Globally, computer education is a focus of many national strategies as awareness grows of the impact of automation and technology. Australia took the opportunity when developing a national curriculum to reframe computer education away from a subset of design and technology to become a distinct discipline – a mandated subject for every child, taught through a 10- to 13-year developmental curriculum.
Named Digital Technologies, to differentiate it from information and communication technology (ICT) skill development, the focus is on computational, design and systems thinking, supported by using ICT such as programming languages, robotics and digital systems to create new digital solutions to problems and opportunities.
Seymour Papert’s computational thinking develops a dialogue between learner and computer, reframing student understanding of digital technologies and their interaction with programmable technologies. Systems thinking explores this interrelated nature of technology with the world, futures thinking considers the implication of these interactions, and design thinking structures the creation of solutions and innovations.
Digital Technologies supports project-based learning where students explore their interests in solving real-world problems while developing a complex understanding of digital technologies and the capacity to think about the world, and problems, in unique ways. Coupled with strong interest in learning environments, makerspaces and STEM integration, many Australian schools are developing innovative approaches to teaching Digital Technologies.
The challenge is to upskill every specialist computer education teacher to what was expected of senior computer science, and every primary school teacher in the teaching of thinking skills and ICT they’ve never had the opportunity to learn or see modeled during their education, but Australian teachers are engaging positively.
To systematically support these reforms, deployments of computer interface, robotics and electronics kits and online professional development programs are occurring in some states. Nationally, the government is supporting a massive open online course (MOOC) and a responsive online coding tutorial system, as well as a national resource repository to gather and share approaches. This need for professional development has redefined Australian ISTE affiliates, coordinated by the Australian Council for Computers in Education (ACCE), to supporting all Australian teachers, not just computer education or ICT specialists.
Computer education in the first 11 years of Australian school education now has a firm foundation on which to develop as a discipline, but challenges remain. Female participation in computing remains worryingly low in senior computing, and the hope is that the normalization of computer education throughout schooling will resolve the imbalance.
There is also a growing need for reform of the senior computing curriculum. Not
every Australian high school currently teaches high-level computing, and we now have a very large pipeline of interested students. They are coming with a complex range of thinking skills, having completed dozens of computing projects culminating in database-driven websites, artificial intelligence engines and relational information systems, and a comprehensive ICT skill set, including object-oriented programming.
Australian students are going to demand much more from our senior computing courses than the current curricula offers, and our next challenge is to meet this expectation, but that is a nice challenge to have.
Jason Zagami, PH.D., is a lecturer at Griffith University in Queensland, Australia, and immediate past president of ISTE affiliate ACCE.