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.