Let's have a look at some examples of content descriptions for various learning areas that flag ICT capabilities as having the potential to be addressed. The blue text is the learning area content description, followed by my elaboration on an example of using ICTs.
- Construct texts featuring print, visual and audio elements using software, including word processing programs. This might involve creating a story and presenting it using Google Docs or with a slow-animation movie (using a camera, using a microphone and using editing software).
- Construct suitable data displays, with and without the use of digital technologies, from given or collected data. Include tables, column graphs and picture graphs where one picture can represent many data values. This might involve collecting data about schoolyard rubbish and using Excel software to create graphs to present the information.
- How the stories of families and the past can be communicated, for example through photographs, artefacts, books, oral histories, digital media, and museum. This might involve exploring family photos and using software to present a narrative about family history, which can be shared back to family members using a blog.
Just as Misty Adoniou, a Senior Lecturer in Language, Literacy and TESL at University of Canberra, reported in a recent Conversation article:
"the general capabilities and cross curriculum priorities are not content. The content of the Australian Curriculum is found in the seven Key Learning Areas of English, Mathematics, Science, Humanities and Social Sciences, the Arts, Health and PE, Technologies and Languages.
The general capabilities and cross curriculum priorities are ‘lenses’ through which teachers look at content as they do their planning. They are not always applicable or relevant and there has never been an expectation they appear in every lesson or unit of work a teacher delivers."
The above examples demonstrated that the learning area content descriptions (blue) could be viewed with a lens of the ICT capabilities. However, teachers aren't limited to using ICTs only when they are marked in the curriculum with an ICT Capabilities icon. Teachers often integrate technologies into lesson areas, rather the icon is a prompt.
The Digital Technologies Learning Area
"Learning in Digital Technologies focuses on developing understanding and skills in computational thinking" in the early years and continue to be developed throughout the F-10 curriculum, moving from the fundamentals to more complex skill development and applications.
In the early years (F-2), "students will have had opportunities to create a range of digital solutions through guided play and integrated learning, such as using robotic toys to navigate a map or recording science data with software". In these years they also develop an "awareness of how digital systems are used and could be used".
In Year 3 and 4, students students will have had "opportunities to create a range of digital solutions, such as interactive adventures that involve user choice, modelling simplified real world systems and simple guessing games". Further, they "explore digital systems in terms of their components", and use of digital systems from the home, to the local community. "They collect, manipulate and interpret data, developing an understanding of the characteristics of data and their representation".
By the end of Year 6, "students will have had opportunities to create a range of digital solutions, such as games or quizzes and interactive stories and animations. It also focuses on the sustainability of information systems for current and future uses". They continue to develop "an understanding of the role individual components of digital systems play in the processing and representation of data. They acquire, validate, interpret, track and manage various types of data and are introduced to the concept of data states in digital systems and how data are transferred between systems".
What does the curriculum mean by 'create digital solutions'? This means that students will learn to create programs with code. Computer scientists use code to tell computers what to do and when: it's like providing a set of instructions to create a recipe. Developing skills in computational thinking is essential for anyone who wants to create technology. We practice by developing skills that later allow us to give precise, effective instructions to a computer to solve complex tasks.
- While in the early years teachers may want to use apps such as ScratchJR or robotics like the BeeBot, the fundamental goal is to develop skills in logical sequencing (putting items in the correct order and identifying familiar sequences, such as a morning routine), problem-solving, navigational language (movement) and giving and following instructions. Both of which link with literacy and mathematical skill development.
- From year 3 onwards, students extend what they have learned in the early years and apply their computational thinking skills to visual programming languages, such as Scratch. These use colourful drag and drop blocks to have students developing programs (such as a game or story).
- From year 7 onwards, students continue to apply what they have learned with visual programming and start to use text-based commands, such as in Pencil Code or other various applications available on Code.org.
There are many unplugged activities that can be used in combination with, or instead of, the programs mentioned above that can allow students to develop computational thinking skills.
What's the difference?
- ICT capabilities: being able to use ICTs effectively and know which ICTs to select for specific tasks. It also involves learning about safe use and practice.
- Digital Technologies: Understanding how those ICTs actually work, learning a literacy in coding which underpins being able to create technology and learning about digital systems: hardware and software. It also emphasises a way of thinking that is important to creating solutions (like certain skills and processes we develop in mathematics and literacy).
The difference between "using ICT" and "creating ICT" is like the difference between using a game and being able to create a game. It is the difference between using an Instagram filter and being able to create your own photo filters. Learning how to create involves having an appreciation and understanding of how the technology and applications we use work. It's the "science" of technology.