ICT: An embedded specialism?

16 January 2012

One of the threads that is emerging, as the curriculum for ICT and Computer Science is revamped, is the multiple natures of the uses of digital technologies for learning. There are the existing ICT curriculum – very broad – specialist aspects of programming, algorithmic thinking, systems design. There is creative media, there’s games-based learning. The list is long and is a different list is drawn up by each person who considers it.

I think a useful approach to this is to consider which uses of digital technology might be embedded elsewhere in the curriculum. When the National curriculum was first drawn up in England in 1988 ICT/IT did not exist. It was part of technology. Government announcements seem to be moving back to ‘technology’ as the catch all term. Indeed the consultation announced by Naace and ALT for Dfe has the URL schoolstech.org.uk. This view has ICT/IT embedded in technology. It didn’t work, of course, as much of the curriculum of ICT/IT was at odds with the rest of the subject and in 1995 it was split out leaving ‘Design and technology’. But there seems, to me, to be some merit in looking at how parts of ICT/IT might be aligned with other subjects. And one is reminded that Maths and Computing were conjoined in schools specialism.

So if the creative media aspects were aligned with English and taught by English and ICT specialists would this give greater ‘rigour’ to the subject? Not here that I do not advocate the removal of the ICT specialists but that they work in other subjects. Perhaps the rigid structure of ICT-as-subject with the concomitant few-teachers-teaching-all-pupils and atomised schemes of work has led to the poor perception of the subject. Maybe rich, demanding digital technology in other subjects could help to redress that. But only if it was properly embedded. The NC once had statements that said that all subjects had responsibility for ICT. But it was never ‘enforced’ and eventually it was removed. We shouldn’t make that mistake again.


14 January 2012

Oh the tyranny of the sub editor. Journalist writes article, sub editor fits headline to it. Soundbite, provocation, something to fit the space. All of these considerations means that, often, headlines distort the true meaning of the article or report.

Take the Guardian’s “ICT lessons in schools are ‘highly unsatisfactory’, says Royal Society“. Gloom mongering. We know of course that the overwhelming majority are not. Even Ofsted agree. Even if not as many are reported as excellent as might be. The article actually says:

“The current delivery of computing education in many UK schools is highly unsatisfactory,” the scientists, who include Nobel prize winner Paul Nurse, argue. “We appear to have succeeded in making many people comfortable with using the technology that we find around us, but this seems to have been at the expense of failing to provide a deeper understanding of the rigorous academic subject of computer science.”

It’s computer education lessons that are unsatisfactory, failing to provide deep understanding of computer science. Well that’s not surprising, the ICT curriculum wasn’t intended to do that alone. There are many excellent lessons in ICT, digital literacy, creative media that do not address the discipline of computer science. That is perfectly acceptable. It does not make them, per se, unsatisfactory.


13 January 2012

One of my PhD findings was the enculturated nature of student perceptions of ICT (and yes I’ll do some proper posts on the research soon). By this I mean that their views were very heavily biased by the school’s approach to the subject. Predominantly – these were year 11 students – this meant that they valued things that were in their ICT qualification’s specification and coursework and didn’t really value anything else. I’m talking about the majority – a few were programming, a few were tinkering with hardware, a few were editing video, composing music.

They didn’t value things they did out of school with technology but then they didn’t really do much (see also Crook, 2008). Far from being technologically literate because they use technology in their non-school lives, it seemed for many of them that their only use of ICT was that which was directed by school. Gaming, social networking, surfing and downloading things (music, films) their only informal use. Their technological literacy comes from the ICT they do at school.

Of these gaming has the greatest potential for ‘learning’ in the sense that any game has strategy. It may also allow customisation, development of numeracy and communication, problem solving, possibly teamworking. All essential attributes. Students did not value games though ‘because it is not on the specification’.

I don’t want to go down a games argument here. That is not my field. The point is – things done outside of school, however valuable for learning in the my eyes, were not valued by students. They had become enculturated by the system they found themselves in.

I reflect on events of this week and, like others, wonder ‘what has gone wrong?’ I don’t agree with all of the headlines and sound bites. ICT is not boring or harmful. Young people are not digitally illiterate. But where has that perception come from?

One of the things that struck me is that we hear teachers saying that the ICT specifications are boring (although I did hear a splendid exposition of how to teach OCR Nationals well today at BETT – from a Computing specialist I might add). Have we, as teachers, also become enculturated by the system? The system of high stakes assessment. The system of inspection. Have we become risk averse? Can we no longer teach how and what we want?

I see lots of evidence that this is not true. Splendid examples of teachers doing exciting things (do a Google search for Teachmeet TV or follow @eyebeams). But maybe we have allowed ourselves (at KS4) to be dominated by the pressures of the examination (sic) and inspection system. Results are everything. And the way that ICT’s contribution to those results has been distorted since the 4xGCSE league table fiasco over the last ten years hasn’t helped. And now the Department wants to make it easier to sack teachers. The pressure increases.

On the other hand students perceptions of ICT being dominated by the external assessment system need not be a bad thing. It can be an opportunity. If we get the KS4 curriculum right then these students will again take it on board. We can enculturate them in a good way. But perhaps we also need to involve them in the design.

And perhaps Gove’s message of teachers being allowed to teach ‘what and how they like’ can also be turned into a liberation of the culture that might otherwise enslave. After all its what many many excellent teachers are doing already.

What’s the Welsh for ICT?

12 January 2012

Digital classroom teaching apparently*. CAS member Gareth Edmondson (@welshgje) alerts me to the statement put out by Leighton Andrews, AM, in September where a task and finish group was established to ” to review the use of digital classroom teaching”.


* It is, of course, technoleg gwybodaeth a chyfathrebu

What now for ICT teachers?

12 January 2012

With the changes to the place of ICT in the curriculum  announced by the Department for Education this week the future is ‘exciting’ for ICT teachers. Being able to teach “how and what they like” is the promise. With the steer that Computer Science is the new black. But what might that future really be like?

Well I suppose it depends on how ‘ICT teacher’ is defined. There seems, to me, to be at least three categories of such teacher (and I am referring here to secondary schools). Each have different futures as far as I can see. All ‘exciting’ in their different ways. ‘Exciting’ as in mountaineering.

– The specialist teachers of ICT whose background is in Computer Science. Such teachers will probably have qualified as ICT teachers if they qualifed in the last 10 years or so (before that ICT was not a subject of initial teacher education). Such teachers will probably be the most genuinely excited. They will be able to go back to teaching Computer Science, to introduce it to more students. They will need some CPD,  will probably be part of the Computing at Schools association and will benefit from what it, and associated universities, will offer.

– The specialist teachers of ICT whose background is not in Computer Science. These are the majority of those who qualified in the last 10 years. They will have backgrounds in IT-related disciplines with degrees such as Business and IT. They will be adept at teaching that which has been slammed as ‘boring’ and ‘harmful’. It isn’t of course. Any subject can be made boring and harm students by denying them interesting learning. That’s down to the teachers, not the subject. These teachers will probably be the least excited and the most fearful. They will not find a transition to teaching Computer Science easy on the whole. My hope for this group is that they will be liberated from restricted assessment systems – every student being entered for bloated ICT qualifications  with minimal timetabled lessons – and be able to help develop digital literacy and understanding across the school (while retaining some specialism ICT courses for those students who want that specialism). They’ll also be liberated from being responsible for assessing every student. I still shiver at the sight of a lone ICT specialist in a school having to write reports for over 300 students in a year group. Matthew who?

– The non-specialist teachers of ICT. Often caricatured as hapless innocents, reluctantly being forced to teach a subject against their will. While this may be true in some cases this group also consists of enthusiastic, engaging teachers with other subject specialist ‘labels’ who contribute to students’ learning with technology. The maths teacher who is adept at spreadsheets for developing algebraic understanding, the English teacher using technology to develop awareness of journalistic genres, the historian using technology for role play, webquests, the design teacher using computers for product design etc etc. These folk will also be liberated from having to contribute to teaching every student some  arcane ICT specification to developing engaging activities around their own specialism.


All of this will need CPD. All will need vision for new curricula. Who will provide all of this is a moot point but we are lucky in this country to have a well established subject association in Naace, a vibrant new association in Computing at School and a specialist initial teacher education association in ITTE. Together with HE and industry we surely can use this opportunity to provide a creative, relevant future for our students. And I use creative and relevant deliberately – these were the words that emerged from my own PhD research… of which more soon.




11 January 2012

Gove’s statement says that

we’re giving teachers freedom over what and how to teach, revolutionising ICT as we know it.

This has to be good but it begs two questions in addition to my main one about how assessment might be reformed.

  • What guidance will the new Teaching Agency give to teacher educators? I hope it will be equally liberating.
  • What will Ofsted do? How will they cope without a ticklist?

My fear is that, as in the late 90s, schools will be inspected under a regime that has certain presumptions about what and how to teach ICT (or computer science). What if the school has a radically different view? I know the obvious answers are to do with looking for quality outcomes in broad terms but I fear a plethora of ‘guidance’ which becomes a de facto curriculum which then leads to exactly the same problems we perceive now.

…and what is so boring and damaging anyway?

11 January 2012

Here are the ‘key processes’ in the National Curriculum  for ICT at KS3. Can you spot the boredom and damage? What would you say was not essential to learning in a digital age?

2.1 Finding information

Pupils should be able to:
a. consider systematically the information needed to solve a problem, complete a task or answer a question, and explore how it will be used
b. use and refine search methods to obtain information that is well matched to purpose, by selecting appropriate sources
c. collect and enter quantitative and qualitative information, checking its accuracy
d. analyse and evaluate information, judging its value, accuracy, plausibility and bias.

2.2 Developing ideas

Pupils should be able to:
a. select and use ICT tools and techniques appropriately, safely and efficiently
b. solve problems by developing, exploring and structuring information, and deriving new information for a particular purpose
c. test predictions and discover patterns and relationships, exploring, evaluating and developing models by changing their rules and values
d. design information systems and suggest improvements to existing systems
e. use ICT to make things happen by planning, testing and modifying a sequence of instructions, recognising where a group of instructions needs repeating, and automating frequently used processes by constructing efficient procedures that are fit for purpose
f. bring together, draft and refine information, including through the combination of text, sound and image.

2.3 Communicating information

Pupils should be able to:
a. use a range of ICT tools to present information in forms that are fit for purpose, meet audience needs and suit the content
b. communicate and exchange information (including digital communication) effectively, safely and responsibly
c. use technical terms appropriately and correctly.

2.4 Evaluating

Pupils should be able to:
a. review, modify and evaluate work as it progresses, reflecting critically and using feedback
b. reflect on their own and others’ uses of ICT to help them develop and improve their ideas and the quality of their work
c. reflect on what they have learnt and use these insights to improve future work.

What is boring is the way it is taught when teachers are forced, by assessment systems, to do tedious tasks.