ICT in society

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ICT affects many aspects of society. This piece should become an overview article about information and knowledge society and its relation to education and learning - Daniel K. Schneider 18:21, 27 October 2009 (UTC).

See also:

Learning ICT

Digital natives ?

Opinions on the young generation's ICT skills widely differ.

Most authors probably would agree that the new generation (starting as by the end of the 1990s) is different and terms like digital natives (Prensky, 2001), home zappiens (Veen, 2006), net generation (Oblinger, 2005) or instant generation etc. are used to describe it. However, being a bit different doesn't imply necessarily that the young generation has good ICT skills.

According to John Connell, Wim Veen “homed in on his observation that kids today ask questions, whenever they are learning, that are different in kind from the sorts of questions that my generation were ‘taught’ to ask, and the difference can be seen in the contrast between, for instance, a book and a computer game. The book is linear; the objective in reading a book is to try to grasp and understand the meaning built into the words by the author. The computer game, in contrast, is extremely non-linear, and it is up to the player to give meaning to what they are doing.

Learning, according to Wim, is searching for meaning and so knowledge is the meaning that you give to your life. Since we are, by definition, continually learning, then our knowledge, also, is constantly changing, shifting and developing. Kids today no longer want to be the passive recipient of information from the mass media. Instead, they want to be in control of their own flow of information, and therefore of their own learning process. Kids today are integrating their face to face life with their online, virtual life.”

“"Homo zappiens are active processors of information, skilled problem solvers using gaming strategies and effective communicators. Their relationship with school has changed fundamentally as these children consider schools as just one of the focal points of their lives. Far more important are their networking with friends, their part-time jobs and going out during weekends. Homo zappiens seems to consider schools as disconnected institutions, more or less irrelevant to them as far as their daily life is concerned. Inside schools they show hyperactive behavior and short attention spans, and both teachers and parents have concerns. But Homo zappiens want to be in control of what they engage with and do not possess the patience to listen to a teacher explaining the world as it is according to him/her. In fact, Homo zappiens are digital, and school is analog."”

Here are a few characteristics that authors like Veen attribute do this net or zapping generation:

  • Multi-tasking (e.g. simultaneous homework, chat and listen to music)
  • Wanting instant answers, show low attention span
  • Are able to use a friend's network
  • Are able to navigate quickly using all sorts of signals, in particular icons and pictures
  • Find school dull, are attracted to the instant feedback system of games
  • Are constantly connected 24h/7
  • Can sort information (in particular irrelevant web sites)
  • Can find technology that helps a given purpose (but give up on technology they can't master)

From such lists we may extract some opportunities but also challenges. On the opportunities side there is engagement in tasks if it looks interesting and/or authentic and the capability to find and sift all sorts of information sources. In other words, project-oriented learning strategies may have a higher success rate under the condition that they include enough behavirorist feedback elements (either through a tutor or the task).

On the negative side, teaching difficult matters will be very challenging. The challenge for higher education is not teaching kids how to kill a maximum amount of monsters in game, but to train them how to program such a game. Learning to program can't be done with playing and zapping. Not even correct use of a word processor. Playing and zapping, IMHO, leads to local optima even in some of the easier subjet matters. On the other hand, there exist skills (in particular so-called soft skills) that may be learned through a "homo zappiens" approach. But this requires teacher's help.

In opposition to proponents of the digital native's skills, we don't believe that todays kids are good in finding information and we backup this claim with a 20 year experience of teaching easy Internet technology through mini-projects. There is an interest for learning HTML, XHML, Flash, PHP, MySQL and whatever else. But we noticed that most students do have serious trouble with exploring the functionalities of software which is a bit in contradiction with the often heard thesis that the network generation likes games. In addition, unless forced, they will not write short text to a wiki. They can't find good information on the Internet on a more technical subject, they usually don't help each other publicly (only via private chat/meetings), etc. In other words, digital natives seem to have an oral trade culture. This culture is not compatible with level 5 and 6 PISA skills.

Remains their ability to zap quickly and their willingness to produce things. The latter may not be compatible with ambitious project-oriented teaching, but nevertheless can be exploited. Basically reading and writing is an issue and we either will have to train incoming students to read and write or change our idea of how we write.

Finally, we also claim that full digital natives are a minority and that result shows up in larger field studies like PISA. More interestingly we hypothesize that there exist different kinds of digital natives. A principal component analysis of subjective ICT competence items (PISA 2006) for Swiss youngsters shows that we can identify four quite different factors and that explain 64% of the variance.

Total Variance Explained
Component Rotation Sums of Squared Loadings
Total % of Variance Cumulative %
1 2.777 17.357 17.357
2 2.634 16.462 33.820
3 2.311 14.444 48.263
4 2.223 13.896 62.159
Extraction Method: Principal Component Analysis.
Table 64: Total Variance Explained (ICT abilities PISA 2006)

The following table shows how each variable correlates with the four extracted factors.

Rotated Component Matrix
1 2 3 4
IC05Q01 How well - Chat IC5a .269 .075 .727 .231
IC05Q02 How well - Virus IC5b .653 .331 .173 .063
IC05Q03 How well - Edit photos IC5c .566 .357 .159 .287
IC05Q04 How well - Database IC5d .441 .599 -.095 .027
IC05Q05 How well - Copy data to CD IC5e .714 .134 .194 .297
IC05Q06 How well - Move files IC5f .463 .113 .163 .644
IC05Q07 How well - Search Internet IC5g .162 .015 .390 .664
IC05Q08 How well - Download files IC5h .584 .130 .359 .304
IC05Q09 How well - Attach e-mail IC5i .326 .249 .523 .381
IC05Q10 How well - Word processor IC5j .118 .252 .187 .734
IC05Q11 How well - Spreadsheet IC5k .056 .712 .029 .350
IC05Q12 How well - Presentation IC5l .067 .730 .117 .279
IC05Q13 How well - Download music IC5m .579 .129 .535 .036
IC05Q14 How well - Multi-media IC5n .352 .652 .258 -.009
IC05Q15 How well - E-mails IC5o .098 .161 .753 .379
IC05Q16 How well - Web Page IC5p .274 .592 .360 -.131
Extraction Method: Principal Component Analysis.

Rotation Method: Varimax with Kaiser Normalization.

Table: Component matrix of subjective ICT competence (PISA 2006)

The underlying latent variables could be labeled in the following way:

  1. Component one: Subjective competence in downloading
  2. Component two: Subjective competence in use of productivity tools
  3. Component three: Subjective competence in use of Internet communication tools
  4. Component four: Search Internet and move files

Definition of ICT skills

Van Welsum and Vickery (2005:6) define three categories of ICT skills:

  1. ICT specialists, who have the ability to develop, operate and maintain ICT systems. ICTs constitute the main part of their job â they develop and put in place the ICT tools for others.
  2. Advanced users: competent users of advanced, and often sector-specific, software tools. ICTs are not the main job but a tool.
  3. Basic users: competent users of generic tools (e.g. Word, Excel, Outlook, PowerPoint) needed for the information society, e-government and working life. Here too, ICTs are a tool, not the main job.

According to Van Welsum and Wickery, Peneder (2003) divides ICT using industries up into four categories: (i) IT producer - services, (ii) IT producer - manufacturing, (iii) dynamic IT users with a high and growing IT labour intensity, and (iv) other IT user industries.

Development of ICT skills in the population and diffusion of ICT to business and homes is fairly high on the agenda of OECD countries. According to OECD(2008), the top ten ICT policy priorities are:

  1. Government on line, government as model users
  2. Broadband
  3. ICT R&D programmes
  4. Promoting IT education
  5. Technology diffusion to business
  6. Technology diffusion to individuals and households
  7. Industry-based and on-the-job training
  8. General digital content development
  9. Public sector information and content
  10. ICT innovation support

Such official definitions reflect most of the skills required in the job market, but may not cover communication and information retrieval and working skills usually associated with the older sectorial "Internet spirit" or the more recent "web 2.0"'s digital natives.

Requirements of the knowledge economy

Anderson (2008) identifies demands of the global knowledge economy for youth in terms of required skills and learning strategies. In particular: “The explosion of information implies using systems that require new skills for accessing, organizing, and retrieving information (Spitzer et al., 1998).”

The following table sommaries Anderson's major implications of the global knowledge economy for the skills and learning strategies of young people, particularly those entering the work force:

caption Anderson (2008) requirements
Demands from society Required skills Learning strategies
Knowledge as commodity Knowledge construction Inquiry, project learning, constructivism
Rapid change, renewal Adaptability Learning to relearn, on-demand learning
Information explosion Finding, organizing, retrieving information; ICT usage Multidatabase browsing exercises
Poorly organized information Information management, ICT utilization Database design and implementation
Incompletely evaluated information Critical thinking Evaluation problem solving
Collectivization of knowledge Teamwork Collaborative learning

The first column defines the role of knowledge in the modern society. The second defines associated skills that people should have in order to cope with demands from society. Since the third column addresses "how to acquire it" and includes pedagogical models and strategies, domain specific skills, etc. Anderson might have used another term than "learning strategies".

In the same overview article, Anderson then identifies useful knowledge-based models in education, e.g. Scardamlia and Bereiter's knowledge-building community model, Jonassen's mind tools or the "How people learn" model (Bransford et al. 1999)

ICT in the economy

ICT and ICT-related employment

According to OECD:

  • The share of ICT specialists employment in business in most developed countries in 2006 varies between 4% and 10%. The EU15 aggregate was 2.61% in 1995 and 3.06% in 2007. (ICT occupation, narrow definition, retrieved 18:21, 27 October 2009 (UTC)).
  • The share of ICT-related jobs in the total economy of developed countries is much higher. In 2007, it varies between 20 and 30%. The EU15 aggregate was 20.62% in 1995 and 22.04% in 2007. (ICT-related occupations in selected countries, broad definition).

These ICT-related data are estimates. The choice of occupations to be included was based on an assessment of the degree to which workers are expected to use ICTs for their own output/production (Van Welsum and Vickery, 2005:6). “It was found that the narrow measure of ICT specialists followed a similar pattern across countries (EU15, United States, Canada and Australia), but that the trends for broad measure of ICT-intensive users and specialists diverged. In particular, the share of broad ICTskilled employment is increasing in the EU15, but decreasing in the United States, Canada and Australia. The relatively recent phenomenon of the offshoring of IT-related and backoffice activities could be an explanatory factor, as could diverging trends in technology adoption and integration reducing employment of some ICT-intensive using occupations.” (Van Welsum and Wickery, 2005:19). This study also pointed out that ICT-skilled employment differs a lot between different economic sectors. E.g. financial intermediation services, research and development have a very large share of ICT-related employment, whereas personal services tend to have a low share.

ICT producing industries are:

  • ICT manufacturing
  • Cable and telcom
  • TV and radio manufacturing
  • Renting and sale of ICT products
  • ICT services
  • Telecommunications

Pilat and Lee (2001) defined the following ICT using industries:

  • Manufacturing:
    • Printing and publishing
    • Electronic equipment
    • Machinery and equipment
  • Services:
    • Communications
    • Whole sale and retail trade
    • Finance
    • Insurance
    • Business services

ICT at home

Household access to Internet

According to OECD's Information Technology Outlook (2008), in OECD countries, Broadband and ICT access and use by households and individuals in 2007 was between 50% (France) and 83% (Netherlands).

Data from OECD also shows discrepancies between education levels. E.g. an interesting table from OECD Information Technology Outlook 2008: (Complete Edition - ISBN 9789264055544) shows that these can be quite high in some countries:

Country Low Medium High
Iceland 78.8 86.9 96.6
Sweden 67.7 78.8 95.8
Norway 45.8 79.0 95.3
Netherlands 60.6 86.5 94.5
Luxembourg 53.4 76.2 91.7
Denmark 65.3 78.2 90.7
Finland 57.8 73.2 89.9
United Kingdom 30.3 73.1 88.8
Portugal 16.4 77.0 85.1
Belgium 37.6 62.1 83.9
Slovak Republic 26.9 55.0 81.0
Spain 18.8 64.8 80.6
Austria 31.9 58.5 79.9
Hungary 12.1 51.4 79.0
Germany 56.3 65.3 76.9
Italy 14.0 52.6 73.5
Czech Republic 25.7 28.4 72.7
Poland 30.6 28.9 72.2
Ireland 19.4 42.4 64.9
Greece 5.9 29.1 57.5

Privacy and lifelogging

Massive use of ICT in business and private life has led to personally identifiable information, i.e. information that can be used to uniquely identify, contact, or locate a single person or can be used with other sources to uniquely identify a single individual (Wikipedia). In addition, the use of social software and in particular social networking applications like Facebook allows to draw quite extensive digital profiles of many people. This situation requires - at least in principle - that person adopt some kind of Personal Information Management (PIM; Jones, 2008) strategy.

On the other hand some authors like (O'Hara et al. (2008), loooking at the practice of lifelogging, “the undiscriminating collection of information concerning one's life and behaviour” and argue: “There are potential problems in this practice, but equally it could be empowering for the individual, and provide a new locus for the construction of an online identity”. In the conclusion, O'Hara et al. make the two points:

  • “Commentary on lifelogging has tended either to geeky techno-optimism, or warnings of potential dangers. The optimism is probably overdone, as optimism tends to be. Certainly the dangers exist, but the discussion so far is framed on possibly false assumptions that lifelogs will (a) consist of personal information, (b) be universal in scope, (c) include information that has traditionally been held private by owners, and (d) become a mainstream activity, possibly via social pressure. The falsity of any one of those assumptions would undermine the arguments against lifelogging, and it is quite conceivable that all four of them are false.”
  • “We have also argued that lifelogging can be empowering for the logger, allowing him or her information which can be used in the construction of a personal online identity, or identities, which is not under the control of authorities. Furthermore, as accountability is increasingly important in society, lifelogging can help both in accounting for the lifelogger’s personal behaviour, and in holding others to account.”

An extreme form of optimism regarding chances brought to privacy and society through social technologies and other ICT tools would be Coughlin's DNAdigital manifesto (2007).


  • ISCO - International Standard Classification of Occupations.


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