Overview | 21st Century Digital Skills
Competencies, Innovations, and Curriculum in Canada
This article summarizes findings from a full-length study. Read the full report here.
This report examines the top technical skills and soft or human skills required by educators and students in K-12 Canadian schools.
It includes a discussion of the following:
- Classroom integration of technologies such as 3D printing, AI, VR/AR, Apps, Gamification, and LMS tools
- Barriers to technology adoption
- Three pillars of technology in education policy: gender, cultural, economic diversity
This study extends on ICTC’s 2020 study, Class, Take Out Your Tablets: The Impact of Technology on Learning and Teaching in Canada.
Digital technology use in classrooms has been accelerating over the years. COVID-19 marks a step-change in the digitization of the economy and society.
K-12 students need to become increasingly comfortable with technology to prepare for the future.
Teachers need to develop new skills and knowledge required to fully utilize digital technology (whether in the classroom or in a hybrid classroom/online setting).
Technology Benefits in Education
Technology can facilitate educational advances by enabling:
- Better access to large volumes of up-to-date information
- New learning opportunities through online groups, virtual communities, and access to experts
- Accommodation of students with learning or physical disabilities
- Improved engagement and interactivity in subjects by leveraging virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR)
- Self-paced learning that caters to the unique needs of each individual learner
- Innovative teaching techniques as part of a larger movement toward “active learning” (instruction that engages students in ways other than passively watching, listening, and taking notes)
- Accentuated collaboration and communication for shared work efforts
Gaps in Knowledge, Support, and Training
ICTC’s 2020 study, Class, Take Out Your Tablets: The Impact of Technology on Learning and Teaching in Canada, cites two primary challenges to effective tech adoption by educators:
1. Lack of available support for IT services at schools
2. Lack of training and long-term support provided by vendors for new technologies and equipment
Educators who lack familiarity with digital systems compromise their teaching success in the future.
Technology plays a role in a systemic that is redefining the relationship between students and educators.
“Reaching out to other humans through the connected power of technology becomes hugely disruptive to the educational process. You can have an environment where you come to class not knowing the answer to something, and you can work with other kids to find the answer. It’s a fundamental shift for the teacher… We can actually ‘walk in the uncertainty’ and bring the true uncertainty of the real world into the classroom.”
– Post-Secondary Digital Learning Strategist, Ontario
Educators need the following digital skills and core competencies to effectively help students succeed:
Some school districts are providing educators with guidance for best practices to manage the transition to digital tools, as some of the following guidelines illustrate:
Barriers to Widespread Technology Adoption
- Fear of failure in front of students, issues of student data privacy, and perceptions of competency are deterrents to technology adoption
- Barriers to participation in professional development workshops include funding for substitute teachers, time constraints, and lack of consistent training opportunities
- School budgets for the purchasing new equipment can also be problematic
- Annual funding cycles can negatively impact aging technology, software licensing, etc.
- Budget differences between high-income and low-income schools
Conversely, educators who successfully adopt technology are often seen as “change agents” who can confidently troubleshoot problems in technology deployment act as facilitators of technology integration.
K-12 Teacher Competencies
No universally accepted personality characteristics determine an educator’s efficacy, but some soft skills and attributes help students success:
Future-Ready Skills for Students
ICTC’s primary research into soft skills and core competencies that are fundamental for student success after graduation are ranked as follows:
Technical or academic competences required by students were ranked as follows:
Innovative Approaches to Tech Implementation in Canada
“We’re not here to teach the kids technology. We’re here to use it as a tool to learn.”
ICTC identifies how the following technologies are tied to skills and competency development.
3D printing in education allows students to be creative and develop design principles, while empowering teachers to create scenarios that help students learn from failures that are inherent in the experimentation process.
- Classroom 3D printing develops information and data literacy skills through searching and filtering data to find relevant files and instructions. Further, communication and collaboration skills are needed on these complex projects that often involve peer-to-peer learning. The most significant skill or competency is problem solving.
“Applied AI” is helping to predict, analyze, and conduct tasks that normally require human input. In Canada, AI has improved and streamlined educational processes, including enhancing and automating administrative tasks, assisting teachers, and aiding in the creation of personalized learning experiences for students.
- Using AI technologies involves information and data literacy skills, digital content creation skills (following instructions and how to perform tasks), safety skills (understanding risks and threats for privacy and negative social impacts), and problem-solving skills (how to practically use these tools).
Immersive learning provides engaging real-life experiences that would otherwise be dangerous or inaccessible to students. This popular learning method has been particularly well received by students who are “visual learners” and prefer visual and tactile experiences, as opposed to traditional modes of learning.
- VR/AR and XR technology develop fine motor skills and overcome physical safety implications. VR/AR experiences can improve student problem solving capabilities by identifying and solving technical and theoretical challenges.
ICTC research indicates the proliferation of education apps can be overwhelming for teachers. Over 80,000 apps are readily available and, with significant adoption of mobile devices in the classroom, this has driven a “shift in the pedagogical approach to media and technology.”
- Digital tools develop numerous skills such as information and data literacy, communication and collaboration, digital content creation, safety, and problem solving.
Gamification and Games-Based Learning (GBL)
GBL in K–12 adds interactivity to the education process and introduces an element of entertainment into lessons, potentially leading to a more engaging and memorable educational experience. It is proven to enhance student engagement, motivation, flexibility, and collaboration while building and promoting digital skills.
- Gamification and GBL develops information and data literacy skills, including the ability to navigate and analyze information and digital content. Communication and collaboration skills are also fostered when there is a need to interact, communicate, and collaborate in team “quests.”
Learning Management Systems (LMS)
LMS have transformed the traditional educational experience by designing digital learning environments that augment or reshape the classroom experience. Tools such as Google Classroom, Canvas, Moodle, D2L, Blackboard, and Canvas are becoming better known outside of their traditional post-secondary homes and are moving into K-12 learning, partially as a result of the pandemic.
- LMS systems have implications across numerous skills and competencies, such as information and data literacy, communication and collaboration, digital content creation, safety, and problem solving.
Procurement and Technology Integration
Classroom technology adoption requires and understanding of procurement and roll-out. (This paper primarily focuses on an individual level of procurement by educators, rather than at a provincial or district level.)
As noted, procurement remains a barrier for the widespread adoption of technology in schools. But recent developments are helping address these challenges:
- An example is Ontario’s test pilot to allow schools to try new technology projects through “seed funding.”
- Other directions for improvement noted by education experts were to provide consistent funding for up-to-date software, loosening of antiquated restrictive policies, and the implementation of open-source software to remedy the challenges of costs, accessibility, and adoption.
- Study respondents also emphasized the need for technology support specialists to identify, source, and provide roll-out strategies for new technologies. This includes the provision of training, ongoing support, and the coordination of professional development opportunities.
Study interviewees recognized the SAMR Model as a guidance for classifying and understanding how digital technologies can be used in the classroom so that educators fully utilize their capabilities.
Technology as a Pillar of Education Policy
Education technology has tremendous potential to provide new learning opportunities while furthering Canada’s educational values of equity, diversity, and a free and widely accessible public education system.
Tech adoption has both positive and negative implications and therefore requires careful and informed consideration:
Technology has the potential to democratize education, span physical distances between schools and communities, and prepare students for the increasingly digital 21st century world, but for students and teachers without adequate access to computers and connectivity and without adequate funding, training, and support for educators, it can isolate and disrupt the learning journey.