Digital Competencies – The STEM of the issue

barbie-computerengineer2Hi There,

A colleague of mine, on the MA Technical Communications and e-Learning course in U.L, posted a tweet today that caught my attention. It related to an article in the business section of today’s Irish Times, entitled Ireland ranks badly for digital skills, fixed broadband costs . The article details the results of the Digital Economy and Society Index (DESI), published on Thursday the 25th February, which ranks Ireland 8th out of 28 Member States in terms of digital skills, per capita. The report also states that only 44% of the population have sufficient digital skills to operate effectively online. That puts us 22nd on a scale of 28 EU countries. On close examination, the report is not all doom and gloom.  Overall, we are deemed to be ‘lagging ahead’ (someone had fun creating that little paradox), meaning that growth in the areas of ICT skilled professions and digital literacy is not moving as quickly as our counterparts in Germany, Malta, Estonia, Austria, the Netherlands and Portugal, but it is growing.

As someone with an interest in working in the technology sector, I am surprised by the results of this report. Perhaps I have been naïve, but I felt that the presence of Google, Facebook and, soon, Apple was recognition of the skilled workforce available in Ireland and not just of the preferential tax rates available to big foreign investors.

I chose the course that I am currently undertaking for a number of reasons, not the least of which was an expectation that the skills that I would acquire would prepare me for an increasingly digitised economy. So far on this course, I have learned about structured authoring and its implications for content across a multitude of platforms, I have developed a learning website using Flash and Dreamweaver and a blog using WordPress. I have used XML and CSS to develop instructional content. I have created a screencast from an interview I conducted and, before this year is out, I will have created an instructional podcast and an e-portfolio to showcase my newly acquired skills and achievements. All this on top of honing my writing skills for the creation of clear, concise and accessible instructional materials.

I and my colleagues have invested time, energy and money in an attempt to future-proof our career trajectories and, it seems to me, to be an exercise that those intent in progressing in an economically uncertain Ireland, need to think about.  Women in particular, need to find a real foothold in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM).  According to another Irish Times article, from 2015, entitled, The hard Stem sell: trying to get girls to buy into science, female entrants to university courses in Computer Science comprised only 16% of the total entrants. There is debate as to the reasons for and the solutions to this problem. Many, such as the Ann O’Dea, CEO of Silicon Republic and founder of the Women Invent Tomorrow campaign, believe that there are too few female role models in influential STEM positions. Others, such as Shannon Palus, believe that visibility of role models alone is insufficient to promote participation of women in STEM. She believes that women have the same interests in STEM areas as men, however, an overarching patriarchal culture discourages women from believing that they are welcome or even fit for purpose in these areas of study.

In order for us to address our shortfalls in the areas of  and STEM participation in Ireland, it is clear that emphasis must be placed on focussed educational initiatives that encourage gender balanced participation and awareness of the need to evolve and advance in the face of rapid technological and scientific change.

The MA in Technical Communication and e-Learning in UL encourages participants to be forward looking about their key competencies, to keep abreast of changes in the STEM areas and to respond through continuous upskilling. The message is that there can no longer be any certainty that a particular qualification or skill will carry you through one continuous career path. We as learners and as future e-learning educators need to undertake and provide learning programmes that respond to this much-altered educational landscape.




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