Digital smarts for today’s learning

June 2016


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In their book Digital Smarts Waikato University’s NOELINE WRIGHT and DIANNE FORBES share how digital technologies can support and enhance learning across all education sectors.

How can we effectively and innovatively harness digital technology for learning today?

On the surface, the question might assume that effective and innovative harnessing of digital technologies doesn’t already happen. Perhaps we need to focus on the qualifiers “effectively and innovatively”, which can be interpreted as being organised or efficient, in ways that might not have been possible before. Certainly there are many digital technologies that can be categorised under productivity in that way, and many are used in education contexts.

Schools commonly use software for enrolments, attendance, communication, archiving and sharing resources; however, this is no longer enough, especially since the rollout of ultra-fast broadband to most schools will be complete by the end of this year.

Since learning is the core function of a school, technologies that support and enhance learning are what teachers and learners strive to use. Digital Smarts demonstrates examples across all education sectors (ECE, primary, secondary, tertiary) and goes some way to answer the initial question ‘how can we effectively and innovatively harness digital technology for learning today?’

Focus on purpose: In education, the purpose is learning. It is the pedagogical decision-making that should happen before any technology decision is made. It is not tech for tech’s sake, and is regardless of education sector. The key question is always, ‘What do my students need to learn?’

Promote agency: This can be understood as students’ active participation in their learning. It is also about having control of one’s learning and decision-making. This includes any learner in early childhood through to secondary and tertiary learning contexts where a learner exercises agency over the focus of learning, generates content and resources, and is encouraged to provide feedback and feedforward to peers.

Be creative: Take risks, experiment and inquire. The term F.A.I.L. is a good one – it’s an acronym for First Attempt in Learning (from Kalam’s Wings of Fire, 1999) and reclaims ‘fail’ as a positive act of discovery. Challenge the status quo. Look across disciplines and domains for new ideas and inspiration.

Be brave: Invite critique – peer review may feel scary, but this is about aiming for quality. In classroom terms, this is about reviewing one’s and colleagues’ practices as well as seeking feedback from learners about how well the learning happened. This is also important when making choices about digital technologies. Are they fit for our purpose? In what ways might learners’ experiences be enhanced?

Value diversity and equity: The perspectives of all participants regardless of context are important. Digital Smarts incorporates viewpoints from students, librarians, beginning teachers, researchers and designers, across sectors. It creates a rich compilation of voices and views. In any educational context, there are multiple ways of making sense of the same experience. This might include views of students, support staff, whānau and community. Respect, consultation and open communication is essential for the success of efforts involving digital technology.

Look to theory: There is nothing so practical as a good theory. Theoretical grounding can help in harnessing digital technology for learning, whatever the learning context. This is the case with Simon and Sara Archard’s work on digital habitus. This concept represents the competencies and understandings that children bring from home to preschool settings. Other influential theories underpinning effective learning through digital technologies include connectivism and invitational theory, or an extension of continuance theory to education contexts.

Seek partnerships: Be generous with your own contributions and seek mentoring and support. Share and share alike, collaborate and have an open approach. Where possible, use open software and open educational resources. Join a PLN (professional/personal learning network) and share with colleagues. This can easily happen via social media interest groups.

Persevere, be resilient: Nothing worth doing yields instant results, and not all feedback is positive. However, when students provide helpful feedback about how using a digital technology helped them learn, then teachers can overcome all obstacles and keep trying.

Keep learning: It is about being lifelong and lifewide. Educators and younger learners find ways to use technological tools for new purposes and add to what we know by doing so, for digital technologies provide new opportunities and options for learning that could never have existed before. The more we learn from research the more we can add to knowledge and ways of learning.

Think and act smart: The term ‘digital smarts’ can be understood in many ways. It can be about being efficient in lean times and having to make do, overcoming other interpretations of ‘smart’. Digital technologies can help us work well.


To download a free copy of Digital Smarts: Enhancing teaching and learning, see


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