Friday, 14 November 2014

Digital technologies in New Zealand schools: an overview of the 2014 report

I thought it timely to provide an interpretation of the Digital Technologies in New Zealand Schools 2014 Report that can be accessed HERE .

One conclusion in particular caught my attention. It says this:
The results of this year’s survey suggest that teachers have moved backward somewhat in relation to the six stages of ICT adoption, compared with previous years’ surveys. However, this is likely a reflection of the significant and ongoing changes and development that have occurred recently in relation to digital technologies and in particular access to and use of personal digital devices for student learning (p. 7).  
ITs conclusion is interesting for a number of reasons, including what the report writers didn't factor into the complex:  the types of compliance and reporting schools must complete to both the MOE and parents, meeting MOE-set attainment targets, and, in secondary schools, preparing students for exams. The analysis, therefore, is a little one-dimensional in drawing conclusions. Also, if principals are completing the survey, they may fill it in based on their wish-list rather than the reality. How would the principal necessarily know what technologies teachers regularly use for learning purposes, particularly if teachers experiment regularly, and when the school might have, say 60-80 teaching staff? And who cares about levels of ICT adoption? Don't we want to know more about the relationship to teaching and learning?

Another point caught my attention too. It resonates with the feedback from some of my ITE (initial teacher education) students' practicum experiences when they tried getting students to use the wifi simultaneously:

Eighty-seven percent of schools reported that WiFi access is available in all classrooms, but only 36 percent had tested their wireless infrastructure with large numbers of students (p. 8)
This is significant, for many of the grads on practicum noted that during classes when they wanted students to use wifi, they were regularly being kicked off the internet, taking a long time to log on, or pages taking ages to load.... This testing of the infrastructure is so important, but if you don't know it's important, you don't know to check it, right? This points to a huge chasm between what principals are supposed to know, and what is more realistic. Let's face it, wifi is still pretty new. It takes specialists to know the issues associated with simultaneous use by lots of people. Principals and teachers aren't usually specialists in the field of wifi capability. And this probably accounts for the conclusion from the survey data that:

While schools have started to collaborate with local Internet providers for the purpose of
providing Internet access for their communities by sharing the school’s fibre connection (six percent) and a further 14 percent are planning to do this in the future, two thirds reported they need more information or have not yet decided on the issue (p. 8). 

It is worth noting however, that it is 28% of principals who answered the survey. Is one quarter of the number of schools in NZ necessarily a statistically good sample? And when one principal  responded to a question admitted not knowing what a Google search was, how reliable can a survey be of digital technologies in schools when such principals are asked to fill these in? And can we rely on it being principals who answered? I suspect not. A savvy principal would give this survey task to the staff member they thought was the most knowledgeable in the field.

On page 22 of the report is a graph listing the technologies used by learners. Skype figures prominently, with 6% of survey respondents saying this was used extensively by students, and 55% used it regularly. What we don't get from the figures is whether this represents students in remote schools, or whether this represents the respondent thinking any use would be educational... Skype certainly doesn't figure in many classrooms or teachers' practices that I've dealt with, so I'd like to know more.  On the pages that follow is a table representing responses to the question "Do students at your school use any of the following digital tools for learning?" This at least acknowledges the type of school represented by the figures (primary, secondary, Maori medium, Special school). Worryingly, and given that facebook's stipulated minimum age is 13, 20% of primary school students used facebook for learning according to principals' returns. I have summarised these 'don't knows' as follows. However, it is important to note that no Special School principal responded to any of the ‘don’t know’ options for these listed tools:

Principal responses to the question “Do students at your school use any of the following digital tools for learning?”
Digital tools
% of principals who answered ‘don’t know what this is’
12% of primary schools; 17% of Maori medium schools. This may not be too significant, since Evernote is a tool for collecting, curating, annotating and sharing resources online. Having a mobile device also helps. This may be an school age age, socio-economic indicator
1% of primary; 8% of Maori medium responded with the don’t know it answer
Google+ Hangouts
21% primary schools; 15% secondary; 17% Maori medium
apparently 2% of primary school students use this; 13% secondary and 17%.  Really? That many - for learning? Can this result be trusted?
of the total 5% of ‘don’t know’ answer, this was made up of 6% of primary schools and 1% of secondary
Office 365
I wonder if the results would have been different if respondents were asked about Microsoft Office as a generic thing?
Office Web Apps
The same question applies to this option. Why not Apple or Android Apps?
16% of primary schools, 14% secondary and 17% Maori medium didn’t know about this. Surprising? I don't think so
11% primary; 15% secondary; 33% Maori medium
Slideshare tends not to be used in schools. I wonder why it is an option?
12%  primary; 12%secondary; 33% Maori medium

Because of the options listed, I'm not sure how significant this result is, or what it means, because quite a few of the tools seem more adult-oriented than student-focused, and so seem meaningless when associated with a question about the frequency of student use for learning purposes.

A much more interesting question was associated with the extent of personal digital device use in classrooms. On page 26 is a graph which says that across all types of schools, 23% have 100% penetration of using personal mobile devices all the time for learning. This is significant, especially when added to the 33% of schools that admit to over 50% of the time these are used for learning.
This compares with the statistics associated with an allied question on how often during a typical school week, students would use personal digital devices. Apparently, students NEVER use these devices in 20% of all schools, made up of 24% of primary schools, 4% secondary and 8% in Maori medium. The survey reporters also indicate that socio-economic conditions play a part, for decile 7-10 schools were more likely to report high use of personal mobile devices among its student population. This may also indicate the greater number of high decile schools that mandate these devices.

There is a lot more to analyse in this report, but in the light of the work I do with initial teacher education students in the digital technologies area, some of these findings are heartening and suggest a trajectory of infiltration in schools, and yet not all schools provide digital devices for students to use in class. That is a shame and is preventing some students from flexing their creative and learning wings. Just like books, a school needs to equip its learners and supplement what a home might already have. Or have not.  Let's hope that when this survey is next done, 100% of schools will be able to report providing digital devices for student use so that all students have the opportunity to learn with, through about them.

No comments:

Post a Comment