From coding to digital competence

By Peter Evans-Greenwood, Deloitte’s Centre for the Edge, and Tim Patston, Geelong Grammar School.

Last year Deloitte’s Centre for the Edge and Geelong Grammar School looked into the question “should everyone learn how to code?” We were concerned that the expression had become both a catch phrase and call to action without a clear consensus across the community on what was actually meant by “learn to code”. Different stakeholders – educators, business, STEM practitioners, and even the students themselves – were reading different meanings into what seemed to be a somewhat straight-forward question.

There had already been a number of attempts to formalise what was meant by “learn to code” – creating a narrowly focused, well-formed and precise definition. These attempts were unsuccessful though, as they typically only addressed the concerns of a single set of stakeholders. The result was a collection of competing definitions, rather than one the community could rally around and promote.

Expanding the coding conversation

We decided to open the conversation up, rather than close it down, and organised a series of round tables across the country where we explored the questions: What do we mean by ‘coding’?, What do we mean by ‘digital literacy’?, Are there key digital skills missing from the current curriculum?, and finished with Should everyone learn to code? A summary of the roundtables was published in July last year.

All the roundtables reached the same conclusion: the aspiration behind “learn to code” is to ensure that everyone has the ability to use computers in the pursuit of their work. (Where ‘computers’ includes any digital tool – either a physical device or a cloud- or network-based application – that can be configured shaped by the user, and ‘work’ should be understood as ‘any activity in pursuit of an outcome’ which includes hobbies, interests and pastimes as well as paid employment.)

The phrase ‘digital competency’ was used to refer to this idea: to be digitally competent is to be able to use computers in the pursuit of one’s work. While this definition is inclusive, it is not precise, as its meaning depends on the context in which it is used. Its relationship to other concepts – such as digital literacy and digital citizenship, as well as ‘coding’ – also needs to be established.

Three key questions

To remedy this we have started a follow-on project: From coding to digital competence. In this project we’ll build on our previous findings by exploring:

  1. What is digital competency and can we integrate the points of view we heard in the roundtables into a single comprehensive model?
  2. What does digital competency look like in practice and can we create a set of practical examples showing digital competency in action?
  3. How might digital competency be taught and can these examples be transformed into best practice lessons?
Where to from here?

We have broken the project into two parts. First will be an essay that unpacks the key concepts and develops a model for digital competency, a framework enumerating the attributes associated with these digital workers, which defines the relationship with algorithmic thinking, digital literacy, digital citizenship, etc., and which provides some examples of digital competency in action.

The second part will be a national series of workshops where the proposed digital competency model is refined. An outcome will also be a set of example cases and lessons that show digital competency in action both in the work place and across the education strata. We hope to publish the essay in late in the first quarter or early in the second, with the workshops following in the second half of the year.
We’ll be posting notes on progress of the project on this blog, as well as maintaining a mailing list for participants. Feel free to contact either of the lead investigators (Peter Evans-Greenwood or Tim Patston) if you’d like to participate.

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