I had the opportunity of spending a day in a primary school last week. My role was to experience how Year 7 students learn and how their school environment impacts on their learning. I really enjoyed this experience; it was valuable for my teaching knowledge since I hope to teach mainly Junior Secondary next year (next year is when most of Qld Secondary schools start to teach Year 7s).
ICT learning at this primary school was minimal and this was not a surprise, unfortunately. I know this from research, especially relating to the Digital Education Revolution (DER) initiative, and also from my own current experience as a parent of primary school children. (check out Latchem’s 2013 article for an interesting global review) The reasons behind the lack of ICT embedded teaching varies but generally it seems to relate to the teacher’s attitude to ICTs and computer availability. My children have experienced ICT in 3 public schools in Queensland in very similar ways; that is, computer-use is a “reward” for when students are “good” or finish a task early. When my children have received this reward they then get to spend some time alone on a computer in the room playing an “educational game”, such as Mathletics or Reading Eggs. These two examples are not inherently bad, they’re actually pretty great learning tools, but they don’t teach a child how to use ICTs in an authentic and ethical way. My kids have had a couple of teachers that have excelled in their ICT integration but this has been linked to the teacher’s personal attitude and beliefs of the importance of ICT.
I asked many Year 7 students whether they knew how to do certain things on computers. Most knew how to use the basic functions of Word and PowerPoint. Most of them did NOT know how to create a folder on a computer, nor did they understand the purpose of a folder. None of them had experience in researching independently; however, they have been directed to “research” from specified websites. Some of them had some type of social media skills which were learned at home.
Why is knowing this important? As a teacher that integrates digital learning in all lessons I need to know the level of ICT knowledge and digital literacy skills that junior students come to school with. I already know this though; I know that the digital divide is real and that the Year 8 students I have taught this year have vastly varying ICT knowledge.
There are many teachers who resist teaching with computers, or if they do they simply use it as a work-saving device only. Why? People tend to not like change, we know this. There are also many teachers and students that get frustrated with devices supplied by schools that have too many network connection and Internet access issues. However, unlike many economically-driven businesses, cultural change at schools seems to be optional! I have referenced in some of my previous work that teacher attitude and the school’s inability to enforce teacher accountability of embedded ICTs are some of the major problems here. In my opinion, this is a big issue. And yet, when some teachers have personally asked me to help them create a teaching website or increase their ICT knowledge, I don’t always have the TIME to help them! I am lucky if I get three 70-minute breaks during one week. By the end of school I am exhausted by the sheer work-load and emotional challenges in this job. I asked whether instead of helping teachers one-on-one (on my own family time) whether I could get them all for a couple of hours at once during the school day to help train them in how-to create a website; I was told this was impossible. It is not a surprise that teachers stick to what they already know and do.
I created this video last year. Not the best quality speech, but the content is important.