Thursday, 18 December 2008

Being Digital in school, home, and community

I have just being reading the recent Monash University Faculty of Education research report titled Being Digital in School, Home and Community. This survey asked 2,635 year 10 students what digital technology they use, and what they think about digital technology in their school, home, and community. "Demographic factors selected for analysis were school sector, gender, socioeconomic status (SES), geographic remoteness and cultural diversity.

So what does it say? Well; some of it will come as no surprise:

• most young Australians have home computers and use them daily,
• computers and the internet are important for schooling,
• young people multi-task when using technology,
• girls tend to use digital technology for communicating and boys use it to play games, and
• private schools have better access to computers and internet capacity than state schools;

There are also some fascinating information in the report's details. Some tidbits include:

• Lower levels of ownership of certain technologies such as computer/video games and office technologies reflect different levels of interest rather than barriers based on cost.
• 40% of the highest socioeconomic segment and just over 20% of the lowest socioeconomic segment had access to computers at home prior to primary school [talk about digital natives!]
• 20% of boys and 10% of girls use their computers for programming. Even though this is low I was surprised by this level of programming, but the report did suggest what is meant by programming is open to interpretation.

There are also some possibly controversial observations, including:

• there is little evidence of innovative use of digital technologies in schools, "although students used school computers for finding information, for word processing... spreadsheets and databases, this survey did not find evidence of creative or innovative computer use transforming educational practice in schools as judged by the young people."
• the majority of students across school sectors found that rules on internet usage interfered with their ability to use school computers for their school work. "Much of the interference related to the blocking of access to internet sites. Many of the schools surveyed limited their access to email and chat programmes thereby restricting the ability of students to communicate with each other online and send their schoolwork from school computers to their home computers using their preferred email accounts".
• young people learn about the internet mainly by themselves [what no librarians - mock horror!] "Around half of those surveyed report learning at least a moderate amount about the internet at school. However, 11 per cent of those surveyed reported not learning anything at all about the internet from school. These data may indicate that schools could be doing a better job in teaching students about the internet or, alternatively, that by the time young people begin using the internet at school, they have already learnt about it from their other sources."

It was a pity the survey did not look at where students did their after school internet and digital activities. While many young people use home PCs, a lot also use public libraries even when their have the internet at home. Why, would be an interesting topic of research. Still there is a lot in this report worth checking out.

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