School students are lacking tech skills to benefit their study: Education researcher

Schools should strive for ‘digital fluency’, according to ACER education researcher

School students are at risk of falling behind in their studies due to a lack of technology-related skills, according to the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER).

ACER principal research fellow, Gerry White, told Computerworld Australia that school students need to be equipped with adequate tech skills to take advantage of the internet and technology for learning purposes.

“The whole business of using technology so that they can benefit it in terms of research, doing projects, being more productive, writing, any of those sorts of things that they do in terms of their study, there’s no doubt… they need to be taught how to actually use technology,” White said.

“Whether or not it is an e-reader, or a tablet, or an iPad, or a smartphone, is not really a relevant issue; it’s actually how it’s used and what kind of information people can check with it, which requires new skills.”

According to White, this notion is supported by Gregor Kennedy and his crew at the University of Melbourne, who conducted a study in 2009 and found that young people were “not good” at accessing information, nor did they have the skills and capacity to “drill down and find out information and its meaning in how to use it”.

Hence, White said it is important for students in years K to 12 to be taught the appropriate skills in using the internet and technology, such as those that emphasise collaboration, communication, cyber safety, problem solving and research skills.

In addition, he said it is imperative for students to learn about ethics, as technology moves information access to the individual and places greater responsibility on students to understand what is acceptable and what is not.

Ultimately, schools should strive for ‘digital fluency’, as White called it, which would help “going to the depths of studying or learning”.

“Students can move through media as it suits them… they can read on-screen and read off-screen, they can have the capacity to record audio, or record video, or to access and use it, or to include it in their work,” he said.

White added that this ‘digital fluency’ is not just limited to the internet or mobile devices. It also includes the use of 3D printing and Big Data to enrich the learning experience of students.

“In early childhood, K through to 3 or 4, they use what is called big books to help young students learn to read, and 3D printing is richer version of that sort of mode for young people,” White said.

“And also for the older students, particularly in the secondary schools, 3D printing can give dimensions that are not available in 2D. In physics you give dimensions, in mathematics you give dimensions.

“Another area is Big Data and in education. We’re looking at learning analytics. In other words, going and find the informational data that supports rethinking how students learn or how we should deliver education.”

As students learn to use the internet and technology for education purposes instead of entertainment, White said studies have shown that those who use the internet to study do better in school than those who do not.

He attributed the findings to the level of student engagement with their learning material; that is, as students become more involved with their studies, the better they do in school.

“I think designing and producing writing or multimedia will have a huge effect on education because it engages the mind, it engages the students in experiencing new ways of learning and different ways of learning, it gives a greater range of experiences,” White said.

“It also improves the way they can relate to one another on a social basis because you cannot learn unless you have the capacity to share that information with someone else.”

However, for technology to thrive in the education sector, White said bring your own device (BYOD) is the way to go because it is more sustainable than government programs that supply laptops, netbooks, or tablets to staff and students.

“Here in Australia, what we’ve done is supply netbooks to students in years 9 to 12, which has been a commonwealth program,” White said. “It’s a very expensive program, although it’s a very good program; however, I can’t see for the life of me that that is sustainable.

“[With BYOD] the issue then for the school is to say what type of devices are acceptable for the school so that they can integrate that into the infrastructure.”

But White said as with all BYOD programs, schools must be mindful of opening themselves up to potential security risks.

“It’s going to bring some security issues for sure,” White said.

“It’ll also bring in issues for teachers to be able to understand how the students are using the devices. Teachers are required to have content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and then technological knowledge, so they need to understand those three things.

“The focus in schools should really be helping the teachers to understand and to continue to look for ways in improving how students are learning within the schools but of course, good schools do that all the time.”

Follow Diana Nguyen on Twitter: @diananguyen9

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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