Digital Learners – Achieving Through Technology


Advances in technology have led to changes in the way people communicate, create, collaborate, solve problems and consume content. The increasing prevalence of technology has disrupted the way they work, play and learn. The world is becoming increasingly connected and interdependent with an endless supply of information accessible at any time of the day and at any location through global online networks. The widespread availability of online courses, mobile computing devices and the expanding role of social networking tools are altering the way in which students are learning and engaging with new knowledge. Digital age learners are creating, collaborating and connecting with like-minded peers online, outside of school. These learners are ‘wired’ differently as a result of the experiential learning that is taking place outside of school. The learning styles of the active, digital learner conflict with the traditional teaching styles and preferences. Teachers are no longer the guardians of knowledge for these students and can no longer ignore the role that digital technologies play in empowering learners. Schools need to provide authentic opportunities for students to learn about contemporary and emerging technologies that shape the world in which they live. Educators need to encourage students to apply their knowledge and practical skills and processes when using technologies and other resources to create innovative solutions, independently and collaboratively, that meet current and future needs. Critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, agility, creativity, data analysis, effective communication and entrepreneurship are part of the ‘innovator’ skill set that students need for future careers, continuous learning and citizenship in this digitalised world. The challenge for schools is to acknowledge these societal changes and embrace them in order to support innovation and inspire students to learn and ultimately achieve.

Technologies Curriculum

The Australian Curriculum: Technologies has been developed in response to this changing educational landscape. The practical nature of the Technologies learning area engages students in critical and creative thinking, including understanding interrelationships in systems when solving complex problems. A systematic approach to problem-solving, experimentation, prototyping and evaluation instils in students the value of planning and reviewing processes to realise ideas in authentic contexts.

The Australian Curriculum: Technologies describes two distinct but related compulsory subjects that students will study from Foundation (Kindergarten) to the end of Year 8:

  • Design and Technologies, in which students use design thinking and technologies to generate and produce designed solutions for authentic needs and opportunities
  • Digital Technologies, in which students use computational thinking and information systems to define, design and implement digital solutions

The knowledge, understanding and skills in each subject are presented through two related strands:

  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Processes and production skills

The overarching idea of the Technologies curriculum is to create preferred futures. The Technologies curriculum provides students with opportunities to consider how solutions that are created now will be used in the future. Students will identify the possible benefits and risks of creating solutions and evaluate their impact, giving consideration to economic viability and environmental sustainability.

Key ideas from the Technologies curriculum that teachers may already by familiar with include project management, systems thinking, design thinking and computational thinking. The ICT capability is addressed through the Digital Technologies learning area as well.

The Digital Technologies more specifically aims to develop the knowledge, understanding and skills to ensure that, individually and collaboratively, students:

  • design, create and evaluate sustainable and innovative digital solutions
  • use computational thinking and the key concepts of abstraction to create digital solutions
  • use digital systems to automate and communicate the transformation of data into information and to creatively communicate ideas
  • apply protocols and legal practices that support safe, ethical and respectful communications
  • apply systems thinking about information systems and predict the impact of these systems on society, economy and the environment

Essentially, Digital Technologies provides students with authentic learning challenges that foster curiosity, confidence, persistence, innovation, creativity, respect and collaboration. These are essential when learning to make sense of complex ideas and relationships and using or developing information systems. Design thinking is the process students will use to develop solutions and new knowledge. Digital Technologies helps students to actively and ethically communicate and collaborate with local and global learners. The subject areas of Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Maths (STEAM) are a great way to explore the implementation of the Digital Technologies and lend themselves well to integration opportunities.


In the current educational climate of curriculum transition there will be many challenges that schools will face when looking to implement the Digital Technologies. At present, the curriculum is not officially endorsed in NSW and is under review by the government. Some states have already started unpacking the content and made plans for its implementation. Some challenges that schools may face include:

  • Where will this learning ‘fit’ in an already crowded curriculum?
  • With the current shortage in computer science educators, who will lead and teach this learning area?
  • What preparation will teachers need to make to implement this?
  • What professional learning support is available for teachers?
  • What suitable resources are available for students ranging from K-8?
  • How will schools with limited digital resources implement this effectively?
  • What will assessment and reporting look like?
  • Will universities be exploring this with the pre-service teachers before they enter the classroom?

Practical Ways to get Started

With the review underway, the mandatory implementation date is still undecided, so there is plenty of time for teachers to familiarise themselves with the curriculum and tinker with some key content areas. Teachers do not have to be ‘computer science’ trained to do this or have anything more than a good Internet connection to get started. There are ample resources available online to facilitate parts of this learning for students, especially in the area of design thinking, computational thinking and project management.

Just last September, coding (which develops computational thinking skills) was implemented as part of the computing programs of study in the new national curriculum in England. Coding is now taught in primary and secondary schools across England to children between the ages of five and 16. Within the new curriculum, computer science is treated as a foundational discipline that every child must know, much like maths or physics. As well as helping children to develop problem-solving skills and better understand the world around them, those responsible for putting it together believe that the eventual outcome of the new programs of study will significantly benefit the economy. The aim is to transform children from consumers of technology into developers, equipped with an understanding of how the apps they use and the websites they visit actually work.

In classrooms all around Australia, teachers are providing opportunities for their students as young as five years old to try coding as part of maths lessons or in their Maker Space. Teachers do not have to ‘teach’ coding, as most resources come with tutorials and demonstration videos and, from experience, students prefer figuring it out amongst themselves rather than watching their teacher struggle with it! Here is a list of some resources to get started:

Design thinking is a process harnessed in the creative industries, particularly in product and service design. According to the team from Notosh, design thinking can be a powerful vehicle for deeper learning of content, more divergent thinking and building the thinking skills capacity of learners. Key to its success in learning is that it provides the platform for learners to become problem finders. In schools, Notosh use design thinking as a framework onto which teachers may hang specific thinking skills to achieve specific learning tasks. The thinking skills are those identified by ongoing education research as having a more-than-average impact on student learning and outcomes. Visit the Notosh website to view the process in action and to access a range of ready-to-use thinking strategies and ideas. For those who are super keen, check out their Design Thinking: A Full 90-minute Challenge For Schools at

Project management has the similar DNA of project-based learning – a dynamic classroom approach in which students actively explore real-world problems and challenges whilst acquiring deeper knowledge. Teachers can provide opportunities for their students to engage in authentic learning tasks using real-world applications like Google Apps for Education. Develop success criteria with them when explaining the project, giving consideration to things like planning, organisation of resources, financial budgets, risk assessments, quality control, collaboration and communication skills.

Australia needs enterprising individuals who can make discerning decisions about the development and use of technologies and who can independently and collaboratively develop solutions to complex challenges and contribute to sustainable patterns of living. The economy and future job market depends on this to remain globally competitive. Educators need to work towards nurturing an ‘innovation generation’ where students are encouraged to ask more questions than give answers, to seek new problems and create original solutions to existing problems. Teachers need to disrupt the industrial-style model of education and truly cater for the diverse learning needs of students in a way that is meaningful to them – to create more and consume less using technology. The Australian Curriculum: Technologies is a great way to start the conversation about how this might be done.

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Zeina Chalich
Zeina Chalich is a dynamic educator and international presenter with teaching experience in primary schools and university. In her role as Leader of Learning & Innovation, Zeina leads ‘disruptive’ change in digital pedagogy and personalised learning. In 2015, Zeina was awarded the CEC Br John Taylor Fellowship research prize for her research exploring design thinking in a makerspace through a STEAM curriculum. She also won a New Voice in Leadership Scholarship from ACEL for leading change in digital pedagogy and mentoring. Zeina is a founding member of #aussieED and the founder of #makerEDau twitter chat. She was recently announced the winner of the 2015 Edublogs Awards for the Best Individual Tweeter Category. Connect with her @ZeinaChalich and @makerEDau

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