Not Just a Teacher

binge thinking on technology and education

Not Just a Teacher

Put the brakes on

October 13th, 2011 · 12 Comments · General

11Nov09 ~ Brakes

Brakes by g_kat26

I want to suggest that perhaps we should all be applying a little pressure to the brakes as regards the current Computing tide sweeping the English curriculum at secondary level. This may seem like a surprising message given that in my school we have launched Computing A Level this year as blogged about here and will be launching Computing GCSE in 2012 as blogged about here. Let me clarify my thoughts:

Computing is important and a shift to Computing is a good thing. In fact, I would argue it is a vital step forward for ICT as a subject and there are essential skills and practices that the discipline brings. Even more important are the thinking skills that all those who are championing Computing are saying (and rightly so), are largely missing from many ICT specifications and classrooms.

Yet, I am proposing that we take a little step back here and use some of our own thinking skills to ponder over a few points:

  • Why was ICT introduced in the first place?
  • Why did Computer largely disappear into the shadows?
  • Why is it that universities, in particular those offering Computer Science and other related courses, don’t seem to be that interested in all this debate or in getting involved in designing a clear curriculum pathway up to degree entry?
  • Are there not other areas of ICT that are equally as ‘valuable’ as Computing?
  • What will happen if ICT ‘soft skills’ are not taught at all in schools?
  • If ICT is to be taught cross-curricular, is that really going to work in your school?
  • Are the Computing qualifications on offer really that good?
  • What about the average student who just wants to use a computer to complete tasks they need to do, what should they be taught? Programming? Will that engage them?

I am not going to attempt to answer all of these. Rather, I would suggest they are for everyone to choose which they consider are important enough to think about and provide their responses. What I will say is that bandwagon jumping is dangerous (especially if it has no brakes BOOM BOOM!!) In a way, some of these issues have been referred to in a lot of what has already been published. I particularly like comments made on http://tristramshepard.wordpress.com/2011/10/11/thinking-works/ in response to Newsnight (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/newsnight/9612063.stm) regarding what should really be taught in respect of ‘modern day’ ICT and Computing. There is essential reading in the Pete Bell’s blog: http://petebell.com/?p=318 and equally in the comments that followed it.

I would even go so far as to point out that interpretation and choosing to focus on certain points is happening far too much. Look again at this article from the BBC’s Rory Cellan Jones. In it he quotes Ian Livingstone as saying:

“We’re very very good at making games – but we need the skills. We need computer scientists, animators, artists and there aren’t enough of them,” 

Now, am I being a little pedantic here or are there three different strands to ICT cited in that quote?

In the Next gen report (http://www.nesta.org.uk/publications/assets/features/next_gen) it says to succeed in the video games and visual effects industry you need:

“a mix of personnel with STEM skills and creative talent ranging from animation to design and fine arts.”

Yet again, am I seeing something more than Computing mentioned here? And even where there is no mention of arts or animation skills, design or other non-specific Computing skills, there is reference to some ICT skills that I doubt most Computing courses cover. For example in http://www.intellectuk.org/media-releases/6972-dropping-ict-lessons-from-schools-could-improve-pupils-computing-skills there is reference to the need to advance “basic IT skills”.

To my mind, the answer to all this is complex but a solution of sort, lies in giving students a taste of as many elements as possible of Computing, ICT, Digital Graphics, etc etc at Key Stage 3. Then, offering students choices at KS4 (and possibly KS5) so that they can specialize in a graphical/media related course or Computing or a general ICT course. As to what is taught on these, well that’s a long debate especially as regards the Computing and ICT courses.

Love to hear your responses on all this.

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12 Comments so far ↓

  • Zoe Ross

    Absolutely! As I’ve said in many places before, Conputing/Programming is great but not for everyone and the creative/design aspects of IT are very important too and often neglected. A really creative, challenging & varied curriculum that draws on the many different elements of technology is be both highly engaging and useful…teachers can do it at KS3, however exam boards need to come on board at KS4 & 5.

    • largerama

      Thanks for the support Zoe. But am I right in my unnerving feelings that these comments will be ignored in a tidal wave of movement towards Computing? I don’t hear many people or see many insightful reports on the call for teaching of IT creation/design.

      • Zoe Ros

        Perhaps that is just in the social media circles in which we (sometimes) move? Pete Bell did allude to it in the blog post you refer to and I do think that most schools/teachers and departments are just too busy getting on with the job of teaching and getting students through exams to really consider the ‘future’ of the subject. Which of course makes it even more important that policy makers have a rounded, realistic yet forward-thinking view. As we know, this is not always the case!

        • largerama

          Yep, ultimately it is those policy makers and the major players I guess I am calling out to in most respects with this

  • Mark Clarkson

    An interesting read Nick.

    I would personally counter pretty much everything you’ve said – but equally I find myself advocating ICT and ‘soft skills’ to some who would write off the whole subject as a dead loss.

    I don’t want the digital literacy / IT for Users type skills to go, but there needs to be something more rigorous and underlying taught as well. I’m really getting hooked on an analogy of teaching students how to use a calculator in Maths versus teaching them how arithmetic works.

    A much (much!) longer response is at http://ishouldbemarking.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/some-thoughts-on-it-ict-and-computing/ – happy reading!

  • Alan O'Donohoe

    I wish to emphasise – the IT curriculum needs to be broad and balanced. Most schools are already champions of access to digital literacy, creative media and esafety, digital citizenship etc. Computing should not thrive at the cost of another important aspect of the curriculum.

    I seek recognition and acknowledgement that Computing is a fundamental part of IT curriculum, and it has been overlooked for far too long. ICT can often be seen as just as developing skills or proficiency with a set of tools, but computational thinking is a discipline.

    I actually encourage the teaching of both and will continue to do so for some time. There seems to be a plethora of good practice in teaching digital literacy, creative media and esafety – while there is a distinct lack of opportunities for children to experience the discipline of computing. I argue that this should be a fundamental entitlement for all children in the UK.

    Now we are reaping what has been sewn since we went down the route of teaching Windows, Lotus, Office in the early 1990s. It is time we stopped licking our wounds and galvanised ourselves into action.

    There are a fantastic amount of initiatives currently taking place to support the teaching of computing, some public, some less so. We need to continue to support these succesful initiatives and spread news of them among the reluctant converts. We should also encourage organisers of these initiatives to align together to achieve common goals.

    I believe that the Computing at School network can help to bring all these initiatives together. We should be encouraging as many as possible to sign up.
    With the support of Computing at School – we can encourage others to sign the ePetition, join up for YRS, attend/organise hub meetings, try the Raspberry Pi, share news of Coding for Kids, Games Brittania and other events & competitions, access and contribute to writing of resources, attend conferences & access training and even lament the long gone days of the BBC Micro!

    If we show others what we are doing, what is possible, and that it works exceedingly well at engaging children in what can be an immensely rewarding pursuit, the hoards and masses will follow us. So – let us lead the way comrades!!!

    • largerama

      And as you know Alan I am right behind the movement. I just think the message needs to be clear about what we are actually wanting here.

  • Neil

    I don’t really see a tidal wave coming at us in favour of computing, just some fairly vociferous individuals. I am not worried about that either – as I understand politics, you rarely get everything you ask for, so it’s better to “overask” than to lack ambition.

    To my mind the problem is not GCSE but KS3. I’m fairly sure you’ve seen this nick, but for those that haven’t:
    The problem with Key Stage 3 http://www.beaconict.co.uk/blog/the-problem-with-key-stage-3/

    • largerama

      Thanks for the comments Neil and I have read your blog post. This is right for many schools’ offering of ICT at KS3 but certainly not mine or the other advocates of #ictcurric given by what they have shared on http://moodle.ictcurric.org.uk/ However, I am aware that unfortunately we are the minority.

      I have to disagree though, in that I see not so much a tidal wave but call to bring credibility to ICT through Computing and although I agree it will, my message is that there are other elements with equal cred. It is that balance, that recognition of the ‘strands’ that make up the subject that needs to be championed.

  • Tom Day

    An interesting read. I am in one of the schools looking at introducing a computing GCSE and A level starting next summer. Not replacing ICT but as an addition to. This is because we have had a number of students at both levels wanting to do a Computing course.

    I am looking forward to the teaching of it, as when at Uni and school (a fwe years ago now) really enjoyed the computing aspect. I know there will be a lot to learn but am looking forward to the challenge of it if they go ahead.

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