Australia finally has its first digital technology curriculum which is mandatory for all Australian children from Foundation, the name replacing kindergarten, to Year 8.
The Technologies area now has two individual but connected compulsory subjects:
- Design and Technologies, where students use critical thinking to create innovative solutions for authentic problems
- Digital Technologies, where students using computational thinking and information systems to implement digital solutions.
Computational thinking refers to a problem solving method that involves integrating strategies, such as organising data logically, breaking down problems, interpreting patterns and implementing algorithms.
The aim of the Digital Technologies syllabi is to ensure that all students can:
- create, manage and evaluate sustainable and innovative digital solutions
- use computational thinking and the key concepts of abstraction to create digital solutions
- use digital systems to automate and communicate the transformation of data
- apply protocols and legal practises that support safe, ethical and respectful communications
- apply systems thinking around information systems and predict the impact of these systems on individuals, societies, economies and environments.
Living in the Information age, in a world that is characterised by a digitised existence and constant change, it is critical that our children are empowered to manage these. They will need to have a deep understanding of information systems as this will enable them to use critical thinking when they manage data, information, processes and digital systems to make decisions about their future.
Digital systems support new ways of working in our global networks and require a new, essential skill set that includes computational and systems thinking.
Digital Technologies provides hands on experiences using creative thinking to develop original digital solutions. The subject will build students who can resolve our digital needs in imaginative ways; they will be efficient operators of technology and critical users of information.
Digital Technologies will develop students who connect and work together locally, nationally and internationally in our knowledge-based society.
It is important to note that the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) is not found in the digital technologies syllabus. This is because, according to the Australian curriculum, the ICT capability of Australian students is developed in every school subject.
They will learn to use ICT to access, create and communicate information and ideas, solve problems and work collaboratively. This involves highly skilled students utilising the digital technologies available to them, modifying usage patterns as technologies evolve and limiting the risks in a digital environment.
… and disconnections
The question must then be asked: if ICT is integrated into every subject and problem solving is the main focus of Design and Technology why do we require a mandatory digital technologies syllabus?
An introduction to digital technologies could be a part of the Design and Technologies mandatory program while those students who wish to study computational thinking, concepts of abstraction and use digital systems to automate and communicate the transformation of data could elect this subject in Years 9, 10, 11 and 12.
If every child in Australia is going to study digital technologies from foundation to Year 8, a question must be asked about implementation. We already have a massive shortfall of computing teachers in Australia and currently in Australian universities there are not enough computing teachers being trained to cover the shortfall. So, who is going to teach it?
Additionally, the Australian syllabus is already overcrowded! With literacy and numeracy standards dropping one must consider the worth of substituting depth of understanding for a wider breadth of subjects. Are we setting Australian students up for failure?
Is there a need to include study of computational thinking, concepts of abstraction and use digital systems to automate and communicate the transformation of data as a mandatory subject? For most of us there are applications or software available to help us achieve our desired outcomes.
Earlier this year I attended a training session where I intended to learn how to write an application or “app” as it is commonly called. After three days my head was spinning with formulas and algorithms. “It is easy,” the instructors said. “No it’s not!” I responded.
At the end of the training session, they directed those of us who still hadn’t grasped the algorithmic concepts of abstraction to the internet, where we downloaded a free piece of software that allowed us to make our own app with no programming knowledge.
Isn’t this what most of us want in a digital technologies syllabus? We want to be shown and given opportunities to use and apply the software to problems. For the few who want to write the software there is always the Digital Technologies elective syllabus.
The practical nature of the Design and Technologies syllabus engages students in critical and creative thinking, including understanding interrelationships in systems when solving complex problems.
A systematic approach to experimentation, problem-solving, prototyping and evaluation instills in students the value of planning and reviewing processes to realise ideas. Perhaps this is the ideal place to situate digital technologies.
Deborah Trevallion does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.