The implementation of Digital Technologies around Australia has provided both challenges and opportunities. Key challenges include building teacher capacity, access to resources (whether hardware, software or unplugged activities), and developing high quality assessment tasks. The subject area has also been crowded with ‘latest, greatest’ gadgets, touted as solving all of your Digital Technologies needs with one solution out of the box.
What can your school do to be a leader in teaching Digital Technologies?
Develop a whole school plan
The Digital Technologies curriculum sets out a continuum of learning across 11 years. Departments and teachers need to have a clear understanding of how Digital Technologies is taught at each year level, to ensure full coverage of the curriculum.
It’s not always a simple task, particularly when students are arriving at high school from feeder schools with vastly different experience levels in Digital Technologies. Even within schools there may be an over-emphasis on using different technology or hardware in each year level or band, and not enough opportunities for learning and consolidation of key concepts.
Digital Technologies concepts, such as programming, aren’t learned once: they’re revisited, and the same core concepts become more complex and intricate as students are ready to delve into the details and absorb more abstract and complex concepts. The way students use a block based language like Scratch in year 3 looks very different to the way it can be used to create digital solutions in year 6: there’s no need to use a different robotic kit or programming language in each year level: why not revisit a handful of resources each year and build on prior knowledge?
Grok Academy has developed a learning progression which shows how its resources can be used across year levels 3 to 10. Many teachers starting out with Grok resources ask ‘where do I start?’ and this progression offers suggestions for students that are year level appropriate, while allowing catch up opportunities if students don’t have the fundamental concepts yet from previous years. It suggests activities and online programming courses covering a fairly limited set of technologies: Scratch and block based programming, BBC micro:bits, and Python (one of the world’s most used programming languages and Grok’s suggested starting place for programming for high school students.)
Invest in teachers
Equipping teachers with the technological, pedagogical and content knowledge to teach Digital Technologies is crucial. Whether it’s a small primary school with a handful of teachers covering all learning areas, or a high school offering elective programmes in the upper years, knowledge and confidence remains a key challenge for teachers, exacerbated by the number of teachers required to teach ‘out of field’.
Creating opportunities for teachers to skill up creates better learning outcomes for students, and also opens the door to more time efficient ways of teaching the subject such as integrating it with other learning areas, and creating purposeful formative and summative assessment.
A deeper understanding of the Digital Technologies curriculum also means teachers and leaders understand better what is not part of the curriculum. The ICT general capabilities, which include saving files, sending emails, behaving safely online and understanding intellectual property are the responsibility of all teachers in all subjects, and don’t fall solely on those teaching Digital Technologies.
The school calendar is crowded. The curriculum is crowded. And Digital Technologies takes time to teach. There is no silver bullet. However, as mentioned previously, a whole school plan is key to getting Digital Technologies right. Allowing sufficient teaching time across all year levels avoids a learning deficit in the senior years, where basics need to be repeated (or even taught from scratch) before getting into the teaching for the applicable year level.
The Digital Technologies curriculum includes ten key concepts, to be built upon and revisited over a student’s education. These concepts broadly address how computers work, how computers store and represent data, how computers can be programmed, and how humans interact with computers. On top of this, sufficient time needs to be allowed for the planning of teaching and learning of the ICT general capabilities.
Pause before purchasing the kits
There are too many storerooms out there with a previous teacher’s Digital Technologies ‘investment’ gathering dust! There are so many STEM and edtech resources promising that schools can address the full Digital Technologies curriculum straight out of the box.
Before making a purchase, it’s important to check:
- Does the resource support the teaching of transferable skills? If a robot kit has its own coding software which only works on that one robot, and it’s really only capable of some fairly simple movements, is it a worthwhile purchase? How could a student apply or consolidate what they learn with this resource in a later year?
- How practical is the resource in the classroom? Is it easy to set up and pack up? How much storage space does it take?
- Does the resource build a school’s overall Digital Technologies capacity? Ideally, new resources allow teachers to grow their confidence and knowledge alongside their students. Very packaged activities or kits can be a hindrance: teachers aren’t challenged to create meaningful assessment tasks, or think about how the activity can be integrated with their overall program.
- Is the budget better directed to professional development for the teaching team?
Taking a whole school approach to Digital Technologies sets schools on the path towards DT leadership and success.
Grok resources can be used by teachers in their classroom to cover key areas of the curriculum. They can also be used as professional development resources. They provide options for new learning, catch up, and differentiation, allowing students to work at their own pace.