Sunday, 22 November 2015

Declining Digital Literacy

An article on the Register website caught my eye: "Kids' tech skills go backwards thanks to tablets and smartmobes."

The article links to a report by Australia's National Assessment Program. The media have taken from the report the conclusion that the levels of student digital literacy have stopped improving and have indeed declined.

For example:



The report authors have not in fact made quite as much of the drop in results as reporting would have you believe.

I have downloaded the report to use for part of my bibliography work for the course, and on face value there is a serious problem with the approach taken that rather undermines it the headline.

The authors have devised a series of tasks a number of years ago that tested the IT skills of students and reviewed the success of a representative sample in completing them. They produced test scores from these and mapped them to a six level scale of ICT literacy. For the 2014 round they changed to a web based testing system and intruded a number of updated modules.

The stats and methodology used in the report are first class - as a report on the ICT skills and attitudes  of this large sample of young people the report is really useful.

But as the tests used in 2014 are not the same as the ones used in 2011 (and rightly so) so a direct point score to point score comparison is meaningless. Attempts to map the new test point scores to the 6 point scale were made but the variation in the way that was done will be at least as great as any difference found in the testing.

If the same test had been the same to compare them directly, that would also have been of limited value as the nature of the experiences of using ICT for students in 2014 is different from that of 2011 (and earlier) and therefore their skills have developed differently.

Still, saying "using Tablets makes you less good at ICT" is a good headline and fits the "modern technology makes young people less good at things" narrative rather well... but the evidence doesn't support it.

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