing, spreadsheets, graphing and databases, in an on-line collaborative environment. 
"In contrast, new cloud-based technologies allow students to collaborate in real time on word-processing, database and presentation software.While the ability to manipulate elements such as font and colour may add to the finished product, the real skill development occurs in the collaborative researching, delegation of team roles and negotiation of content that underpins such an activity." (ICT Is Failing In Schools - Here's Why)
The statement that young people's ICT literacy competencies are increasingly being taken for granted also chimes true. Just because a nursery age child is tapping and swiping a tablet device, or a young person is using their smartphone to communicate on multiple platforms to friends, doesn't necessarily mean they have a full range of digital competencies. As educators we can't assume that students are picking up necessary digital skills for the world of work and for life. We need to teach a range of progressive skills, and provide the opportunities to use these skills across the curriculum.
"It is tempting to assume that students who use computing devices and smartphones for social interactions (texting, for example) understand all aspects of ICT technology and its applications. As educators, when presented with results to the contrary, we are obliged to pause and reassess our assumptions. It appears that we cannot expect students to become proficient on important employability and life skills, just by using computing devices for games and social interaction. They also need to be taught the relevant knowledge, understanding and skills." (Professor Steven Schwartz, National Assessment Program - ICT Literacy Years 6 & 10 Report 2014, Page xi, 2015)

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