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Principal Dr Deborah Priest reflects on recent findings from the Gonski Institute.

For some time, researchers at the Gonski Institute have been conducting the Growing Up Digital Australia (GUD Australia) study, designed to understand how the widespread use of technology is impacting Australian children. The researchers of the study seek to answer questions around how digital technologies are being used across a range of school sectors, the benefits and distractions they pose to students and whether they are bridging the divide of equity, or widening it. 

At Ivanhoe Girls’ we see digital technologies as teaching tools to be used when appropriate and when they add value to the learning experience or outcomes of students. This year, more so than ever, we have looked to digital technologies to enable learning to continue and we are grateful for the wide range of technology resources that are available to our students and staff across the school. Surveys of our students show that, while they prefer face to face teaching, students have felt that their learning has continued, albeit differently throughout the pandemic.

There has been much discussion in the media this year about the effects on learning of students working offsite rather than in the physical school environment. I have been interested to follow the media debate and to read the Phase 1 findings from the GUD Australia study that were released on 16 April 2020. The Phase 1 findings were drawn from 1876 responses to a survey of teachers, principals and school support staff in all sectors (Government, Catholic and Independent) from preschool to Year 12 which ran pre-COVID-19 from September to the end of the school year in 2019 and are summarised below:

Key Phase 1 findings

  • 43% of Australian teachers and principals believe digital technologies enhance their teaching and learning activities, while 84% believe digital technologies are a growing distraction in the learning environment
  • 60% of teachers believe technology has positively impacted the learning experience for students with disabilities
  • 59% of respondents observed a decline in students’ overall readiness to learn in the last 3–5 years
  • 78% of teachers say students’ ability to focus on educational tasks has decreased
  • 83% of teachers agree that students’ socio-economic circumstances have some impact on access to technology they need for learning in school.  

While I know these Phase 1 findings are a synthesised summary of data collected before the COVID-19 pandemic was a reality, and the data came from across all sectors and educational settings, I am still very interested to read that the teachers and principals surveyed appear to note their concerns, higher than the benefits, of using digital technologies. Our experience at Ivanhoe Girls’ is that the benefits of personalised learning, access to online resources, timely submission and feedback of assessments, and easy collaboration between students and between students and their teachers far outweigh the concerns of using digital technologies as a resource for enhanced learning outcomes.

The Phase 2 survey of parents, grandparents and caregivers, focussing on connectedness and home use of digital technologies, as well as the kinds of strategies that families use to manage their presence in the digital world, closed in early October 2020. The Phase 3 survey will collect data from students across the country between the ages of 12 and 18 and is planned to commence in March 2021. 

Dr Deborah Priest