If you’re reading this right now, then you’re likely using a sophisticated piece of technology – one that has taken the collective of humanity thousands of years to achieve. In fact, we’re willing to bet that if you look around you, you’re probably surrounded by several different kinds of technology. Without this technology, though, the world as we know it would not exist.
This dependency on technology, however, has increasingly complicated how we interact with the world. As such, it’s becoming more and more important that we instil younger generations with the skills and knowledge they need to navigate this technology and, in the future, innovate upon it.
In order to meet this need, Australia has come up with its own solution: the Digital Technologies curriculum. Below, we’ll explore everything you need to know about the Digital Technologies curriculum, why it exists, and why it is important to creating a brighter future for the entirety of humanity.
What is the Digital Technologies curriculum?
Before we discuss anything else, it’s important that we establish an understanding of what the Digital Technologies curriculum is.
Some years ago, as the landscape changed drastically thanks to the introduction of new technology – including the internet – it became clear that education would need an overhaul. While classrooms were implementing technology to a degree, of course, it was clear the current implementation would not serve in the long term. Consequently, the Australian government came together and made the decision to fund a curriculum overhaul.
In order to create the most ideal curriculum, the government tasked the Australian Curriculum, Assessment, and Reporting Authority (ACARA), an independent body focused on building world-class educational structures, to revise the current Australian curriculum. In so doing, part of this overhaul was that the Digital Technologies curriculum was born to meet the new demand that the modern world required.
The Digital Technologies curriculum was designed to provide kids with the computational thinking skills and understanding of information systems that they would need in order to succeed in their future lives. While Information Communication Technology (ICT) Capability was emphasised, of course, the Digital Technologies curriculum took this concept further. Instead of just learning how to use technology for things like communication and research, the Digital Technologies curriculum seeks to teach students how the systems and data of technology works, and how we should navigate the world with those systems and because of those systems.
Why was the Digital Technologies curriculum created?
We’ve talked a bit about the generalised why the Digital Technologies curriculum was created, but we want to take a moment to focus on three major components of that reasoning. We feel that understanding these reasons will help give you an appreciation for why the curriculum is not only necessary, but beneficial to the education system.
Increasing Digitisation Requires New Understanding of Data
We have mentioned several times that technology has become ingrained in our lives. From the smartphones we use to play silly mobile games, to the web apps we utilise to find jobs, it is an important facet of modern life. However, what is more important with this concept is data digitisation. As our technology improves, our lives become increasingly the sum of a bunch of 0’s and 1’s in someone’s computer system.
For example, let’s look at healthcare. Back in the olden days before computers became a mainstay, technology was pretty rudimentary. Patients and doctors would fill out paper forms that needed to be tediously stored in filing cabinets and located anytime they were needed. The trading of medical knowledge was limited to conferences, lectures, and journals. In-patient visits or phone calls were the only means of communicating with your doctor. Research and diagnosing patients was slow as collecting, storing, and analysing data was a very manual task that required lots and lots of labour.
However, all this has changed drastically in the last 20 years due to increased data digitisation. Medical files are now stored on computers, doctors and patients alike can dive into the internet database for any kind of information they need, video chatting and email has given rise to more efficient communication with doctors, and data research now can be done in the blink of an eye thanks to computer processing power. As convenient as all these changes have been, they’ve also forced many career professionals to learn skills beyond the medical field just to be able to adapt to this new digital world.
This concept of digitisation is not limited to healthcare, and every industry is innovating with digital solutions. As such, in order for students to thrive once they reach adulthood, they need to have skillsets to use and understand technology. Without it, it is almost as bad as lacking skills in basic arithmetic which has long been a staple of the educational curriculum. Thus, data forms a major reason for why the curriculum is a necessity.
Technology has lots of Societal Implications
Technology has the power to affect our society in a variety of ways – both positive and negative.
On the positive end, we’ve reached a new milestone in global communication. People can work remotely for companies on the other side of the world, play AAA games with friends, and so forth. We’ve found new ways to share cultures and information, which has resulted in super speedy achievements and changes in those areas. We’ve made our lives more efficient than our ancestors could have dreamed of – and will continue to do so to the point our descendants will think we ourselves were in the Stone Age. The positive impact of technology cannot be overstated.
However, there are also negative implications. Cyberbullying has become a great concern for younger generations, and misinformation can spread rapidly on platforms to even affect adults. Privacy laws have now come into question, as what is ethical and unethical has been presented with new challenges because of the seemingly intangible nature of data. Security in cyberspace is constantly at risk, and with one wrong link click you can give people the ability to damage your life in dramatic and tragic ways.
Overall, though, technology impacts society and how it functions – even if you yourself might have decided to live a technology-free life. With this in mind, one of the goals of this curriculum is to empower students to understand these impacts and create the future digital solutions of tomorrow responsibly. After all, these will be the future leaders of the world, and it’s those generations that will get to decide our relationship with technology going forward. However, that requires understanding it in the first place.
Digital Skills are Needed for Career Preparation
Gone are the days when only professions like programmers needed to understand technology. Instead, every industry now relies on technology to some degree – whether it’s retail commerce systems, engineering design programs, automations, AI, and so forth. Though the amount of knowledge still varies from field to field, this is not guaranteed to remain the case.
Additionally, it’s worth noting here that many industries are also shrinking. For example, with the advent of self-driving cars, it is almost inevitable that industries like trucking will be phased out of our society well before 2100. Other major industries are at risk as well, such as retail where automation and robotics are threatening to decrease the job pool by a lot. Just consider how many grocery stores have increased the number of self-checkout lanes in the past years thanks to improved technology in those areas.
As such, knowing digital technologies is simply a career necessity as workers have had an increasing need to adapt to new technologies, find new industries to work in, and so forth. Thus, if we view education as a preparation for careers, this is one foundation that will be applicable no matter what path a student takes in life and ensure they can adapt to the necessary situations they’ll see in their lives.
Digital Technologies Curriculum Design Philosophy
As part of understanding what the Digital Technologies curriculum is, it’s also important to learn about the philosophy of how it was designed.
Since technology is constantly changing, it was important to ACARA that the curriculum was future-proof. This meant they couldn’t simply just teach a programming language and paradigms and call it a day. Instead, they drilled down to the very foundations that have guided the development of technology since the 1960s. With this examination, they broke down the Digital Technologies curriculum into ten key concepts that, in their opinion, will remain stable regardless of how our relationship with technology changes.
When it comes to the area of abstraction, this should be viewed more as the verb sense of the word vs. the adjective sense. By this, we mean the area isn’t focused on theoretical concepts. Instead, the area focuses on getting students to abstract various details from one another. The idea is that students will gain the ability to take a digital problem or solution and break it down into more manageable parts to focus on, and subsequently hide other details that are not necessary to solve that particular problem.
The digital systems concept is primarily focused on, as the name implies, systems – in this case, how those systems process data. While this sounds like a high-level concept, when drilled down it is a much simpler focus than you might imagine. With these learning aspects, students focus on the hardware and software itself that allows us to have the technology we do. Students learn how working in tandem, the hardware and software take binary and other types of data through a system to process and produce a result. This area also covers networking concepts as well, so students can understand the more concrete reasons data is transmitted as it is and how that data is disseminated into something humans can use.
The data representation area is one of the more abstract ones on this list. With this concept, students learn to see data in a different light. It focuses on fostering an understanding of how the same data can be represented in different ways (think 9 vs. VIX vs. 1001). In this fashion, students learn how we apply this representation in various ways to change how our data “looks” but not the data itself. This also goes further on in showing how binary works in terms of representing data, and even how we turn multimedia into a different representation that is suitable for different needs.
As the name implies, the data collection area of the Digital Technologies curriculum is concerned with how we collect data. This includes, of course, how data is sourced and gathered, whether it’s done manually or done with an API grabbing something from a page. However, this concept is also focused on validating that data – i.e. making sure the data is correct – and storing data, which currently is achieved with databases. For older students, the area also instils some concepts about privacy and security as well to cover the more social aspects that inevitably come with data collection.
Another area with a rather self-explanatory title, data interpretation is the concept that focuses students on learning how to read data. At the base, this means simply teaching, first and foremost, how to recognise patterns and make conclusions from those patterns. By implication, there is also a focus on organising data – including talking about how data can be made to have a specific “model” structure. As students grow comfortable with these concepts, they learn various ways to interpret the data. This can mean a lot of things from applying statistical formulas to the data to simply making static visualisation charts of the data.
The concept of specification really hammers further down into the problem-solving aspects of the Digital Technologies curriculum. With this concept, the curriculum wants students to learn how to “specify” the problem more specifically. Students learn key skills in not only describing a problem very specifically, but how to break that problem down into simpler components that are easier to solve. Further, there is also a big component about understanding limitations. In this aspect, students learn to conceptualise how constraints and the needs of investors play a role in how a problem needs to be approached.
Despite what a technical word “algorithms” is, the Digital Technologies curriculum has pared this down into a very simple concept. In this area, the goal is to teach students to, essentially, follow and make instructions. Of course, at the base, this simply means helping students understand how a sequence of events determines how a solution is rendered. The concept then evolves the understanding to include concepts like branching decisions, and various ways we control how an algorithm proceeds. Besides designing, students also are taught how to actually test and resolve issues with their instructions.
Per the title, implementation is the phase of the Digital Technologies curriculum that actually helps students learn how to implement their solutions. The primary focus in this area is coding – whether with visual blocks or with a full-on programming language. Regardless, while programming languages come and go, the main focuses here are twofold. The first is to show students how they can take algorithms and turn them into languages computers can understand – regardless of what form that needs to be in. Additionally, it also focuses on common programming paradigms between programming languages, such as object-oriented programming, functions, and similar, ensuring students have the baseline needed to implement digital solutions regardless.
When it comes to impact, the Digital Technologies curriculum is particularly concerned with the social impacts we mentioned earlier. Students are taught here first to recognise the systems we use, how it meets needs, and how it affects how we solve the problems our society faces. As students become more familiar with our current systems and how they work within the world, the focus turns students to then apply these concepts more critically. Older students learn to not only recognise the impact, but how the current systems can be innovated on, sustained, and the various risks involved with our current and future digital solutions.
Last but not least is the area of interactions. When it comes to the Digital Technologies curriculum, this has two components. The first area of this concept is focused on collaboration. In this aspect, students are shown how we can use technology for teamwork and collaborative efforts, as well as improve digital solutions to increase the efficiency in how we collaborate.
The second area of interactions is concerned with “how” students interact with digital systems. By this, we’re speaking about user interfaces and the user experience. Students learn how to understand the method through which we interact with technology (which remember, is just data), and how to design a user experience that is based on various decisions and user perception to create intuitive tools.
How does the Digital Technologies curriculum benefit students & teachers?
At this point, we hope we’ve established a good baseline for understanding what the Digital Technologies curriculum is, and why it was implemented in the first place. However, there is still one important point to discuss: how will it actually benefit those who have to implement it and those who have to learn it? In this section, we’ll discuss six key points of why this curriculum has added some fantastic improvements to the existing education system.
Fosters problem-solving skills
Despite all the complicated language, Digital Technologies centres around problems. We’ve created everything from computers to robots to various pieces of software to solve a specific problem. Learning via the Digital Technologies curriculum is intended to foster the sort of reasoning needed to solve problems digitally. This includes not only learning how to frame a problem, but also how to break a problem down and plan out specific methods to actually implement a solution.
Problem-solving is a skill that students need in all facets of their life, so its importance cannot be understated. With the Digital Technologies curriculum, teachers can help foster these skills in all aspects of the curriculum, giving them the tools and structure to incorporate it a lot more. On the plus side, because it is framed so naturally with a practical life application in this curriculum, students get to put the skills to the test – removing the obstacle of abstract concepts.
Though anything technology is often considered the antithesis of creativity, this is not true. Rather, we’ve been empowered more than ever before to be creative. When it comes to technology, no problem has only one solution, and even the same “solutions” can be achieved in different ways. Plus, what we can do with technology is constantly expanding – such as the jump from 2D sprites to 3D models in the game world. Thus, the Digital Technologies curriculum challenges students to think outside the box critically and turn abstract ideas into practical creations. In turn, this gives kids the freedom to express themselves in new ways they might not have considered for.
For teachers as well, this means students will approach other materials with new mindsets and can result in novel educational achievements.
Provides future-proof skills
As we mentioned, the goal of the Digital Technologies curriculum is to help students adapt to the digital world. Technology is not going away. Sure, it may take vastly different forms in the future – such as directly reading our mind maps or some amazing science fiction achievement we can only dream of. At the heart, though, the curriculum strives to give students the skills they need to adapt to that science fiction future – whether they become the world’s next top scientist or want to get into politics. Since the whole goal of education is to provide students with skills they’ll need for the future, this benefit for teachers and students alike is pretty self-explanatory.
Teaches effective collaboration
The Digital Technologies curriculum is not just about creating the digital solutions themselves, but learning how to arrive at those digital solutions with others. The curriculum is designed so students have to work with people in a variety of ways – from collecting data, to using and improving third-party tools, to just working with a team in general to create something. Every aspect of the problem-solving focus strives to enforce the value of collaborating with others, as well as effective communication tools for doing so. Of course, this will pay off long into the future, as any adult knows no man is an island and our work thrives best when achieved with teamwork.
Of course, for teachers, this can also help in other areas of their lesson plans – since it’s not just digital solutions that need collaboration skills. Thus, there is an opportunity to once again help reinforce to students the value of education for the future.
Makes students more socially aware
Earlier we mentioned technology’s societal impact. While we use technology every day, the impact is not always something we think about or are able to verbalise. The Digital Technologies curriculum addresses this by forcing students to consider concepts like cybersecurity, how to responsibly collect and secure data, and similar. As students age, this allows them to understand and conceptualise happenings in the world that might affect them – such as privacy laws which are just one of many things up for debate right now. Being able to understand these concepts helps students be more aware of the world around them and how they can affect change – which we hope is something all teachers would like to see with their students.
Improves other learning areas
The Digital Technologies curriculum was not made to exist in a vacuum. Instead, ACARA was well aware of the existence of other subjects like maths and that teachers have a limited time to impart and reach assessment goals each year with their students. This is why the curriculum was designed to incorporate extremely well into other subjects and also reinforce some of the skills mentioned above that are universally applicable. Thus, with the Digital Technologies curriculum, no one subject benefits. Instead, they all benefit one way or another from these skills and can help a student’s performance in untold ways.
Where can teachers get started with the Digital Technologies curriculum?
Though we’ve broken down Digital Technologies here rather easily, we in no way wish to downplay that it can be a difficult curriculum to implement. As we bring this article to a close, we wish to provide you with a short list of resources that will help you find out more about the Digital Technologies curriculum and access online services that can aid in the teaching process. Regardless of which resource is your favourite, we hope you’ve learned why the Digital Technologies curriculum is important for our future and the strides Australia is making in this area.
- Australian Curriculum – Digital Technologies
- Digital Technologies Hub
- Grok Academy
- Zenva for Schools
- Khan Academy
If you’re from a K12 school and want to try out our platform, fill out the form below.
We’ll organize a free trial so you can test it out with your students in class!