I have recently had drawn to my attention a publication from the OECD which challenges seriously some of the thinking that has been bandied around in discussions of the “information age”, “digital natives” and technology in general. The report, Connected Minds: Technology and today’s Learners (OECD, 2012) calls into question many of the assumptions and statements that underpin a lot of what is said and done. Here are some samples:
“To begin with, although an increasing percentage of young people can be said to be adept in technology, it is misleading to assume that all of them fit equally into the image of New Millennium Learners.”
“Secondly, there is not enough empirical evidence yet to support the idea that student’s use of technology and digital media is transforming the way in which they learn, their social values and lifestyles and, finally, their expectations about teaching and learning.”
The report clearly demonstrates that, as of today, there is not enough research evidence to demonstrate that technology attachment or connectedness has critical effects on cognitive skills development……. Yet claims about changes in the brain caused by attachment to technology or connectedness are simply not backed by evidence.”
The OECD is known for its careful and challenging research reports and this one seems to knock to pieces the assumptions that we so often hear about in educational discussions.
I have long felt that the supposed advantage that young people had over we elderly was simply that – a supposition that this should be so. When time spent is taken into consideration, being technically adept is not related to age any more than the older age groups know how to manage a vegetable garden better than the young generation.
Malcolm Gladwell has asserted that it takes 10,000 hours to develop high level competence in a skill area. Students spend a little less than 8,000 hours in school (up to Year 10) so school alone is not going to get them there. Perhaps they spend huge amounts of time out of school connected through technology but some of that raises issues that are challenging to educators rather than helpful. The influence of video games might not be totally wholesome (although they have been found to have developed further some skill areas), cyber-bullying and distorted relationships can result, students can develop a loose attitude to what we could call plagiarism, and so on.
But a key issue is the importance attributed to “digital literacy”. The OECD material is right in asserting that digital literacy is not meant to replace conventional literacy. But the relationship between the two skill sets is, the report suggests, a little confused. This is because, and here New Zealand might be able to claim immunity from the allegations, as the report notes, “digital literacy tends to be marginalised from schools.”
Digital literacy requires the teaching of digital literacy just as literacy requires a conscious effort from both teacher and learner. It cannot simply be a side dish to the more traditional fare of education programmes. Now there could be a good case to be made here that New Zealand schools do give digital literacy the emphasis and place that it deserves.
The OECD perhaps weakens its case in this regard when it uses as evidence this lack of a central place for digital literacy the fact that statements about digital literacy are not taken “into account seriously, that is, translating statements into requirements for national student assessments.
The report further concludes by noting some of the challenges: integrating digital media and social practices into the daily school life, dealing with the issue of 21st Century Skills, helping young people learn the digital and information skills that are simply assumed to have been picked up and helping young people become connected so as to enhance the learning experience.
Today is the first of October,. Who remembers the 1 October Gazette which unleashed an avalanche of teaching position applications from those aspiring to teach the following year. All that has changed as the dynamics of supply / demand have altered. Another little exciting ritual consigned to the scrap heap!