STEM: Digital Literacy for Teachers
Can professional development in technology-enhanced learning improve teachers’ digital literacy and that of their students?
THE Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda has earmarked $112.2 million for Inspiring all Australians in Digital Literacy and STEM; $64.6 million of this will be spent in schools across Australia.
The spotlight has been on restoring the focus on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) in schools, but digital literacy is just as important.
Students need the skills, knowledge and understanding of how to use new technology and media to create and share meaning.
The Department of Education and Training wants to ensure that young Australians are equipped with the skills for the workforce of the future. Also important – maximising economic and social wellbeing amongst students in an increasingly global and digital age.
“By supporting the implementation of the Australian Curriculum: Digital Technologies and closing the digital divide for Australia’s most disadvantaged and underrepresented students we can ensure the next generations of Australian students will have the skills to equip them for the 21st century workforce,” a spokesperson from the Department of Education and Training said.
University of Technology Sydney School of Education senior lecturer Dr Jane Hunter says the definition of digital literacy is broad – moving beyond the skills people require to live, learn and work in society where communication and access to information is through technologies like the internet, social media, and mobile devices.
“It’s also about developing problem solving skills, searching, sifting, evaluating, applying and producing information that will allow people, and in particular, young people to think critically,” she said.
“Communication is a key aspect of digital literacy and so are practical skills in using technology to access, manage and manipulate information in a sustainable and ethical way.”
Dr Hunter advocates using a research-based pedagogical framework called High Possibility Classrooms (HPC) to improve digital literacy in schools.
HPC supports K-12 teaching and learning with curriculum content in a range of key learning areas.
Dr Hunter is researching the use of HPC as the scaffold which builds teacher capacity and confidence in the STEM disciplines in a number of primary and high schools in NSW, the ACT and Victoria.
“HPC gives teachers a language to talk about their practice, it strengthens digital literacy skills of in-service teachers and the actions of pre-service teachers prior to their entry into the profession,” she said.
The Inspiring all Australians in digital literacy and STEM measure includes initiatives for both primary and secondary level aimed at increasing: STEM resources available for schools, students and teachers; professional learning support for teachers; activities for students to lift engagement with STEM and coding in particular; and support for STEM professionals to partner with schools.
There are a number of Government initiatives aimed to give teachers the opportunity to undertake professional development and improve their understanding of STEM.
Initiatives include the Digital Literacy School Grants of more than $4m over two years and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) for Australian teachers.
The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) is also training digital literacy technology specialists to work with teachers and school leaders in low socio-economic schools in each state.
A recent Digital Literacy Skills and Learning report released by the New South Wales Education Standards Authority (NESA) argued that graduate teachers need to be capable of helping future students transition from being consumers of digital products to producers of digital solutions.
The report recommends that teacher education give greater priority to the digital literacy of pre-service teachers, but Dr Hunter points to challenges facing initial teacher education (ITE) in NSW; poor connectivity and aging hardware in schools, inadequate professional development funding, and ensuring digital fluency remains at the forefront of learning in ITE programs in universities.
“Until connectivity in every school is given proper attention and becomes a funding priority, teachers (especially new graduate teachers) will continue to be reluctant to base their lessons on something that depends on being connected,” Dr Hunter said.
Ongoing funding for teacher professional development is also needed, as Dr Hunter states that many large rollouts of technology in NSW and Australia more broadly were not accompanied by adequate funds.
Dr Hunter says that many schools are already taking steps to provide hardware resources to young people so that they can gain digital fluency in safe environments.
However, there is a crucial need for further funding of technology to upgrade resources especially for schools in low socioeconomic areas.
Recently the Audit Office of NSW released a report on the condition of technology in public schools, a situation that Dr Hunter describes as “wanting”.
The report lists several factors that are reducing effective use of information and communication technology (ICT) in the classroom.
Primarily these refer to ageing ICT equipment and inadequate wireless networks, variable student access to devices at school and inconsistent teacher access to centrally provided devices for use outside of the classroom.
The NSW Department of Education (DOE) aims to determine whether resourcing is adequate for modern school requirements, improve the wireless networks, increase monitoring of teacher and student access to ICT and evaluate the impact of teacher professional learning and ICT on student outcomes.
The DOE plans to improve teacher access to devices outside of the classroom, provide online learning opportunities to regional teachers, deliver pedagogical ICT courses and offer teaching resources to develop students ICT skills and monitor their achievement.
Dr Hunter says the technology resourcing gap between Government and non-government schools is significant and that the “digital divide” is not only apparent in our cities but also in rural and remote schools where it can be even more difficult to connect to the internet.
“Ongoing resourcing, better connectivity, and accessible high quality professional learning for teachers are the big three in the conversation about improving digital literacy in our schools,” Dr Hunter said.
“Because technology is constantly changing, teachers can’t be expected to go to a one off course and think that that is it. There needs to be funding and regular release time so that teachers can upskill, think and plan together.”
Dr Hunter gives the example of schools that use tech companies for STEM to teach coding or do one-off STEM activities with students.
This action is sometimes a missed opportunity for teachers to learn skills and deeper understandings themselves.
“Such approaches don’t build teacher capacity and confidence in STEM – quick fixes of STEM in the form of a few experiments with ‘froth n’ bubble’ are not the silver bullet,” she said.
The High Possibility Classrooms (HPC) pedagogical framework.
Dr Jane Hunter