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Connecting to Australia’s first digital technology curriculum

Australia finally has its first digital technology curriculum which is mandatory for all Australian children from Foundation, the name replacing kindergarten, to Year 8. The Technologies area now has two…

Students born in the Information Age are digital natives, but in an already crowded curriculum, where will technology subjects stand? Lupuca/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Australia finally has its first digital technology curriculum which is mandatory for all Australian children from Foundation, the name replacing kindergarten, to Year 8.

The Technologies area now has two individual but connected compulsory subjects:

  • Design and Technologies, where students use critical thinking to create innovative solutions for authentic problems
  • Digital Technologies, where students using computational thinking and information systems to implement digital solutions.

Computational thinking refers to a problem solving method that involves integrating strategies, such as organising data logically, breaking down problems, interpreting patterns and implementing algorithms.

The aim of the Digital Technologies syllabi is to ensure that all students can:

  • create, manage and evaluate sustainable and innovative digital solutions
  • use computational thinking and the key concepts of abstraction to create digital solutions
  • use digital systems to automate and communicate the transformation of data
  • apply protocols and legal practises that support safe, ethical and respectful communications
  • apply systems thinking around information systems and predict the impact of these systems on individuals, societies, economies and environments.

Connections …

Living in the Information age, in a world that is characterised by a digitised existence and constant change, it is critical that our children are empowered to manage these. They will need to have a deep understanding of information systems as this will enable them to use critical thinking when they manage data, information, processes and digital systems to make decisions about their future.

radioflyer007/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Digital systems support new ways of working in our global networks and require a new, essential skill set that includes computational and systems thinking.

Digital Technologies provides hands on experiences using creative thinking to develop original digital solutions. The subject will build students who can resolve our digital needs in imaginative ways; they will be efficient operators of technology and critical users of information.

Digital Technologies will develop students who connect and work together locally, nationally and internationally in our knowledge-based society.

It is important to note that the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) is not found in the digital technologies syllabus. This is because, according to the Australian curriculum, the ICT capability of Australian students is developed in every school subject.

They will learn to use ICT to access, create and communicate information and ideas, solve problems and work collaboratively. This involves highly skilled students utilising the digital technologies available to them, modifying usage patterns as technologies evolve and limiting the risks in a digital environment.

… and disconnections

The question must then be asked: if ICT is integrated into every subject and problem solving is the main focus of Design and Technology why do we require a mandatory digital technologies syllabus?

An introduction to digital technologies could be a part of the Design and Technologies mandatory program while those students who wish to study computational thinking, concepts of abstraction and use digital systems to automate and communicate the transformation of data could elect this subject in Years 9, 10, 11 and 12.

If every child in Australia is going to study digital technologies from foundation to Year 8, a question must be asked about implementation. We already have a massive shortfall of computing teachers in Australia and currently in Australian universities there are not enough computing teachers being trained to cover the shortfall. So, who is going to teach it?

Gates Foundation/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Additionally, the Australian syllabus is already overcrowded! With literacy and numeracy standards dropping one must consider the worth of substituting depth of understanding for a wider breadth of subjects. Are we setting Australian students up for failure?

Is there a need to include study of computational thinking, concepts of abstraction and use digital systems to automate and communicate the transformation of data as a mandatory subject? For most of us there are applications or software available to help us achieve our desired outcomes.

Earlier this year I attended a training session where I intended to learn how to write an application or “app” as it is commonly called. After three days my head was spinning with formulas and algorithms. “It is easy,” the instructors said. “No it’s not!” I responded.

At the end of the training session, they directed those of us who still hadn’t grasped the algorithmic concepts of abstraction to the internet, where we downloaded a free piece of software that allowed us to make our own app with no programming knowledge.

Isn’t this what most of us want in a digital technologies syllabus? We want to be shown and given opportunities to use and apply the software to problems. For the few who want to write the software there is always the Digital Technologies elective syllabus.

The practical nature of the Design and Technologies syllabus engages students in critical and creative thinking, including understanding interrelationships in systems when solving complex problems.

A systematic approach to experimentation, problem-solving, prototyping and evaluation instills in students the value of planning and reviewing processes to realise ideas. Perhaps this is the ideal place to situate digital technologies.

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29 Comments sorted by

  1. Simon Sharwood

    logged in via Twitter

    I think you miss the point a bit: the digital technologies curriculum is not about teaching kids to become programmers. It is about teaching kids programming and other techniques so they can use computers to solve problems, not just use software.

    An example: spreadsheets offer some simple tools to create a graph. But if one learns a little of their syntax, far more powerful manipulation of data becomes possible. I think that's worth teaching!

    Yes, resources for teacher training are yet to be identified, although Google has promised to create an online course for teachers.

    One more thing: the ABS today released data - see http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by%20Subject/4250.0.55.005~2010%E2%80%9311~Main%20Features~Occupation~7 - that points out jobs in IT and other STEM fields are outpacing jobs growth in other fields handily. Surely our national curriculum needs to reflect this fact with more than electives.

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    1. Deborah Trevallion

      Lecturer in the School of Education at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Simon Sharwood

      Why does EVERY child from 5-12 years of age need to be a programmer?
      Many children have difficulty grasping mathematics concepts like programming algorithms. Will they be successful?

      It was the google teacher training course that I attended. They were most professional, and at the end of their 3 day course they showed me and the others in attendance the free software to download. They are very good at programming BUT they are not trained to teach!

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    2. Ziad Baroudi

      Teacher

      In reply to Deborah Trevallion

      I suggest reading the chapter on Turtle Art in Seymour Papert's book, Mindstorms. He presents an alternative approach to dealing with children's difficulties in Maths. Rather than spending more time repeating the same instruction they have grown phobic about, we can use approaches like programming in educational environments (LOGO is the one he uses but Scratch can serve just as well) to re-introduce them to Maths.
      I don't want to turn all my students into programmers and I disagree with the curriculum writers on the necessity to learn a lot of the things they have listed in the document. I do, however, think it is high time we used the computer as "an object to think with".

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  2. Dale Bloom

    Analyst

    I certainly hope the curriculum has something from Australia in it.

    The “laptop on every desk” fad involved a $1 billion government fund.

    http://www.zdnet.com/rudd-promises-a-computer-on-every-school-desk-1339283831/

    But every laptop issued to students was imported, and some states had up to 30 software programs installed on those laptops, and every software program was also imported.

    The exercise simply encouraged students to think anything from Australia is no good, and to use imported hardware and software only.

    And later it was found that student marks actually declined in international tests (such as the PISA test).

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    1. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Deborah Trevallion

      Nearly all software came from various US companies, with nothing at all from Australia in every state I am aware of.

      It is a common marketing system to provide schools with free hardware and software, but the student has to buy matching hardware and software to do their assignments and homework at home.

      Once generations of students become practised at using that hardware and software, it becomes a “standard”, and the students are more likely to want to use it in the workplace when they get jobs.

      But a company has to buy that imported hardware and software.

      So providing schools with cheap or free hardware or software is a marketing system, that pays big dividends if it becomes a standard.

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    2. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      Dale,

      not all software is sourced from the US.. I have spent the last 30 years as a software developer and can assure you that there are a number of great software companies with the latest most successful player being "atlassian"

      While i agree that forcing every child to learn to program maybe a stretch, but the art of programing leads to logical thinking which will surely help rather than hinder our future generations.

      And although i agree about your point companies wanting their software to become the standard, given the rate of change of software products, these products will become obsolete before students would graduate.

      in the meantime you are welcome to try free online product www.ebankbooks.com . this is an example of a home grown product.

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    3. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Joseph Bernard

      I saw the lists of software being put on the laptops in QLD, NSW and VIC.

      Most laptops were imported from China, and every software program was imported (about 90 % from the US), with nothing at all from Australia.

      But everything was paid for by the Australian taxpayer.

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    4. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      The stark reality seems to be that we are let down by our leaders.

      we are a price driven society and the tenders would be based on price. But for some reason our government and its departments fail to recognize that you can spend more than twice on an Australian product and it is still cheaper for the country because of the velocity of money as it circulates in our economy.

      I know for example at least one australian provider (leader laptops) but what would the chances of this provider have had a chance of supplying the laptops? not chance of growing our own industry.

      As for software, i would be asking is there an open source alternative and if so, then that software should be included on the laptop, regardless of whether there is the people to teach it.. Let students make up their own minds as they acquire their skills.

      my five cents worth..

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    5. Dale Bloom

      Analyst

      In reply to Joseph Bernard

      There has been some comment on websites that open source may be better, as the code can be checked for hacking or spying.

      But rather meaningless if the actual CPU chip has been compromised to enable spying regardless of installed software.

      http://www.afr.com/p/technology/intel_chips_could_be_nsa_key_to_ymrhS1HS1633gCWKt5tFtI

      Personally I can’t understand how schools teach computing, and then fully import all software.

      They are basically teaching students to never develop anything, but to import only.

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    6. Ziad Baroudi

      Teacher

      In reply to Dale Bloom

      I use a brilliant Australian-developed tool in my classroom. It's called Scribble and it's built at Monash University. Admittedly, it is built on top of an American product but it is free.

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  3. Joanne Orlando

    Senior lecturer, Educational Technology at University of Western Sydney

    I agree, the syllabus is already overcrowded. It is filled with so many must haves that it leaves teachers’ heads spinning. It’s a great time to start culling and keeping what we really need.

    Knowledge of digital technologies is a must if schools are to respond to the knowledge we need today and in the future. Supporting students to understand the place and purpose of technology as well as the technical side of how to use it is a must.

    My issue with the digital technology curriculum is that…

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    1. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Joanne Orlando

      Why not just make the "digital technology" class one of the Maths or English or Science or Social Science or Visual Arts class. So for Term 1, "digital technology" is taught as one of the History classes each week. In Term 2, one of the Science classes, and so on.

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    2. Deborah Trevallion

      Lecturer in the School of Education at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Information and communication technologies is to be taught in every subject but children studying digital technologies will be taught to solve problems using algorithms and programming languages.

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    3. Deborah Trevallion

      Lecturer in the School of Education at University of Newcastle

      In reply to Andy Cameron

      Information and communication technologies are to be taught in every subject! Digital technologies will teach children to solve problems using programming and the associated technology.

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    4. Andy Cameron

      Care giver

      In reply to Deborah Trevallion

      Thanks for pointing that difference out Deborah. But watching my own kids, and other people's I would not worry too much about them be able to keep up in programming classes. They have all been born into all this technology. They do not have to re-wire their paper and pen brains like we do. If anything, by the time my kids get to the HSC, I wouldn't be surprised if they could barely use a pen and paper.

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  4. Robert Tony Brklje
    Robert Tony Brklje is a Friend of The Conversation.

    retired

    A little more creativity is required. For example teaching English, the subject matter should be adjust so that another subject can be taught at the same time, say social and political science, both subjects which require clear communications, so as you teach one you incorporate subject matter from the other.
    Computers are complicated, very complicated, I derive a great deal of satisfaction (brain chemical flow) from that interaction but I fully appreciate when you attempt to force it upon others…

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    1. Beverley Simmons

      Ex Promotions Manager. Retired.

      In reply to Robert Tony Brklje

      The progress in learning on a lap top or PC depends a lot on where in the world you are. For example, in silicone valley there are about 9000 children of special attention who are being taught by highly qualified teachers whose expertise is such that teachers of ordinary skill are dispensed with. This results in larger classes and, of course, fewer teachers. Where as, in the UK, children have laptops and are taught to use the full facilities of software relevant to their needs. Whilst I agree that…

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  5. Joseph Bernard

    Director

    re: "If every child in Australia is going to study digital technologies ... who is going to teach it?

    Well if the work of Sugtra Mitra is true then we only need a fraction of the teachers because students will teach themselves in collaborative self learning groups.

    Is it not about time that we move beyond skeuomorphism of our class rooms and enhance the class room paradigm. Sugtra's results are amazing and maybe this is the answer to the question "who is going to teach it?"

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    1. Paul Reader

      independent researcher

      In reply to Joseph Bernard

      Yes "who is going to teach it?" has probably always been the wrong question and wrong approach to curriculum in any rapidly advancing field. The better question is; how are students going to be inspired to learn?

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    2. Joseph Bernard

      Director

      In reply to Deborah Trevallion

      Yes understand your point,

      May i suggest that a collaborative model be considered as being a complementary system to the current teaching system rather than an alternative. All that is needed is a larger monitor that four students can sit around and work together on the same project like a study group.

      Here, in our local school, for example, there is a library that would be able to facilitate these learning groups that would help accelerate learning groups. As an example of power of learning groups, i can share that in our business, here we practice a form of "Extreme Programing", where we pair our engineers together to focus on critical code which most often accelerates the process and improves quality of our projects.

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  6. Robert Hunter

    logged in via email @cyberspace.net.au

    Are we giving our children a childhood experience or just an internship to adult life?

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  7. Ziad Baroudi

    Teacher

    I love the gist of the digital technologies curriculum. I do have a couple of problems with it and the most important one is its insistence on high schoolers not using visual programming environments like Scratch. In the past, I have shown students the concept of recursion using the classical example: Calculating the factorial of a number. I have only ever found one student interested in this. In Scribble, an adaptation of Snap! designed for generative art, I can show them how to create recursive patterns. They like that a lot more.

    In summary, if you want kids solving problems and learning "computational thinking", then don't insist on coding skills. There are environments that make the mechanics of programming easy so that kids can solve more difficult problems.

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  8. Bruce F

    logged in via Twitter

    As an IT teacher who has the skills and knowledge to deliver this curriculum, I get a little bit frustrated about some of the ongoing concerns people keep expressing with the curriculum, largely because I feel like many of the criticisms are being made with underlying assumptions in place that need to be challenged.

    The Digital Technologies curriculum does not insist that students become programmers - at least no more so that the English curriculum insists they become authors, the Mathematics…

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  9. John Armstrong

    Retired Environmental Consultant

    This whole concept makes me feel very ill. Why do we need to bring computers anywhere near children's developing brains at so early an age. Where will we find the innovative thinkers of the future - the ones who are able to think outside the square (screen).

    Young people will pick up computers easily no matter what age they are introduced. At my son's school they had a policy of not introducing computers until the age of thirteen in year eight. My son is now twenty one and has computer games that…

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  10. Rebecca Vivian

    Research Associate at University of Adelaide

    Thank you, Deborah, for raising awareness about the new Digital Technologies curriculum in your article. However, the Digital Technologies learning area is much more than "using technologies" and "programming" and it is different to the ICT capability. The ICT capability has students learning to be effective and safe users of technologies, whereas the Digital Technologies learning area develops computational thinking, with a focus on creating solutions and digital technologies, as well as building…

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