Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Students citizenship of the digital world

Greetings from the Australian Computer Society Branch Forum in Canberra, where Dr Karen Macpherson of the University on "Digital Technology and Australian Teenagers: Consumption, Study and Careers". In 2012 the Australian Computer Society (ACS) commissioned a study into school student's use of computer technology and their views on a career in technology. The results have been published by the University of Canberra as "(by Karen Macpherson, May 2013).
The ACS sponsored this research because there are too few young people enrolling in computer science courses at university to meet industry demand. Dr Macpherson took a refreshingly simple approach to answering this question, by simply asking young people about their use of ICT and views on career.

Students interest in studying IT peaks in Year 8 (age 14) of school. But interest in "How Computers Work" stays at a higher level until age 18. This may indicate a problem with the perception of what IT is brought about by school courses.

School students perceive university IT courses as being difficult but interesting. Most students think IT professionals write software and design databases for business. There is little perception of creative uses for IT, such as in robotics. Students though that working in IT meant a dull job sitting at a computer all day. Students wanted a creative, well paid, creative and interesting job. The problem for the IT profession is to point out the creative aspects of IT and also perhaps reform the current school IT curriculum.

Dr. Macpherson pointed out that students wanted interesting "well paid" jobs, but not necessarily professional ones. So I suggest that perhaps ACS should place more emphasis on the vocational path to an IT career, as an alternative to university.

Macpherson reports that young people have a type of “dual citizenship”: in physical space and digital space, with different language and mores. As students, young people make intensive use of on-line information sources, but are not necessarily able to identify definitive content.  Educators then have to help students bridge these cultures. I suggest this might be though of in a similar way to overseas students who have English as a second language. In a way this has always been the case, as student learn the language and culture of higher education.

In teaching university students via the Internet, I find that they know how to use a computer (these are computer science students), but not necessarily how to use it to have a structured professional discussion.

I will be speaking at the 12 November ACS ICT trends in Education" (I am a member of the ACS.

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