Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy

10 May 2012

Learning spacesNew Zealand Government

The Education and Science Committee have started an inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy. Rather than intending to write law, this is a chance for politicians to explore an area before developing policy.

The purpose statement does a pretty good job of explaining why the inquiry is being done:

"The term 'learning environment' suggests learning happens in a place and space such as a school, a classroom, or a library. However, while much of 21st century learning takes place in physical locations, in today's technology driven world, a learning environment can also be virtual, online or remote."

"The purpose of this inquiry is to investigate and provide recommendations on the best structures, tools, and communities, in both rural and urban New Zealand, that could better enable students and educators to attain the knowledge and skills, such as digital literacy, that the 21st century demands of us all."

Personally I think this is an important way to ensure that politicians can get beyond sales pitches and hype and hear from practitioners. InternetNZ kindly ran a collaboration session last week to explore the terms of reference and stimulate submissions. My submission is now in final draft form (its not considered appropriate to post the final version once submitted to Parliament). Internet commentator Nathan Torkington (a.k.a Gnat and a former colleague from the former VUW ITS) has also shared his draft submission online.

Writing this has been an interesting exercise. Mostly my focus is on tertiary but many of the issues are identical in the schools and frankly the tertiary experience of teachers is an important guide to their professional practice. The terms of reference are an interesting guide to the ways in which non-specialists are linking ideas:

  1. investigate possible options for the best facilities that support teaching and learning in 21st century schools. In particular, investigate more flexible teaching spaces
  2. investigate possible changes to the timing of when learning can occur, given the spread of handheld devices
  3. investigate possible options for the best technological infrastructure that supports teaching and learning in 21st century schools
  4. consider how the rollout of ultra-fast broadband (UFB) will affect teaching techniques and processes, and whether additional resources or training may further enhance the positive effect of UFB on teaching and learning outcomes. In particular, investigate the role and efficiency of the Network for Learning
  5. consider whether current generations of learners more readily adopt new technology, and whether increasing base levels of technological proficiency may promote independent learning
  6. investigate the opportunities for technology to increase collaboration between neighbouring schools, and between distance learners
  7. investigate issues of equity of access to technology in New Zealand schools, which includes establishing the current extent of New Zealand's digital divide
  8. investigate the impact of increased digital literacy on learning.

The idea that technology and independent learning are directly linked, or that students are automatically more proficient in new technologies are fallacies that need correcting. It will be interesting to see whether the inquiry leads to a better understanding of the issues facing the education system as it attempts to catch up with the 21st century...