Not Just a Teacher

binge thinking on technology and education

Not Just a Teacher

Why ICT should still be taught in schools and a way to do it properly

April 2nd, 2012 · 23 Comments · General

Lots of comments have been made recently suggesting there is little future for ICT and little worth in it. Here’s a few headline grabbers you may have seen:

“ICT at school is boring” (, 

“many people hold a very negative view of ICT” (

“demotivating and dull” (Gove 2012)

Well, I beg to differ.

Since Xmas  I have embarked on a completely new approach to teaching three Year 10 classes the dreaded and much maligned OCR Nationals ICT course. Yet, it could be said that for the most part I have embarked on not teaching them ICT at all, teaching them apsects of Life Skills, Personal Development, Business Studies, Design etc etc, and then bringing IT into their work at a later date. This has borrowed heavily from lots of research and reading mainly on Passion-Based Learning, the Design Thinking/Problem Finders approach, various inspirational school models and was undoubtedly influenced by Sir Ken Robinson (see end of post for many of these references).

Here is a step-by-step outline of the approach to teaching of this. In my opinion, with the right approach, ICT can and will be an essential part of your students’ learning.

Step 1 : Expose your students to divergent thinking, alternative ways of viewing learning and education, lessons and school.

I tried to to divert my students’ attention from the need to acquire certain grades in subjects and the ICT subject in itself. This in effect started them thinking, considering subjects not as separate disciplines but as a combination that should be used together to address problems, questioning their education and even considering that the model of education they have been put into may not be the the best one there is.

Good material that I used for this: Sir Ken Robinson – Changing Education Paradigms; LWF: Kerri Facer – Learning Futures; LWF: Jim Knight – If Steve Jobs Designed Schools

Step 2: Stimulate students’ interests and passions. 

I asked my classes to declare their passions, find a promo partner and provide information to that person so they could promote their passion for them. The promo partners had then to put together a ‘presentation’ marketing their partner’s passion. I offered a £10 Amazon Voucher prize for the best promotion to each class and judged the winners. I gave insight and teaching on what was meant by the term ‘presentation’ i.e. not just PowerPoint. Dragon’s Den – Reggae Sauce is a good example.

Step 3: Student voice. Seek student opinion on the work done, lessons taught and progress from this point onward.

I used a survey that I created and shared with them using Google Docs and was prepared to have classes work in different ways from this point onwards i.e. not quite a personalised curriculum approach but closer to that idea with each class potentially working in different ways in the future. A summary of some of the data I collected, in reality, meant two classes working in exactly the same way and one class in a slightly different way. The two classes wanted to carry on with the passion theme but really wanted to have work they were doing ‘count’ towards the course itself. This shaped the next exercise on Peer Assessed Proposals. The other class were a little less enthusiastic about the passion/cause concept and so went straight into writing a proposal about something they are passionate about (could be an interest, club or indeed a cause) and this was the start of their assessed work.

Step 4: Lead students to look within themselves at causes they feel passionate about, problems they would like to solve, help solve, promote or educate people on.

I got each student to research and prepare a proposal on a cause they felt passionate about. This had to be on either an international level e.g. Amnesty International, on a national level e.g.,  regional level e.g. or even on a much more personal level such as within their school e.g. getting rid of school uniform. Within this proposal they had to think about and provide:

  • background materials on the cause and why it is important to them
  • ideas as to how they could use technology to support promoting, educating and/or solving problems related to their chosen cause (e.g. creating a website or video)
  • information about the audience(s) any materials they created would be aimed at (e.g. young people aged 11 to 18 of both genders)
  • details of how the materials would be used (e.g. as part of a school-wide fundraising project for the charity by showing the video created in Tutor group time to all students)

Step 5: Foster group/peer mentality ethos while encouraging critical analysis.

In the two classes working on causes, each of the proposals put together by students were peer assessed and given feedback. (It so happened that this coincided with my absence from many of the classes due to illness but I was able to follow and interject through email and witness some real quality work from students in the class as they shared ideas, suggestions for improvements etc etc).

Step 6: Have students set personal targets and their own deadlines.

In all classes at this point, I began to let there be mention of ICT, OCR Nationals, grades, units, curriculum etc, for the first time in weeks. I shared with students:

  • all the marksheets and units they could complete.
  • how different combinations of unit grades would result in different numbers of GCSE equivalent grades of various standards
  • outline timescales and expectancies

I showed examples of previous work done in units to give students the idea of size, scope, quality to aim at and I ran through briefly, what each unit was about. I also introduced them to various examples of timeline software (e.g. Timeglider) and a shared calendar on Outlook that I had set up. The rules were then laid out as follows:

  • All work has to be completed by Year 10. No units should be uncompleted by the end of the year
  • Long term planning has to be completed showing how many units intend to be completed by the end of Year 10
  • Everybody has to complete all work to at least Pass standard and where students are capable of higher grades, it is expected they will attempt this standard of work
  • Intermediate deadlines must be set in the shared Outlook calendar. (The shared calendar did not allow students to edit or delete entries. Only I had permission to do that)

I had brief one-to-one sessions with students around this ensuring they understood the demands of deadlines they were setting and that they were setting themselves targets and deadlines appropriate to their ability levels and final award expectations.

Step 7: Try to be as much of a 21st Century Teacher as you can be. (Ongoing….)

I have effectively become a facilitator of the students education and development in the subject during their attempts to reach their targets and deadlines. This has meant as a teacher:

  • ensuring I am an expert in the assessment requirements and can provide interpretation in student-speak for them to access what is required of them
  • preparing readily available resources that students can access to self-instruct (See my screencast video tutorials on using Dreamweaver in Youtube)
  • encouraging peer assistance
  • meeting the demands of different abilities and learning styles in each class
  • thinking of more generic structure to lessons, such as starter and plenary materials that could cover a variety of units and stages students are at. For example, looking at the whole process of animation film making through the Making of Finding Nemo video clip. (Sorry I don’t have a link for this. It was kindly left on our school network by @astburyp)
  • being prepared to mark work on a constant basis i.e. little and often as opposed to all work in on one date
  • dealing with students who do not meet deadlines and those who are racing ahead
  • keeping the ‘passion’ and ’cause’ foundations of the work fresh in students’ minds


As educators, we have to realise that much of the criticism of ICT is to be expected if the subject is not taught properly. The reasons for it not being taught properly I am not going to elaborate on here. What is most important is that we redress the balance  by becoming the most dynamic, forward-thinking subject in the school you teach at. I cannot lie to you and say it is not hard work, more work than some ICT teachers are doing at present but it is necessary to show evrybody in education how important ICT really is. An analogy that came to my mind is this:

ICT should be the hub of the house, the kitchen; the place where ‘things’ are cooked up, plans are made, ingredients are put together, recipes are sometimes  followed and other times not. It should be where there is access to brain fuel, conversation and meetings. Most decisions made within the ‘household’ should come from the hub. 

ICT should not be the parlour (reception room); the showcase room only used on special occasions to impress guests, as an indication of your wealth or possessions and with largely under-used decorative features.

If you have not already done so, then look at the work and people involved in #ictcurric #digitalstudies where like-minded people are trying to “push things forward” (Michael Geoffrey Skinner)

Please feel free to comment, morph this stuff and come back with anything you want to add or say. Below is a lot of stuff I used and I apologise in advance for other materials/ideas I have used and not referenced.


Passion Based Learning

Project Based Learning

Design Thinking/Problem Finders approach

School Models

Some really good teaching materials used!

Other materials used






23 Comments so far ↓

  • Bob Harrison

    Great post Nick and a wonderful response to the article in the Observer by John Naughton at the weekend

    I have posted both pieces on the National College’s Teaching Schools New Technology Advisory Board’s online community to stimulate a discussion.

    Many thanks Nick…..

    It doesn’t have to be a polarised Computer Science v ICT debate surely?

    • largerama

      Cheers Bob. I only wish I could reach those who think that teaching ICT is about giving out worksheets on MS skills

  • @infernaldepart

    A great, well thought argument throughout! I must admit you’ve put down on print some of the ideas i’ve been working on and looking to implement as part of our new #digitalstudies. Both you and I have been working for a few years now with the rest of the #ictcurric crew to transform ICT into an exciting, dynamic and engaging subject.

    We were already on the right track but the last few months are a great opportunity not to be missed.It disheartens me when i read of schools who have knee-jerked to Gove’s announcement and erased ICT as a discrete subject. I agree that it should be in the Kitchen but only when taught well by engaging and creative staff.

    As you know a number of others including yourself have been looking to move things forward and your thoughts cement a lot of the foundations for allowing and enabling students not just to develop their “ICT” knowledge, skills and understanding but other very important key areas. For far too long ICT has been “dumbed” down and this is a great opportunity to take the initiative and move things forward. I read a very good blog post last week about different ways we could tackle things head on but disagreed about catering for students who want things quick and now. We need to challenge students and prepare them for the next steps, be it into FE, HE or employment. Yes coding is important but so of the other things we currently teach and if i dare say if teach well!
    I applaud you Mr Jackson on a great post! keep up the good work and long live the #ictcurric revolution

  • Anne3846

    An excellent read Nick, and some very good ideas I will re-read and try them out with some of my classes.

    There are lots of inspirational links too, that I will be checking out!

    Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • ICT?

    How is this ICT?
    ICT should be about how computers work, all the different OSs, what a hard drive, processor, memory etc are and how they are used. It should also look at different programming languages and in what way they are all used. Also the history of computing.

    • largerama

      it@example: While I agree that the elements you mention are important parts of learning about digital technology and ICT, they are not the be all and end all of the discipline. ICT is just as much as much about the application of digital tools to specific criteria. Realistically, it could also be said that the work I am putting these students through is very much the essence of the Systems Life Cycle. Surely you are not going to suggest that is not ICT either? Likewise, the work resembles what you would expect a design studio to produce (web design, animation etc). Would they not be areas of the IT industry? By your comments, it sounds as if you are on the bandwagon of “dump ICT and teach Computing”. Well, if that is the case then I suggest you read other posts on my blog and have a close look at what a balanced curriculum should be as regards IT as a subject.

      Perhaps, your lack of willingness to leave your name or a proper email address suggests a lack of confidence in your criticisms or is that being too harsh?!?

  • Claire Donlan

    A very interesting and informative post. It is great to read how ICT teachers demonstrate that ICT is engaging and appealing. It is important that ICT is not sidelined for the ‘computing bandwagon’. I’m all in favour of teaching computing/coding/programming but I’m even more in favour of students learning and knowing about all aspects of ICT across their lives – and that it is worthwhile.

  • Dan Stucke

    Great to read your efforts here Nick – well done! Will be really interested to hear how you get on with taking the projects the students are working on and jumping through the prescriptive OCR National hoops that sadly await. Would also love to be a fly on the wall as the assessor looks at them and realises they are all different 😉

    Would be great if you can share some stories / examples of where the students are going with their work.

  • ICT & Computing have their place

    Likewise, the work resembles what you would expect a design studio to produce (web design, animation etc). Would they not be areas of the IT industry?

    Would these not be better characterised as part of the media industry?

    • largerama

      Thanks for the comment.

      Without doubt much of this can be pigeon-holed into various sectors other than IT but isn’t that the point I’m getting at here. I am educating students to have a variety of skills and ways of working that I believe can benefit them in a whole host of sectors they choose to work in or areas of FE and HE they choose to study in. IT is the vehicle being used and indeed it could be argued much of the time in most work sectors, FE and HE, I believe IT would also be a vehicle especially when we’re talking about projects involving multimedia which a lot of this work is

  • dan bowen

    Spot on, an excellent refelection of exemplary practice. No more comment needed. (Great references too)

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