Digital Competence

The capacity to participate in a digital world


Digital Access:  The capacity to use and own digital technology.

This should be gender irrelevant, and encompass the capacity to explore and be undaunted by new things. This forms the basis of being a digitally capable citizen. Digital exclusion of any kind is restrictive to the growth of human beings in a digitally natured society (like schools).

Digital Commerce: The capacity to participate in an increasingly cashless society.

This must include the recognition of imbalance during trade, the recognition of when being ‘ripped-off’, and how to be successful consumers of online goods and services. The understanding of hidden small print and sneaky deals, and long term ramifications of signing up for services. To select

Digital Literacy: The capacity to access information with discrimination and verification of that information’s veracity.

To express oneself in non-written ways, encompassing multimedia constructs. To select appropriate methodologies and applications suited to purpose and be discriminating in that choice. To personalise and purpose focus own computers and mobile devices and link them towards a synergetic relationship.  To construct personalised portal applications. To understand different file formats and their open or closed-ness.  To be RSS aware as a basis for managing information overload.

Digital Learning: To have self management skills in learning activities.

To manage digital media and files supporting learning. To keep reflective portfolios and recognise patterns of learning in order to be aware of own learning style and preferences. To know how to seek out what is needed to fill learning gaps. To know how to seek mentors, support, peers, information sources, etc, when constructing personal learning networks. To maintain the currency and freshness of that network in changing situations.

Digital self protection: The capacity to be self protecting against digital attack.

From computer virus, malware, online fraud, identify theft, or cyberbullying. The capacity to construct a positive image of self in cyberspace, untarnished by inadvertent inappropriate activities. To manage one’s own digital footprint. To protect digital assets with appropriate backup and storage. To protect hardware and maintain it in working order. To maintain digital skills sufficient to be on equal level when participating in the job market.

Digital wellbeing: The capacity to use technology to enhance rather than be detrimental to health.

To set and maintain routines, schedules and time limits appropriate for using technology. To have sufficient OH&S knowledge to promote self wellbeing. To understand ergonomics as applied to technology use. To have strategies and knowledge enough to deal with cyberbullying. To have awareness of the time consuming (addictive) nature of cyber activities.


Digital responsibility: To know about copyright, other digital laws and ethical use of technology.

To know how to not infringe creative rights and find alternative sources of media for personal consumption. To know how to avoid illegal activity, knowingly done or inadvertently done. To refrain from using technology and digital skills to cause harm or distress to others be they of a less, equal or more skilled nature. To have self protecting, human feeling awareness capabilities around social networking. To develop competency in new methods of communication etiquette suited to the media chosen. To know how to choose the right system per situation. To respect/protect the privacy of other people’s sensitive information.

Digital Etiquette:   To appreciate appropriateness when interacting with humans – seen or unseen and mechanical response systems.

To be discriminating in file sharing – cloud computing and interchangeable file types. To use appropriate language subsets, suitable to the media chosen.


An issue that is increasingly important for students and of vital importance for any leader and evangelist of ICT in education is the capacity to take regular classroom activities out of that classroom both spatially and temporally. We are, like many, a college with insufficient face to face teaching time; so access to the learning minds of students outside school hours is vital. Tools that tap into screenagers enamourment of social networking and technology are an important solution to this problem. Crooked Timber’s Henry Farrell identifies five major uses for blogs in education.

First, teachers use blogs to replace the standard class Web page. Teachers post class times and rules, assignments, project, notifications, suggested readings, and exercises.

Second, and often accompanying the first, teachers post links to Internet items that relate to their course.

Third, blogs are used to organise in class discussions.

Fourth, teachers use blogs to organise class seminars and to provide summaries of readings. Used in this way, the blogs become “group blogs”—that is, individual blogs authored by a group of people.

Fifth, students may be asked to write their own blogs as part of their course grade.

Farrell’s fifth use of blogs could, with little change become, requiring students to construct their own lesson material or compile their findings of ongoing experiments or exchange possibilities with peers – within a stipulated project, either teacher or student generated.

For an example of this; a Year 9 Science class, via (See pictures below) were required not to submit a final assignment paper but produce a blog of the experimental progress concerning water quality and associated flora and fauna in a waterway in Centennial Park. Review by peers counted for as much of the final mark as the teacher input. Blogs were specifically chosen so as to raise digital literacy, remove possibility of a last minute all nighter, allow considered reflection or contributions and access by the teacher in non-school settings. The science teacher was also able to improve the students learning by adopting uses 1, 2 and 3 (Farrell). The class teacher used the students’ own blog entries to link to sites of interest or further exploration (use 2). The ‘scaffold’ in the students own head served as the basis from which to explore and so expand. The teacher also had a blog entry to act as a reference page to review the topic as the study progressed, acting as an advanced organiser page and an index to the students’ own work (use 1).  While not a use specific to the project, discussion was encouraged across the blogs as to the interest level and completeness of peer work.

Blogs can be in-house, but the resultant ‘in captivity’ nature then negates the value of being internet based. An important value of a blog is that students know they have a more public reach; that they are potentially in the face of an audience of global proportions; having outside review as a real possibility gives gravitas to their approach and writing.

Sample blog entries from yr 9 Science class.

I have finished writing my scientific report. All of the experiments and observations and research I completed taught me a lot about an area that I live so close to but knew hardly anything about. I found the open ended investigation really interesting and enjoyed doing it. Now that I know so much more about the protected wetland, it makes me want to help maintain its existence. It was fun, but it feels good to be finished!
Today i tested the turbidity and salt presence of ny first 2 samples and as they were from the harbour they were very high salt. I am going to do my moisture and organic content of my 2nd lot of soil samples. Because the science teachers are using the drying oven at school i have to use the second oven in the boarding kitchen. The kitchen won’t let me use their scales so straight after school today i went to phillip and weighed out 2 lots of each soil and what i will do is put all 8 in the oven but i will take the first 4 out at an hour and a half and the other four at 3 hours because i am unable to weigh them inbetween so this way the first ones will be moisture and the second organic. This weekend i hope to go and take more pictures of the gardens and work on my report.
due to miss b being away on tuesday, i have had to delay my parent rock, texture and colour testings. these tests are the last ones that need to be completed so every test has been completed at least once. they will be tested during lunchtimes, whenever miss b is available.
once these are complete i can begin sections of my report that invlove methods and results.
i have already begun writting my draft report; the introduction and reference section.
also called the Health officer from Randwick council- Mark Leona about the new stormwater system that has been installed. results from this arent determinable yet as to how it has impacted as it is still early days but i did get some details on the system.

the regeneration number did not respond, this reference is not too important though.
nor did the Environment officer at randwick 9399 xxxx

Digital Literacy course for Yr 6

I have begun to write a course for my Year 6 class.
This is proving to be difficult and I might end up producing a lot of it on the fly.

It must dovetail with the regular curriculum, hopefully be a little in front so that when they need computing skills to produce something a little beyond the regular essay-type assignments, they think in terms of digital storytelling or take a multimedia approach.

I also want to avoid handing them worksheets and paper based material (I’m an advocate of gracefully grandfathering all text books).
This must be partly self exploration and mostly practical.

It should make them competent in the 9 elements of digital literacy at least those pertinent to 11 year olds. And in context of, making the technology they have part of their creative world, not just a tool to Google and word process with. Their own online protection is primarily important and as such they may end up using social networks such as Facebook or something similar. At least they’ll have a chance to learn how to use it sensibly and to their advantage, rather than stumble and post inappropriate pictures and comments. It must cover many of the common Web 2.0 tools we take for granted (Twitter, Bogs, Wikis, Delicious, Etherpad Etc.)

Here’s the extent of the thought process so far.

Digital literacy course

Comments and constructive input welcome

Viruses = lots : us = not so many…

One of the advantages of working in a computing environment where someone else is managing the infrastructure is that computing becomes relatively clean and simple. This can lead you to thinking all the world is that way. It’s not so. While virus and malware is a little considered thing around the College, in your own home environment, these things are real and ever present threats to your computers. In fact, the threat is growing exponentially.

For example, Symantec’s security response group say “We’re identifying 20,000 or more signatures every day”.  (“Signatures”, are identifying footprints of a newly discovered malware.) This is an increasingly large pool of malware and infected web sites.

This means you must likewise keep up and be constant in your protection of your computer and online information.

Spending money on a good security suite is generally a good investment, but if you’re on a budget, or simply don’t like the idea of forking over yet more money on another piece of software, there are free security programs that do a good job detecting and isolating computer viruses and malware.

Companies such as Avast, AVG, McAfee, and Microsoft offer very good, free software protection against viruses, spyware, Trojan horses and the other kinds of malicious programs that are just waiting to infect your computer as soon as you connect to the internet.

Computer magazines regularly compare and evaluate these applications and while the top contender position changes hands occasionally, most of the free products perform well. They are each capable of detecting most malware and viruses and dealing with them appropriately. Providing, of course, you keep them up to date.

Short of spending considerable money on yet another application, such free protection is so much better than none at all. Remember that the paid for market leaders such as Symantec, Kaspersky McAfee and such, generally offer a larger suite of capabilities including spam filtering and parental internet control.  Occasionally these features make them well worth the cost.

Being a pioneer is never easy – but it can be rewarding

I attended a conference keynote by Jeff Mao, the Learning Technology Policy Director for the USA state of Maine. Why is Maine significant in the world of computing in education? They are the first and so far ONLY state to have adopted a one laptop per student (1:1) approach. Pioneering stuff.

Part of his talk was an admiration for Australia, as the first country in the world to officially go 1:1 in education. Yes, while there may be a perception that the use of laptops in schools is old hat in places like England and America, we are the true pioneers here. Australia is the only country to fully embrace this new, exciting, scary, fraught, and potentially revolutionary approach to learning.

So what’s the significance of this, where the potential for both great successes and great problems are all in the same package?  Much work and research has been done around the world on the use of technology enhanced education and the findings are, at worst positive and at best astounding. But, never before on a country wide level, we are first.

Schools across the country will all take their own approach, based on the nature of their students and the culture of the school itself. Teachers will adopt technology in the manner best suited to their personal teaching style, their subject and the nature of the content, as well as the school leadership’s willingness to foster a culture of discovery. If we encourage and admire a willingness to try from our students and want to develop a pick-yourself-up approach after a fall, we should model and display this ourselves. Some teachers will be early adopters of inspiring new approaches; some will be more gradual and cautious. In part, students themselves will dictate the speed of adoption as they enhance their capacity to be independent learners, support their teachers in the joint journey, and grow in their understanding of the deep potential; rather than stick with superficial uses such as chit chat on the Facebooks of the online world.

Whenever you’re a first, an early adopter, a pioneer, there are plenty of mistakes to be made, and plenty of learning opportunities to work through. Without these there is no progress, no growth, no snatching of victories before anyone else.

Our school is taking an approach that values the capacity and capabilities of its students and their contribution to this pioneering. As parents, we hope you will join them as a digital pilgrim on their journey; learning as they do, encouraging and supporting them, making it a joint learning exercise rather than seeing it as all too scary to be involved.

I’m past teaching

A short while back we had a prac’ teacher arrive at the school. I was due to take the class late one Friday afternoon – our regular technology session. Asks the earnest and keen young thing “Can I come and watch you teach?”. I of course answered with the expected answer – No.

In response to the puzzled, confused, unsure look spreading across his face I could barely suppress the grin that was building from roughly knee level. He asked, quite politely I thought, if I was simply too concerned, shy or even worried that he might be critical as a result of watching. This is something that has been of no concern from the first day I stepped into a classroom – I have no problem with anyone watching me. Like me or not, it doesn’t matter – in fact if you actually don’t like what I do , that has much merit. It means you had to engage with the content, and have an opinion and have had to think about it. All good things.

Shortening the otherwise long story – I explained to him, I am far too old, too busy, and too lacking in ego to believe I can teach any one anything. I just turn up occasionally and watch them learn. Set the project give them the skills, material and opportunity then get out of the way.

Actually it has taken me some years to be able to do this. As a “teacher” I feel that great propensity to add some more info, to re-state the process, to just add one more bit of info, to sneak in a bit more instruction, to relate it to some other bit of work, to, to, to.

It’s actually hard to do this stepping back. There’s the pressure of having to get the through the standard test that inevitably comes, to be able to write something vaguely positive sounding in those useless academic reports, cover the syllabus, do like everyone else does, and so on. All compel us to squeeze in more info, more jug to mug, more stand and deliver. It isn’t easy to let kids do what they do so well. Learn.

The older I get, the more I get to know about myself, the more I try to make this all I do. I’m there to watch, guide and help them learn. They’re good at it. Just be there to assist.

You’re still welcome to watch me – I just hope to be the least active part of a classroom that hopefully is buzzing with real education.

Cutomers don't seem to matter; except for their money.

It’s no secret that the Rudd government is about to issue thousands and thousands of netbook like devices to all Year 9 students.  There is much consternation on who will support them and how they are used in the classroom and so on. All the usual whinging that happens with anything that isn’t routine.


There is a prior level of detail that is at issue – getting that many devices delivered. I have dealt with many a company and bought items from all of them at one point or another. Once the signature is on the purchase order, then the commitment of the company to education (or customers in general) becomes clear.  Given the expectation is that you walk into a shop make a purchase and leave the shop with goods is normal – facing anything longer than a few days delivery time isn’t acceptable.  To be told it is weeks and weeks is simply taking the mickey. Any company that take months to make a delivery has to be questioned as to their capacity to be considered worthy of dealing with.

Computers in education is a now issue – having them on mass is a very soon issue.  I’m astonished by the arrogance of a company that can produce a machine that’s simply average then offer a delivery time of months, yet still consider itself worthy of being on the gov tender list.  Go figure!

Is a laptop school fundamentally different from a school where students have laptops?

I think so because of where the focus is; it’s on who carries responsibility for using the technology. Teaching staff have done a fairly poor job over the last 20 years in adopting technology (remember that this is a broad stroke statement and not a comment on those individuals who do some truly remarkable things in a classroom). Maybe it’s time to stop banging our heads against the wall for teachers who don’t, won’t, or can’t get with it. Stop putting pressure on the overworked, on those too overwhelmed to actually consider upskilling, on those too old for this new fangled stuff, on those who won’t make any sacrifice in the long holidays they have, on those for whom the same old same old has sufficed for the last umpteen years, and leave them alone…       to teach. Let them just teach.

But, how about putting the effort we waste in shepherding unresponsive teaching staff to PD into making self directed, self responsible, self contained learning machines out of the students. Give them the transferable skills to administratively look after their learning, their notes, their portfolios, to research better, to develop maintain and share a personal learning network, to be critical of data sources, to know what to do when things go wrong, to make technology as much a part of their learning process as a pen.
Have them do this independently of the teacher, without making it an interruption to the teacher’s teaching style by having it as just another thing on their desk, like pencils, paper and text books.  We refocus who we concentrate on – all the school ICT integrators who’ve been banging away at teaching staff and admin workers and school leadership for years and years now – forget them, if they don’t want to join in leave them behind. Let’s try leading the revolution from where all revolutions come – bottom up. Governments can throw money our way, they can sound bite the term ‘digital education revolution’ all they like – they can’t make one – they can’t lead one, they don’t get it. Governments don’t start revolutions, they live through them, or in most case they don’t. Hmm let me eat cake.

Julia Gillard (bless her cotton socks) spouts on about a digital education revolution and throws some money at some hardware and a bit of infrastructure. Pointless. Nice, thanks for the laptops, but pointless. The same excuses will be trotted about again and again. The same old PC Vs Mac war will erupt again the same old poor me from primary teachers will flare against senior teachers, and around and around we will go.
Governments should be working at the extremities – training new start teachers better and assessing school leavers in a totally different way – but that’s for another blog post.

So how about a school where kids have laptops. NO not a laptop school a regular traditional good school, but kids happen to have laptops.
If we claim some of the KLE teaching time to show students how to research efficiently, to be critical of information sources, to maintain file structures and documents with proper tags so study becomes more structured and less daunting, to form PLNs to work in collaborative ways with peers to produce material in multimedia options and not just printed paper based ‘essays’, to establish links to current data sources, to do all the cool brilliant things we know should be done with ICT, then we have started the revolution.

Teachers don’t have to give up anything (yet) administrators don’t have to find money to send teachers to PD that they don’t even want to do, ICT coordinators won’t need to get so many grey hairs so soon and yet ICT might just get a chance to strut it’s stuff.

So – what shall we teach these laptop owners?
How to aggregate via RSS useful, current and appropriate information
How to develop a PLN
How to construct a digital footprint (positively)
How to search the net via the right tools the way that gets the best results
How to present their school work in a creative way

How to express their creativity through the applications available
How to connect with their peers to share work and ideasHow to develop a Twitter following
How to construct a self reflecting e-portfolio
How to choose the right software for the job
How to blog your homework
How to think about how you learn
How to…

Go on – add to the list

So why is filtering a pointless exercise?

Filtered, sensibly restricted internet access via cable and wireless should be available in all schools. It should be an attractive option within school grounds based on: ubiquitous access, high access speeds, uncapped capacity, extremely high reliability, large file storage capacity, reliable backup and support from sound educational software.  This isn’t generally the case. Over zealous wowser appeasing and plain old arse covering fear usually dictates what is and isn’t allowed. Make it attractive and there’s no reason to look outside the boundaries. Filter sensibly and not punitively and no one will be unhappy. Make it so restrictive that it’s failing – everyone will instantly look for a way around. If filtering means that educational activities become impossible in school – the minute a kid has to say “I had to do {insert educational activity here} at home because I couldn’t do it at school” filtering has gone too far.

It’s nearly impossible to get perfect – I’ll list why in a minute, but the option of block everything – just in case – doesn’t work.

It’s never possible to get it right to suit everybody but trying to account for everyone means no one wins…
Consider granularity – this refers to the level of detail to which content can be filtered. This cannot be based on age or year grouping. Children reach different stages of maturity at different ages. School work crosses many class or form boundaries and sometimes includes non-school study, and filters cannot differentiate. The better solution – parental and teacher supervision plays a large role in the success of filters that cannot “think” so recognise this and let it be the criteria.
Current filtering technologies rely heavily on the accuracy of text-based descriptors to classify content – text entries are being superseded by multimedia graphics, video, podcasts, audio files, etc. It is not possible to automate the classification of these, and human intervention is not feasible and could be too subjective. Another reason technical filtering is not a good solution.
Filters cannot be changed on an ad hoc basis so can never be pitched perfectly. Another reason to look for an alternative to blanket blocking.  Don’t forget the issues of living in a multicultural society; what is appropriate to Australian culture may not suit others. For example, the internet doesn’t “understand” irony, colloquialisms or slang.
All these reasons point to teaching kids how to have their own filters, a level of sensibility that carries with them no matter where they are; prohibition doesn’t work (ask the American tea cup parties) but developing sensible coping mechanisms and appropriate behaviour does.
Besides, filters are easily bypassed; hundreds of new proxy servers appear every day and the jungle tom toms quickly spread the word. Put a TOR application on your home PC, access your home PC from school (all perfectly legit looking) but have access to the world.
The majority of filters work on meta data or text descriptors. Use the IP rather than the URL and filters are confused. Don’t forget instructions for VPNs are readily available with a few Google searches, they are free, simple and very effective at hiding activities even from ISPs and filters.
Filtering should also be considered in the context that a significant and growing portion of the student (and staff) population has 3G mobile devices (mostly phones) with independent internet access. Tethering is becoming easier and easier. Monthly access fees are coming down in price and bandwidth increasingly cheap.

Don’t forget there are multiple leaked wireless signals from local dwellings around all schools mostly with unfiltered and unprotected access. A quick scan with a NetStumbler reveals enough to cover you. Illegal, certainly, easy, just as certainly. These sources provide limitless access to all internet content. They are controlled by the subscriber and not by the school authorities. Schools cannot stop this – short of a giant Tesla coil around the school of course. Like that’s going to happen.

Students are inventive, curious have heaps of time, determination and a technical support community worthy of an IBM. Hide something and they’re sure to want to find it. Remove internet access and they will go looking for it. And it’s all too easy…

Does filtering encourage independent learning?
It is no longer desirable or feasible for teachers alone to cater to the diverse needs of a class in their journey from knowledge and recollection to achieve the necessary deep understanding and creative application that are required for success in the world of their future. More than ever before schools need to prepare students to become effective and independent, life-long learners who can respond to the ever growing knowledge landscape, the dynamism inherent in 21st century learning, the consequent shortening use-by dates of all qualifications and the expectation of multiple career directions, that will mark their lives.

The advent of the internet has enabled rich, targeted learning experiences to take place unbounded by institutions or geographical boundaries or timetables, and which compliment and go beyond classroom activities. These may be delivered by school directed On-line Learning Environments or by various independent internet communication tools, sourced by either students or teachers. The most effective 21st century learners will be those who are “connected” to diverse resources comprising their Personal Learning Network (PLN) and who have developed the digital literacy and academic and ethical skills to apply their learning with creativity and wisdom.

Schools therefore need to take up the challenge of helping our students to develop these necessary life-long education skills and to model learning as the building of rich personal learning networks.

Modern teachers should be able to model appropriate use of information technologies and their content and to provide guidance to students as part of their normal professional duties.

Schools need to develop independent, self-disciplined, digital citizens – capable of being self-protecting, sensible and responsible users of digital internet-based content.  Rather than blanket ban internet access and not only allow inadequate white lists, they should foster age-appropriate knowledge and skills necessary to develop self-protecting, sensible on-line behaviours.

We have to stop thinking its homework…

There is still an unfortunate and overwhelming belief that schools are supposed to subscribe to the Qantas method of education; face the front, sit up straight, turn off all electronic communications devices, we are landing now and will be for the next 20 minutes – after, you can move freely and join the world once again.

For a generation of kids who were born into a connected world, for whom always-on constant connection is second nature (however superficial), it’s self evident that denying them such connection is only making schools increasingly irrelevant in the learning process. Note I’m not decrying the value of schools as social places, places of role models, of networking, yes of education, and friendship development, and of so much more than ‘learning’, but that’s a whole other discussion.

But! Prattling on about how iPods and PDAs and other mobile devices are good for homework – is missing the point ( It makes the assumption that learning is a delimited thing by both venue and time.  Kids can only learn between the 9am bell and the 3:10 buzzer; rubbish. There should no longer be such a thing as homework; there should be less reliance on neatly bounded sharply delineated periods of learning and subject focus. Learning happens from wake up to sleep; it’s a collaborative thing between parents, peers, teachers and life in general.  If something is worth learning, kids will learn it regardless of when where or how. iPods, netpads, PDAs, game consoles, teachers faces, are nothing more than portals to information and the time kids access these should be exactly when the info is relevant and likely to stick.

Making something designated ‘homework’ is the same pointless proposition as only learning maths in this time slot only learning history during these designated minutes of the day. No kid’s mind focuses on a single subject at any timeslot, or for any predetermined time quantity. If this were not true teachers wouldn’t talk to students outside of their class time. They’d get all the maths or science or geography in those allotted moments.

Hattie’s findings ( that homework was less relevant than feedback is right – the methods are open to criticism, the numbers are easily challenged, teachers will always campaign for smaller classes, but the findings are still right.  Kids will learn when they have cause and interest to learn and they need ‘input’ in order to learn. Rename “feedback” to “providing answers, information & stimulating thought” and there it is – teaching, the thing we all do well. Hattie has supported that, but sidelong, kicked out the idea of delineated timeslots of learning.

Stop calling it homework, assume kids are connected and learning all the time and homework stops being something to endure and suffer.