2
Introduction

Information and communications technology (ICT) pervades virtually all domains of modern life—educational, professional, social, and personal. Yet although there have been numerous calls for linkages that enable ICT competencies acquired in one domain to benefit another, this goal has largely remained unrealized. In particular, while technology skills and applications at work could be greatly enhanced by earlier complementary learning at school—particularly in K–12 education, a formative and influential stage in a person’s life—little progress has been made on such linkages.

At present, the curricula of most U.S. high schools focus on skills in the use of tools such as specific word-processing software or contemporary Internet search engines. Although these kinds of skills are certainly valuable—at least for a while—they comprise just one component, and the most rudimentary component, of ICT competencies. The high school years put little emphasis on underlying concepts of ICT, which will serve students far longer than familiarity with current but soon-obsolescent products and services. Nor do most high school curricula seriously address intellectual capabilities, which transcend ICT’s current manifestations, for dealing with complexity.

Being Fluent with Information Technology1 notes that a major constraint

1

National Research Council. (1999). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.



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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary 2 Introduction Information and communications technology (ICT) pervades virtually all domains of modern life—educational, professional, social, and personal. Yet although there have been numerous calls for linkages that enable ICT competencies acquired in one domain to benefit another, this goal has largely remained unrealized. In particular, while technology skills and applications at work could be greatly enhanced by earlier complementary learning at school—particularly in K–12 education, a formative and influential stage in a person’s life—little progress has been made on such linkages. At present, the curricula of most U.S. high schools focus on skills in the use of tools such as specific word-processing software or contemporary Internet search engines. Although these kinds of skills are certainly valuable—at least for a while—they comprise just one component, and the most rudimentary component, of ICT competencies. The high school years put little emphasis on underlying concepts of ICT, which will serve students far longer than familiarity with current but soon-obsolescent products and services. Nor do most high school curricula seriously address intellectual capabilities, which transcend ICT’s current manifestations, for dealing with complexity. Being Fluent with Information Technology1 notes that a major constraint 1 National Research Council. (1999). Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary in the teaching of ICT-related subjects is the factor of change. For example, when that report was published less than a decade ago, the World Wide Web had only recently become a public resource, and any discussion of ICT fluency just a few years earlier would not have included, or perhaps even envisioned, the browsing skills and other capabilities currently regarded as essential. Similarly, to shape curricula today that might be valid, say, 20 years hence would be mostly an exercise in futility. Being Fluent thus emphasized life-long learning, which led to the report’s well-received tripartite framework of ICT skills, ICT concepts, and intellectual capabilities. The skills enable the use of current technology. The concepts are essentially the foundation that allows students—and adults—to keep learning. And the capabilities effectively allow the wise use both of skills and concepts in the right way at the right time. Under each of these three major components, moreover, Being Fluent identified 10 specific competencies (see Box 2-1). The committee members who developed the report intentionally limited themselves to this number because it forced them to choose the competencies they considered most important rather than generate an extensive list. The report also stressed that “fluency” is not a synonym for “literacy.” It is in fact much broader. Literacy is effectively embodied by the skills component, while the concepts and capabilities components take learners much further and deeper. As a result, the acquisition of literacy is a relatively straightforward process, whether in schools or elsewhere, but the teaching of fluency—imparting not only ICT skills but also concepts and capabilities—requires curricular change in which ICT is seen as more than a particular skill set, especially in the high schools. Being Fluent advanced principles, centered on those sketched above, that apply to all of education, but it focused on the college (undergraduate) level. To address the specifics of ICT learning during the high school years would require an explicit effort to build on that report, which was the focus of the workshop that is the subject of this present report. The workshop had three primary objectives: (1) to examine the need for updates to the ICT-fluency framework presented in the 1999 study; (2) to identify and analyze the most promising current efforts to provide in high schools many of the ICT competencies required not only in the workplace but also in people’s day-to-day functioning as citizens; and (3) to consider what information or research is needed to inform efforts to help high school students develop ICT fluency. To help ensure that the workshop would meet these objectives, the

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary BOX 2-1 Components of Fluency with Information Technology Intellectual Capabilities Engage in sustained reasoning. Manage complexity. Test a solution. Manage problems in faulty solutions. Organize and navigate information structures and evaluate information. Collaborate. Communicate to other audiences. Expect the unexpected. Anticipate changing technologies. Think about information technology abstractly. Information Technology Concepts Computers. Information systems. Networks. Digital representation of information. Information organization. Modeling and abstraction. Algorithmic thinking and programming. Universality. Limitations of information technology. Societal impact of information and information technology. Information Technology Skills Setting up a personal computer. Using basic operating system features. Using a word processor to create a text document. Using a graphics and/or artwork package to create illustrations, slides, or other image-based expressions of ideas. Connecting a computer to a network. Using the Internet to find information and resources. Using a computer to communicate with others. Using a spreadsheet to model simple processes or financial tables. Using a database system to set up and access useful information. Using instructional materials to learn how to use new applications or features. SOURCE: National Research Council (1999).

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary organizing committee invited four distinguished educators to prepare short papers for the workshop, and it developed a set of questions to guide its planning. Karen Pittman of the Forum for Youth Investment, Paul Horwitz of the Concord Consortium, and Philip Bell of the University of Washington concentrated on learning. Specifically, they were asked to Discuss whether developments in ICT, the workplace, education, and society suggest that revisions—with a focus on expectations for high school students—to the initial framework of Being Fluent are needed. Reconsider the current curricular framework, both in terms of how it can be made appropriate for outlining high school graduation outcomes and how advances in ICT since 1999 can be taken into account. Emphasize research-based understanding of learning and effective learning environments, as well as how that knowledge might guide the revision of the Being Fluent framework. Paul Resta of the University of Texas Learning and Technology Center concentrated on the workplace. He was asked to Reconsider the Being Fluent framework, both in terms of how it can be made appropriate for outlining high school graduation outcomes and how advances in ICT since 1999 can be taken into account. Focus particularly on changes in the workplace and their consequences for the level of ICT fluency needed in the current and future workforce. Following the original “ground rules” of the study committee that developed the Being Fluent framework, all four authors were told that if they wanted to add a capability, concept, or skill to the framework, they could do so only if they eliminated an existing one. And if they did suggest the addition or removal of an item, they were asked to articulate the rationale for doing so. Lastly, the planning committee encouraged the authors to be forward-thinking, provocative, and yet realistic in the spirit of developing a framework suitable for high school outcomes in ICT. Their four papers appear as Appendixes A–D to this report.

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary The committee specified four critical questions for all participants in the workshop to consider in their presentations and interactions: Do developments in ICT, the workplace, education, and society suggest that revisions to the initial framework of ICT fluency proposed by the Being Fluent are needed? What do all high school students need to know and be able to do in ICT in order to be functional in society now and in the future? What is the state of evidence about the effectiveness of current practices and courses aimed at enhancing ICT knowledge among high school students, with particular attention to the whole range of high school learners? What evaluations or other studies are available to assess the extent to which students participating in such programs become fluent with ICT (as defined in Being Fluent and in papers commissioned for the workshop)? What further information or research is needed to reform efforts to help high school students develop competencies associated with all three capabilities of the ICT fluency framework, in the context of existing high school curricula? These questions were intended to stimulate workshop discussion on what students should know when they leave high school and to challenge participants to look deeper into the problem—to suggest how students should gain these skills, concepts, and capabilities and through what learning mechanisms. For example, does ICT need to be taught in special classes? Or can it be taught in the discipline-related classes? Because a good deal of the learning about it is presently occurring out of schools, another issue is whether ICT skills, concepts, and capabilities should be learned in school at all, or only partly in school. That is, what should be the tradeoff between formal and informal learning of ICT? Moreover, how will teachers become competent to teach ICT, especially when some of their students may be more knowledgeable than they are? Similarly, how will educators deal with the networked, nonlinear nature of ICT, especially as schools have traditionally been organized around a linear development of knowledge in specific subjects? To elicit answers to these and related questions in as constructive a manner as possible, the workshop was organized into five sessions keyed respectively to the following five questions:

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary What makes ICT a critical topic in today’s climate, and why is fluency in it essential? What outcomes are needed? That is, how can ICT fluency be defined in practice? What is currently being taught or learned? How are the outcomes being measured? What changes may be needed in the original ICT fluency framework of Being Fluent? The next five chapters of this report summarize those five sessions. The questions that begin each chapter capture the major themes that were discussed during the session Significant work on ICT education remains to be done, especially in high schools. By identifying what is known and unknown about the acquisition of ICT fluency during the high school years, the workshop was designed to move this work forward. The hope of its organizers and participants is that the workshop and this report will inform the National Science Foundation and other federal agencies, as well as policy makers, administrators, and faculty in high schools, community colleges, and undergraduate settings, as they consider ways of enhancing the ICT fluency of high school graduates.