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ICT Literacy

15 August 2012

Australia has one of the highest rates of technology take up in education, compared to other countries, according to the OECD. Information and communications technology (ICT) enables access to information and also collaboration in convenient and affordable ways which are very useful in education. In the same way that educators need to understand book literacy, so too, an understanding of ICT Literacy is essential in education. ICT has become a foundation for building knowledge.

In 2005, the ministers of education throughout Australia commissioned a report about ICT Literacy achievement in schools. That research was undertaken by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and was repeated in 2008 and again in 2011. The value of comparisons across the three cycles of the evaluation is invaluable in one of the rare studies of its kind. The reportNational Assessment Program - ICT Literacy Years 6 & 10 Report uses detailed proficiency levels to innovatively assess the levels of ICT Literacy from a representative sample of over 5,000 year 6 and over 5,000 year 10 Australian students.

A scale developed for use with the assessment tasks is mapped to the proficiency levels allowing comparisons of ICT Literacy to be made across the years 2005, 2008 and 2011. In addition, comparisons can also be made between the ICT Literacy proficiency of year 6 students and year 10 students because the reporting scale is linked. The report National Assessment Program - ICT Literacy Years 6 & 10 Report confirms much of the educational research about the uses of ICT by students as well as the many equity factors that can make a difference. Those factors include gender, location, and parents’ occupation and educational attainment.

National Assessment Program - ICT Literacy Years 6 & 10 Report found that 62% of year six students had attained the expected ICT Literacy proficiency level and that there had been a significant increase over the period. The percentage of year 10 student who attained the ICT proficiency level was 65% which had not varied significantly over the period.

Two major effects on the attainment of student ICT Literacy proficiency were reported: ‘parental occupation and education’ and ‘there is also a substantial gap in ICT literacy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students’ (p. xxiii). The frequency of computer use by Indigenous students at home and at school was significantly less for Indigenous students than for non-Indigenous students (p. 75).

Another student background characteristic that was found to make a difference was location. ‘There was also evidence of differences in ICT literacy among geographic locations’ (p. 102). Students in metropolitan areas scored higher on average than those in provincial areas whereas students in remote areas scored lowest. Computer use at home and at school was also noted. ‘For both Year 6 and Year 10 there has been an increase in the frequency with which computers are used at home and at school, and their experience of using computers, but only among Year 6 students has that greater familiarity been accompanied by improved ICT literacy’ (p. 104).

The findings on gender differences are worth noting. In the words of the report, ‘Consistent with the pattern observed in 2008, females recorded higher levels of ICT literacy than males. Even though females expressed lower levels of interest and enjoyment than males in computing, they expressed similar levels of confidence in their ability to carry out ICT-based tasks without assistance and they achieved higher scores on ICT Literacy than males’ (p. xxiii).

This outstanding report about ICT Literacy assessment and achievement over three testing cycles in 2005, 2008 and 2011, with the development of ICT Literacy proficiency levels for school students, is unique. Its innovative assessment tasks that could not possibly be done by pencil-and-paper testing have unearthed a mountain of valuable data about ICT Literacy proficiency and the factors that affect student attainment of ICT Literacy.

National Assessment Program - ICT Literacy Years 6 & 10 Report has an excellent short summary at the beginning for time poor readers although the full report should be read because of its high quality, the findings, and the inclusion of the proficiency levels and innovative online assessment tasks.

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Gerry White is Principal Research Fellow: Teaching & Learning using Digital Technologies, Australian Council for Educational Research

This article was first published on the Digital Education Research Network (DERN)

Read the full article on DERN (free registration required)

Image: Flickr / h.koppdelaney