Virtual School Meanderings

January 13, 2022

[REPOST] Report Review – 21st Century Digital Skills: Competencies, Innovations and Curriculum in Canada

This item was re-posted from https://k12sotn.ca/blog/report-review-21st-century-digital-skills-competencies-innovations-and-curriculum-in-canada/

As was suggested in the entry entitled Report Review – Uncharted Waters: A World-class Canadian E-learning Paradigm, we wanted to examine the other two reports that were published by the Information and Communications Technology Council.  The second report related to distance learning in Canada was:

21st Century Digital Skills

Competencies, Innovations and Curriculum in Canada

By Maryna Ivus , Nathan Snider , Trevor Quan  April 13, 2021

Abstract

Given this need to take advantage of the opportunities provided by new digital technologies, this paper focuses on the importance of training and support for teachers to ensure that they have the skills and competencies required to integrate technology into an educational setting successfully. While K-12 education has been working in this area for decades, it has adopted the responsibility of ensuring educators are able to teach effectively in both hybrid, and purely digital environments. As technology continues to change the way students learn, it breaks down the physical boundaries of classroom learning, encouraging collaboration, improved interactivity, and allows for greater flexibility for learning needs. ICTC’s primary research identifies the top technical skills required by educators (such as digital literacy, information/media literacy, and LMS fluency and awareness) and the top “human” or soft/transferrable skills (such as digital curiosity, interpersonal communication, and confidence). Similarly, interviewees identified the top technical and academic skills and competencies required by K-12 students for future success (such as digital citizenship, digital fluency, coding, etc.) as well as the top human or transferrable skills needed by students (such as critical thinking, communication, and adaptability, etc.).

The report includes examples of how innovative digital technologies such as 3D printing, AI, VR/AR, Apps, Gamification, and LMS tools are being incorporated into Canadian classrooms to develop future-ready skills and competencies, and which skills and competencies are best developed through their adoption in K-12 schools.

Tagged with: Technology, EdTech, Education, Digital Skills

As we reviewed the organization and the same three authors in the previous entry, let’s just focus this portion of the review on the methodology and the authors use of the literature.

Examining the Logistics of the Report

As for the actual report, the “primary research for this study consisted of a series of 20 key informant interviews (KIIs) with Canadian educators, education subject matter experts, members of educational administration, educational consultants and private industry from across the country” (p. 58).  There is no specific reference to who the 20 interviewees were, other than “Candidates were selected based on their location (urban and rural areas, francophone, as well as Indigenous communities), role or responsibility, relationship to technology, administrative leadership and/or influence on teacher training and use of equipment” (p. 58).  The authors themselves suggest that this represented “a modest sample pool of interviewees… [which] means that these responses must be regarded as insights and cannot necessarily be taken as objective “trends” that represent the Canadian experience” (p. 59).  That is the academic way of saying that the findings are more likely to represent the opinions – informed as they are – of the 20 individuals selected and not necessarily representative of ‘the skills and competencies required to integrate technology into an educational setting successfully.’

The authors also indicated that the secondary research for the study was their literature review.  The authors wrote, “a robust literature review was identified and used to highlight or clarify key themes, trends, and emerging realities” (p. 58).  So let’s look at that literature review…  As was discussed in the earlier entry, an examination of the literature that is used to inform the report is another tool to determine the understanding that the authors have of the field.  In looking through the 144 footnotes, once again the majority of sources seem to come from articles published in the popular news media (often Canadian daily newspapers) or from material published on the websites of different government agencies or various companies involved in the e-learning sector.  The research that is used is primarily from the higher education environment.  While there is some use of K-12 e-learning literature, it is scant and many of the seminal researchers – both within Canada and internationally – are completely absent from the report (e.g., when it comes to K-12 e-learning and teacher education, authors such as Archambault, Kennedy, and Rice would be expected at the very least).  Similarly, nine months earlier we published the  Teacher Education and K-12 Online Learning report, which given the focus of this report “on the importance of training and support for teachers to ensure that they have the skills and competencies required to integrate technology into an educational setting successfully” (p. 10), raises questions with its absence.

Examining the Content of the Report

Let us start by saying that the findings of this report are much more nuanced that the previous one that was reviewed.  For example, the report begins by stating:

The global advance of the COVID-19 pandemic has created uncertainty in education: mass school closures in March 2020, re-openings in September 2020, and various measures to mitigate health risks, including masks for older children and groups, face shields, sanitizer, temperature checks, physical distancing, hybrid or distance education, and altered school-bus services.9 As of April 2021, the trend leans toward in-class schooling or blended learning models where the risk of school closures remains high. However, this situation remains fluid, with schools transitioning back to online learning in various provinces as COVID-19 cases fluctuate. As students continue to learn online given the widespread usage of digital technologies, online education is likely to remain a prominent theme. As a result, the need for a contemporary understanding of digital skills and competencies may never be higher.

From the very first paragraph, the authors situate the need for changes to teacher education within the unique demands that have been placed on educators by the remote teaching during the pandemic.  However, that nuanced perspective gave quickly gave way (in part due to the broader focus of the report on digital skills, which was not the fault of the authors).

While the authors often overstate the amount of online learning at the K-12 level and the amount of usage of digital tools in the schools, the aspect that they overlook the most is the lack of pedagogical training that teachers have on how to teach with these tools.  For example, the authors stated:

Prior to COVID-19, schools often required faculty who were already comfortable with digital systems to manage their online online initiatives and activities—both in class and for the school at large. ICTC’s 2020 study, Class, Take Out Your Tablets: The Impact of Technology on Learning and Teaching in Canada, cites two primary challenges to effective tech adoption by educators:

  • Lack of available support for IT services at the school level, and
  • Lack of training and long-term support provided by vendors for new technologies and equipment.

Undoubtedly, educators who lack support or familiarity with digital systems are bound to see limited success in teaching in the future. (p. 16)

This statement underscores this oversight.  Both of these statements focus on knowledge on how to use the technology or knowledge of how to troubleshoot the technology.  Neither of these statements focus on how to teach with the technology.  Since the 1980s teacher preparation programs have included content, often in the form of standalone “technology in education” courses, that have focused on how to use technology commonly found in education settings.  Too often these courses have not included much content on how to teach using these technologies, which has resulted in multiple generations of teachers that have some facility with the technologies, but simply not enough pedagogical knowledge and – as the authors note – local support to be able to integrate these tools.  The other issue raised by a statement like this is the focus on the vendors being the ones to provide the training and support.  A vendor who is responsible for designing technology is generally not a pedagogical expert.  While they can provide some training on how to use the technology, the chances are that they are ill equipped to provide training on how to teach students of differing abilities and differing ages using these tools.  It also speaks to an abdication of the public responsibility of government (and its agents in the school districts/boards) and teacher education programs (most of which are publicly-funded universities) to prepare teachers. Essentially, it is privatization of this function.

This sentiment (or observation) is further underscored by comments like, “One respondent with 15+ years of teaching experience noted that students are often more familiar with the technologies being leveraged than their instructors” (p. 21).  From a research-based pedagogical standpoint, the myth of the digital native is well established.  However, from a practitioner standpoint this view continues to be a “convenient untruth.”  The reality is that if students were so pedagogically skilled with technology they would be using those tools on their own.  As Oblinger and Oblinger (2005) stated – some seventeen years ago – “although they are comfortable using technology without an instruction manual, their understanding of the technology or source quality may be shallow” (p. 2.5).

Having made these criticism, there is a lot of useful information in this report – particularly in the broader realm of digital skills (i.e., beyond a strict focus on K-12 distance, online, or remote learning).  It was somewhat disappointing to see these skills couched within the framework of 21st century skills.  First because we are 22 years into the 21st century and if we aren’t teaching these skills already, there are bigger problems than the role of technology.  But moreso because if you look at the list of skills that are included in their “21st century” skills (i.e., critical thinking, communication [language/etiquette], adaptability, creativity [troubleshooting], learning autonomy [independence], collaboration, determination, computational thinking, problem solving, empathy, curiosity, confidence, and resilience) they appear to be a list of soft learning skills that I learned in my own K-12 schooling during the 1980s and 1990s, or even a list of skills that my grandfather – a member of the greatest generation – learned in his eight years of formal schools in a small, rural, one-room school during the 1920s and 1930s.  In fact, I’d argue that some of these “21st century” skills – such as critical thinking, adaptability, empathy, and curiosity – were taught better in the 20th century, and all we need to do is look at the increased polarization that is often based on or resulting from a lack of understanding and knowledge of basic facts of the world around you to see evidence of this observation.

Either way, the authors conclusions that “educators will also need stronger digital literacy, updated pedagogical methodologies, continued professional development and support to take advantage of technology developments” (p. 57).  Given my earlier criticisms of the report’s content, it is particularly important that the authors included the phrase ‘updated pedagogical methodologies, continued professional development and support to take advantage of technology developments,’ even if the majority of their report focused the ‘need stronger digital literacy.’

References

Oblinger, D., & Oblinger, J. (Eds.). (2005). Educating the Net Gen. EDUCAUSE. https://www.educause.edu/ir/library/PDF/pub7101.PDF

This item was re-posted from https://k12sotn.ca/blog/report-review-21st-century-digital-skills-competencies-innovations-and-curriculum-in-canada/

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