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Educational imperatives for a digital world. [Paper presented at the] Australian School Library Association XIX Biennial Conference, Canberra, April 10-13, 2005

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Educational imperatives for a digital world

Alison Elliott

Australian School Library Association XIX Biennial Conference

Canberra, April 10-13, 2005

It is well over 20 years since the widespread introduction of computers in schools. But rarely does a day pass when there isn’t debate about ICT access, cost, training and quality. Most schools would say they don’t have enough computers, that teachers need more training to use them effectively, and students have more information and communication technology (ICT) expertise than many teachers.

Just recently, German researchers after reanalysing PISA (Program for International School Assessment) data on 100,000 15 year old students across 31 countries claimed that students with computers were more likely to have poorer academic outcomes than students without computers, after controlling for socio-economic status. This finding contradicts previous reports that computers were linked to improved outcomes. One interpretation is that students with computers spend more time playing games and this detracts from homework or other literacy activities. Confusingly, in the same analysis, researchers found that students who emailed regularly performed better in reading and maths that those who didn’t (The Age, 28/03/2005, p. 3). Just as quickly, other experts reported that it was how computers were used both at home and at school that affected outcomes, not merely access to a computer.

Without doubt this is still a controversial field. Just last week we read reports of a brewing culture clash between internet-savvy students and old-style education professionals (The Age, April 5th, p. 6).

That I am here speaking is as a result of an article on a similar theme published in Information Age last year.

Since the first computers in education policies in the 1980s, Australian educators have been leaders in teaching and learning through enabling technologies. Australia pioneered global, digital communications between schools with Computer Pals Across the World in 1983. Today, global communications and networks are commonplace and kids come pre-programmed for a digital world. All schools have computers and all are internet connected but the variability in hardware, software and connectivity is immense. Critics say that the technology disparity is compounded by teachers who have little ICT confidence, let alone the skills or interest to integrate ICTs in their teaching.

One beacon of hope and consistently good practice that stands out in the sea of ICT mediocrity and indifference is the library. Community libraries and school libraries have long embraced ICT. They have been early and active ICT adopters. In many schools, the library is still the one place where students can actually use the technology in ‘authentic’ ways for just-in-time learning. For many parents the community library is the first port of call when children come home saying they have a project.

In this presentation I look at:

(a) the mismatch between rhetoric and reality in ICT policy and practice, (b) the evolution of a digital generation or Net Kids and how this is changing the cultural and technological landscape, and (c) the need to both embrace digital cultures and strengthen thinking, problem-solving and creativity if students are to be users, explorers and creators in a digital world, not merely consumers.


The role for librarians is critical if we are to avert a looming cultural clash.

What has changed? Why the mismatch?

Today’s young people live in a world where digital technologies are embedded in most aspects of their lives- except their classrooms. The rapid growth of ICTs in communities and schools has brought powerful changes to teaching and learning for many students. But many are still missing out.

Although there have been massive IT investments in Australian schools for over 20 years, and most contemporary school policies and curricula are designed to capitalise on ICT potential, there is often a huge gap between rhetoric and reality.

Policy statements from the 80s heralded ICTs as tools to revolutionise classrooms and empower learning. In reality, few classrooms in the 80s or 90s looked different to their 1970s predecessors. Has much changed in 2005? There may be a pod of computers in the classroom or in a computer room or the library, but few students seem to have access for just-in-time learning.

In fact, students often complain that they hardly get to use the technology and rarely in ways that suit them or that maximise its potential. They often say that teachers actively curtail their ICT use and voice suspicions about the value of ICTs in the classroom (Findlay, Fitzgerald & Hobby, 2004).

These days all schools are or should be connected to the internet but speed, capacity and reliability are variable. Further, connectiveness doesn’t necessarily equate with access. Internet connections are likely to be in the staff room, the main office or the library and carefully rationed. Similarly, although most schools have scanners and digital cameras, access isn’t guaranteed.

As real-world technology rushes ahead, many schools are lucky to have last decade’s technology, let alone last year’s. Hopefully, the new generation of broadband wireless technologies that are cheaper and easier to install will ensure universal wireless connectivity in all schools before too long. Hopefully too, all schools will be able to rely on education authorities to provide relevant technologies rather than having to beg for hand-me-downs.

Illustrating this scrounging for computers is the following announcement in a recent school newsletter:

If anyone is updating their computers at home… the school may be able to use them. …If you have any machines that are still working and have at least 128mb RAM, could you please let us know… We would also accept monitors that are still functioning...

Computer Coordinator. March 2005. XXXXX School Newsletter

As we know, most schools and classrooms have computers and other digital technologies and they are acknowledged as inevitable, if not exactly relevant and necessary, pedagogical tools. But there is no greater stadium for throwing brickbats and bouquets than the ICT arena. Visionaries like Seymour Papert imagined a pedagogy transformed by the knowledge creation tools. At the same time, critics envisaged an Adous Huxley-type “Brave New Classroom” where ICT replaced face-to-face interaction and children couldn’t write.


But with technology-enhanced learning and communication here to stay, the focus in current literature and increasingly in practice is on:

(a) encouraging teachers to embrace ICTs and see them as an integral part of school and classroom culture, (b) exploring how ICTs can best support and extend learning, and (c) bridging or overcoming the ‘digital divide’.

Also emerging as technologies converge, is a greater focus on knowledge construction, communication and collaboration with the underlying technologies fading into the background. It is this latter area on which much of my writing has focused. And this is one of the most important issues for school librarians, who are often the ICT leaders in schools.

In Australia, our approaches to curricula mean considerable variation in how ICTs are used in schools. There is no mandated role for ICTs in teaching and learning and continuing debate about their most effective use, especially now that technologies are converging and boundaries blurring. Many schools have rich ICT capabilities and use relevant technologies to boost learning opportunities. Many don’t. Many are struggling to come to terms with the interactivity and flexibility of technologies and their capacity to extend learning boundaries well beyond classroom walls.

Most educators would have to agree that ICTs have not impacted significantly on processes of learning or on classroom organisation. A common view is that most ICT use is “peripheral”, with new technologies being added to traditional teacher centred models of instruction (Heale, 2004).

Writing recently in the Professional Educator, Petrea Redmon and Katie Brown highlighted a range of difficulties faced by Queensland teachers attempting to use ICTs in the classroom. They say that in spite of positive attitudes about ICT use, the teachers did not feel they had “adequate support in their endeavours to integrate ICTs effectively”.

The digital divide The teachers in Queensland confirmed that hardware availability was still a problem. They said that “increased ICT availability” appeared to be in administration, library and computer labs rather than in classrooms. They reported difficulties in booking computer spaces and said they couldn’t take advantage of the “teachable moment” because they didn’t have easy ICT access.

Similar concerns about ICT supply are voiced in most jurisdictions. There are not too many “Laptop Highs”.

The Australian Council for Computers in Education (2004) has described education systems as having “considerable inertia” in implementing effective ICT experiences. A recent report (AAP, March 22, 2004) claimed that Victorian schools are going “backwards” and are stocked with “aging computers” and “slow internet connections”.

The NSW Teachers Federation contends that “the introduction of new technologies into schools has been largely on an ad hoc basis, (relying) to a considerable extent on the goodwill and voluntary efforts of teachers and others…Without the necessary funding for maintenance and technical support … as well as professional development of teachers, ICT cannot be properly integrated into pedagogy (NSWTF, 2004).

Nationally, the Ministerial Council for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs MCEETYA (2002) has acknowledged the limited impact of ICTs on learning outcomes and emphasised the need to support teachers’ professional learning “so they have the confidence to exploit the new technologies to expand, extend and modify their practice” (p. 4).


Three recent Australian studies illustrate the limited impact of ICTs in classrooms. In a study of 60 Sydney primary school classrooms over a four week period, children in nearly half the classes (43%) used computers for less than 15 minutes per week. A further 25% of classes had 20-30 minutes of computer use per week and in 16% of classes students spent about 35-45 minutes engaged in computer activities. Only five classrooms had over one hour of computer use per child per week. Two classes had no computer-enhanced learning activities (Elliott, 2002). In another study of internet use across one New South Wales school region, few primary teachers reported using computer-supported learning activities or the internet in any capacity, let alone infused across the curriculum (Leonard, 2001). Findings from the Queensland study mentioned earlier also illustrate limited ICT use. Half the Queensland teachers said they had just “three or four computers for thirty students”, plus access to library and other school computers. Their opportunities for use were limited.

The fact is, that despite huge government and parent technology investments many students are missing out on basic ICT experiences at school let alone exploring the potential of technology-enabled interactions as cognitive, social or collaborative mediators.

Fortunately though, while ICT use is limited in many schools, most students seem to have access to computers at home or in other places, although access is differentiated along socio-economic lines. Australian Bureau of Statistics data reported in Characteristics of Australians accessing the Internet show that 65% of households, about 4.4 million, had a computer and that 82% of 14-17 year olds access the internet. (

Not surprisingly, given the cost of computers and associated technologies, more affluent families are likely to have a computer and internet access. About 90% of people with incomes over $100,000 and 65% of people with incomes between $30,000 and $40,000 have internet access at home. Just 50% of people with incomes less than $20,000 access the internet.

This socio-economic “digital divide” also appears in school ICT access. Students from poorer communities who are already disadvantaged are most likely to be by-passed by ICTs at school. Progressive teachers and principals have successfully embraced many ICT opportunities, but many still ignore or sideline computer-based activities (Schiller, 2003). And this variation is not unique to Australia (Downes, 2003; Elliott, 2001; ETS, 2003; Mau, 1999; Zhao & Cziko, 2001).

The recent US Department of Education report - Toward a New Golden Age in American Education. The National Education Technology Plan 2004 (2004) has highlighted the considerable gap between educational technology developments and effective educational applications. It says that the “great promise” is frequently unrealised and “students mastered the wonders of the internet at home, not in school” (p. 10).

Closing the “digital divide” is looming as a major education challenge over the next few years. Increasingly, ICT access is an equity issue for schools and the wider community.

Why are ICTs important?

Knowledge construction and communication tools such as computers and related knowledge-ready skills are important for three main reasons.

First, despite our wonder at the march of technology, ICTs are an integral part of our children’s lives. They are comfortable in a digital culture. Secondly, students need knowledge skills that have currency and credibility in the wider community and workforce. And thirdly, the ICTs that have transformed the workplace and are embedded in children’s lives are in themselves catalysts for transformation and tools and enablers and scaffolds for learning and problem-solving (Elliott, 2001).


Converging technologies in children’s digital worlds

Children live in a digital world. The old saying, “fish can’t see the water”, applies here. The titles “Net Kids”, “Digital Playgrounds”, and “Digital Natives” are ours. Children don’t need a label for their world. Theirs is a seamless world of play, learning, work and entertainment. It’s fast-paced and multi-tasked. Their world and their relationships are timeless and boundary free. Technology fades into the background, in a sense.

Many of the communication tools that us analogue teachers and parents are still comfortable with- cards, postcards, encyclopaedia’s, and CD players are barely acknowledged by today’s digital children. Their communication tools are mobile phones, iPODs and digital plasma TVs and new generation mobile phones that are blurring the distinction between computers and phones. Imagine a 15 year old buying and sending a post card, writing a letter, looking up a paper-based encyclopaedia, listening to a tape or CD, or using a camera with film. She sends an eCard, writes an email, or texts, Googles to find something, and downloads music. Her camera is digital and she might well be a BLOGGER. She is a technology-enabled social networker. Her friends are just as likely to be across the world as across town. She can’t imagine a life without the technologies that we still label as “new” or “revolutionary.” She is part of a new culture that embraces, defines and creates technology and demand. And, the smaller, faster and sleeker- the better. The technologies that have powerfully swept or gradually and insidiously crept into our lives, depending on our perceptions, are simply part of hers. We are the “Digital Immigrants” described by Marc Prensky (

People born in the 1980 onwards are comfortable with ICTs. They’re not a novelty. They can’t recall a time before computers, the internet, on-line banking, shopping and e-Bay, on-line airline, taxi bookings or yellow pages. They have never used and have probably never seen a typewriter. They went straight to computers and email. They don’t remember record players, audio tapes, TV before cable, cars without LCDs, or life without Broadband.

In a paper called Learners as Customers presented in Singapore recently, researchers said that attempts “to leverage the digital worlds and integrate the technology with pedagogical best practice have been limited...(E)fforts to 'integrate' information and communication technologies (ICTs) with pedagogy have achieved not much more than technical-level effects that mostly leave traditional approaches to teaching and learning unchanged” (Findlay, Fitzgerald & Hobby, 2004).

The researchers found that learners want to use ICTs because they are central to “youth culture”, but were generally “disenchanted” with their limited use in classrooms. There was a major mismatch between students’ patterns of ICT use in their communities and homes and in their schools.

Students were concerned that they rarely got to use computers at school and that when they did the computers were out of date and teachers placed too many constraints and restrictions on use. They also sensed that teachers believed that computers were “distracting” and interfered with learning. The writers argue that ICTs are integral to youth culture and that young people are appropriating and inventing new cultures that are technology based. Students use “the cultural tools that just happen to be within easy reach…. (They use) these tools to create new enriched tools - their own Flash movies, BLOGS, animations, websites, images, stories and software… without much adult help…” As a result, “many teachers no longer know what learners know and are independently doing and learning”. They are left floundering in an alien culture.

This is the looming “culture clash” highlighted recently and we ignore it at our peril.

That many teachers are getting left behind in the ICT avalanche has been well documented over a twenty year period. As Jean Underwood (2003) said in the journal of Technology, Pedagogy


and Education, “Islands of excellence exist, in conjunction with huge oceans of poor practice” (p. 137).

The children of the 1980 and 1990s are the youth of today. They are our school and university students, and sometimes even our teachers. They are comfortable with the ebb and flow of technology and take advantage of each development as a launch pad for the next. They are the architects of a new world of communications and have strong opinions and they want heard- across the world and across boundaries and political systems.

2. Skills with currency, credibility and potential

Changes in the wider culture have been dramatic. Organisational and structural elements of communities and workplaces have been transformed by information and knowledge technologies.

Today, about 85% of jobs require “skilled” workers who have an education beyond high school. In the 1950s, 80% of jobs were considered “unskilled”. As the Business-Higher Education Forum says in Building a Nation of Learners, it’s not entirely clear what jobs will look like in 10-20 years given the continuing growth in technology and rapid pace of change, but one thing is clear, individuals who have sound communication and analytic skills will be well positioned for employment.

The knowledge economy has impacted hardest on people unable to access and apply knowledge-age skills. Knowledge economy workers require transferable thinking skills as much as content knowledge or task-specific skills. As accelerating technological change is making old skills and knowledge obsolete, the ability to generate new skills and knowledge is essential. Increasingly, disadvantaged and vulnerable communities without relevant information and communications skills are becoming alienated from mainstream social and employment opportunities. The future requires life-long learning and generic and job-specific skills to gain and sustain employment. Schooling must provide the pathway to these competencies and attributes.

The Australian government policy, Learning in an online world: School action plan for the information economy (2000) stressed that all schools should prepare students for “the knowledge society and the knowledge economy”.

In the UK, the ICT National Curriculum says students must “be independent, responsible, effective and reflective in their selection, development and use of information sources and ICT tools”. They must be able to use ICTs to “find, explore, analyse, exchange and present information responsibly, creatively and with discrimination”.

Our policy and curriculum documents convey similar sentiments about the need for increased student ICT capability, initiative and outcomes. But, being confident, creative and productive users of new technologies is important, although not enough in a knowledge culture and economy. Students also require knowledge-ready skills- thinking and communication strategies- that are transferable and that can help generate new skills and knowledge.

Knowledge-ready skills are the information selection and retrieval skills, and the higher order cognitive skills that enable communication, data interpretation and analysis and collaborative problem-solving. They include real-world thinking and problem-solving skills and strategies such as research design, analysis, composition and communication. Yet, most teachers who use ICTs in class do so for basic skill development or information retrieval and management tasks. And while basic skills underpin more complex learning, it is the analytic skills that are most important in tomorrow’s workplace (Elliott, 1993; 2003b).


3. Transforming learning, supporting cognitions and knowledge building

There is strong evidence that the tools and technologies that have transformed the workplace are in themselves catalysts for transformation- tools that can enrich curricula, transform learning processes, and shape organisational structures. As leading educational researcher Roy Pea (1987) said nearly twenty years ago- ICTs are “partners in cognition”. They help support and stimulate thinking. In turn, teachers need to re-examine their pedagogy to make the most of these now cognitive tools.

Digital technologies have the potential to enrich learning environments, engage students and enhance learning outcomes. They are especially powerful for students who find traditional classroom learning difficult, disempowering, alienating and/or disengaging. Too often though, this potential to engage students is lost.

A knowledge culture needs knowledge-building skills that can be applied in specific domains or across a range of contexts. Of particular value are reasoning, enquiry, planning, analysis, and self-regulation and reflective and evaluative strategies. Students also need to be able to explain why something so. They need to provide evidence, reasons or conceptual and contextual considerations to inform solutions and decisions.

Good, clear thinking is central to problem-solving. Without good, clear thinking skills, academic success, and longer term employment, will be elusive.

Thinking skills

Reasoning skills. Drawing inferences, making deductions, using precise language to explain thinking, and making judgements and decisions informed by reasons or evidence

Enquiry skills. Asking relevant questions, posing and defining problems, planning what to do and how to do it, predicting outcomes and anticipating consequences, and testing conclusions and improving ideas.

Creative thinking Generating and extending ideas, hypothesising, applying imagination, and looking for alternative outcomes.

Monitoring and evaluating Monitoring each step of a processes, judging the value of what is head, read and done, and developing criteria for judging the value ideas.

Building knowledge cultures

Teachers have a difficult job ahead. First they must be up-to-date with the complexities of new technologies. Not every teacher needs to be a Flash wiz but they must embrace students’ views about the roles of ICT in everyday life and start with students’ existing ICT skills. Simultaneously, they must ensure that students gain thinking, problem-solving and communication skills to see them through the school to work transition and beyond. But, as we’ve seen in the recent literacy-teaching debate, deciding the most effective digital-era pedagogies is not clear cut.


Australian educational policy and position papers in each state and territory have long promoted the idea that all students need new understandings and skills together with traditional domain specific knowledge to operate successfully in today’s information rich world. Information selection and retrieval skills, higher order cognitive skills such as data interpretation and analysis, collaborative problem-solving, both face-to-face and remote, and knowledge creation strategies are considered especially important. Curriculum framework and KLA specific documents indicate that teachers must implement new pedagogies to facilitate students’ learning in this knowledge-based environment and that ICTs provide excellent vehicles to support contemporary pedagogies (Trinidad, 1998; Western Australian Plan for Government Schools 2004-2007, 2004).

Over two decades there have been numerous reviews, policies, and position statements on ICT in Australian education contexts highlighting the positive impacts and benefits of computer technologies in learning (see for example, the ACT Department of Education, Youth and Family Services, 2004) yet many teachers are challenged to understand and manage ICTs as a strategic resource and develop pedagogies that effectively harness its strengths.

That ICTs have not had the widespread impact on teaching and learning processes envisaged a decade or so ago is disappointing but not surprising. Most educational innovation happens slowly and ICT is in itself continually transformed by new developments and market conditions. It is not a discrete subject and its applications in education are the subject of considerable debate, informed by a combination of scholarly discourse, opinion and research.

Barriers to effective ICT learning in schools have been highlighted in several contexts (eg. Elliott, 2004a, 2004b; Ely, 1999; Florian, 2004; Leonard, 2001; Ramsey, 2000; Schiller, 2003; Stevens, 2004; Underwood, 2003; Woodward & Reith, 1997; Zhao & Frank, 2003) and calls for national ICT standards, greater institutional support and infrastructure, and better professional development for teachers have been addressed to varying degrees in all states and territories (DEST, 2002).

The main barriers to effective ICT implementation for student learning identified in the literature can be categorised under Structural and Process dimensions.

Structural barriers

Limited classroom space

Collins, 1996

Lack of computers and/or internet in

classrooms; old computers

Zhao & Frank, 2003 Leonard, 2001 Elliott, 2000 Redmond & Brown, 2004

Unreliability of the technology Cuban, 2003; Zhao et al., 2002

Lack of leadership and support from principals Ely, 1999; Schiller, 2003 Lack of institutional support and


Ely, 1999; Leonard, 2001

Poor technology infrastructure Zhao & Frank, 2003

Redmond & Brown, 2004

Class timetabling difficulties. Short lessons Leonard, 2001 Redmond & Brown, 2004 Zandvliet & Fraser, 2004


Process barriers

Poor teacher attitudes toward technology Lack of teacher confidence Cuban, 2001; Becker 2000 Zhao & Conway

Schiller, 2003; Downes et al, 2002

Conflicting information on the value of ICTs in learning Zhao & Frank, 2003 Limited teacher skills and competence especially in the face of rapidly changing technology

Leonard, 2001 Zhao & Frank, 2003

Classroom management difficulties Cuban, 2001; Elliott, 2000 Leonard, 2001

Difficulty adjusting to new pedagogies

Underwood, 2003

Lack of professional development or inappropriate PD Cuban, 2001; Leonard, 2001 Redmond & Brown, 2004

Lack of time for planning and preparation Sheingold & Hadley, 1990 Means & Olson, 1995

Lack of involvement in computer room and/or classroom layout/planning Zandvliet & Fraser, 2004

To counter these barriers several main enablers are considered necessary for teachers to infuse ICTs in authentic ways across the curriculum. Assuming the technology is in place, teachers must:

1. “…(B)elieve that technology can more effectively achieve and maintain a higher-level goal than what has been used”. 2. “…(B)elieve that using technology will not cause disturbances to higher-level goals that … are more important that the ones being maintained”. 3. “…(B)elieve that he or she has or will have the ability and resources to use

the technology” (Zhao & Cziko, 2000, p.27) 4. Have the commitment and support from others and leadership from supervisory and administrative personnel (Ely, 1999; Schiller, 2003) 5. Feel confident and competent with ICT pedagogies, not just with personal

computing skills (DEST, 2000, 2002; Elliott, 2002; Schiller, 2003).

Meeting the challenge

ICT is a dynamic area and keeping abreast of technological and pedagogical advances is a major challenge for all educators, and especially for classroom teachers. Barriers and enablers for effective ICT teaching and learning have been pinpointed over many years now. Calls for national ICT standards, greater institutional support and infrastructure, and better professional development for teachers have been addressed to varying degrees in all states and territories.

In the next decade, rapidly expanding use of ICT and growing acceptance of ICTs in schools will have a profound effect on students’ learning and teachers’ work. But education department policies, curricula, and digital content and services, while essential, will not in themselves ensure ICT integration across the school curriculum. Teachers must also be prepared, resourceful and adaptive. In addition to good communication, thinking and problem-solving, lifelong learning skills such as leadership, teamwork, time management, self management, adaptability, global consciousness must be firmly embedded in curriculum outcomes and in teacher practice.

While change happens slowly, there are many efforts to build pedagogies for today’s ICT rich world. For at least twenty years Australian teacher education programs have included ICT


subjects as part of their programs. And, while there has been considerable effort to bring teachers up to speed, many are still not confident in using ICTs or in adopting new, more effective teaching strategies.

Librarians are amongst the best positioned to capitalise on this fast moving area.

The Ministerial Council for Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs (MCEETYA) has emphasised the need to support teachers’ professional learning “so they have the confidence to exploit the new technologies to expand, extend and modify their practice” (2000, p. 4). To maximise the benefits of their investments MCEETYA urges education authorities to promote “pre-service teacher education and in-service professional development programs that focus on the integration of ICT into classroom practice, across all curriculum areas” (2002, p. 17). This is happening, but slowly.

The Queensland study mentioned earlier, showed that most teachers (92%) had home computers. My research a couple of years ago showed similar levels of teacher home computer ownership (Elliott, 2003b). This figure is greater than the household average and one that reflects skewed ICT access by income and education level. But having a computer at home is no guarantee of classroom ICT use. Teachers in my study and in the recent Queensland study reported difficulty accessing the computer- because they were in line behind their children! Further, everyday home computer use doesn’t prepare teachers for the complexities of classroom practice.

The experiences of the Queensland teachers illustrate the difficulties faced in classroom ICT use. The researchers found that teachers were proficient at “word processing, sending and replying to emails, using the internet to locate information and using CD Rom programs”. They had the skills to perform basis operations. Many appeared “not to be aware of the additional tools available to them. Teachers felt least proficient in web publishing, the internet and collaborative projects, operating data bases and presentation software and operating peripheral devices such as scanners…” (p. 16).

Teachers felt that access to “adequate hardware, software, technical support and guidance in effective ICT integration strategies” would better help them to integrate ICTs. But not all had this access.

Today, the issues confronting ICT use are about both infrastructure and technology, plus pedagogy. As noted in previous studies, teachers in the Queensland study seemed motivated and enthusiastic about ICTs, but lacked the confidence and support to use the technology in a day to day classroom context.

The key question is not so much can and should ICTs be used to support learning, or should students be “knowledge-ready”, but how do we do we achieve a cultural and paradigm shift? How do we get ICTs to blend into the background?

What approaches are most effective to optimise learning outcomes for students and how can teachers be better prepared?

Teachers consistently indicate that they need support and professional development to help them make the most of the available ICTs but there is little evidence of substantial professional development programs to help them catch up to their students, let alone develop the pedagogical skills to transform teaching and learning in their classrooms. Maybe the best we can ever hope for is to be “digital immigrants”.


Where to now?

Research over two decades suggests overwhelmingly that carefully planned ICT activities benefit students’ social and cognitive development and academic outcomes. Many studies note substantial gains in learning access and outcomes especially for students with disabilities and for low achieving and low ability students in mainstream settings and in special classes.

ICTs are not normally intended to operate independently of teachers, rather to complement teacher-facilitated learning and in some cases to provide individualised, targeted learning and practice and feedback in a way that is not possible for a classroom teacher working with 25 or more students. Ideally, ICTs will be fading into the background as supports for pedagogy, not as stars in their own right.

As mentioned earlier, the concept of the “digital divide” has been of concern to educators and policy makers for over a decade. Inequities caused by poverty and geography have been well documented, including by the OECD. ICT inequalities are powerful reflectors and drivers of income differentiation. Importantly, the definition of the digital divide is changing to encompass more than hardware accessibility. Handling new forms of exclusion as a consequence of limited information access and poor communication, problem-solving and analysis skills, will be a major challenge.

Hardware and ICT skills alone do not allow individuals to benefit from the technology. Literacy and cognitive skills are equally important to function in a global community increasingly dependent on IT.

Clearly, ICT issues do not stand alone. They are connected to the wider issue of learning for the knowledge age, and to broader issues of education quality and standards, the nature of pedagogy, to learning outcomes and classroom management, and to school renewal and revitalisation.

While there is no national curriculum in Australia, there is an agreed national schooling framework. The National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty First Century (1999) proposes two important outcomes for schooling:

That all students will leave school as confident, creative and productive users of new technologies, particularly information and communication technologies, and understand the impact of those technologies on society, and,

That all schools will seek to integrate information and communication technologies into their operations, to improve student learning, to offer flexible learning opportunities and to improve the efficiency of their business practices.

A problem is the lack of any mandate for schools to use ICTs to enhance learning or as tools to access the world of work. As we have seen, although all education authorities support and promote ICTs to enhance the quality of teaching and learning, there is considerable variation in the ways they are used, if at all.

Responsibility for monitoring progress of the National Goals for Schooling lies with the Ministerial Council for Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs ICT in Schools Taskforce. A national assessment of ICT literacy starts later this year. It is being managed by the Australian Council for Educational Research and samples 8000 Year 6 and Year 10 students. A report detailing the ICT Literacy of Australian school students will be released in 2006.

ICT support for schools involves more than providing the technology and sourcing information on the WWW. School and teacher commitment and expertise plus planning and policy at all levels are essential to optimise learning outcomes with ICTs. A related issue is the attitudes of


teachers to the value of ICT in learning. No amount of technology or ICT pedagogical expertise will work if there is an underlying negative view about the role of ICTs in thinking and learning or about their impact on youth culture.

Questions for reflection

What role should libraries take in encouraging children to construct relevant and authoritative information rather than act just as users of information?

How should librarians deal with open access issues on the internet?

What policy role should the school library have in making ICT policies?

What roles and positions must libraries take to exploit the educational potential of ICTS? What’s the nature of the ideal relationship between the classroom teacher and the librarian when considering ICTs?

How do you meet the best interests and needs of students’ new digital cultures within the boundaries of existing school cultures and resources?

A major role as educators is to help children write and speak fluently, read critically and think clearly. They must be able to find and understand information, evaluate its reliability, and apply it thoughtfully solve problems or take advantage of a new opportunity. They must become creators of ethical and authoritative digital information. They must be discerning, flexible and prepared to perform tasks in jobs that don’t even exist now.

The school library has rarely had a more critical role in education, but this role is not clearly defined. The library is central to the digital culture of the school, but how do you capitalise on the technology to build powerful learning communities that best meet students’ needs and interests within the boundaries of existing school cultures and resources? “Thinking outside the square” to position yourself strategically, to gain the necessary resources and to get the balance right, plus identify the best ways to support pedagogy and scaffold children’s learning is a major challenge for the decade ahead.

References and further readings

ACT Department of Education, Youth and Family Services (2004). Learning technologies Plan for ACT Government Schools and Preschools 2004-2006. Canberra: ACT Department of Education, Youth and Family Services.

Australian Bureau of Statistics (2003). Household use of information technology, Australia, Cat No. 8146.0, Canberra: ABS

ACER (2001). 15 up. Counting, reading, writing and reasoning. How literate are Australia’s students? PISA 2000 survey of students’ reading, mathematical and scientific literacy skills. Melbourne, ACER & OECD.

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