Over the last two years, the pandemic has seen technology thrust to the forefront of teaching and learning, not to mention the new Australian Curriculum, which will see a greater focus on improving young people’s digital literacy.
But while technology continues to be ubiquitous in schools, just how well positioned are teachers to help students navigate this increasingly digital world?
A recent study found some interesting implications for primary school teachers in this area.
Petrea Redmond, Professor of Digital Pedagogies and the Associate Head of School, Research in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland, conducted a survey that explored the responses of 83 Australian teachers about enablers and barriers to teaching the digital technologies curriculum in more detail.
The participants were 17% male and 86% female, reflective of the gender breakdown of primary teachers. More than two-thirds of the teachers claimed to be very familiar or somewhat familiar with the digital technologies subject. The majority of the teachers had over 11 years of teaching experience, with 28 of them having more than 20 years of teaching experience.
The participating teachers did not have high levels of technical skills, deep knowledge about some of the key curriculum constructs, or strong and transformative digital pedagogical approaches. Although teachers were confident with the technologies they did use, they had low levels of proficiency and/or technology knowledge.
Overall, teachers were confident that they had the digital technologies knowledge and skills to guide students through the work sample activities. Few, however, were very or extremely confident, especially in the high-level tasks. This tracks with previous research that shows that teachers were more likely to use technology for low-level tasks like word processing, PowerPoint or internet research rather than high-level tasks like critical thinking, creativity, or collaboration.
Professor Redmond says one of the most significant issues impacting teachers' abilities to teach digital technologies is time, or more specifically, the lack thereof.
“We have a crowded curriculum and a government that focuses on literacy and numeracy outcomes, think NAPLAN and PISA,” Professor Redmond told The Educator.
“Where the resources and emphasis are placed is where principals and their bosses will push teachers to go, and they will follow the principal's lead. This results in limited, if any, time for teaching digital technologies.”
Professor Redmond said there is also a flow on effect, when students are not taught something in the early years there is not the background knowledge and skills for teachers to teach what is expected in the next year level.
“Teachers also find it hard to find time for professional learning when they spend more of their day completing administration tasks,” Professor Redmond said.
“Often the best form of professional development is the teacher down the hall. However, not all schools have a teacher who champions digital technologies across the curriculum. In the past professional associations were the key to professional learning in all disciplines.”
Professor Redmond said that while the examples provided are all Queensland-based, there are “sister associations” across all disciplines across Australia and internationally.
“These associations held conferences and had practitioner magazines where people shared their experiences with digital technologies,” she said.
“However, the number of new teachers connecting with professional associations has significantly reduced in recent years. There are many professional learning networks online.”
Professor Redmond said that while some of these professional associations have gone online, teachers also gather in places like Twitter for educational Twitter chats or join Facebook groups like TeachMeet Qld or Digital Technologies / ICT Teachers (Australia), where teachers support each other.
“You would be amazed at what they are willing to share with colleagues, from tips and tricks to complete unit plans. Like all things, the future of professional learning is within digital environments,” she said.
“Teachers, who already have a propensity to use technologies will go to online places for support; however, what is the solution for those teachers who don’t have the confidence in the digital space? Will they get further behind?”
Professor Redmond said it has been a long time since any professional learning activities have been supported by education policymakers across regions.
“There is, however, The Digital Technologies Hub which the government funds. It enables teachers, students, and families, to find resources to learn about digital technologies.”