by SONAL SINGH
In higher education, incoming students are assumed to have foundational digital literacy reflecting their access to technology in schools and at home. While benchmark tracking for ICT (Information and Communication Technology) proficiency in primary and secondary school students is conducted and monitored by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) (via NAP-ICT), evidence of benchmark practice or evaluation is not apparent in our universities. There is an evident gap in understanding incoming students’ actual ICT preparedness versus assumed skill levels.
When students from regional and remote areas (n=84) were surveyed about their preparedness when transitioning from school to university, they told us that the top three digital literacy skills they needed were, working with spreadsheets, on-line researching and referencing.
We also found a growing gap in digital competencies between low socio-economic status (low SES) students and the rest of the general student population. This is more evident in regional and remote areas, where schools have technology but often struggle with poor bandwidth and lack of digital skills amongst teachers and students. And now, COVID-19 online learning has been predicted to increase the impact of the digital divide on existing educational inequality.
To equip future tertiary students from low SES regional and remote areas with the confidence and skills needed to effectively bridge the ‘digital divide’, we piloted a digital literacy program under a Commonwealth National Priorities Pool Grant. The program developed and delivered professional development workshops for teachers in three schools across three NSW regions (North Coast, Central West and Far West), accredited by the New South Wales Education Standards Authority (NESA). The majority of teachers strongly agreed that this PD provided: relevance; new content; career development; perceived value; and applicability.
This work demonstrates that a more inclusive approach is needed in HE learning and teaching to understand and accommodate the reality of students’ entering skills, rather than rely on supposition, to assure student success for all.
Manager Student Equity, University of Technology Sydney