Introduction It is hard to deny that the development of modern information and communication technology (ICT) has had a profound impact on how we communicate, share ideas, solve problems and get answers. With regard to education, ICT has likely changed the way we learn - in many ways, putting the learner in control of the learning model; but have classroom teachers kept pace with this shift in educational practice? Teachers and students now have the ability to get answers to many of their questions with just a few clicks of the mouse - or taps on an mobile phone. They can share classroom projects with students down the hall or across an ocean. They can collaboratively solve problems with little regard to time and distance - the Internet is open 24 hours a day and travels at speeds approaching the instantaneous. However, in order to take advantage of the tremendous potential ICT represents, teachers and students must be literate in this new medium. Taking its place alongside the traditional "Three R's", technology literacy is a new basic skill that many leading education advocates and organizations feel students must master (International Society for Technology in Education, 2008; The Partnership for 21st Century Skills, State Educational Technology Directors Association; U.S. Department of Education, 2004). The belief is based on the premise that preparing today's generation of students for a lifetime of ICT use should be conducted hand-in-hand with teaching them to read, write and think mathematically. To do this successfully, school leaders will need to hire technology literate teachers who are comfortable, capable technology users able to provide students with adequate opportunities to apply a growing and changing variety of ICT applications. However, it will be difficult to ensure that faculty and staff members are "tech literate" until school leaders are able to identify,
define, discuss, model, and evaluate exactly what a "tech literate" teacher is able to do. In other words, what does technology literacy look like, how will it be acquired, and how will it be accurately assessed? The purpose of this brief is to present some common definitions of technology literacy, provide some guidance about how to assess it and start a discussion about the role of the educational administrator in promoting it. What is technology literacy? Technology (ICT) literacy is a common expression frequently used by educators and the general public. Due to the familiarity of the term, and the ease with which it is used, it might appear that there is a clear, shared meaning of what it means and what characteristics form the foundation of the term. The reality is that there is no clearly agreed upon meaning of technology literacy and the term itself is actually quite complicated to define. Many educators, even those who are tech savvy, are likely confused by the competing meanings and often ambiguous definitions surrounding the phrase. Despite this lack of shared meaning, the Federal Government believed that developing technology literacy (whatever it is) was important enough to include it in federal law, stating that all students must be technology-literate by the time they exit 8th grade (No Child Left Behind Act, 2001; U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Unfortunately, they fell short in providing a definition of what technology literacy means, leaving it up to individual states to determine the (potentially conflicting) details and ultimately, how to assess if students have "achieved it" or not. As the examples below illustrate, many of these definitions are vague and provide seemingly little guidance in how school leaders should proceed in developing technology literacy among teachers and students. They do, however, represent a starting point for the discussion. For example:
The state of Virginia defines technology literacy as the ability "to possess technology skills that support learning, personal productivity, decision making, and daily life" (Virginia Department of Education, 2002, p.101).
The Maryland Department of Education states that technology literacy is the ability of an individual, working independently and with others, to responsibly, appropriately and effectively use technology tools to access, manage, integrate, evaluate, create and communicate information (Maryland Technology Literacy Consortium, 2007).
Not all state educational authorities have chosen to create their own unique terminology with regard to tech literacy, many states have adopted definitions created by The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) or The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE), two leading education technology advocacy groups. SETDA defines technology literacy as: The ability to responsibly use appropriate technology to communicate, solve problems, and access, manage, integrate, evaluate, and create information to improve learning in all subject areas and to acquire lifelong knowledge and skills in the 21st century (SETDA, 2003). The International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) defines technology literacy through the National Education Technology Standards for Students (NETS-S). These standards are divided into six broad categories: creativity and innovation; communication and collaboration; research and information fluency; critical thinking, problem solving, and decision making; digital citizenship; and technology operations and concepts (ISTE,
2007). Some states, like Georgia, have essentially merged the SETDA and ISTE definitions together and describe tech literacy as the ability of students to use the tools of their society with skill in an ethical, accurate, and insightful manner to meet the demands of the 21st century workplace and world. This includes the ability to use appropriate technology responsibly to solve problems and to create knowledge and learning by: accessing: managing; evaluating and analyzing; integrating and synthesizing; and communicating information (Georgia Department of Education, n.d.). As of 2007, 29 states were using the ISTE or SETDA definition, the remaining 22 states - including the District of Columbia - had their own unique definition or were using some other organization-created definition (SETDA, 2007). So, what is technology literacy? From the definitions above, perhaps the most interesting aspect to note that is that the emphasis is not actually on the technology. Rather, it is more about using technology tools to foster the "soft skills" that students are hypothesized to need in order to be productive citizens in an increasing global society. In a way, this seems appropriate since literacy skills include those that everyone should have for civic participation; skills that are useful for a lifetime and within reach of just about everyone. This does not mean that the acquisition of technology-specific skills are not important. Teachers and students must know how to use the technology tools in order to apply them to a given task, however, the focus should remain on the task... not the use of a specific tool. In other words, ICTs are just tools; their contribution to improve learning depends on how they are used (Chen, Healy, Resnick, Lipper, Lazarus, & Dede, 2000). Therefore, education leaders should focus on how ICT can be applied to learning outcomes and not on the acquisitions of specific technology skills (like how to cut &
paste) or frequency of use. The important concept here is that the acquisition of specific technology skills will come from using the tools within a larger, pedagogical context. Why is technology literacy important? For many groups and individuals, creating a tech literate population is one of the key components to the growth and economic survival of the United States. The US government figures that the mastery and application of technologies by individuals is critical for America to successfully compete in the global economy (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). This sentiment has been echoed by many within the scientific and corporate worlds who state that the need for young people to receive better preparation in STEM subjects - science, technology, engineering and math, justifies the need for creating a technology literate educational realm (Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2008). Given the tremendous impact ICT has already had on the global market place (Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, 2005) it's easy to understand why students will need to exit formalized schooling with a solid foundation that includes the skills surrounding technology literacy. Whether or not the creation of a tech literate population is key to the survival of the American economy, it is clear that technology has become a central force that fuels the daily life for American youth. In 2005, a report noted that 87% of American adolescents use the Internet, 81% play online games, 76% read online news, and 51% claim to go online on a daily basis (Lenhart, Madden, & Hitlin, 2005). It is highly probably that these numbers have increased over the past 4 years. Given that youth must become ICT literate in order to successfully consume and produce in online spaces (Black & Steinkuehler, 2009) the consequences of not facilitating tech literacy
acquisition during the school day are potentially substantial. While these two rationales form the foundation of the arguments for promoting technology literacy, there are other reasons including research that shows positive benefits to student achievement through the thoughtful use of technology (Lei & Zhao, 2007), the importance of raising awareness to the dangers of the Internet (online bullying, identity theft, copyright issues, fraud, etc.), and the need to understand the processes and conventions of the online community (Black & Steinkuehler, 2009). Of course, it is hypothesized that the many potential educational benefits and student achievement gains facilitated through the thoughtful application of an ICT is not going to happen until teachers and students are technology literate. School administrators can certainly play a role in getting teachers to improve their own understanding of how the use education technology can support, enhance, and transform their teaching practices. Role of school administrators in promoting technology literacy The adoption of computers and other technology initiatives by classroom teachers has been a slow and often unsuccessful process. A number of studies have concluded that many computer-based technologies are infrequently used or unused in most schools (Becker, 2001; NCES 2000; Zhao, Pugh, Sheldon, & Byers, 2002). What use there is often remains peripheral and minimal with low pedagogic meaning, frequently limited to traditional drill and practice exercises, basic word processing applications, and research or information gathering activities (Lim & Khine, 2006; Sanchez & Salinas, 2008; Technology Counts, 2004; Vannatta & Fordham, 2004). To change this trend, school administrators need to be at the forefront of promoting initiatives designed to give
teachers the power to effectively integrate technology into their teaching; not a simple task. The biggest challenge for promoting teaching effectiveness in the 21st century is the ability of teachers to acquire informational literacy competencies and to apply instructional technology in their teaching (Wen & Shih, 2008). First, leaders need to ensure that teachers have the proper conditions to use technology with students. The conditions most cited are: enough access to technology, adequate teacher training, effective curriculum, relevant and pertinent evaluations, a stimulating school system, and an encouraging family and community atmosphere (Norris, Soloway, & Sullivan, 2002; Roschelle, Pea, Hoadley, Gordin, & Means, 2000). Fortunately, many of these barriers can be directly influenced by the school administrator assuming the administrator is also technology literate. Therefore, perhaps the initial step administrators need to take in promoting technology literacy is to become tech literate themselves. School administrators need to understand and believe how positive educational change can be facilitated through the application of technology tools and applications. ISTE believes that the role of the school administrator is so pivotal in determining how well technology is used in schools that they have developed additional National Education Technology Standards (NETS-A) and Performance Indicators specifically for administrators (ISTE, 2009). Among the stated indicators of the NETS-A is the mandate that administrators need to "inspire and facilitate among all stakeholders a shared vision of purposeful change that maximizes use of digital-age resources to meet and exceed learning goals, support effective instructional practice, and maximize performance of district and school leaders" (ISTE, 2009).
Technology literate leaders must also take a role in allaying the concerns and fears that often accompany new technologies, possibly based on a lack of understanding or flat out ignorance. There is a perception that educational decision makers are quick to shackle tool functionality or filter content away from students altogether out of a fear that the technology will be misappropriated. Evidence of this can be seen in school policies regarding student use of mobile phones, iPods, student owned laptops, access to social networking sites (ex. facebook, twitter, etc.) and video sharing sites (YouTube). Technology literate leaders will understand the positive applications these types of emerging technology tools can bring to the academic and social growth of students and they will be savvy enough to anticipate and mitigate the negative aspects of the tools. How do you assess technology literacy? If a student is literate in reading, that literacy can be measured; the evidence of it is obvious and quantifiable. It's a bit harder to measure technology literacy, especially the way it has been defined by the majority of state educational authorities. For example, how will the state of Virginia measure if students possess the technology skills that will help them support learning, personal productivity, decision making, and daily life? It is much easier to assess specific technology skills (like inserting a picture into a MS Word document) but that sort of assessment has limited value since the definition of technology literacy goes well beyond simply knowing how to operate a computer or a computer related device. Technology literacy goes into the knowledge of how to appropriately apply the plethora of technology tools to solve problems and improve overall quality of life. Essentially, this means that school leaders will need to identify technology assessment devices that will measure how well students can utilize their critical thinking
and problem solving skills in a digital environment. There are some commercial products available that are designed to help schools assess student technology literacy. The iSkills assessment from Educational Testing Services (ETS) was one such measurement tool but it was removed from the market in September 2009. Learning.com also sells a tech literacy assessment - specifically designed for K-8 students - but it appears to only measure student proficiency with the technology tools, not the "soft skills" represented in the definitions of technology literacy presented above. School administrators should consider using other methods to assess technology literacy acquisition among teachers and students. These alternatives might be electronic portfolios, interviews, narrative reflections regarding tech integration, performance assessments, and direct observation of evidence of integrated technology usage. In an atmosphere that mandates so much quantitative data gathering, administrators should be open to these more qualitative assessments with regard to measuring technology literacy levels at the schools they lead. This will hopefully encourage teachers to experiment with and utilize the technology solutions that match the dynamic problems they are having in their classrooms rather than only using the prescribed tools and skills that are easily measured. Conclusion Technology literacy is a complex concept that is difficult to define and assess but it's critical that school leaders spend the time coming up with a working knowledge of the concepts that surround the term and how to "spot it" when they see it. But it is also important that administrators realize that technology integration is more about teaching and learning than it is about the technology tools. ICT can support and enhance teaching - which, in turn, will support and enhance student learning outcomes. Technology can be
used to develop critical thinking skills, content expertise, and lead to authentic learning activities. ICT allows teachers to have more control over their teaching and provides students with more opportunities to have increased control over their own learning (within and outside of school). However, no amount of technology will make an impact on learning unless teachers are involved in finding new and creative ways to exploit the tremendous potential it represents; after all technology by itself rarely has an impact on learning (Montgomery, 1996). Teachers need to put forth a conscious effort to make a variety of technology tools an integral part of their teaching. Teachers must make the pedagogical changes necessary to fully take advantage of the digital resources that will shape the futures of so many young children. The stakes are high and ultimately, it is the responsibility of the school administrator to create the atmosphere required for this teaching metamorphosis to occur. An atmosphere that will likely require transformation in the administrator as well.
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by Brett Sparrgrove What is technology literacy? How can school administrators help facilitate ICT acquisition by classroom teachers?