2 Improving data and research to create an evidence base
Inquiry into 21st century learning environments and digital literacy
This is the text of the report presented to the New Zealand Parliament in December 2012
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We understand that the area of digital literacy is an emerging policy area in education. One of the challenges that we had in this inquiry was that there were certain areas where there was a lack of data and research to inform our inquiry. However, we do believe that we have been able to identify throughout this report some policy issues that need addressing and some general areas of work. In each area we have been careful to examine the available evidence base for our recommendations.
We are encouraged that the Ministry of Education recognises that 21st century learning requires many technology components to be in place in schools including fibre Internet connection, in-school networks, equipment, schools software and hardware (including computers, laptops, tablets, printers, and other “end-user devices”), as well as the content and services used for teaching and learning. We asked questions about the presence and use of technology in schools. While we understand this is still an emerging area around the world, we believe it is crucial that government agencies are able to provide more comprehensive data in the future. For example, we were provided with data on which schools had access to fibre, but not on which schools were making use of the fibre for teaching and learning purposes. This reflects a particular point in time in the deployment of fibre to schools.
We also received advice about schools that had received an internal network upgrade, but not whether these schools had access to fibre. Other examples of areas where we would have liked more comprehensive information were the extent to which wi-fi access was used in schools, the adequacy of technical support, the variety of policies on devices in schools, the use of school ICT facilities by the community, access to ICT by students outside school (for example in the home), the software in use in schools, the extent of e-learning and the use of digital content resources by students, and the ICT capacity and capability of teachers in schools. There does not appear to be a sector-wide view of the digital state of each school. We understand that under current policy settings in the sector, operational decisions are made by individual boards of trustees; however, we consider that the absence of a comprehensive integrated view of the digital readiness of all schools makes it difficult to plan for 21st century learning. We consider it important that there be robust nation-wide data on the use of ICT in schools to enable sector-wide planning for 21st century learning.
Many submitters suggested that more research is needed into the impact of digital technology on teaching and learning and the resultant outcomes. One area of research raised by Sir Peter Gluckman was the relationship between digital technology and neurobiology. In his submission, Sir Peter Gluckman noted that current research on the relationship between technology and learning is inconclusive. In his submission, he noted that some studies show that technology-based training can improve working memory and provide mental stimulation, but some applications can be a distraction, and parental monitoring of younger students’ use of technology may improve learning outcomes. He also submitted that research into the risks and potential benefits for healthy development presented by new technologies will enable educational professionals and parents to access clearer independent information.
We heard from a submitter that they believe that educational research is poorly funded compared with economic research. We heard that research is being conducted by postgraduate students in New Zealand into the role of the “e-principal”, blended learning, and initial teacher education, and we believe that such research will be invaluable for the development of 21st century learning environments.
We accept that one major reason that the research is limited is because this is an emerging policy area. We feel the need for a sense of urgency to ensure there is better data and research as more schools are using more technology and shifting towards a 21st century learning environment.
Research identified as necessary by submitters included the relationship between digital learning and blended learning, improving collaboration, pedagogy of digital learning, distributed leadership, teacher development, the impact of ICT on children’s development, universal design and impact on learning outcomes, and digital equity. We feel that it is important that any research undertaken in this area should be publicly available. We heard that in other areas of education a process is undertaken by the ministry called an iterative best-evidence synthesis which results in a comprehensive review of current research in an area, to inform what works best for student learning outcomes.
1. We recommend that the Government implement a system that collects, analyses, and disseminates better sector-wide data on digital literacy and 21st century skills to enable more evidence-based policy decisions.
2. We recommend that the Government develop an improved research framework to ensure that educational policies are informed by current research thinking and future-focused thinking in the digital area. In developing the research framework, adequate consideration should be given to ensuring that New Zealand research is shared throughout the country and with international research programmes.
3. We recommend that the Government consider whether it commissions an iterative best-evidence synthesis of digital learning and pedagogies.