7 suggestions for how to treat willful digital illiteracy in education April 20, 2017

We should expect people in education be technologically literate.

7 suggestions for how to treat willful digital illiteracy in education

April 20, 2017

Reading through people’s blogs, especially those of educators, one thing that strikes me is what a nice bunch we are. Everything people say about barriers to implementing the use of educational technology across the school  is correct, but I also believe that part of the problem is our willingness to make allowances.

It is usually at this point that people who know me call me a grumpy old man, but in my mind I am an angry young man! Surely there are some things which we must regard as simply unacceptable? Period?

Here is a personal example of what I find unacceptable. A teacher I know asked me last week if I could create a Word document for him so that he could type a list of dates. He has been teaching, I believe, for over 20 years, and is in a senior position in his school. Why has he been allowed to get away with such a basic lack of knowledge for so long?

In this particular instance it doesn’t have any direct effect on the children he teaches, or the staff he manages. Or does it? I am a firm believer in what has been called the “hidden curriculum”, in which what you teach and what the kids learn may be rather different. What are his children and staff learning from his behaviour? I would say the following:

1. Technology is relatively unimportant, otherwise he would have learnt how to use it to some extent (I even had to show him how to move the cursor from column one in the table to column two, and how to save his work).

2. That it’s OK to let people know that you are technologically illiterate.Would you broadcast the fact that you are illiterate?

3. That, from the point of view of one’s employer, it is OK to be technologically illiterate. When I was Head of ICT and Computing in a secondary (high) school, I refused to have anyone on my team who wasn’t proficient in the use of basic information technology, ie word processing, using a spreadsheet (ideally), finding their way around the internet, handling a digital camera. Don’t get me wrong: I wasn’t insisting that teachers on my team could do programming or use a database, but I certainly expected them to be able to use what I call ‘everyday’ applications.

4. That if you appear helpless enough someone will help you.

I think that although that list is based on just one personal incident, we can extrapolate from it and reasonably conclude that it probably applies more generally. So here is my “wish” list for education, which I think we should adopt as a baseline set of standards.

Before I give my list, I should like to say this. The first step in establishing a standard is to state what that standard is, and/or what it is not. Just because you may not know how to go about achieving it is certainly no reason not to state it. For example, in my classes I always had expectations in terms of acceptable behaviour. It would sometimes take me three months to achieve them, despite teaching them every single day, but that’s besides the point.

Here is my list:

1. All educators must achieve a basic level of technological capability.

2. People who do not meet the criterion of #1 should be embarrassed, not proud, to say so in public. I don’t recommend public shaming, which would be nothing less than bullying. But I tink we should endeavour to establish an ethos in which people would be embarrased to announce to the world that they don’t know how to use technology.

For example, a visiting speaker from a government agency said to a roomful of teachers and local authority officers that she wasn’t really familiar with using the internet, and that she always asked her 12 year old daughter to look stuff up for her. I daresay she would not have said that she is not very good at reading and so always asks her daughter to read reports etc for her,. I wish people in her position would apply the same standard to using technology.

3. We should finally drop the myth of digital natives and digital immigrants. As I said in my blog, in the context of issuing guidance to parents about e-safety:

“I’m sorry, but I don’t go for all this digital natives and immigrants stuff when it comes to this: I don’t know anything about the internal combustion engine, but I know it’s pretty dangerous to wander about on the road, so I’ve learnt to handle myself safely when I need to get from one side of the road to the other.”

The phrase may have been useful to start with, but it’s been over-used for a long time now. In any case, after immigrants have been in a country for a while, they become natives. We’ve had personal computers for 30 years, and I was using computers in my teaching back in 1975. How long does it take for someone to wake up to the fact that technology is part of life, not an add-on?

I think most people who eat and breathe education technology know this. But I find it annoying that many conference speakers continue to use such terms. If you’re going to give a talk to teachers who use education technology every day, at least take the time and trouble to find out what their current concerns are, and the terminology they employ to express them.

4. Headteachers and Principals who have staff who are technologically-illiterate should be held to account.

5. School inspectors who are technologically illiterate should be encouraged to find alternative employment.

6. Schools, Universities and Teacher training courses who turn out students who are technologically illiterate should have their right to a licence and/or funding questioned.

7. We should stop being so nice. After all, we’ve got our qualifications and jobs, and we don’t have the moral right to sit placidly on the sidelines whilst some educators are potentially jeopardising the chances of our youngsters.

This article is an updated version of one that appeared in 2009.


About Raymond Morel (2708 Articles)
Raymond Morel is a member of the Board of Directors at SI and is President of Social-IN3, a cooperative of a researchers’ convinced of the need to address new challenges of today's Information Age, which is slowly and surely modify the entire society.

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