Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths skills have been identified as being critical to thriving in the 21st Century workplace.
However, studies have shown a gradual decline in student participation in these subjects in high school, raising fears of a possible tech skills gap at a time when industries such as robotics, defence and science are thriving.
To address the obvious issues this raises, the University of Adelaide launched the Computer Science Education Research (CSER) MOOC Digital Technologies Education Program in March 2014.
The program supports Australian teachers in building confidence and skill in the new Digital Technologies curriculum and helping to engage students in STEM education.
Dr Rebecca Vivian, a research fellow from the Computer Science Education Research (CSER) Group at the University of Adelaide, says there are several important ways in which principals can champion Digital Technologies professional development in their school.
“In our work with over 2,415 schools across Australia, we find leadership is key to success in building staff capacity in Digital Technologies,” Dr Vivian told The Educator.
“Some best practices we have identified are when leadership learn alongside their staff and include the provision of time and opportunities for whole-school professional learning as part of their school curriculum implementation strategy.”
As a starting point, CSER encourages schools and principals to attend one of its free Digital Technologies events with a project officer who works with teachers to develop a professional development plan.
“Some success stories have involved cluster schools collaborating in an event together to establish a local network of support and the attendance of pairs of school teachers who then return to their school to champion professional development for all school staff,” Dr Vivian said.
Dr Vivian says the Digital Technologies subject is not just about the technology but building students’ skills and knowledge in understanding how their digital world works, as well as how to find problems and create solutions that harness technology.
“A core aspect is the development of Computational Thinking which demonstrates that we are developing students to be problem-solvers and creators of technology, rather than just consumers,” Dr Vivian said.
Dr Vivian says CSER’s professional development uses “unplugged” and “plugged” activities that focus on the key thinking skills that enable teachers to scaffold students to succeed in their learning.
“We explore the pedagogy behind a particular digital technology, unpacking multiple, contextualised and extended learning opportunities that foster deep learning, rather than using lots of digital technologies at a surface level,” Dr Vivian said.
“Building a whole-school approach to Digital Technologies that is authentic, meaningful and focused on solving the problems that mean something to the students, school or community will ensure schools’ curriculum is much more than technology-focused.”