Comment: Digital skills in the information ageOctober 4, 2017, 4:25 am GMT
If the old English proverb "give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime" was given a digital age makeover it might read something like this: "give a child an iPad and you amuse them for today; teach a child computational thinking and you help them for them for a lifetime".
Just like many schools in the UAE, Dubai College is on a digital journey. Encouraged by the UAE Vision 2021, which aims 'for all schools, universities and students to be equipped with smart systems and devices as a basis for all teaching methods, projects and research', in addition to the inspection framework for private schools in Dubai which makes clear that in every school and every classroom, 'learning technologies should enrich, stimulate and promote students' capacities to be innovative' we are asking ourselves how best to support our students for the future.
But how can you prepare students for the future when, at the current pace of change, technology is redundant within a year and software is updated almost daily? It would be like teaching students to use an abacus in preparation for using the internet. As such, we realised that we needed to teach our students the fundamental concepts of computational thinking in addition to the particulars of specific hardware and software. This way, like all good education across the ages, we would be furnishing our students with transferable skills which could be applied to whatever hardware or software there is in the future.
With this in mind our head of computer science, Mark Wood, wrote an in-house Digital Skills programme for our Year 10 students, which serves as a supplement to the Computer Science course which is mandatory for all students in Years 7-9 and is optional at GCSE and A Level.
The rationale behind the Digital Skills programme came from research we conducted with our alumni who are now gainfully employed across the full spectrum of careers.
Asking architects, ecologists, electrical engineers, game artists, general managers, neurologists among others "How important are digital skills in your industry", the response was incontrovertible. 85.3% said it was 'essential' and the remaining 14.7% said it was 'very important'.
Coupled with a further sixteen questions to our alumni, including "What are the main purposes of your use of technology?" and "Which software applications (desktop, mobile or online) do you use most frequently in your role?" it became clear that the modern employee is expected to be a digital native when in reality they are often limited in their knowledge of how to use contemporaries digital interfaces to their full capacity.
In September 2016, therefore, we launched a four-unit course with the topics: Social Entrepreneur, Email, Spreadsheets and the World Wide Web.
The Social Entrepreneur module was borne out of the fact that more than 90% of the alumni who responded said that one of the main purposes of their use of technology was for communication, with 42% of them saying that they used technology in their industry for marketing purposes. In fact one alum who is now a dentist decried the fact that none of her lecturers at university had thought to teach her that promoting and marketing your business as a dentist is one of the toughest and most important parts of the job.
With this in mind all our Year 10 students became YouTubers for six weeks, conceiving of their own channel, considering the content they would upload, promoting their posts, managing their social networks and monitoring the analytics. This was all done in a safe and supportive manner which also allowed us to teach them about the dangers of an online presence.
Online safety and etiquette also underpinned the email module, which included an exploration of the dangers of email to workplace reputation and also mental health. Cyber security (hacking, phishing, scams and schemes, prevention), cyberbullying (types, awareness, support) and laws surrounding data privacy both locally and abroad were also key messages our alumni encouraged us to teach here.
The third topic on spreadsheets was a direct response to the fact that Microsoft Excel came out as the number one programme used across all the industries in which our alumni were involved.
To the question "If you were to offer advice to a student who has a passion to follow your footsteps in your industry, how would you finish this sentence? I would recommend learning how to use the following piece of software....." again, Microsoft Excel came out as the number one programme.
Finally students work on the World Wide Web in the fourth topic gave them exposure to HTML and CSS, which were seen as very useful mark-up languages for all graduates to understand.
The Digital Skills programme at Dubai College is by no means the finished article, and the content will be revised and rewritten annually as trends change. However, it has certainly served us well as a jumping off point to consider how best we ensure work-place readiness in our students.
Author: Michael Lambert, Headmaster, Dubai College.
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