nz information literacy archive

Click to go to

Please contact the editor,
to lodge material in the Information Literacy Archive

©The articles on this website are copyrighted by Metacog Ltd. Permission to reproduce any article in any form must be sought from Metacog Ltd.


2001 Gwen Gawith: Digitised Cinderellas

2001 Cathy de Moll: The Internet and September 11 disaster

2001 Mark Treadwell: Cognitive and conceptual development

2001 Gillian Eadie: ICT directions

2001 Rob Green: Integrating ICT into the secondary curriculum: PD for teachers

2001 Gwen Gawith: Garbage detection is a key component of information literacy

2000 Ron Johnston: Knowledge is abundant, but the ability to use it is scarce

2000 Stuart Hale: The last communication revolution.

1999 Pete Sommerville: Virtual field trips.

1999 Gwen Gawith: An open letter to Bill Gates.

1999 Gwen Gawith: Hype, hope or information literacy.

1998 Mark Treadwell: The emperor's new computer.

1998 Nola Campbell: A conversation about being online.

1998 Gwen Gawith: Intelligent technologies: Teaching for information literacy.

1997 Gwen Gawith: Technology and ODL: Rent an information literate luddite!

1997 Gwen Gawith: Technology and learning.

1996 Gwen Gawith: IT: charms or challenges.

1994 Gwen Gawith: new technologies: new skills for information literacy.

information literacy:
ICT & learning online

New technologies: new skills for information literacy?

Keynote address, Auckland Principals' Association, University of Auckland 29.7 1994.

Gwen Gawith


This talk suggests that educators should look critically at claims that technology will automatically revolutionize teaching and learning. Commentators like Papert are now emphasizing the need to focus on new approaches to learning. A study visit to Cherrybrook Technology High School in Sydney confirmed that students with a high level of technological literacy were not necessarily learning more, or more effectively, unless their teachers designed learning tasks which encouraged the development and use of higher-level thinking skills, critical thinking, analysis and problem-solving skills. The challenge for NZ teachers is seen to be resiting the view of technology as the driving force in education, and focusing instead on the potential of technology to expand and enhance our view of learning and our view of the roles of learners and teachers.

I am fascinated by learning - improving the quality of student learning, designing the type of learning which gives students more control, which gives them the structures and strategies for metacognition, critical thinking, critical information use, analysis, and problem-solving - I have been intrigued by the scale of the claims made by some of the most powerful thinkers of our times - Naisbitt, Papert, Vonnegut, Stonier - for the impact of technology on learning, particularly information technology.

Dwyer (1994) states:

the catalytic impact of technology in these environments cannot be underestimated. We have watched technology profoundly disturb the inertia of traditional classrooms. For example technology:

- encourages fundamentally different forms of interactions among students and between students and teachers:

- engages students systematically in higher-order cognitive tasks, and

- prompts teachers to question old assumptions about instruction and learning.

As educators I think we need to look critically at this sort of claim that technology will automatically revolutionize teaching and learning in our classrooms. There is already a powerful collection of research and anecdotal data from the 1980's which demonstrates quite the opposite. In fairness to Dwyer, he goes on to make precisely this point:

We know, today, that the problem of bringing technology meaningfully into schools is both human and technological. Our current mission statement reflects this point: Change the way people think about and use technology for learning.

Papert in his recent book "The children's machine..". says, "It is often said that we are entering the information age. This coming period could equally be called the age of learning." He goes on to talk about the potential synergy of two trends in the world:

One of these trends is technological. The same technological revolution that has been responsible for the acute need for better learning also offers the means to take effective action. Information technologies, from television to computers and all their combinations, open unprecedented opportunities for action in improving the quality of the learning environment, by which I meant the whole set of conditions that contribute to shaping learning in work, in school, and in play.

The other trend is epistemological, a revolution in thinking about knowledge. The central thesis of this book is that the powerful contribution of the new technologies in the enhancement of learning is the creation of personal media capable of supporting a wide range of intellectual styles (Papert, l993, vii-ix).

The theme I want to pursue in this paper is that the gap between the rhetoric - the claims made for the impact of technology on education - and the reality will only be bridged when we get technology in perspective.

Thornburg says:

To me, technology's not the driving force for education. If we allow technology to be the engine, we're going to end up being quite disappointed. We make a mistake if we just bring a bunch of technology into a room and then think that an excellent educational program is going to materialize. We need to look at the child and base our decisions on how kids learn (cited in Betts, 1993, 22).

Papert now suggests that the evolution of technology needs a revolution in learning. He says:

I believe that if we are to have new forms of learning, we need a very different kind of theory of learning. The theories that have been developed by educational psychologists, and by academic psychologists in general are matched to a specific kind of learning, school's kind. As long as these ways of thinking about learning remain dominant, it will be very hard to make a serious shift from the traditional form of school (Papert, 1993, 21).

Because of New Zealand's lamentable cakestall policy for technology - the lack of central direction and finance for technology - our preoccupation, reasonably so, has been to get as much as we can, as soon as we can and hope that teachers and students will us it as well as they can.

The new draft technology curriculum provides some welcome direction, but it is fair to suggest that technology development and staff development have not yet reached a sufficient rate of saturation or been in place long enough to relate our New Zealand experience to overseas pronouncements, positive and negative, on the power of technology on learning.

Australia has certainly not adopted a 'cakestall' approach to technology. They have had the benefit of federal and state policy and funding. While many are critical of these initiatives, at least they have been going long enough and resulted in enough technology saturation to provide useful learning examples for us. In 1989 the NSW Department of Education designated 25 high schools 'technology high schools.' There are now 29 such schools.

Cherrybrook High School

Cherrybrook is the only technology high school to be purpose-built. It was designed and built in 1991 with the close involvement of the foundation (and current) principal. Cherrybrook is a leafy, affluent suburb in Sydney's North West metropolitan area. This year the school covers the full Year 7 - 12 span. The role has increased from 442 (1992) to 1060 (1994) with a further rise predicted in 1995. Technology high schools are not technical high schools. They are normal high schools offering a normal curriculum, but in a technology-enriched environment. The underlying concept was to match these schools with industry partners in a relationship that was intended to be a dialogue, an exchange of information and expertise rather than straight sponsorship. Apart from an initial grant for technology and a small staffing allowance technology high schools were funded and staffed at the same level as any other NSW state high school.

Cherrybrook's main industry partner is IBM. IBM provided initial support in the form of a donation of 67 computers and expertise in setting up the school-wide local area network. The school continues to have a contact person at IBM, and to receive advice and expertise. IBM also provides and excellent work support programme for students.

Cherrybrook has numerous other industry partnerships, including Lotus, Microsoft, Case agricultural equipment, Poland Music, Asteg, Lego-Dacta, Dick Smith, Co-Design and Telecom. Cherrybrook was designed to include specialist areas like a robotics lab., electronics lab. CAD/graphics lab., video editing suite, food technology suite, music suite, horticulture area and library resource centre with attached AV and teaching rooms.

Cherrybrook may have been advantaged socio-economically and technically in the first instance, but what has been required of teachers who were appointed for their subject rather than their technological expertise has been a huge learning curve. As well as setting up a new school, new systems, new teaching, library and resource systems, and the many social and educational 'traditions' that constitute the ethos of a school, Cherrybrook has from day one been inundated with visitors.

A quick visit to Cherrybrook Technology High School in Sydney in 1992 and subsequent audioconferences with the Principal, Lyn Wendtman, and teacher-librarian, Niki Kallenberger, whetted my appetite to ask these questions in more depth in the context of a purpose-built technology-enriched high school with a visionary principal and an extraordinarily energetic and committed staff. I was fortunate to be awarded an ANZAC Fellowship, and in May 1994 I arranged to spend two weeks at Cherrybrook observing information use in the library and classroom learning programmes.

Because technology had been in use intensively at Cherrybrook since it began in 1992, and because staff were recruited with the expectation that they would develop the use of technology in their subject areas, it seemed that Cherrybrook would be an ideal environment to ask questions related to learning,'learning to learn' skills, information and technological literacy, and technology-related teacher development.

With several years' experience in a technology-enhanced learning environment, it was likely that the technology itself would not constitute a barrier to learning. If 'new ways of learning, teaching and understanding' were to be seen in action anywhere, Cherrybrook was a likely starting point.

Observations: I spent 6 days observing groups of students using technology and information technology in the library and in classrooms, and talking to students. I made notes and logged each encounter immediately afterwards. Students, even in Year 7 (age 12), were amazingly forthcoming about what they were doing and why. I had prepared an observation grid based on the essential skills of the NZ Curriculum Framework, but found it better to use unstructured observations and interviews to record what students were doing and what they said about what they were doing. Cherrybrook students' willingness and ability to discuss what they were doing with technology and why was significantly different from anything encountered in New Zealand, England, or West Australia, and I suspect it is a unique reflection of Cherrybrook's 'laboratory school' status.

If a dimension of technological literacy is the vocabulary and ability to discuss technological processes, Cherrybrook students were exceptionally articulate. This articulacy did not necessarily extend to the same degree to discussing learning, but their openness, lack of self consciousness and honesty were refreshing.

Cherrybrook staff would probably be the first to point out that they had their quota of obnoxious and immature behaviour, but from a visitor's perspective the overall feeling was of an exceptionally mature and articulate community of learners who were expected and encouraged to take a high degree of responsibility for their own learning. It gave their learning a transparency which was, in the first instance amazing! Both teachers and staff were friendly, helpful and open. Classes were usually small and informal in structure, and visitors were seen as part of the furniture, so it was possible to observe and clarify observations simply by asking questions as I went along.

Over 6 days' observation I logged 98 encounters', 'encounters' defined as individual student or small groups observed and/or interviewed undertaking a [learning] task usually involving the use of information technology. I then analysed these observations particularly in relation to the type of learning and teaching in evidence, and interviewed staff to ascertain their view of staff development needs.

Because the population of Cherrybrook would be atypical of most New Zealand (and indeed, most Australian) schools, it came as no surprise to observe differences in the nature of the learning and teaching. Because, relatively, so much more of the learning is technology-based, there is a higher level of technological literacy in both staff and students than I would expect to find in most New Zealand schools.

What was interesting, and not expected, was the complementary level of articulacy about technological processes, and the general openness and willingness of students to discuss what they were doing with a complete stranger. Boys, even more than girls, could talk confidently and coherently about what they were doing when using technology, could apply critical thinking and analytical skills to the processes, and

were able to transfer skills from technology to technology. They were prepared to invest their own time in experimenting and demonstrated experiential learning characterized by a high level of metacognition.

Girls were less confident in talking about the technology and what they were doing, but often made better and more focussed use of it because they were task-driven, using the technology as a tool in their learning process. When it came to reflecting on the learning task, or on themselves as learners, girls used more critical analysis and interpretation than boys.

From the limited number of out of sequence lessons observed, how the teacher designs the learning experience seemed to influence the way the technology is used, but, to an even greater extent, the student's perception of the type of learning and quality of thinking required and the consequent quality of their information use and information analysis.

Acknowledging the danger of generalising on the basis of a limited number of observations, several thoughts seemed worth exploring in relation to New Zealand schools:

1. As our schools acquire more technology, we need to recognize that technology does, to a certain extent, support the move to student-centred learning from teacher-centred programmes, but

2. that this in itself does not automatically ensure the 'learning to learn' skills required to use technologies to enhance the quality of learning;

3. that New Zealand needs to follow the example of Australia in distinguishing between technological literacy and information literacy and recognizing that they are two related but discrete new areas of literacy. The possession of technological literacy is a useful but not sufficient condition for effective learning; that students' technological literacy can surge significantly ahead of their information literacy unless teachers are equipped to:

- teach information literacy skills

- design, monitor and evaluate student-centred resource-based, experiential and self-directed learning programmes.

4. that staff development needs to reflect this double focus, the learning as well as the technology, and specifically the relationship between the two. One-off courses in learning styles or thinking skills will not be as effective, it seems, as carefully planned sustained whole-school development emphasising the development and careful monitoring of the hew ways of learning, teaching and understanding'. Trained staff with specialist skills are needed for this and this needs to be a focus of staff development in schools and Colleges of Education in New Zealand.


When it is so hard to get the money for the computers, modems, CD Roms, CAD, multimedia and animation software, it is tempting for principals to put the focus on providing the technology on the assumption that once students and teachers know how to use it, the quality of their learning and teaching will be improved. Nothing that I have read, or my experience at Cherrybrook, suggests that this is so; quite the opposite.

I am suggesting quite simply that:

• Cherrybrook students who were technologically literate to the extent that they could use technology confidently to find, collate and produce information were producing work of no better academic quality than that produced by most NZ primary students doing traditional projects or by most NZ secondary students doing 'research'.

• no-one is denying the enormous initial motivation of, for example, Encarta, or being able to access NASA through Internet or Schoolnet, But does this last? There was some evidence at Cherrybrook that students were already bored with what the technology did. Several mentioned wanting "more exciting technology", but most had barely begun exploring the LEARNING potential of what they had.

• if we are going to bridge the gap between rhetoric and reality, teachers are the key. Teacher development is not just a matter of introducing teachers to technology in the classroom as the current IT contract is doing. It requires more than this. It requires the quite deliberate emphasis on learning that Cherrybrook has begun adopting in its approach to staff development and the curriculum.

For example, de Bono's CORT thinking programme is introduced to all year 7 students in the Design and Technology Key Learning Area.

For example, an innovative multi-media staff training programme has been developed by two Cherrybrook teachers, an educational consultant and a TAFE lecturer. This focuses on relating learning styles and learning theory to multi-media potential for enhancing individual learning styles and competencies.

Where teachers in New Zealand may lack their Australian counterparts' level of technological literacy, our traditionally more learner-centred approach is a good basis for designing the type of learning I saw at Cherrybrook that really did appear to encourage students to exploit the learning potential of the technology. By this I mean the type of learning which looked at what students knew already, involved working with them to negotiate learning objectives which extended their knowledge, their social and conceptual understanding, excited their imaginations and incorporated the use of a variety of technologies as a way of achieving a learning end.

One such sequence of lessons, which would, incidentally, fit beautifully into the Draft Technology Statement, involved detailed investigation and discussion of cities - mediaeval to contemporary - and culminated in the creation (using lego, models, computer animation or CAD program) of a city of the future. It was a superbly designed lesson sequence, minimally taught but strongly guided. The quality of learning could not have been achieved without the technology - a good example of the teacher's role as coach and prod - prodding the students toward metacognition, toward more critical and analytical thinking, toward problem setting and problem solving, using technology to extend mental possibilities and conceptual horizons.

McCluskey (1994) sums up my thesis:

Many educators believe - erroneously - that technology alone can solve the problems of education. ... technology alone is somewhat like a language that nobody can understand. ... only when the connection between the process (technology ) and the knowledge (organized information) is made that thought (learning) can occur. People who believe that "putting a computer on every student's desk" will heal all educational ills would do well to rethink that proposition. A monkey at a computer terminal has roughly the same chance of writing Hamlet as that same monkey at a typewriter.

All this is not to say that technology has no role in education; it most certainly has, and that role is a vital one. But technology may produce unanticipated and perhaps unpleasant consequences. If more and more advanced technology is introduced into the educational scheme without a concomitant emphasis on knowledge acquisition, it will allow some students to operate at increasingly lower levels of thought... Students who possess knowledge will use technology as a tool - those who do not possess knowledge will use it as a crutch.

As we leap frenetically onto the 'technology bandwagon' how hard it is going to be to convince tired teachers that technological literacy is a useful but insufficient condition for effective learning, that 'technology's not the driving force for education' and that what we need to expand and change is our view of learning and our view of the role of the teacher. I see technology as exciting only insofar as it opens up unimagined possibilities for learning.


Betts, F. (1994, April). On the birth of the communication age: A conversation with David Thornburg. Educational Leadership. 51 (7), 20-23

Dwyer, D. (1994, April). Apple classrooms of tomorrow: What we've learned. Educational Leadership. 51(7), 4-10

McCluskey, L. (1994, March). Gresham's law, technology and education. Phi Delta Kappan, 550-552

Papert, S. (1993). The children's machine: Rethinking school in the age of the computer. New York: Basic Books, vii-ix.