SRC Report – Final for 2013

This, as our last SRC Report, will focus on the great year we have had.

To start off, last week the SRC held a disco to farewell year 10, hosted by our fine selves. It was highly successful and we would like to thank everyone who helped us out, we raised a total of approximately $1400, to go towards next year’s SRC funds.

Also last week, two of our senior school leaders attended The Young Canberra Citizen of the Year awards, on Stromlo’s behalf. This was in cooperation with Melrose, Alfred Deakin and Telopea as the South Western School Network. We won the group award for our combined efforts for You R U Day and we would like to thank everyone who contributed and participated on the day.

We started this year with a goal to raise money in order to acquire a new set of bubblers for the school. Although we didn’t finish with a full set of bubblers like we had planned, you can thank your 2013 SRC members for the new water refill station and personal water bottles provided to the school. As well as this, SRC made contributions to the school environment by purchasing two bins for the front of the school and a banner to be used at SRC events in the future.

Over the course of this year, SRC has run many fundraisers. All of which have been highly successful due to the amazing enthusiasm and participation of the Stromlo community. Pegasus, World Vision, RSPCA and the Cancer Council are just some of the organisations that have benefited from our fundraising efforts this year. All up we have raised a total of approximately $8000.

We have had an outstanding year and would like to thank SRC Coordinator Ms Haley for her help and support throughout the year. We would also like to thank all of the teachers and students who contributed to our success and wish you all the best in the future. Goodbye and thank you again from your year 10 SRC members.

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The Digital Divide – What the Bureau of Statistics has to Say

As of February 2010, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that 72% of Australian households have an internet connection, 66% to broadband.

In the ACT, 74% are connected via broadband, so presumably slightly higher than that have any internet connection at all.

Household Broadband Connectivity Rates by State/Territory (from ABS).

“Ex-metropolitan” households are significantly less likely to have an internet connection, the national ex-metropolitan household connection rate being a bit over 50%.

Australia-wide, having children under 15 increases the household’s chances of being connected to the internet from about 55% to almost 90%, while having a household income of $40K or less decreases the household’s chance of being connected to a bit less than 60% from almost all households if the household’s income is $120K or greater.

Household Characteristics Effect on Internet Connectivity (from ABS)

79% of children aged 5-14 use the internet, 73% at home and 69% at school.  4% of the same group use a mobile phone to access the internet.

So what’s one to make of all this?

Firstly, my ivory tower assumption in my introductory post to this blog that nearly all children have access to the internet is clearly wrong, with over 20% seemingly having little or no access.  Given the question behind that assumption was is it really important to give access to the internet in school when they all use it outside school anyway, the answer would seem to be that yes, it is very important.

I also previously alluded to the idea that students generally have ready access to the internet outside of class times, and that this should be enough.  I’m now back-pedalling on that idea, for if students don’t have access outside of school, then

  1. Why should they use time that other students can use socialising for accessing the internet, and
  2. Given these students are possibly not getting a great deal of guidance in the use of the internet, wouldn’t in-class, supervised access be more effective at teaching them how to use it effectively?

Other take-home points from the statistics are that

  1. If the student is from a lower socio-economic family they are significantly more likely to have little or no access to the internet (der!), and 
  2. If the student is from a non-metropolitan household, they are significantly less likely to have access to the internet.
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School approaches to developing students’ digital literacy…

… or “It’s not Chalk and Talk Anymore, by Cassie Hague, Futurelab, December 2010.

This report looks at how some schools in the UK go about developing digital literacy, and as such is slightly peripheral to my research topics.  It was interesting, however, in that the teachers interviewed and reported on see the question of digital literacy as part of the larger question of literacy, and the use of digital tools as a means to an end in engaging students in what they want them to learn.  In some cases the use of ICT allowed activities that simply wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.  The added benefit of making students more competent with ICT is also universally acknowledged by the participants as a necessary and good thing.

What all of the digital literacy programs in the various schools had in common were that they:

  • allowed for student choice and collaboration,
  • encouraged independent learning,
  • allowed for “authentic” communication with people outside of the school, which seemed to give the students added motivation,
  • made links between digital literacy and civic engagement, and
  • supported engagement with and development of knowledge of the general curriculum by the students.

One example that stood out for me was where Year 2 students were using Twitter to write about what they were learning, as they were learning it.  In the words of the teacher, “With Twitter it’s got a lot of children gaining more confidence in writing. They will actually bother going to write whereas if you give them a book and say write a sentence it takes them ages, where with Twitter it seems to be they want to do it, they’re more enthusiastic”.

For me the above example exemplifies a recurring theme with what I’ve read so far – that the use of ICT is very effective at engaging students.

The report goes on to effectively build a case that in schools where the teaching staff are actively engaged in encouraging digital literacy across the curriculum, the teaching culture has a greater than average emphasis on enquiry-based learning, and that the students at such schools had a greater sense of self-determination, and thus engagement, with their learning.

Reading this report has really made me think the answer to my initial question (research topic 1 – Is there a need for the focus in secondary education be shifted more to ICT-based learning, and is it necessarily beneficial?) is a resounding YES.

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Connecting digital literacy between home and school

I’ve just read the above report (Lyndsay Grant, Senior Researcher, Futurelab, December 2010). It examines various age and socio-economic background students in the UK with respect to their digital literacy practices at school and at home, and how the students connect the two.

The description of students in Years 1-2 highlighted how they generally perceived use of ICT as game-play, barely noticing the educational intent, although it was clearly having some educational effect (spelling, reading, numeracy).  It was also interesting that much of the students’ interaction with their parents and siblings revolved around the use of ICT, reflecting how ubiquitous it has become in our daily lives.

Year 5-6 students were noted for their immediate turning to the use of search engines for finding information.  One interesting passage, somewhat reflecting my concern for Topic 1, was that teachers “were also concerned about the extent to which children understood and critically evaluated information they found on the internet, with one saying, ‘they’ll copy and paste it, they don’t think about it for themselves to put that down, whereas if you read a book you have to write it’, though the extent to which books promote critical understanding could also be questioned”.

I think that the critical evaluation aspect can be addressed by teacher involvement – questioning, discussing, etc, but the fact that students are less likely to need to create structure themselves (I’m thinking about maths problems here) is still of concern to me.

Some distancing between home and school ICT uses was noted for this age-group, primarily being the divide between work and play.

Years 7-8:  Further development of skills, some more use of technologies/content from school at home and vice-versa, continuing development of the use of social mediums, including learning about current affairs.

Years 8-9:  More division between school and home, notably social interaction being predominant at home and discouraged in the school.  Some teachers noted that interest in social media in ICT should be harnessed to involve and scaffold students’ learning.

The report’s summation includes:

  • The lack of alignment between students’ out of school interests and the curriculum presents a barrier to making connections between students’ out of school experiences and their education,
  • Some teachers sought to redress the above problem by integrating out of school practices with curriculum, but struggled to find a way to do so, and
  • a lack of criticality from students in information obtained via the internet was a pervasive concern.

The above points reflect my own concerns, although it does strike me that the same issues would apply in a world without modern ICT albeit to probably a lesser extent.  My thinking with respect to this can be summarised as “with more information comes more misinformation”, and on balance I would have to say that the net result is probably positive.

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Literacy Learning and Technology

I’ve just read “Literacy Learning and Technology” by Associate Professor Kaye Lowe (UC) in which she discusses how the modern workplace and society demand ITC literacy, and how this literacy feeds into problem solving skills that are being required more and more by the workplace and modern life in general.

It got me thinking about how I go about my life.  At work, when I’ve been required to report on an issue, generally the first place I go for information is the internet – finding contacts in other organisations who have worked on similar issues, emailing them with questions, reading reports others have written on the same or similar issues, and gathering evidence to support my recommendations.  Solving problems in my private life, e.g., how to fix something around the house, involve a similar process.

These are exactly the same as the way Ass. Prof. Lowe describes knowledge synthesis by students in the modern world, which is hardly surprising.  She describes an online environment where knowledge is constructed collaboratively, which aligns itself well with constructivist pedagogical theory, but that students need to be mindful (this is where the teacher can help) of misinformation or irrelevant information.  She further argues that the more time students spend online, the better their literacy and skills become.

In an extension to that thinking, I realised that this is pertinent to my first research topic – Is there a need for the focus in secondary education be shifted more to ICT-based learning, and is it necessarily beneficial?

Analysing, synthesising and communicating scientific knowledge stands to be substantially enhanced by use of the processes described above.  Students can make use of ICT to not only collaborate with each other, but with other science students – and indeed scientists – who are both spatially and temporally dislocated from themselves, massively increasing the depth and breadth of the resources otherwise available to them.

In summary, this article makes a very strong YES case for my first research topic.

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ELPC G1 Assignment 1 Introductory Post – a Few Initial Musings

Task
Research two (2) topics related to ICT and education and keep a weekly record of your investigations in a journal.

Purposes
This assignment is designed to help you to

  • Develop your online research skills
  • Gain a deeper understanding of, and draw informed conclusions about, issues relating to ICT and education
  • Broaden your technical knowledge of ICT
  • Identify a range of technologies appropriate for teaching and learning purposes
  • Evaluate various technologies for ‘fit-for-purpose’ in a particular teaching episode
  • Integrate ICT appropriately into your teaching practice

It’s early days in the unit, but my initial thoughts are these…

Having done two practical placements in schools last year, some questions have formed in my mind around this topic area.

In the Rudd government’s “education revolution” promoted principally by Julia Gillard in her role as Education Minister, much was made of the promise of a computer for every student.  Implicit in the popularity with the media, parents and the electorate in general of this policy is the obvious assumption that “Well, the workplace and life in general is conducted largely online and with ICT, so surely it is best to immerse students in it from the beginning”.  That was my line of thinking too before spending time in classrooms as a pre-service teacher.

In my (limited) experience with students in Canberra secondary schools I have yet to come across an instance of a student who could not competently navigate their way around whatever ICT-based application they were using at the time.

I came across plenty, however, who could not lay out a basic maths problem in an organised manner that facilitated their thinking on and solution of that problem, or who could not organise a science report in such a way as to encapsulate statements in sentences, concepts in paragraphs, or to communicate information in a clear manner with the written (or typed) word in general.

The schools I have taught in have computers available for students in their libraries and in dedicated computer labs, which the students have access to when not attending class or when the class has booked a lab for a lesson.

When teaching in a computer lab where the students have been requested to work on a specific site or application, a major part of my effort has been to walk around and check that students are on task, and not playing games, posting in forums, on chat sites, etc.

I know plenty of people with very low levels of education of all ages who are still able to search the internet for material supporting their crackpot theories of global warming denialism or neo-Nazi xenophobia and spam my inbox with them or post them on forums and chat rooms or start Facebook groups based around them, albeit often with appalling grammar, spelling and punctuation.

So my questions are these:

Is there a need for the focus in secondary education be shifted more to ICT-based learning, and is it necessarily beneficial?

Just how big is the digital divide?  What proportion of students really don’t have access to ICT and learning how to use it?

Having said all of the above I should make it clear that I’m not anti-use of ICT for teaching and learning, and can see many potential benefits in it’s use, such as fantastic scaffolding, the enabling of active learning, and the leading of students into the idea that knowledge is contestable.

On that last point, I find it a bit vexatious in the context of educating young people, as I have found that the introduction of uncertainty can be a major obstruction for them to grasp any one concept in full in the first place.

I’ll get on with some readings now, and post my thoughts on them as I do them.  This will probably be through the prisms of the above questions, but these may change as time progresses…

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