Why teaching ICT cannot be abandoned

By Photos public domain.com [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
As Russel Tarr’s recent response to a high-profile attack on his methods of teaching the history of the Weimar Republic (1918-33) gathers deservedly increasing views across the Internet, other parts of Michael Gove’s “Mr. Men” speech align with my concerns about the move away from teaching of ICT in schools and its replacement with (the far more high-brow sounding) Computing Science.

“As long as there are people in education making excuses for failure, cursing future generations with a culture of low expectations, denying children access to the best that has been thought and written, because Nemo and the Mister Men are more relevant, the battle needs to be joined.” (Michael Gove, 2013)

Contrast with one of the recommendations from the Next Gen. report mentioned by Michael Gove:

“Recommendation 3: Use video games and visual effects at school to draw greater numbers of young
people into STEM and computer science.” (Next Gen., Ian Livingstone & Alex Hope, 2011)

The draw of the shiny and new! As scenarios go I would far rather create video games or animations related to Finding Nemo or the Mr. Men than Of Mice and Men and Henry V and I’m pretty sure my students would too, given the choice. Seriously though, creating video games and visual effects using industry-standard software applications requires advanced problem solving skills, application of mathematics and physics and understanding of how a computer system can turn instructions into actions on the screen. It also involves management skills, teamwork, design and creativity. My concern is that a large number of schools are using the headline “games design”, “app design” or “computer animation” to try and reverse declining numbers taking the subject, then use the same teaching methods as they did with package skills…

“What has been wrong with education and IT is that it has been very much focused on the clerical aspect of IT – Microsoft Word, Powerpoint – and that has gone into every remit of the curriculum. It is about giving students access and inspiration so when they go into the wider world of work they are part of the technological advances of the country.” (Depute Principal of St Matthew Academy, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-16186705)

“It was a boring set of documents that encouraged boring teaching of boring tasks in a field which should be one of the most exciting in education. The ICT curriculum we inherited was a tedious run-through the use of applications which were becoming obsolete even as the curriculum was being written.” (Michael Gove again, 2013)

But look at this: Lucasfilm want Interns! A quick glance at the essential and desired skills required for a role in Singapore – riding high in a recent index of cognitive skills and educational attainment – the  show a need for:

Education, Experience and Skills:

  • Interest in film production, digital games and media arts preferred
  • Workplace professionalism
  • Multitasking skills – Working on multiple projects with strict deadlines
  • Ability to work well in a multi-cultural team environment with diverse personalities
  • Strong verbal and written communication skills
  • Computer skills: Microsoft Word, Excel, Outlook. FileMaker Pro experience a plus.

So an interest in digital media would be desired but most important are: social skills, time management, presentation skills and ICT skills to aid communication (wouldn’t that be classed as clerical skills?). The only other nod to multimedia computing on the page is a request to “link to your online/downloadable reel or portfolio (if you have these)”. Yes this is just one example but highlights the need for continued teaching of ICT. Perhaps just in a different way?

As a programmer I’m glad the focus has been shifted back to using computer systems to create software or link to hardware devices such as the Raspberry Pi or Arduino but without ICT skills linked to the essential processes involved in the world of work and Higher Education, you risk creating skilled coders who are unable to apply for and retain the jobs waiting for them to fill.

“For children who have become digital natives and who speak fluent technology as an additional language, the ICT curriculum was clearly inadequate.” (more from Michael Gove, 2013)

Perhaps rigour in teaching ICT skills and ensuring that the skills they learn are relevant to the rest of the curriculum at the right time would make them more useful. I’m keen on not having ICT on the timetable as it identifies it as a unique entity – unrelated to other subjects the student encounters at school. Tracking progress at primary school and allowing individual students to follow challenging pathways which further develop their skills is tricky to plan and implement, but I think also extremely important.

Here’s why: Children are, in the main, not digital natives. They might wear the badge with honour but, without developing their understanding of what a “digital native” actually is, you may find they are wearing that badge upside down. Students may be confident enough to explore and experiment when faced with a new software application but find it very difficult to recall practical skills when the Computing department see them for around an hour each week (if you’re lucky!).

The solution mooted in Scotland a few years ago was to teach ICT in every subject and leave the programming and multimedia-specific elements to Computing Science teachers. Increased exposure to tasks which relied on students applying their ICT skills to solve problems, create reports or prepare presentations would reinforce practical skills and re-engage disaffected learners. Great idea, poorly planned and implemented due to a stunning lack of staff CPD, limited resources for using ICT in all subjects, corporate filtering and application deployment systems and push-back by subject teachers who felt they had enough to cover already without also including ICT in their remit. It is understandable: staff need to trust that the technology will work consistently enough to be able to teach their subject content. If it is unreliable and the root cause is not remedied, it will be treated as a strategy that does not provide benefit to the student – and abandoned.

The current pedagogy of how ICT lessons are delivered, assessed and reinforced must change to suit the needs of the individual learner.


5 thoughts on “Why teaching ICT cannot be abandoned

  1. Excellent article. Integration of ICT into other subjects is, as you say, not a new idea and has failed in the past due to the lack of teacher confidence and skills. Hence discrete ICT lessons. But that suffered from the same problems. It remains the problem now. Using skilled ICT teachers to integrate edtech (eLearning etc) into other subjects may be a solution and one I have seen used in International schools that run the iBacc. However, ‘integrator’ staff report they are bored and under-utilised by ‘core’ departments. We have a good number of skilled ICT teachers now, although many schools are still using non-specialists to teach it, hence the kids’ de-motivation. Computer Science will be a discrete subject. I am concerned that it will not be wide-spread due to the lack of specialist staff. The DfE want 3 sub-domains covered within Computing (see my post on petejbell.blogspot.com). The DfE have not been clear on how this will be done or what exactly the PoS will be for anything other than Computer Science yet. I have not yet seen any peer-reviewed research on ICT teacher confidence for teaching the proposed curriculum, nor the impact of such enormous reform in the subject. As good ICT teachers know, before you implement an intervention, it is a good idea to know your users’ skill levels and organise training for them if they fall short! All the best, Pete

    1. Great comment Pete! I think there is a lot to be said for ensuring training and CPD for effective use of ICT for learning and teaching is on school improvement plans before schools begin to demand that non-subject specialists include student ICT work in their lessons. When I first graduated I was told during job interviews that if I hadn’t used a particular programming language or application intensively in the last 18 months then I shouldn’t mention it on my CV. What if the same applied to teaching staff and that it informed their personal professional development and review plans?

  2. I agree with your concerns about the depth of ICT teaching if it was part of all subjects. However, that is where it should be. Lack of CPD is the issue, but also an excuse. The use of ICT needs to be a priority and is done well in some institutions. There is no excuse for others to follow suit.

    I am not suggesting any proscribed doctrine, teachers just need to take a step back and think what ICT tools would support this learning or assessment

    1. You’re right and I think that these tools may differ from teacher to teacher. I remember a professional development meeting a few years ago where I was asked for evidence I had met particular goals and they were surprised when I produced printed pages from my blog! But now evidence could include notes from Evernote, video clips / digital photographs of classes, audio recordings, notes from eReader applications, recordings of Skype calls or Google Hangouts, digitised images of paper documents, etc. There is no way of knowing which method is best for that individual teacher, but all of the above show good ICT skills. My question is: should each individual teacher be able to customise their curriculum to suit (1) the way they work best with ICT and (2) what each individual student needs to maximise their use of ICT in that subject?

  3. As my school moves away from a tech lab, where tech skills are taught, I wonder how students will learn to be good digital citizens–and will they all end up keyboarding with their thumbs? I have no idea. They don’t ask my opinion. I was appalled this year by what students DIDN’T know about online ethics!

    Good article. Thanks for sharing.

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