New NAPLAN platform highlights digital divide: Deakin expert

Media release
22 August 2017

A Deakin University digital education expert has raised concerns the new NAPLAN digital program could leave behind disadvantaged or less tech-savvy students.

Deakin’s Research for Educational Impact Deputy Director Professor Catherine Beavis said Australia’s “digital divide” meant some students had greater access to technology used in the test than others, which would naturally give them an advantage when completing the test.

“There is a huge difference in the provision of technology across the state and across the country, and the familiarity with that technology between students is not equal,” Professor Beavis said.

A transition to digital testing is now being trialled in New South Wales and is set to follow at other trial sites across Australia in coming weeks, but Professor Beavis said it was impossible to ignore the “huge difference” in access to and quality of technology across the country.

“To assume that the technology is neutral is just not the case - I’m not convinced there has been sufficient capacity and sufficient recognition of how technology disparities will affect the testing,” Professor Beavis said.

She said some provisions had been put in place at trial sites to address technical problems, but something as simple as an internet connection dropping out could affect performance and student results.

“If the technology fails, or there are bandwidth issues, there are provisions in place for the student to continue at a later time, but the fact is you feel differently the first time you take the test than after 30 minutes of waiting and dealing with computer problems,” she said.

Professor Beavis said digital literacy was now a vital part of everyday life, but factors such as home access or local internet speeds could contribute to discrepancies between students’ abilities.

She said it was inevitable that digital testing would be part of the future of education, but until the digital divide was addressed it would be an inequitable way of measuring aptitude.

“Helping students to be digitally literate is an essential facet of the modern education system - digital literacy is a hugely important part of people’s everyday lives, as is working with digital devices as communication tools,” she said.

“I can see some benefits in transitioning NAPLAN testing to a digital space – in terms of being able to offer more flexible or adaptive testing, or present testing in a more multimodal and visually appealing format - but in terms of access and opportunity there is an equity divide that also needs to be addressed.”

Professor Beavis’ research areas include young people's engagement in the digital world and the implications for education; digital games and learning; and the changing nature of text in the digital age.

She was made a Life Member of the Victorian Association for the Teaching of English in 2015 and is an editorial board member of the international peer-reviewed journal Digital Culture and Education.

Professor Beavis has edited seven books, with a further one in preparation, addressing English and literacy education, videogames and learning, and literature education in the Asia-Pacific.

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