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Technology and curriculum: A lifetime of change

Paula Christophersen with Susan Gazis, President and Public Officer, Australian Professional Teachers Association

Paula Christophersen (left) with Susan Gazis, President and Public Officer, Australian Professional Teachers Association

For more than 35 years, Paula Christophersen, VCAA Curriculum Manager for Digital Technologies and the 2014 recipient of the prestigious Dorothy Hoddinott Medal for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement, has helped shape the way Victorian students learn about digital technologies.

Paula's introduction to computing in education was during an Education Department secondment in the late 1970s. 'The Department had purchased an IBM miniframe computer, and our task was to help teachers and schools to make use of the technology,' she explains. This was followed by a stint at the State Computer Education Centre, where Paula was involved in professional development for teachers, and then as a secondee to the Ministerial Council of Post-Compulsory Schooling and the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Board (VCAB), working on the introduction of information technology as a new field of study. 'At that time there was only a focus on studying the technical components of IT and their applications at the senior secondary level; very little was happening in the P−10 area.'

Gradually, with the increase in the number of computers in classrooms, the focus shifted to using digital technologies as a communication and learning tool: 'Digital technology was used to help students understand content or concepts or to present their understanding to their teacher. This coincided with the term ICT being used in schools with the 'C' recognising the use of IT to create information, and collaborate and communicate with others.' This was reflected in the Curriculum and Standards Framework and later the VELS. Both focused on using digital devices to support the learning of concepts and content from all disciplines, as well as solving problems in these fields.

With the explosion in the use of mobile devices in the last five years, there has been another significant shift in the approach to teaching technology. By 2017 the planned roll-out of the Australian Curriculum's Digital Technologies will mean students also learn different thinking skills (computational, design and systems) to frame problems, and then solve them using digital technologies. 'This involves having a strong understanding of the types, characteristics and structure of data, and the ability to think logically and precisely,' says Paula. Although our knowledge of digital technologies has increased since the 1970s, this shift may seem like a quantum leap for some. However, Paula argues that it's very important that digital technologies curriculum changes with new developments.

'Teachers and the curriculum associated with this field need to be flexible and embrace change. Teachers, curriculum designers and policymakers must keep abreast of not only technological developments, but also literature discussing matters such as pedagogy, and the use of digital technologies for assessment'. At the senior secondary level, the curriculum opportunities have evolved from computer science and information management studies to the new VCE study, Algorithmics, a Higher Education Scored Study, again a reflection of the changes in our access to technology and a changing economy.

As a significant and long-time contributor to curriculum and professional development, Paula's advice to teachers facing this significant shift in digital technologies curriculum, or any other curriculum, is to find support in the relevant subject associations. 'These are organisations primarily run by teachers for teachers,' says Paula, who worked on the establishment of the Victorian Information Technology Teachers Association (VITTA, now known as Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria). 'They provide a safe haven for inexperienced teachers and a fertile centre for professionals to explore and lead in their field of endeavour. It's also a chance to be challenged in a nurturing environment.' In the shift from the use of digital technologies to create information to creating digital solutions, teachers can discover the significant benefits of sharing the resources and expertise of their peers in a collegial environment in a teachers association.

The Dorothy Hoddinott Medal for Outstanding Lifetime Achievement is awarded by the Australian Professional Teachers Association (APTA). Paula was nominated by Digital Learning and Teaching Victoria and the Council of Professional Teaching Associations of Victoria

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