Joining the Dots…Digital Technology in our Education System

The need for joined up thinking in relation to the use of digital technology in our education system

report coverIn late October the High Level Group on the Modernisation of Higher Education published their latest report to the European Commission on New modes of learning and teaching in higher education. This is the second report from the Group that is chaired by Ireland’s former President, Mary McAleese.

The report puts forward 15 recommendations and should make interesting reading for anyone interested in how HE intends to use digital technology to change the way teachers teach and students learn. The report is most interesting because many of the challenges identified by the High Level Group also exist in primary and post-primary education in relation to the use of digital technology to support ‘new models of teaching and learning’.

The report makes some interesting observations such as:

“Technology is driving major changes in people’s professional and personal lives across Europe and the world, impacting on every facet of society and is now an integral part of how most people interact, work, learn and access knowledge and information”. P. 14

It suggests that digital technology can enhance the quality of learning and teaching taking place in HE institutions but warns

Digital technologies in themselves do not necessarily constitute an enhancement of the quality of learning and teaching, and it goes without saying that quality of content must remain paramount, but they are an enabler for such enhancement and an underpin efforts towards more student-centred teaching.” P. 18

Furthermore the report goes on to say that:

New technologies and communication platforms also allow for greater interactivity between the teacher and the student and between the students both inside and outside the classroom.” P. 19

And that:

“… digital media can facilitate more active, problem-solving learning which has been demonstrated to encourage greater student engagement and leads to better learning outcomes”. P.19

The report goes on to make the case that European higher education institutions need to become more flexible and develop “a strong brand to ensure they remain competitive in attracting students”. They make the case that institutions and national governments need to consider how they can redesign learning opportunities in higher education so that it is more relevant to today’s world and to those who are enrolled in courses across the sector.

The need for Joined up thinking across the system

joining the dotsWe often hear the phrase “we need joined up thinking across the [education] system” but this report highlights the common issues that now exist at all levels of our education system in relation to digital technology.

  • Firstly, there is a recognition that technology is impacting on ALL our personal and professional lives
  • Secondly, digital technologies have the potential to redefine how we design and assess learning experiences
  • Thirdly, that digital technologies provide wonderful opportunities for teachers to design learning experiences that can develop Key Skills such as problem-solving

The report raises concerns in relation to the ICT literacy levels of post-primary students:

Institutions [that is HE] must also provide training for students, especially for first year students. Evidence shows that students are not being prepared adequately in schools for digital learning”. P. 31

Furthermore the report goes on to state that:

“A recent Commission survey showed that in ALL EU countries, except one, over half of students do not use ICT for projects or classwork. … If students are not receiving these skills in schools they must in higher education. This goes further than enhancing the student learning experience; it is about acquiring skills that are essential in the labour market, and increasingly, simply for everyday life.”

So what are the implications of this recent study for schools and in particular post-primary schools?

Implications for Schools

This report suggests that students across Europe are entering HE without the necessary digital learning skills and that these skills need to be developed at third level. Also it indicates that the majority of students are not using ICT for projects or classwork in schools.

Here in Ireland the DES, through the NCCA, has recognised the need to ‘transform’ how and what students learn at post-primary schools with the proposed Junior Cycle Reforms yet these are in danger of not being implemented at present. Among other things the reforms promise to provide opportunities for additional project work using ICT and for students to develop their Key Skills.

This report from the High Level Group on the Modernisation of Higher Education seems to clearly make the case that such reforms are urgently required so that learners are equipped with the skills to become self-directed life-long learners. This report is calling on HE institutions to ‘transform’ what they teach and how they teach it so that is more engaging and appropriate to learners today. Surely it is now time that other sections of the education system implement their planned curriculum changes so that students are ready for the world of HE and beyond.

In the words of Don Tapscott:

grown up digital bokk cover“Educators should take note. The current model of pedagogy is teacher focused, one-way, one size fits all. It isolates the student in the learning process. Many Net Geners learn more by collaborating – both with their teacher and with each other. They’ll respond to the new model of education that’s beginning to surface”.

It seems now is the time to instigate change and to join up the dots between the different levels of our education system so that young people are better prepared to succeed in HE and in the world of work.

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