Recently, there has been fierce discussion with regard to whether or not computers and Internet access cause increased distractions or not in the classroom. Thursday, Simenstad (2014) published an article in Klassekampen where the results of a new research paper investigating students perceptions of digital habits and use of ICT in the classroom. The study found that 32 percent of students perceived their own ICT habits as an impediment for achieving competence aims and educational aims. This is a transnational study including 3400 pupils from Norway, Sweden, and Finland. This is of course a great challenge. However, I disagree in some of the conclusions Prof Vavik draw from these results. I believe this is a matter of class management.
First, Prof Vavik emphasises the differences between Norway and Finland in terms of the scores. This is not a new phenomenon per se. Norway has developed somewhat of an inferiority complex in the face of Finland’s many achievements in global and international rankings. Vavik highlights the presence of restrictions when using computers in the Finnish classroom: “There is not a free use of PC and Internet in the classrooms, as it is in Norway,” he claims (Simenstad, 2014; my translation). I would have to disagree with this argument. I worked as a teacher at an Upper Secondary school during spring 2013, and as a teacher and as a classroom leader, I were in full control of when the students could use computers. This was a classroom of classroom management, and computers were used when it served its purpose. This, however, does not mean that I refrained from using computers in the classroom.
Second, a narrow and ignorant definition of digital competence arises in an utterance of Prof Vavik, where he criticises the position of digital competence in the Knowledge Promotion curriculum (LK06): “At present, ICT is not a means, but an end in itself. Norway is the only country that has digital competence as an own aim. This is purely nonsense. Writing, talking, and reading are activities we do all the time, and then we use digital and analogue tools when it serves its purpose,” he argues. It is profoundly sad that such shallow interpretations of digital competence still persevere. Digital competence is much more than digital tools. Søby (2005) defines digital competence as “[…] skills, knowledge, creativity, and attitudes that all needs to be able to use digital media for learning and being able to master in the knowledge society” (p. 8; my translation). The fact that Norway is a pioneer in terms of digital competence should be a source of immense pride. To try to diminish or in any way oppose digital development and availability is like swimming against a waterfall. By that I mean that the digital era is already here; every day the user interface in digital activities becomes simpler and easier to use. Earlier, you had to know about scripts and programming to run a web site. Today, the process of creating a blog is not time-consuming at all; you can do it in 5 minutes.
When Prof Vavik emphasises that more teachers in Finland have master’s degrees than in Norway, I would have to say that unless these master’s degrees include lectures in didactics or digital competence, I can’t see the difference. Prof Vavik ends the interview by arguing that good classroom management is not the source of these negative results, by saying that half of the teaching staff in the country cannot possibly have low class-leading abilities. I would again argue that the teacher is the most important factor in terms of digital competence, and that learning activities have to be planned and carried out critically to serve the purpose of the aims. Obviously, one should not using digital tools just for its sake. But once again, digital competence is not only about digital tools, but about knowledge, skills, attitudes, and creativity, as in Søby’s (2005) definition. Increased awareness of digital competence and further training (in-service courses and such) of teachers is thus crucial.
The director of ICT in Education, Trond Engebretsen, encourages to not turning off the Internet access in classrooms: “The teacher is the boss in the classroom. It is the teacher who decides the pedagogical activities” (Hinna, 2014; my translation). And he is right. Trying to turn off the Internet to prevent students to use it is like trying to turn back time.
References and thanks:
Thanks to Johannes Bogen for helpful advice and keen reflections.
Illustration photo retrieved from: http://edcetera.rafter.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/distraction.jpg [Accessed: 24.01.2014].
Hinna, A. K. (2014, January 18). Skru ikkje av nettet. Klassekampen. Available at: http://www.klassekampen.no/article/20140118/ARTICLE/140119960/1005 [Accessed: 24.01.2014].
Simenstad, L. M. (2014, January 23). Elevene mister konsentrasjonen. Klassekampen. Available at: http://www.klassekampen.no/article/20140123/ARTICLE/140129983 [Accessed: 24.01.2014].
Søby, M (2005): Digital skole hver dag -om helhetlig utvikling av digital kompetanse i grunnopplæringen. ITU: Universitetet i Oslo [Online] Available at: Utdanningsdirektoratet: http://www.udir.no/Upload/Rapporter/5/ITU_rapport.pdf?epslanguage=no [Accessed: 22.01.2014].