Category Archives: Digital Literacy

A shake-up for education?


This week I had the privilege of attending an event in Auckland where Minister of Education, Nikki Kaye, officially released the final draft of the Digital Technologies-Hangarau Matihiko Curriculum for consultation. The event was opened with a group of students from the Lynfield College Robotics club who gave an outstanding presentation about their work as a team to design and develop robots which they have been entering into various competitions since 2008 – winning multiple national and international titles in that time!

One by one the group of year 11 – year 13 students gave their perspective on what contributed to the team’s success – the key takeaways from my notes included:

  • this is a team effort, requiring the most sophisticated levels of collaboration to succeed
  • the team requires a diverse mix of skills, including coders, engineers, web designers, communications specialists, designers etc.
  • this provides the context for deep, authentic engagement in learning in a truly cross-curricular manner
  • the skills they are learning through this process are transferrable, equipping them fully for an ever changing world once they leave school
  • the entire process is essentially student driven
  • there is a lot of peer mentoring involved – the team changes each year as older students move out and younger ones join, so the continuity of the team culture is evolved and maintained through this internal coaching and mentoring process

One thing struck me the most – and was emphasised to those in the audience as a central challenge…

  • all of this is done outside of the regular school hours – after school, before school and in the weekends – the challenge being, imagine just how engaging and more likely to achieve the goals of the NZ Curriculum it would be if this sort of learning was what students across NZ had access to in the context of the regular school day?

It appeared to be a difficult challenge to respond to – on the one hand I noticed a wave of agreement with the sentiment being expressed by these young people, then, as the day progressed, concerns about the impact on other subjects, the demands on school facilities and resources, and the lack of teachers with specialist skills and knowledge to support this sort of thing emerged as reasons why such an approach may not work in all contexts.

dtcurriculumcoverAnd so these students set the scene for what was a really interesting day, as leaders from the education community discussed and responded to the details of the announcement about the new Digital Technologies Curriculum/Hangarau Matahiko. In her address Minister Kaye described the release of this curriculum as the most significant ‘shake-up’ in our education system for many years – reflecting her belief that this move is about more than simply adding yet another area to be addressed into the existing curriculum, but instead, working to introduce into the broader context of our curriculum an emphasis on digital technologies that reflects the nature of the world our young people are going to be living and working in into the future.

There were many on the room who were strongly in support here, including Ian Taylor, fresh back from the America’s Cup where his company, ARL has been responsible for the incredible on-screen graphics that we’ve become so familiar with as we watch the live action. Ian and others spoke of the urgency around introducing digital technologies into the curriculum, while others lamented the stresses felt by principals and teachers to keep up with all of this, and to find space in an already over-crowded curriculum for yet another area to be taught.

In the discussion at one table I was at a teacher was concerned that in her school the technology classes were given a lesser number of hours in the timetable that other subjects such as maths, English or science. She was keen to see more mandates coming from central government to require schools to give more hours in their timetable to this subject.

While I am empathetic to her sense of injustice based on the fact that this is the dilemma most schools will face given the way they currently organise their curriculum and subject lines in the timetable, I simply don’t agree with where this argument would lead – inevitably it would become a case of shuffling things around so that someone else would miss out!

Firstly, I believe that centrally mandating that schools give extra time to this new curriculum is the last thing we should consider, (a) because we already have the freedom and flexibility to make decisions about how time is used and allocated in our schools and mandating such things removes yet more agency from school leaders, and (b) considering the implementation to be counted in terms of hours to be allocated seems to be missing the point entirely of what this curriculum is about – or at least, how it should be implemented.

For me the lesson lies so explicitly in the message we had from the Lynfield College students – make this sort of experience a central plank of all learning, and work towards taking a far more integrated and trans-disciplinary approach. Instead of isolating these subjects into their own lines on a curriculum, each competing for hours on the timetable, work to create new ways of identifying and addressing the opportunities for learning in and across disciplines in the manner in which the Robotics team did at the beginning of our day.

Like Nikki Kaye I believe this curriculum could herald a ‘shake-up’ in education – but the experience will vary. For some it will mean shaking up the way in which learning occurs, with teachers and students working in trans-disciplinary teams on engaging and authentic challenges, whole for others the shake-up will occur only at the level of “shifting the deck chairs on the timetable” and discipline-based experts competing for the attention of the same students for their classes.

I’m for the former – but it’s going to require a lot of courage, commitment and partnership across a wide range of stakeholders! This simply isn’t going to work if it is received as yet another curriculum area we need to find space for.


Whakahaerehia tētahi Hour of Code Mahimaina mō tō akomanga


December 5-11 is Computer Science Education Week, and everywhere I go there seems to be all sorts of activity going on with children in schools learning to code and use computers in interesting ways.

One of the initiatives that seems to have taken off this year is Hour of Code™, and as part of this initiative the organisation I work for, CORE Education, has worked with with Microsoft, OMG Tech! and High Tech Youth support this by assisting with the development of a new Minecraft tutorial, which was developed in close partnership with

The tutorial includes Minecraft characters and Minecraft-inspired challenges that will be familiar to the expansive Minecraft community, while still being approachable to newcomers interested in learning the basics of coding and game design. The new Minecraft tutorial is for students ages 6 to 106—anyone can learn to code!

Our Māori team at CORE have contributed to this effort by ensuring new Minecraft tutorial is available in Te Reo Māori. This now makes this significant resource available to students in the many Māori Medium schools we have in New Zealand.

Why code? In a society continually transformed by technology, the problem-solving and critical-thinking skills gained through computer science education provide the essential tools needed to innovate, pursue in-demand jobs, and understand the world. All young people should have the opportunity to learn the skills needed to fulfil their passions.

It’s easy to sign up your school or class to run an Hour of Code programme – with everything you will need to lead your own Minecraft Hour of Code, including a facilitator’s guide, quick tip sheet, and PowerPoint slides. These materials are available for you here.

Information Fluency

I've been reading a little lately about the notion of information fluency and digital literacy in relation to some work I've been doing, and came across this interesting infographic below from Denis O'Connor. It's an interactive infographic which allows you to click on a topic and you're taken to resources on the 21st Century Information Fluency website.

I like the way the five key questions in this diagram supports an agentic approach to thinking about information fluency, with the embedded links taking you off to more information to help resolve your personal response to these questions. Could be a useful poster in its existing form in a classroom too. 

Computing our future…

SchoolNet_programming To code or not to code – that is the question that has been debated hotly for more than two decades now in many countries around the world – including New Zealand. 

Like many other countries, New Zealand put all of its eggs into the 'ICT and digital literacy for all" basket from 1990, when the first MoE-funded professional devleopment programmes began. That philosophy has underpinned all of the ICT-PD strategies and spending to the current day – the argument being that ICTs (or digital technologies as they're now being referred to) are a part of everyone's experience, not simply those who are programmers.

This strategy has been reasonably successful in gaining a system-wide acceptance of ICTs within the educaiton sector (although I still come across teachers and schools who see ICTs as one of those 'optional' things for them to focus on!)

As we are now in the fourth decade of having computers in our schools, there's a growing awareness that, as the tide of digital literacy has risen, and we're seeing ICTs used routinely by students in schools across a wide range of contexts to support their learning, simply teaching learners to be users (or consumers) of the technology, without teaching them fundamental skils of creating or constructing with these tools is tantamount to teaching kids to read, but not to write, to listen but not to speak, or teaching them to appreciate art, but not to draw etc.

The simple truth is that while we all marvel at what these new tecnologies can do – someone has had to design, create, build, program and test them. So it makes sense that somewhere in our system we're creating opportunities for our young people to learn skills that are foundational to an ever growing need in our future workforce. 

The UK Department of Education has been working on this for awhile, since deciding to scrap its traditional ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) curriculum almost two years ago. Earlier this year  they announced the coding requirement for schools, and in September they introduced the new national curriculum for computing for all children from five upwards. This is being given a boost with a half million pound initiative known as the “Year of Code.”

Of course, skills for employment are only one part of the reason for introducing such an initiative. This recent report from European SchoolNet emphasises the wider significance of teaching coding and computer science within our curriculum. The report states..

Coding is becoming increasingly a key competence which will have to be acquired by all young students and increasingly by workers in a wide range of industries and professions. Coding is part of logical reasoning and represents one of the key skills which are part of what is now called "21st Century Skills". 

The report outlines responses from 20 countries to a survey where their Ministries of Education gave an overview of their current initiatives and plans. Across this sample of countries it is evident that they see a wider range of benefits accruing from including coding and computer science programmes in schools, including fostering logical thinking skills, coding and programing skills, problem-solving skills, skills for employment, as well as fostering other key competencies.

Papert quoteI was a part of the generation who grew up introducing computers into my classroom under the influence of Seymour Papert, being fascinated with what could be achieved using Logo, and later with Scratch, as well as learning the fundamentals of Basic and later HTML. Finding out what made the computer work the way it did intrigued me, and so discovering that I could create instructions that would get the response I desired seemed a natural thing to do. 

Of course, that's fine for someone like me who has a natural interest in such things. But introducing a curriculum requirement for all schools to include coding in their curriculum begs a simple question, "who will teach it?". In an already crowded curriculum, and with change being naturally resisted by many, this is an extraordinarily big challenge. I noted with interest that even England's 'year of code' initiative has attracted cynical responses when the director of the programme herself revealed that she doesn't know how to code.

I see these issues becoming a big challenge for New Zealand into the future. We are a small country, 10,000 km from our markets, with an economy reliant on the export of primary produce products. Into the future we'll need to put more emphasis on the development of knowledge economy skills, because (a) of the impact of much of our primary produce production on our local environment, and (b) the fact that our traditional export markets are now establishing their own means of supply negating the expense of long distance exports. If we're to heed the challenges of the late Sir Paul Callaghan and others, we need to find ways of appropriately incorporating more coding opportunities within our school curriculum across all age groups. 

As a parent and as a grandparent, I am increasingly concerned that we act now to ensure my kids and grandkids are equipped with the skills, competencies and dispositions they will require to enable them to function effectively in an increasingly digital world – and exposure to the delights of coding and computer science must certainly be considered here. 

Data, data everywhere

I came across this quote from David Rowan, editor of Wired UK on a website I visited today:

Each day, according to IBM, we collectively generate 2.5 quintillion bytes — a tsunami of structured and unstructured data that’s growing, in IDC’s reckoning, at 60 per cent a year. Walmart drags a million hourly retail transactions into a database that long ago passed 2.5 petabytes; Facebook processes 2.5 billion pieces of content and 500 terabytes of data each day; and Google, whose YouTube division alone gains 72 hours of new video every minute, accumulates 24 petabytes of data in a single day. . . . Certainly there are vast public benefits in the smart processing of these zetta- and yottabytes of previously unconstrained zeroes and ones. . . .

Yet as our lives are swept unstoppably into the data-driven world, such benefits are being denied to a fast-emerging data underclass. Any citizen lacking a basic understanding of, and at least minimal access to, the new algorithmic tools will increasingly be disadvantaged in vast areas of economic, political and social participation. The data disenfranchised will find it harder to establish personal creditworthiness or political influence; they will be discriminated against by stock markets and by social networks. We need to start seeing data literacy as a requisite, fundamental skill in a 21st-century democracy, and to campaign — and perhaps even to legislate — to protect the interests of those being left behind.

David's concern about the growing disconnect between the data-rich and the data-poor is a salient reminder that, as we become increasingly immersed in the digital world, the notion of a digital divide is defined not simply in terms of those who have access and those who don't but those also by those with the knowledge, skills and dispositions to navigate their way through the morass of data, content and applications etc. and those who don't. 

The focus in David's comment is specifically on data. We are awash in it – overwhelmed by it. As he illustrates, we are generating it in quantities unprecedented in human history. Schools aren't immune. We generate large quantities in our SMS systems, our LMSs and our accounting packages to name a few. The introduction of increasingly sophisticated analytics applications helps us yield valuable information from this data – but the ability to conceive of and follow through with the development of these sorts of tools, and the interpretation of what they reveal requires specialist abilities.

Imagine the benefit to our school systems if we had access to the sorts of tools and algorithms used to underpin how Amazon operates for instance, or how Google customises search etc. Our ability to customise personal learning pathways for students, to anticipate learning needs, gaps in resources or target specialist interventions would be greatly enhanced. This sort of activity would certainly differentiate between the haves and the have nots in terms of data and data use.

So what are the implications for schools? How might we close this form of digital divide? To be honest I'm still processing my thoughts on this, but a couple of ideas are emerging…

  1. First – we need to consider the concept of what David calls 'data literacy', as a part of the wider concept of digital literacy, and ensure that we are catering for its development in all areas of the curriculum and across all levels of the school system. The goal of developing digitally literate, data-savvy students should be a priority in our student graduate profiles, along with basic literacy and numeracy skills.
  2. Second, we need to agree on some system-wide approaches to data management and use. The e-asTTle tool that is currently being used in schools demonstrates well the benefits that can be achieved when large quantities of data are analysed and represented in ways that allow for informed decisions to be made about student learning. Imagine what more could be achieved if schools became even more collaborative in sharing the data they have to assist in building real-time analytics to help inform key decisions about resourcing, placement of teachers, targetting courses etc. 

I'm sure more will come to mind as I ponder this further. What ideas do others have? Would love  you to share them in the comments box below…

Character education for the digital age


As we prepare for the return of students to our classrooms, many teachers and schools will be considering the implications of their BYOD programmes and increased wireless access meaning more kids using digital devices in school. With such privilege comes responsibility, and a key focus for teachers, leaders and school policy makers must be on thinking through the implications of such decisions, and how this all contributes to the overall academic and personal development of our students. 

Jason Ohler has written extensively on using technology effectively, creatively and wisely, and is known to many NZ teachers through his keynotes and workshops at ULearn and other conferences here.  A couple of years ago he wrote an article in Educational Leadership magazine that summarises the dilemma very well. He writes..

Our challenge is to find ways to teach our children how to navigate the rapidly moving digital present, consciously and reflectively. How we meet this challenge depends on how we address the following fundamental question about teaching our digital-age children: Should we teach our children as though they have two lives, or one?

The article goes on to offer lots of food for thought and practical advice that could be useful to you at the beginning of this school year. For those with responsibility for creating school policies and procedures regarding the use of digital devices and the development of digital literacy, here are just a few of the issues that Ohler suggests a comprehensive digital citizenship curriculum  should address:

  1. Balance. Understanding past, present, and possible future effects of technology. Cultivating a sense of balance that considers opportunity as well as responsibility, empowerment as well as caution, personal fulfillment as well as community and global well-being. 
  2. Safety and security. Understanding how online actions might lead to harm to yourself or others. Includes protecting your own privacy, respecting that of others, and recognizing inappropriate online communications and sites (such as sexual material and other resources intended for adults).
  3. Cyberbullying. Understanding the potentially devastating effects of cyberbullying and how it violates ethical principles of personal integrity, compassion, and responsible behavior.
  4. Sexting. Understanding the negative consequences of using a cell phone to take and transmit pictures of a sexual nature of oneself or others.
  5. Copyright and plagiarism. Respecting others' intellectual property rights and reflecting on the legality and ethics of using online materials without permission (a complex and murky area of the law, bounded by "fair use" guidelines).

Our digital aspiration?

Digital Citizenship 3

Computers (aka digital technologies) have been in our classrooms and schools for four decades now – almost as long as I’ve been an educator – yet still we’re trying to find a way of describing or explaining what the contribution is of these devices to the education of our young.

As the use of digital technologies has become more pervasive, the focus of attention has shifted to questions about the measurement of this impact – both in terms of the contribution of digital technologies to learning, and in terms of the qualities and we deem to be desirable in the users of these technologies, those who will live their lives in an increasingly digital world.

When I started working with computers with learners, the focus of attention seemed to be predominantly on teaching the skills associated with their use – how to open files, save files, cut-and-paste etc. These foundational skills are still regarded as important, and in the 1980s there was a big demand for courses with this focus. Nowadays it’s questionable just how much of this needs to be ‘taught’ explicitly vs. learned in the process of using. Many schools are using some form of ‘computer drivers license’ or ‘digital passport’ to provide explicit expectations of students in terms of their digital proficiency, but how these are learned and demonstrated is left to the students.

The OECD suggests that governments should make efforts to identify and conceptualise the required set of skills and competences, and then incorporate them into educational standards and, in response to this suggestion, there are several national projects working on defining national standards.

More recently there’s been a shift to talking about digital literacy. Simply put, digital literacy represents a person’s ability to perform tasks effectively in a digital environment. The power of literacy in this context lies not merely in the ability to use the various tools and applications, but rather in an individual's capacity to effectively and critically navigate, evaluate and create information using a range of digital technologies. This includes the ability to read and interpret media, to reproduce data and images through digital manipulation and to evaluate and apply new knowledge gained from digital environments.

It’s a bit like learning to read and write. While building a vocabulary of words and being able to represent them in written form are pre-requisite skills, becoming fully literate involves a much wider and more complex range of abilities – engaging with text, extracting meaning, synthesizing, analyzing etc.

Developing digital proficiency and becoming digitally literate can, to a significant degree, be achieved by an individual. They are important, indeed essential qualities and characteristics for an individual to possess if they are to lead productive and satisfying lives in the digital world.

Yet to be fully functional in the digital world requires more than this. It builds on the awareness of being part of something bigger than one’s self, and of the need to temper one’s individual use (or misuse) of digital technologies with the responsibilities that emerge from understanding the impact of our own behaviors on others. It requires a sense of ‘citizenship’, and the rights and responsibilities associated with that.

InfoProcessIn thinking about this I was reminded of a diagram explaining the information age that I first drew up for classes of initial teacher educators I was teaching back in the early 1990s. It’s not an original idea, and versions of this sort of thinking have appeared in all sorts of forms over the past decade or so.

The diagram begins with data at the bottom – the building blocks of all information. When gathered with purpose the data becomes information. When used in context, the information becomes knowledge (some have added ‘understanding’ here). But when knowledge is consistently applied and becomes embedded in action, it becomes wisdom.

I see the discussion about digital literacy developing in the same way. The building blocks (data and information) of the digital world are the skills and competencies we develop that make use digitally proficient. Applying those in our daily context makes us digitally literate. But developing the wisdom associated with being respectful, keeping ourselves and others safe and being productive in the digital world is what characterizes us as citizens.

I’ve attempted to capture this thinking in the diagram at the top of this post. The challenge I want to post is, should ‘digital literacy’ be our aspiration for the young people in our schools? Sure, being digitally literate will likely provide them with greater opportunities for employment and success in life, but shouldn’t we aspire to see that success and participation operate at a much higher level than simply what benefits the individual?

As our thinking at both school and national level continues to develop, I vote for an emphasis on nurturing our young people with the competencies required to demonstrate qualities of citizenship in a digital world.