If you’re reading this article, chances are you know something about Information Technology (IT). “Computer use has become pervasive in our society,” maintains Joyce Malyn-Smith of EDC’s Center for Education, Employment, and Community (CEEC). “We absorb IT skills in the course of our everyday lives, from using an ATM to sending an e-mail.” The diffuse ways we develop these skills, however, may mean that traditional models of literacy and skills development are ill-suited to the natural, and rapid, evolution of IT skills. And that’s a problem because technical literacy has become a barrier—or springboard—to so many careers and business opportunities.
Convinced that all students need some familiarity with IT, and that some need in-depth IT training, Malyn-Smith and her colleagues have developed the Educators’ Website for Information Technology (EWIT). An online IT clearinghouse for educators and others concerned with teaching and learning Information Technology, EWIT explicitly links K-20 education with IT industry skill standards. “Our goal,” says Malyn-Smith, is to “reconcile educators’ work in developing IT career pathways with industry’s needs and expectations for skilled workers.”
The site is organized around four broad themes: news, instructional resources, statistics, and IT “champions.”
“We start with news,” explains Malyn-Smith, “because of their classroom focus, many teachers are ‘isolated’ from the world outside the school building. They may follow only one or two areas of special interest, and miss important changes in business and industry that may affect their teaching and their students.” The current news page, for instance, highlights the Information Technology Association of America’s report on the growing need for a workforce with information technology skills, Bridging the Gap: Information Technology Skills for a New Millenium, and a report on the need for schools to change the way information technology is used, applied and taught in the nation’s classrooms, from AAUW’s Tech-Savvy: Educating Girls for the New Computer Age.
The statistics section of the EWIT site compiles key IT statistics useful to grantwriters. “IT Champions” profiles leaders in the movement to expand IT skills and access to all Americans. The current issue features an extended interview with Brooklyn Congressman and former librarian Major Owens, who speaks eloquently about the relationship between technology, particularly communications technology, and the creation of wealth and community.
Instructional Resources: standards, curricula, and other tools
But the heart of the EWIT site is Instructional Resources, where the IT industry’s needs are joined with model curricula and other learning tools. This section covers five areas of concern: Standards, Implementation Tools, IT Curriculum and Assessment, Academic Learning and IT, and Related Links. A virtual tour of IT programs and sites, this section offers detailed descriptions of each site, highlighting useful features for educators as well as links to the sites themselves.
The EWIT standards section includes standards used by both technical and academic educators: skill standards for distinct IT career paths (Network Systems, Information Support and Services, Programming and Software Development, Interactive Media, Telecommunications), educational technology standards taught in schools (International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) Standards, Information Literacy Standards) and seven state educational technology curriculum standards. It is complemented by a section on vendor specific and non-vendor specific curricular and assessment tools developed by companies such as Microsoft and Cisco, by EDC, and other non-profit IT and education associations. These tools, Malyn-Smith explains, “help teachers plan IT strategies for school to work programs, design IT programs and curricula, and coach individual students,”
IT skills are useful for all students
Although not everyone will go into a high level IT job, Malyn-Smith maintains that in our information age the vast majority of people will become flexible knowledge workers and need IT skills to become competitive wage earners. Schools can help students develop these skills as they pursue conventional academic goals and build their capacity as life-long learners. So the Academic Learning Link provides one-click access to an annotated list of web-based educational resources to help teachers use technology in their classrooms as a tool for deepening academic learning. They include lesson plans, technical courses, and content-specific learning sites such as Digital Dante and NASA’s Quest. Each has been reviewed by EDC researchers and includes a brief description.
The Related IT Links page offers a variety of databases, many of them national and state-by-state, of IT training, policies, policymakers, and connections to sites concerned with narrowing the “digital divide” by providing computer access in store fronts, housing projects, and museums.
Bridging the IT language gap
Malyn-Smith argues that the very real IT skills gap- 850,000 positions for programmers, systems analysts, and computer scientists are currently unfilled across the nation—is compounded by an equally important “language/culture” gap. The general public and the education community do not always speak the same language the IT industry does, increasing the “disconnect” between the IT skills learned in schools and IT skills valued at work, she explains. Simply providing access to IT tools and resources is not enough. Students and teachers alike need help in making important connections between what they learn and do in school and how that is applied and valued in America’s workplaces. She cites her own son, who has extensive volunteer experience in networking, installing and troubleshooting minor computer problems. This fourteen year-old did not “connect” his learned computer skills with a possible paying job. He thought of himself as an unskilled student and, with his friends in the neighborhood, sought his first time job folding pizza boxes at the local pizza place. He needed a more concrete “connection” to help him understand that the skills he was developing at school and in his “volunteer life” were valued and marketable to local employers. “We can’t underestimate the need to help people around us make the connection between their own skills and the needs of the workplace,” she says. Linking skill standards needed at work to educational technology standards learned in school, and supplementing with appropriate career development supports, help ensure that connection.
EWIT also provides links to two other programs EDC is involved with. Techforce is a two year partnership, funded by the National School to Work Office, that brings the perspectives of the business, the IT industry, and the educational communities together to increase IT employer participation in school to work programs.
Building Linkages, funded by the Department of Education’s Office of Vocational Adult Education, draws on the Techforce partnership to develop a national IT career cluster model. “Traditionally, students were introduced to work concepts in grades K through 12, and to career practice and mastery at the college level. But people pick up IT skills so early, there’s a wave of IT fluency working its way through the school system right now, challenging us to build on the skills and talents students are already developing on their own. We need to recognize and develop IT skills much earlier than traditional models suggest.
“The career cluster model we’ve developed for the progressive mastery of IT skills can be used across the lifespan - by older workers as well as students, by academic and technical teachers and by community development workers, even by educators in the correctional system. A displaced homemaker can use it in a resume to translate what she knows into terms employers recognize, for instance, or an educator can use it to show someone who loves designing web pages how that can lead to a career. If more people met IT employability standards—what would that mean for the economic development of our communities?”
Originally published on April 30, 2000