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Tom Starkey's world of ed tech


"What the hell was that?"

"What, that? It was just the rate of change."

Twas ever thus, particularly when it comes to the technological world. It moves fast, changes fast and, for all I know, it drives fast while texting its mum.

This speed - or rather, the idea of being left behind - worries folk enormously. In February, for instance, the House of Lords' Digital Skills Committee put digital literacy up there with real literacy and numeracy as a major priority in schools (yes, I said real - I'm an English teacher, sue me).

The fear is that we won't have enough qualified people to work in our tech industries. We could be left at the side of the road as the digital world zips by. But what is digital literacy?

As with any new concept, the definitions vary, but the baseline seems to be the ability to confidently use a range of digital devices in life and work, and the ability to synthesise, evaluate, create and present information from digital sources using digital technologies.

That may be something you're already well on your way to doing, or it may sound entirely beyond your grasp. I often see students who can use a selection of digital tools but for a very narrow range of purposes. Ask them to use the technology for something outside their comfort zone, or to use an app that they haven't encountered before, and they get lost.

There's a lot of hand-holding in these instances, as with any type of learning, really. So perhaps there is some sense in the push for teaching digital literacy in schools, to try to augment these skills.

But then I see change come bombing over the hill, downshifting all the way. There will always be something new to master or something that seems fundamentally irreplaceable that is fundamentally replaced within a couple of years.

The world of technology, apps, gadgets, gizmos, programming languages and so on is too vast to cover everything that a kid may need to be able to do. Schools can help by offering a variety of equipment and the freedom and time to use it, but that still relies on schedules, budgets, planning and a certain amount of luck when it comes to choosing the tech to put faith in.

So, is there an answer? If there is, I suspect that it may be to do with changing students' attitudes towards technology.

This could be sparked by incentivising the use of digital technologies that students aren't familiar with. This could go some way towards broadening their digital horizons. And mine, while we're at it - I'm still using the same calculator watch from 1987.

Tom Starkey is a teacher based in Leeds. Email or find him on Twitter at @tstarkey1212

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