Facing the Challenges of the new Digital Technologies Curriculum

As schools around Australia prepare for the implementation of the new Digital Technologies curriculum, teachers are starting to come to terms with some difficult new terminology, content, and skills. While Western Australian schools have been given two years to implement a slightly more user friendly version of the national Digital Technologies Curriculum, we are facing a number of significant challenges in common with our interstate counterparts.

Challenge 1: Explaining the difference between Digital Technologies and ICT

There is a common misconception that ICT and Digital Technologies are the same, and teachers who haven’t read the curriculum are in for a shock.

While ICT focuses on the use of technology for learning, Digital Technologies focuses on empowering students to be creators, producers, and developers of technologies through the development of computational thinking. 

For example, students use ICT skills when they make movies, podcasts, and digital stories. They develop understandings of digital technologies when, for example, they explore the role of hardware and software in their smartphones;  and when they use computational thinking to code digital solutions to problems – e..g. programming a robot.

A good way of defining the difference is comparing ICT General Capabilities to Literacy Skills, and Digital Technologies to the English learning area.


Challenge  2:  To integrate, or isolate, that is the question.

At the start of 2015, we introduced major changes at my school. In line with the purpose and goals of the ICT General Capabilities in the Australian Curriculum, classroom teachers became responsible for integrating ICT across the curriculum. There were two reasons for this change. Firstly, we believed that learning with ICT should not be isolated in the computer lab, segregated from the rest of the curriculum. Secondly, building our school’s reputation for high-quality ICT and digital technologies programs will rely on the expertise of every member of the school community, from the Principal down. Can schools really afford to reply on one expert? What happens when they leave …?

In our school, many teachers are exploring the power and relevance of ICT and digital technologies to their classroom teaching. I’ve watched teachers become the most excited learners in the room, empowering their students’ creativity and problem solving through digital storytelling, coding, and robotics – and starting to see authentic connections to maths and literacy.

My coaching experiences this year, and discussions with teachers (through Twitter and ISTE), raises an important question in regards to the implementation of the Digital Technologies curriculum.

What is the point of teaching students to collaborate, think computationally, and solve real world problems in one lesson a week outside of everyday classroom learning?

Yes, this may be appropriate for a technologies extension program, but surely these skills are important and applicable for all students, across a range of learning areas?


Challenge 3:  Supporting Teachers’ Engagement with Digital Technologies

The implementation and integration of the Digital Technologies curriculum will be a steep learning curve for most teachers. Some of the concepts in the new curriculum are scarily new, especially the parts about binary language and coding. Yet, others are familiar. For example, we use algorithms for problem solving, cooking, and giving directions / instructions in English , Science, and Maths. We use spreadsheets for collecting and making sense of data in Maths and Geography. These learning activities provide an authentic, relevant context for the integration of digital technologies.

As indicated by the WA curriculum writers, it makes sense to integrate Digital Technologies at the primary level – both through classroom learning activities, and through your library makerspace (if you are lucky enough to have one). If we learned anything from last year; however, it is that teachers are going to need a lot of support, both through collaborative PLCs and resourcing, to become comfortable teaching this new curriculum.

At my school, I have been working as a part-time teacher coach, supporting teachers’ integration of ICT and digital technologies in the classroom. This approach is most empowering for those teachers seeking help to develop their relatively limited technology skills, and those keen to push pedagogical and technological boundaries. I know that most schools can’t afford to fund this kind of role, but I would suggest that teacher relief for collaborative planning, classroom observation, and targeted professional development in Digital Technologies would be money well spent. I’d start by developing the skills and capabilities of a small group of interested teachers across a range of year levels, and then giving them time and space to share their learning with their colleagues. I am hoping to do this in my own school this year – it is just too hard to lead this change process alone.


Challenge 4:  Finding resources and fellow pathfinders.

As we begin our Digital Technologies journey, I take a great deal of comfort in the knowledge that we’re not alone. Around the country, and around the world, teachers are developing resources, activities, and tools that we can adapt for use in our school.

As schools begin their familiarisation and planning with the Digital Technologies Curriculum, it is important to consider what tools and resources they already have available, e.g. iPads; and plan for strategic investment in edtech tools which add value to the curriculum, such as BeeBots, Dash (Wonder Workshop), Sphero, and MakeyMakey. I’d add LEGO EV3 robotics if you can afford them!

For developing skills in computational thinking and coding, there are a range of free resources and communities available online, including:

If you’re interested in developing your understanding of the curriculum, or if like me, you’ve been tasked with leading its implementation, I’d highly recommend connecting with your local ICT subject association, joining Twitter, and exploring the CSER Digital Technologies MOOC. With the rest of Australia (except NSW) implementing this change from 2017 (2018 in WA), things are about to get really interesting!


 I’m learning as I go, and I don’t have all the answers.

Leading the familiarisation and implementation of the new Digital Technologies Curriculum in my school is probably the biggest challenge I’ve faced in my career to date; and I’ve learned some valuable lessons.

You don’t need to have all the answers when you’re starting out. If you can develop a basic understanding of the concepts and tools, don’t be afraid to learn and experiment alongside your students. It took me months to overcome my fear of learning in front of my students and colleagues, but I soon discovered that the more I threw at our girls, the more they came back and surprised me..


 Leading curriculum change isn’t easy, but its worth fighting for.

You will treasure those little moments … Watching a girl who struggles in class successfully code a robot for the first time . Noticing that a group of students have continued the Hour of Code 2015 activities independently through their Christmas holidays. That time I sat down with a Year 5 student and asked her how to explain how she did things I didn’t know were possible with Scratch.

At the end of the day, my students are the reason I teach.

Shaping ICT Policy and Future Practice

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Since joining my school just six months ago, I have been working on a number of projects alongside my ICT teaching and integration role, including:

  • Collaborating with the CEO ICT team to complete the technical set up Google Apps for Education, and planning for staff professional development and student use in 2015.
  • Providing feedback on the design and content of our new school website
  • Revising the school’s Strategic Plan, ICT Policy and Internet Access Agreements, with an explicit emphasis on modelling positive digital citizenship, publishing student work online, and promoting global connections and perspectives.
  • Developing a Digital Technologies / ICT Scope and Sequence for K-6 (very much a work in progress)
  • Researching and negotiating the Policy Framework for the development of classroom blogging across the school in 2015, and advising Admin on the advantages, disadvantages, and costs of various blogging platforms.
  • Planning for the creation of a small-scale Student Digital Leaders program from early 2015.

What have I learnt?

I consider myself fortunate to have a supportive, open-minded Administration, who are extremely keen to build our school’s digital presence into the future. I am extremely mindful of the fact that I am helping to collaboratively shape the future direction and practices of a school community, and endeavour to provide clear, explicit feedback and research-based recommendations to guide decision making and practices – with the long-term goal of bringing about sustainable, lasting change.

Helping negotiate ICT plans and policies has been a challenging learning experience, and 2015 will likely be a very busy and interesting year as I will be working alongside my colleagues to help translate these ideas into their classroom practice. Implementing change may not be easy, but it certainly won’t be boring!

Thoughts on the #ipsict iPad Rollout

One of my many jobs this year has been the rollout of my school’s iPad program. Working in close collaboration with my colleague, who works as a part-time IT technician, and the school administration, I’ve learnt some valuable lessons about iPad VPP management, and explored effective pedagogical strategies for integrating iPads into K-3 classrooms.

Dot Day

1) Technical iPad management has come a LONG way since 2012.

While many people know of my work as a Research Assistant on the TIPS2012 iPad Project (Edith Cowan University, 2012), not many are aware of my other role – as the poor guy tasked with the technical setup and management of 120 iPads for the School of Education. These were the days before the introduction of the Volume Purchasing Program for Australia, and before the development of Apple Configurator … and to put it mildly, it was an incredibly time-consuming and tedious process.

Fast forward to 2014, and the discovery that my school uses the Meraki Mobile Deployment Solution from CISCO. Now, I rarely promote products on my blog, but I can honestly say that Meraki is a true time-saver – and well worth whatever it costs to use! While it takes at least 20 minutes / device to install the Meraki profile on the iPads (if all goes well), the time savings lie in the ability to remotely purchase and push new apps onto selected devices over WiFi. This is the one caveat of using Meraki – you must have excellent WiFi bandwidth for it to be effective. As I discovered, it also pays not to try and remotely deploy apps to 60 iPads off the one router (for first time setup). Downloading 10GB+ of new apps / device is not a good idea. Placing the iPads around the school, and checking that apps are downloading properly is the way to go.

2) Your choice of iPad case and charging solution matter.

Our school went down the road of centralising iPad charging in one easily accessible (secure) room in the school, rather than charging small numbers of iPads in each classroom. Some people I have talked to (outside the school) are not keen on this approach; however, it seems to be workable for our school context. While classroom use is currently limited to ICT lessons & Integration sessions, this is primarily an indicator of teachers’ confidence – which is something we will be working to develop next year.

On the issue of iPad cases, my personal preference is the STM Skinny case, which is durable, protective, and most importantly – light. Our new school iPads came with the STM Dux case, which has a high drop protection rating and an (admittedly useful) clear back. Unfortunately, I am not joking when I say that these cases took, on average, 3 minutes to install per device, and the ends of my fingers hurt for days afterwards. They are also extremely heavy, especially for small children, as well as the teachers trying to carry a box of five. I am hoping that we take this into consideration when we expand the iPad program in future years.

3) Establish clear guidelines for selection and purchasing of iPad apps

One of the challenges of establishing a school iPad program is planning and communicating what kinds of apps will be purchased, and whether the school or classroom teachers pay for them. From the outset, I argued for a focus on creative rather than skill and drill apps, a position supported by my administration. Drawing upon international best practice, implementing this approach was not without its challenges, and I did make a few mistakes along the way.

Drawing upon teacher feedback, and my own experimentation with a play-based approach to iPad integration in K-3,  I have realised that there is a need for a few phonics/literacy game / skill development apps in the early years – provided those apps are limited in number, sourced from high-quality educational providers, and support the classroom literacy approach. While I have had considerable success in ICT classes with developing students’ skills with more creative iPad apps, such as Book Creator, Play School Art Maker, DoodleBuddy. Strip Design, and Puppet Pals Directors’ Pass (which I will introduce next week), the classroom integration of these tools will be a focus for 2015.

One key lesson I learnt from this rollout is that pushing out the same set of apps onto Kindergarten to Year 3 iPads is not particularly helpful. There is a need to adjust the apps provided for various year levels, as well as a need to remove unnecessary duplication. For example, DoodleBuddy is a fantastic drawing tool for EC, while renders the more complicated SketchBook Lite unnecessary. Similarly, while I would happily use HaikuDeck from Year 1 upwards, there is no point in having it on Kindy and PP devices. In addition, it pays to check that the Lite versions of apps (such as Puppet Pals HD, Spelling City, Reading Eggs) are actually useful prior to putting them onto all the devices. Sometimes, as we discovered with Puppet Pals, it genuinely pays to purchase the full version, while the others require a paid subscription.

One other important issue that we confronted during our rollout was negotiating and communicating procedures for classroom teachers to request and purchase iPad apps. Both my administration and I take the view that app selection and purchasing needs to be carefully managed to ensure that selected apps are of educational value – beyond skill and drill games. As the procedures currently stand, classroom teachers are able to request apps for their classes / year level on a Term by Term basis, and purchases of paid apps are charged to classroom budgets. While we’ve had a few hurdles, the system seems to be working well, and will be refined in 2015.

4) Teach students (and staff) how to use Cloud workflows for sharing work

I have been pleasantly surprised with how my Pre-Primary and Year 1 students have learnt how to save their work, and download photos (with guidance) from their class Dropbox account. As part of the iPad rollout, I set up Gmail addresses and Dropbox accounts for each year level, using the Carousel app to get an additional 3GB space. While I had to individually input these accounts on every device, teaching students about the cloud has been invaluable.We may switch to Google Drive next year, but for now at least, Dropbox is my preferred, simple solution for sharing classroom photos for student use, and collecting work from devices.

Whatever cloud storage solution you choose to use, it is important to explicitly teach students and staff how to use it to store and retrieve documents, images, and other files. The development of these skills in my school is a work in progress 🙂

5) It is important to balance explicit teaching and play-based / discovery learning with iPads

When I first started in this role, I strongly emphasised a play-based / discovery approach to teaching students how to use creative iPad apps. Drawing upon collegial advice and feedback, and my own observations, I am realising that there is a need to balance the play-based approach with explicit teaching and guided demonstrations, especially for the more complicated app workflows, such as Dropbox and Explain Evrything.

One very valuable suggestion, which I will work on next year, is providing students with simple instructions (either screenshots / video) which they can refer to as they work on iPad projects. My initial thinking is we could put these in Google Docs, and teach students how to access them via QR code … and if at all possible, I’d like to employ some Year 6 students to create them … We will see.

6) Classroom iPad integration requires ongoing professional support, beyond one off workshops.

I am lucky enough to be in a school which can  employ me as a part-time ICT integrator, currently for half a day a week. With this extra time, I have been able to work alongside four teachers to support their integration of ICT, in addition to those who have regularly given up their DOTT time to join my ICT lessons.

Over the past few months, I’ve learnt a great deal about collaboration and coaching; learning from my mistakes, and celebrating some huge milestone achievements – such as running a book trailer project & introducing Mystery Skype  in Year 3, and supporting teachers’ involvement in the Travelling Teddy Project. These sessions have been invaluable in that they have allowed me to help build teachers’ confidence and understanding of how to integrate iPads into their classroom teaching, while helping me develop my collaborative teaching skills & own professional learning.

The greatest lesson I’ve drawn from this experience; however, is that while traditional workshop / professional development days are fantastic for introducing teachers to ICT and iPad integration, it takes time and ongoing support for teachers to build their confidence and skills. Developing teachers’ ICT skills is not a straightforward process, and there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. If you’re preparing or planning to implement an iPad program, it is vital that you build in some form of professional support – through Techie Brekkies, or providing time for teachers to join the ICT teacher for a Term’s ICT lessons. I am extremely grateful that my school has appreciated the value of this approach, and I’ve certainly enjoyed the challenge.

Where to in 2015?

In comparison to many other schools, our iPad program is relatively small, and most definitely in its’ infancy. We’ve made significant strides in the first few months, and I am looking forward to continue our iPad journey in 2015.