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Digital literacy: what does the research say?

Digital literacy: what does the research say?

ACER news 4 minute read

With Australian schools widely expected to move to remote teaching thanks to COVID-19, can we assume our students – often dubbed ‘digital natives’ – have the technological skills they need to succeed online? Julian Fraillon explores the research in Teacher.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a sudden and serious impact on Australian schools, with most expected to move to online teaching in term 2 of 2020. How will the education system cope with the transition?

The research says Australian students have high levels of access to digital technologies in school and beyond. However, it is less clear if they have the skills to use them effectively, and if schools are using technology in ways that support student learning.

ACER Research Director Julian Fraillon says in Teacher that four pervasive myths about digital literacy – as revealed in data from NAP–ICTL (the National Assessment Program – Information and Communication Technology Literacy) and the International Computer and Information Literacy Study (ICILS) 2013 and 2018 – should be considered in the transition to remote learning.

Myth 1: The rise of the ‘digital native’

The idea that students who grow up with technology automatically acquire the skills necessary to use it effectively may be appealing, but it is not supported by the data. In 2017, 46 per cent of Australian Year 6 students and 13 per cent of Year 10 students were unable to make decisions about how to best use software for given purposes or to employ a critical perspective when considering digital information – important factors as we move towards remote learning.

Myth 2: student digital literacy will continue to rise

It would be reasonable to assume that digital literacy has increased, and will continue to increase, as technology becomes more widely available and as society puts a greater value on digital skills. This is not supported by the research, however, which shows that the digital literacy of Year 6 students changed very little between 2011 and 2017, while Year 10 digital literacy has declined since 2011.

In the context of remote learning, such skill deficiencies will be magnified so schools must keep in mind the likelihood that many students may need very clear instruction and further support in order to use technology effectively.

Myth 3: boys use technology better than girls do

The data show that, across all cycles of NAP–ICTL since 2005, female Year 6 students performed significantly better using digital technologies than did male students. The same was true of Year 10 students in all cycles except 2005. Girls outperformed boys in all but two countries in the latest two rounds of ICILS results.

Myth 4: digital technologies have transformed classrooms and pedagogy

While digital technologies open up a world of new teaching opportunities, the data suggest that examples of highly innovative use are the exception rather than the rule. Accordingly, a shift to remote teaching may not result in a corresponding uptick in innovative practice. In a time of remote learning, we face the challenge of how best to use digital resources in ways that go beyond using the technology to present and discuss ‘digital textbooks’.

We are in uncharted waters so it would reap dividends, Fraillon says, to pause and reflect on our assumptions about the readiness of students and teachers to engage with remote learning – and to plan to support both groups in the transition. ■

Read the full article in Teacher:

'Working from home and digital literacy - what can we assume?' by Julian Fraillon was published in Teacher magazine.