Appendix A
ICT Fluency: Content and Context

Karen Pittman


My observations begin with the content of the components of fluency framework (see Box 2-1) but move fairly quickly to thoughts about the contexts in which young people can and should be encouraged to learn, practice, and apply this content. From where I sit, the components of fluency framework does include the menu of skills, concepts, and capabilities that are important and that have—in many cases—been included in other frameworks. More important than the specific items, however, the framework as a whole acknowledges the three important layers of learning that are needed in order to be “fluent” in the 21st century. But there is a challenge.

As presented on the page, it is not clear that the three lists of indicators represent different levels of fluency. All indicators appear equal. But they are not. The skills indicators are narrower and much more specific to information and communications technology (ICT) fluency than the others. And many people would argue that mastery of many of the intellectual capabilities is neither dependent on having ICT skills nor in the sole domain of ICT fluency.

The specific skills, concepts, and capabilities listed differ in scope and importance, and the underlying assumptions about how students develop skills, concepts, and capabilities are also different. The assumptions about how ICT skills, concepts, and capabilities relate to one another should, therefore, be made much more explicit. It should be obvious at a glance that no one is trying to equate building a spreadsheet with sustained rea-



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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary Appendix A ICT Fluency: Content and Context Karen Pittman My observations begin with the content of the components of fluency framework (see Box 2-1) but move fairly quickly to thoughts about the contexts in which young people can and should be encouraged to learn, practice, and apply this content. From where I sit, the components of fluency framework does include the menu of skills, concepts, and capabilities that are important and that have—in many cases—been included in other frameworks. More important than the specific items, however, the framework as a whole acknowledges the three important layers of learning that are needed in order to be “fluent” in the 21st century. But there is a challenge. As presented on the page, it is not clear that the three lists of indicators represent different levels of fluency. All indicators appear equal. But they are not. The skills indicators are narrower and much more specific to information and communications technology (ICT) fluency than the others. And many people would argue that mastery of many of the intellectual capabilities is neither dependent on having ICT skills nor in the sole domain of ICT fluency. The specific skills, concepts, and capabilities listed differ in scope and importance, and the underlying assumptions about how students develop skills, concepts, and capabilities are also different. The assumptions about how ICT skills, concepts, and capabilities relate to one another should, therefore, be made much more explicit. It should be obvious at a glance that no one is trying to equate building a spreadsheet with sustained rea-

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary soning. Any of a number of graphic tricks would make this clear (e.g., linking skills to concepts to capabilities with arrows that lead upward or putting the lists in nested boxes.) The layering used by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (2003), for example (core subjects, learning skills, 21st century context, 21st century content, etc.), has proven effective. Having offered comments on the content of the framework, let me move on quickly to context. The skills list is certainly the narrowest of the three areas, but it may be the most important from a student engagement perspective. This is an area where students—even students lacking in some of the basic concepts and capabilities—increasingly bring prior knowledge and experience to the table, with technology becoming so prevalent in their personal lives. (When a nationally representative sample of 10- to 17-year-olds were recently asked what skills they need more experience with in order to be successful in life, technology skills actually ranked close to the bottom—after financial, job, life, communication, people, thinking, academic, and cultural skills [America’s Promise, 2005]). From an implementation perspective, it is reasonable to argue that young people who have the intellectual capabilities identified in the framework will have an easier time acquiring specific concepts and technology skills. The power of the argument for ICT fluency, however, may lie in the fact that the more effective engagement strategy may actually be to work up from the bottom, with specific skills as a starting point. The arguments become much more persuasive when the framework is presented as an answer to a bigger question: How can we capitalize on the fact that youths increasingly have and want to use skills, in order to teach the concepts underlying those skills and then push further to the build the larger intellectual capabilities? Coming in the skills door also helps illustrate how and why schools are critical but not the only important setting that must be part of the conversation. I think we can all agree that the worst thing we could do is turn a natural skill acquisition space into a rote technology class or static curriculum. We must figure out how to integrate the application of technology skills plus the development of new skills into engaging learning contexts in which the development of the underlying concepts and intellectual capabilities are embedded learning goals. People learn these skills and concepts through project-based, applied learning opportunities, as discussed in Being Fluent (National Research Council, 1999) Applied learning happens in school buildings and in the broader community, both during the school day and beyond. In fact, we

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary would be in deep trouble if there weren’t applied learning opportunities all over the place, since not every young person we are trying to reach can be found in school. Knowing that roughly one-third of all teens (and nearly one-half of all teens of color) do not graduate from high school makes it all the more critical that opportunities to learn and apply technology and other skills be available in school and out. The question isn’t whether learning opportunities outside of the traditional classroom and school day are important. The question is why these opportunities are considered beyond or even peripheral to mainstream conversations about learning and high school reform. Research by Reed Larson (2000) and his colleagues suggest that American adolescents spend only a small fraction of their days fully engaged—meaning in contexts where they consistently report high challenge, high concentration, and high motivation. More often than not, the daily context for this high engagement is not school, but structured, voluntary activities such as internships, extracurricular clubs, community service projects, and youth programs. School must be at the center of the solution. But the nonschool hours represent too significant an opportunity to be left out of the conversation. And nonschool partners—families, community-based youth organizations, businesses, libraries, faith communities, and cultural institutions—represent too significant an asset to be left cheering on the sidelines. For example, in Seattle, Washington, low-income teens are employed as technology experts at King County branch libraries, providing computer assistance to library patrons. In San Diego, students in afterschool multimedia arts and civic engagement program work on new media journalism, digital photography, and graphic design projects while acquiring basic journalism skills. In Santa Cruz, middle school girls spend time at their local Boys and Girls Club during the summer creating computer games with interactive story narratives using Micromedia’s Flash program. And every year at the Education Video Center, in New York City, 60 high school students learn to write, shoot, and edit documentaries on issues that impact their lives as urban teens, learning media analysis and video documentary production on state-of-the-art equipment during a semester-long workshop for which they earn high school credit. I am not trying to suggest that community programs are a silver bullet or that we should shut down high schools and let students join youth programs. The point is that high-yield learning environments can be found or created in school and out. If the broad goal of the K–12 system is to ensure students leave school ready for the future, the changes that are nec-

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ICT Fluency and High Schools: A Workshop Summary essary can be complemented by—and perhaps only fully implemented through—intentional collaboration with community partners. The vision of community education partnerships put forth by Paul Hill and colleagues (2000) in It Takes a City helps articulate this goal, by recognizing that “the traditional boundaries between the public school system’s responsibilities and those of other community agencies are themselves a part of the educational problem.” REFERENCES America’s Promise. (2005). Voices study research findings. Alexandria, VA: Author. Available: http://www.americaspromise.org/files/AP%20VOICES%20STUDY.pdf. (Accessed June 2006]. Hill, P.T., Campbell, C., and Harvey, J. (2000). It takes a city: Getting serious about urban school reform. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press. Larson, R. (2000). Toward a psychology of positive youth development. American Psychologist, 55(1), 170–183. National Research Council. (1999). Being fluent with information technology. Committee on Information Technology Literacy. Washington, DC: National Academy Press. Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2003). Learning for the 21st century: A report and MILE guide for 21st century skills. Washington, DC: Author.