One of the wranglings I’ve had in my mind throughout this project is: what level of digital literacy do teachers need?
I have heard every answer under the sun to this question. To paraphrase a few:
Every teacher in our schools should have at least the digital literacy of a ten year old. Our children don’t expect to have to teach their teachers how to use the technology in their classroom.
I have to recognise that I can’t always be the expert. Our students are often more competent using technology than us. It wouldn’t be fair to make them wait until I’ve learned how to use a piece of software or hardware before I gave them access, it would only be holding them up.
The personal view I developed bridges both these perspectives.
I think that in ten years’ time my question about digital literacy will probably feel redundant because digital technology is now so fundamental to everyday life that we cannot exclude it from education. That means digital literacy becomes a key skill alongside traditional literacy and numeracy. However, in the same way that all teachers should reinforce literacy in their lessons, but not all teachers are specialists in English, I do not think every teacher needs to be a specialist in digital technologies. Rather, they need to be comfortable integrating them into lessons where it’s appropriate.
A conversation with New Zealand educator Arnika Macphail helped me connect this view into the wider thinking on this subject.
Arnika pointed me to the New Zealand curriculum, which differentiates the notion of digital literacy and digital fluency.
- Digital literacy – A digitally literate person knows how to use digital technologies and what to do with them.
- Digital fluency – A digitally fluent person can decide when to use specific digital technologies to achieve their desired outcome. They can articulate why the tools they are using will provide their desired outcome.
Digital fluency is something we all need to develop in order to make the most of digital technologies at work and across our lives. Just as a surgeon is expected to stay up to date with the latest robotic technology available to them, or a sales person is expected to know about the latest database software that helps them track their contacts, teachers should know about the technology that can make their job more efficient and can improve learning. This expectation is outlined explicitly in the New Zealand teaching standards:
Use an increasing repertoire of teaching strategies, approaches, learning activities, technologies and assessment for learning strategies and modify these in response to the needs of individuals and groups of learners. (Education Council New Zealand, 2017, p. 20)
Similarly, effective deployment of ICT follows straight after literacy and numeracy in the Australian teaching standards:
Lead and support colleagues within the school to select and use ICT with effective teaching strategies to expand learning opportunities and content knowledge for all students. (AITSL, 2011, p. 13)
Meanwhile the National Institute of Education in Singapore articulates a broad range of ways that teachers must be capable of using technology to support learning, some of which include:
Teachers must be able to guide their students in accessing information through various electronic and print sources efficiently…
…Teachers should be adept in using multiple media, such as text, video, audio, and animation to facilitate effective teaching and learning…
…Teachers should also be able to provide access to quality learning tools, technologies and resources, expanding the learning…
…The teaching and learning opportunities support innovative pedagogies to integrate the use of technologies, inquiry and problem-based approaches and higher order thinking skills. (NIE, 2009, Table 2)
The Teachers’ Standards for England (DfE, 2011) mention responsibilities for literacy and, to a lesser extent, numeracy but make no reference to the use of digital technology in teaching. The National Curriculum (DfE, 2014) also refers to the cross-disciplinary nature of literacy and numeracy. It includes computing, but doesn’t set the expectation that computing outcomes will be addressed by all teachers, not just computing specialists (although of course in primary, with one teacher responsible for the majority of the curriculum, that sort of integration is far more likely).
If the case for teachers developing digital fluency isn’t strong enough on the basis that students deserve it, then there’s also a case that it can make teaching a more efficient process. I recently saw a presentation by Zainab Patel, Assistant Head at the Olive Tree Primary School, where she described how the school is using iPads to provide verbal feedback in place of written marking. Not only has this improved the quality and impact of feedback, but 75% of teachers say it has reduced their workload (Chohan, 2019).
In contrast, I recently watched a video on Singapore’s Ministry of Education website showing a teacher following the KWL framework – what I know, want to know and have learned (MoE, 2017). It struck me as a classic example of an opportunity to integrate technology into teaching in order to make life easier. The students were filling in columns on paper describing what they already knew about a topic and what they wanted to know. The teacher remarked “I will take note of any misconceptions so I can address these learning gaps”. However, this presumably involved reading each paper in turn and either annotating or taking notes from them. Had the students filled out an online document, it would have been so much easier for the teacher to collate and appraise what they knew and wanted to learn, and later to monitor what they were learning.
Even without introducing any specialised gadgets or apps, using basic technology in the classroom can help make life more efficient than working with paper and pen.
In the latest issue of Impact, Andy Goodwin (2019) reports on a study of ‘authentic’ teacher expertise in the use of technology. For 83 percent of the participating teachers, who were nominated for their effective use of technology:
“technology was primarily viewed as a significant tool for enabling student learning as well as a medium that affords greater organisational efficiency”
Before I even started out on my trip, I outlined that I don’t think future-focused education is all about technology. Technology use should be an enabler, not an aim in itself. However, I do think we need to overcome the view of technology as something new, mysterious or disruptive and start recognising it as an everyday part of life and, therefore, of education. I think it is time that we had national consensus on the basic level of digital fluency expected of teachers, just as we agree on basic expectations for literacy and numeracy.
To quote Andy:
“It is absolutely time for national policy to shift towards developing and supporting the type of authentic teacher expertise required of the 21st century, rather than obsessing with technology.”
AITSL. (2011). Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Victoria, Australia: Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership. Retrieved from https://www.aitsl.edu.au/docs/default-source/teach-documents/australian-professional-standards-for-teachers.pdf
Chohan, A. (2019, January). Digitising effective feedback. Retrieved 31 January 2019, from https://impact.chartered.college/article/digitising-effective-feedback/
DfE. (2011). Teachers’ Standards (p. 15). England: Department for Education.
DfE. (2014). National curriculum in England: framework for key stages 1 to 4. Retrieved 31 January 2019, from https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/national-curriculum-in-england-framework-for-key-stages-1-to-4/the-national-curriculum-in-england-framework-for-key-stages-1-to-4
Education Council New Zealand. (2017). Our Code Our Standards: Code of Professional Responsibility and Standards for the Teaching Profession. Wellington, NZ: The Education Council. Retrieved from https://www.educationcouncil.org.nz/sites/default/files/Our%20Code%20Our%20Standards%20web%20booklet%20FINAL.pdf
Goodwin, A. (2019). How teachers with ‘authentic’ expertise fully connect with their students in adapting technology for improved teaching and learning. Retrieved 31 January 2019, from https://impact.chartered.college/article/how-teachers-with-authentic-expertise-connect-students-adapting-technology/
MoE. (2017). Teaching Action: What I Know, Want to Know and Have Learned (KWL). Singapore: Ministry of Education. Retrieved from https://youtu.be/LE24AS2AEtU
MoE. (n.d.). Digital fluency / Teaching / enabling e-Learning – enabling eLearning. Retrieved 31 January 2019, from http://elearning.tki.org.nz/Teaching/Digital-fluency
NIE. (2009). A Teacher Education Model for the 21 Century. Singapore: National Institute of Education. Retrieved from https://www.nie.edu.sg/docs/default-source/nie-files/te21_online_ver.pdf?sfvrsn=2