How to Resolve Poor Technical Fluency in Ontario Education

Originally published on Dusty World in April of 2018, two years before the COVID19 Pandemic:

I’m revising my Computer Technology (TEJ) course offerings to encourage students of all technical skill levels to become more fluent with the digital tools used in pretty much every job these days. This has happened, in part, because of an article I read a few months ago about the atrocious technical skills human beings in general, and our graduates in particular, have.

Teaching computer technology has a number problems associated with it at a systemic level in Ontario education, but this is my local attempt to resolve some of those problems in terms of accessibility and functionality.


The presentation above describes how even a least a basic understanding of computer technology has become a useful skill in pretty much every pathway a student can take.  From straight into the workplace, through apprenticeships and college to PhDs, being able to make functional use of computers will assist you in many aspects of your Twenty-First Century workplace.

I was recently talking to a dairy farmer who was telling me about the computer network they use for milk capture and assessment.  This wireless system allows them to keep track of individual cow health and has produced a significant bump in the quantity and quality of their produce; he also thought it made for happier cows.  Last summer we gave a ride to a French PhD student from the University of Guelph who got stuck on a bicycle in a thunderstorm, he was a doctor of genetic engineering.  When I asked him if he wished he’d studied anything else he immediately said, ‘computer programming.’  When I asked why he said that all of the gene sequencing they are doing is taking place in computer simulations and not being able to program meant he couldn’t do it as well as he wanted to.  From farmers to gene sequencers – technical fluency in computer technology is influencing and redefining the work they are doing.

Individualized technology training for students at all
levels of experience and skill.

My previous approach in M-level (post secondary bound) TEJ (computer technology) courses was to focus on students looking to make a career in the field.  This intensity frightened away a lot of students who were just looking to increase their technical fluency.  I’d initially thought this might have been resolved by offering essential level computer tech courses, but the poor handling of students in this high school stream made for an expensive and frustrating semester dealing with several students who have been groomed by the system to expect zero consequences for bad behaviour.  My goal now is to make M level courses more accessible and engaging for all students, regardless of technical experience.  I’m hoping that this also brings in more female students as they are vanishingly few in our conservative, genderized school where digital technology isn’t considered an appropriate course of study for a girl.

I’ve changed my grading and assessment from an absolute skills analysis to a vectored improvement approach.  I don’t measure what students know, I measure how much their knowledge and skills have improved, and grade them based on that improvement.  In this way a student with no background in computers can still improve their fluency and get grades that don’t drive them away from the course.  Post secondary focused students tend to be marks focused, so holding them to hard standards when they don’t have the background means chasing people out of computer tech, but if I treat it like a form of literacy rather than a specialty, students of all experience levels can improve their technical fluency without worrying about grades.  

Research indicates that the general technical fluency of Canada’s population is abysmal.  Holding students to an absolute standard isn’t a way to induce them into voluntarily (unlike geography, history, phys-ed and art, ICT isn’t a required course in any Ontario classroom) improving this deficit.  If we believe the simple fact that information and communication technical fluency will help you in pretty much every job these days, then this approach focused on accessibility and empowerment should be the norm, not the exception.

from Blogger