The province must develop a definition for digital literacy in order to ensure that all students are being given the skills to survive in a technologically driven world, a new report from an education lobby group says.

The report released by People for Education on Monday finds that the vast majority of Ontario secondary school teachers use some form of digital technology in the classroom, though it noted that the type of technology and the way it is used varies greatly, necessitating the need for a clearer policy on what makes for a digitally literate student.

“The extent to which teachers incorporate technology into their teaching and learning is going to vary considerably for the foreseeable future; technology is not a prerequisite to effective teaching. However, digital literacy is a prerequisite for students’ participation in adult life,” the report stated. “The province needs a definition of the core capacities of digital literacy—ability to access, evaluate and use information and media, and apply technology—and an explicit strategy to ensure that every student has access to the opportunities to develop these capacities.”

The report found that 43 per cent of school principals reported that most of their teachers used YouTube as a teaching instrument while 33 per cent reported that most teachers used external websites and 15 per cent reported that most teachers had their own website that was used for instruction.

Meanwhile, other technologies like social networking (8 per cent reported that most teachers used it), podcasts (6 per cent) and computer games (4 per cent) proved much less prevalent.

“Our results demonstrate wide variation in the level of technology use within schools. While it is clear that technology is being widely used, there is no technology that the majority of principals report most or all of their teachers are using,” the report stated. “This variation is reflected in comments from principals which suggest technology use remains dependent on individual teachers.”

Textbooks being replaced by digital resources

The report also looked at how technology is impacting the use of traditional educational resources and, perhaps not surprisingly, found that teachers are increasingly opting to go the digital route when given a choice.

In fact, 36 per cent of elementary school principals and 25 per cent of secondary school principals said that teachers looking to acquire new learning materials will use free online materials. That’s compared to 31 per cent of elementary school principals and 33 per cent of secondary school principals who said teachers would look for a traditional textbook or other printed resource first.

Given the changing dynamics, the reported recommended drafting a policy that would separate the bad online resources from the good, much like provincial standards on textbooks do.

“The increasing use of free online materials by teachers in schools requires active policy work to ensure students have access to materials that support the curriculum, reflect a Canadian perspective and are responsive to the Ontario context,” the report stated.

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