Primary Teachers’ Confidence in Teaching Technology Questioned

A crowded curriculum and lack of PD makes Primary tech teaching difficult.
Jun 1, 2022
Up to their necks in tech with very little support.

Technology is a core component in the Australian curriculum and critical to the way teaching delivered but there are question marks around primary teachers’ ability to navigate technology itself let alone teach it. 

The digital technologies curriculum includes broad concepts rather than specific technologies or applications, teachers need the knowledge necessary to interpret the broad statements and to translate them into specifics for their classes.

Teachers are aware that they are preparing students for 21st century workplaces, but they don’t necessarily have the skills to embed digital technologies in deep and meaningful ways at present. Teachers are more likely to use technology for low-level tasks like word processing, PowerPoint or internet research rather than high-level tasks like critical thinking, creativity, or collaboration.

“The optimism for the benefits of using digital technologies in classrooms has not yet been borne out in practice,” says Professor Petrea Redmond.

“Competing demands, lack of time, inconsistencies in implementation, and limited access to professional learning are the main issues for quality teaching in this area, and they are interconnected. For example, the limited access to professional learning could be due to teachers trying to overcome the cramped curriculum and competing priorities of schools and systems due to standardised testing.

“Similarly, the barrier of time is related to teachers accessing professional learning, and their ability to teach year level expectations as well as foundation content within a crowded curriculum. There are ways to support primary teachers to develop their students for the digital world, but they need to be considered factoring in all the variables.”

There is no easy or single answer, making it difficult for schools and systems to create sustainable solutions Prof Redmond who is Associate Head of School, Research in the School of Education at the University of Southern Queensland says.

Prof Redmond has recently undertaken a study to see how deep and broad primary teachers’ knowledge was in these areas, finding while teachers had some confidence in their ability, they had some misgivings.

Prof Redmond explains, “With the introduction of the digital technologies subject, primary teachers have been tasked with teaching digital technologies concepts, including computational thinking, throughout the primary years (K-6), with a focus on students creating digital solutions.”

An online survey collected data from 83 Australian teachers, and four teachers who volunteered were interviewed for 30 min each to explore their responses about enablers and barriers to teaching the digital technologies curriculum in more detail.

The participants were 17% male and 86% female, reflective of the gender breakdown of primary teachers. More than two-thirds of the teachers claimed to be very familiar or somewhat familiar with the digital technologies subject. The majority had over 11 years of teaching experience, with 28 of them having more than 20 years of teaching experience.

The study explored teachers’ confidence with the digital technologies curriculum in Australia. The participating teachers did not have high levels of technical skills, deep knowledge about some of the key curriculum constructs, or strong and transformative digital pedagogical approaches. Although teachers were confident with the technologies they did use, they had low levels of proficiency and/or technology knowledge.

Overall, teachers were confident that they had the digital technologies knowledge and skills to guide students through the work sample activities. Few, however, were very or extremely confident, especially in the high-level tasks.

“The teachers described an expectation within the Australian Curriculum that students are coming to school with some base level of digital technical proficiency, which is simply not the case. Some students might be working with their parents from an early age with setting up the family drone, or sitting down with mum or dad to prepare PowerPoint presentations in year 1. But for a lot of kids, access to and therefore knowledge of tech from an early age isn’t part of their experience.

“Teachers do not have time to teach the foundation knowledge that is missing in addition to the expected curriculum.”

Almost three-quarters of the respondents identified lack of time as a high-level barrier to successfully teaching these subjects effectively, exacerbated by the lack of foundational knowledge for some students. A teacher reported “time is a huge barrier”; that “there is “not enough time in a day – there are far more important subjects to deliver”, and that there is not enough “time to create meaningful and context-rich lessons”.

A similar number of the teachers agreed that competing school or district priorities were another significant barrier. One teacher stated that “If administration does not prioritise implementation … then it’s not going to happen”. Another commented that “the leadership team at my school does not prioritise anything but English and Maths”. One of the interviewees revealed that “the biggest priority was getting the literacy, number, and learning support to a good place” but digital technology is “[be] coming a priority, because our principal has said, we need to get our kids into the 21st century”.

“It was clearly articulated by the teachers we received feedback from was that the curriculum is crowded, which fits with general feedback from teachers on the curriculum overall,” says Prof Redmond. “If technology isn’t being prioritised by leadership, it makes it doubly-hard for teachers to ensure it’s being properly taught.

“The overcrowded curriculum could be relieved by teaching the digital technologies curriculum, not as a stand-alone subject, but by integrating the digital technologies knowledge with other curriculum areas. This does require teachers to have broad and deep knowledge about their discipline content and how technology influences content development.”

Lack of relevant professional development was also identified by the participants (70%) as a reason why the digital technologies curriculum is not implemented effectively.

“Further few, if any, teacher education programs, even in the most recent years, could claim to provide a sufficient knowledge base for all digital technologies content descriptions from foundation to year 6 even though primary school teachers are expected to be able to teach all of these,” says Prof Redmond.

“Although the Australian Curriculum provides work samples, a lack of teachers’ knowledge, understanding and skills makes it difficult for them to use the samples in their classrooms effectively,” says Prof Redmond.

See: Redmond, P., Smart, V., Powell, A. et al. Primary teachers’ self-assessment of their confidence in implementing digital technologies curriculum. Education Tech Research Dev 69, 2895–2915 (2021).

Image by Markus Spiske