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The problem with ICT....


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#1 Andrew Field

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Posted 24 February 2011 - 10:55 PM

Currently ICT is very much in a state of flux in the English & Welsh National Curriculum.  There are debates about what is important, what is necessary and what is no longer needed.  Personally I feel we've seen an utterly disappointing drift towards pure 'Office skills' and the near complete loss of real programming and development.  To me this is where the real student interest is - give students a glimpse into programming and you light the touchpaper.  Give them another PowerPoint based task and you might as well start singing a lullaby as they drift off to sleep.

I've been so impressed to see other ICT colleagues helping construct the fightback.  We've already been pushing for more and more programming work at Neale-Wade and I've been very pleased with the work that we've done with Flash programming, exploration of 'proper' web design,  coverage of computing history, begun with Steve Fone's (ICT colleague at Neale-Wade - @stevo39x) work on Internet history, with Andy Willetts' (another ICT colleague at Neale-Wade) work on Gamemaker, SCRATCH work (initially provided by one of our cover teachers) as well as the enthusiasm for the 'proper' computing elements of the IT Diploma via Trevor Hughes (IT & business teacher at Neale-Wade, responsible for the diploma).  We will continue to share all the work that we develop as a faculty via the #ictcurric hashtag and related sites: http://ictcurric.org.uk/ and http://moodle.ictcurric.org.uk/

I strongly believe that ICT needs to be positioned at the centre of a successful school curriculum.  It can be a subject that pressurises and enhances students' higher level Maths skills, puts the imagination, reasoned arguments and communication expertise from English, Media & PSHE into real-life practice, enhances and develops their inquisitive, problem-solving, investigative Science and Humanities skills, builds on their design & creativity from DT, Art, Music & Drama, even providing them with opportunities to put kinaesthetic and reaction from PE / Sports studies into games-programming & playing action. ICT should equip students with the confidence, the creative enthusiasm, and ferocious expertise to succeed in the later 2050s and beyond.

To me, as a history graduate, I see IT (drop the C) as a subject as being very closely connected to history - the true historical skill of being an effective 'crap detector' (as posed by Neil Postman and see this discussion)- is such an important factor for us as IT teachers, helping students handle information intelligently as the potential for it to become manipulated increases in an ever more sophisticated way.

We need our students not to be consumers of cloud technology or  'App-eaters', we need them to be the confident and enthusiastic creators  of next, higher-level game changing technology.  They need to equipped  with the ability to react to unexpected events, deal with creative  hurdles and possess the strength of inner confidence backed by  intellectual rigour - they don't need to be taught how to make a  presentation look nice.

Yet this is more about a discussion about where IT should be as a subject - the current curriculum review is now receiving some excellent and wide-ranging attention from a whole host of interested parties.  Do see the following blog posts and related sites:

NAACE curriculum review thinktank comments - Anna Debenham @anna_debenham
Nuclear bomb dropped on our digital future? - Aral Balkan @aral
Gove stresses 'facts' in curriculum revamp - BBC News
ICT - an uncertain future? - Doug Woods @deerwood

If you've got any further useful links or anything to add - please do not hesitate.  You can login and post on this blog with your Twitter login, or register a full account.

Whatever you do, do leave your thoughts at current DFE call for evidence.

#2 Dan Leighton

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Posted 07 April 2011 - 05:24 PM

Ah! Now Andy, I love you dearly, but we disagree on this one :-)

I absolutely 100% agree that computing, programming, etc. is an essential part of the offering for students.  They should be able to opt for it and will find it fascinating.  However, we have found that the demand for it is extremely limited.  In contrast, the demand for high-level education in design, information literacy, audio and video has never been higher.  This has happened through educating and expecting all students to aim a long way above the expectations of KS4 courses.  Consequently, they produce work which is better than many professional designers (and I have been one - so that kind of helps...) and feel really proud of what they have achieved.

Isn't so much of this, as always, down to the base layer of skills that we inspire in them as younger students?  You inspire them to program, I inspire them to design.

Both valid, both IT, both different sides of the same coin.

#3 Andrew Field

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 10:20 AM

A good point - but what you describe isn't what we've experienced - or been directed to teach at secondary level.  You are clearly doing an excellent job - but surely you are doing what I was suggesting when I said:

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We need our students not to be consumers of cloud technology or   'App-eaters', we need them to be the confident and enthusiastic creators   of next, higher-level game changing technology.  They need to equipped   with the ability to react to unexpected events, deal with creative   hurdles and possess the strength of inner confidence backed by   intellectual rigour - they don't need to be taught how to make a   presentation look nice.

You're not advocating repeatedly teaching them skills that they should already know.  You're equipping them with the abilty to be high level creators of digital content.

I would maintain that any strong ICT course would put programming at the heart of it - although I guess some kind of ICT nirvana would give students the experience of programming together with high level design (i.e. not pretty PowerPoint) and then give them the opportunity to specialise when they have a proper understanding of what is involved.   Higher-level education about design, information literacy, audio and video is what I refer to when I'm talking about equipping

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students with the confidence, the creative enthusiasm, and  ferocious expertise to succeed in the later 2050s and beyond...

From my perspective, I see programming as they way to add real kudos to information technology studies in schools and the level of design which you are talking about can surely emitate from that, depending on the path that students take? For example the Space Invaders course we deliver to Year 8.  That involves some basic lower level design at the start, where they create their Space Invader.  It then progresses to simple programming challenges to get the game working.  When students get to the end of the current materails they could then take the choice - do they focus on the design of their game (with all the aspects that you've identified above) or do they develop the coding further to customise it in their own way: http://www.nwvle.net...view.php?id=437

There is no doubt at all for me that we have lost a complete sense of intellectual rigour from ICT - and that a well presented, interesting and attention-grabbing programming tasks can restore that.  This discussion is very closely connected to an article in this week's TES: Computer science: The lingua franca of innovative business by games publisher Ian Livingstone  http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6076890

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But computer science is precisely where our school system, and the  national curriculum in particular, is letting the UK down. The computers  in our classrooms and the investment that keeps them running are a  great asset. But for the most part, they are not used effectively. The  national curriculum enjoins schools to teach not computer science but  ICT – a strange hybrid of desktop publishing lessons and Microsoft  tutorials. While PowerPoint and Excel are useful vocational skills, they  are never going to equip anybody for a career in video games or visual  effects.Computer science is different. It is a vital, analytical  discipline, and a system of logical thinking that is as relevant to the  modern world as physics, chemistry or biology. Computer science is to  ICT what writing is to reading. And it is from the combination of  computer programming and creativity that world-changing companies such  as Google, Facebook and Twitter were built. Indeed, in a world where  computers define so much of how society works, from how we do business  to how we enjoy ourselves, I would argue that computer science is  “essential knowledge” for the 21st century. This requires that computer  science is restored to its rightful place among the sciences.

That is what I want to get back into ICT teaching at secondary level.  That is what I was on about with my initial post.

#4 Dan Leighton

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Posted 10 April 2011 - 12:05 PM

Great to have the clarification Andy!  Now I can agree with you again :-)

I think we both have the same understanding of where we would like to see the delivery of ICT to students go, i.e. That ICT as a discipline should be a rigorous, high quality programme of education which prepares students for life in a digital and connected world.

I think we have found that in our separate contexts there are (at least) two directions that we can approach the raising of the rigour of the subject.  Essentially, for your students, this involves the use of programming.  For my students, it involves the use of very high level design skills. Students gain their kudos from being able to produce designs which are of a quality commensurate with professional publications. See this image Posted Image which is an example from one of my 15 year olds, and is by no means unique (the poor cropping is mine... ;-)

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From my perspective, I see programming as the way to add real kudos to information technology studies in schools and the level of design which you are talking about can surely emanate from that, depending on the path that students take?

We have recently begun to set the students two week homework tasks on a (roughly) termly basis and gave the students free choice about what project they might like to undertake.  A decent number of them (all boys incidentally) chose to create a game using scratch or gamemaker (or whatever) and they enjoyed it, in some instances.  However, this was a limited subset who really enjoyed it.  Whereas those who took on the design tasks, thoroughly enjoyed it, on the whole.

I definitely agree that there is a place for programming (or proto-programming) in the curriculum, though I would not go so far as to declare it a mandatory obligation.  Our experience has been that it is something that is of enormous interest to a few, whereas great design is of enormous interest to many.

The trouble with my argument, though, is this. Where do we get our future programmers from then?  

And, just to stoke the discussion a little further. Should we really mind where they come from?  So long as they are reliable, why not just outsource abroad?  Is not the majority of programming about hard and careful work that involves a technical expertise that can be placed anywhere in the world?  In the same way that cars are designed in our own country but built abroad?  How do we add value to our economy?  How do we add value on top of the programming?

Perhaps it is the case that our students need to understand how to design user interfaces suitable for their target market, how to manage a project to time and budget, how to manage people.  In other words, they need to have a total understanding of their own environment/customers/country/target audience and how to deliver a useable piece of software to them.  That does not necessarily mean being a programmer...but it really does mean being a good people person, manager and designer.

Of course, we need both. But, in my experience in this field, I am just not yet personally convinced that we need more programmers than we need exceptional designers and individuals capable of operating effectively in the digital world.

Ian Livingstone, a man I have enormous respect for incidentally, is not addressing the whole of the issue when he says that ICT is:

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...a strange hybrid of desktop publishing lessons and Microsoft tutorials. While PowerPoint and Excel are useful vocational skills, they are never going to equip anybody for a career in video games or visual effects.

This is, to me, a misinterpretation of ICT, and one that, unfortunately, people like Michael Gove will suck up as gospel.  It appears to be based on the worst practices in use in schools.  I agree that, if that is the case in a particular school, then there is a problem.  However, this is not resolved by trying to persuade all students to take computer science.  It would be resolved by ensuring that the quality of teaching is higher, the aspirations for students were higher and the expectations of what they are expected to be able to do are higher.

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Computer science is to ICT what writing is to reading.

Again, I am not sure this is an appropriate analogy.  I would agree with a statement that Computer Science is to ICT what technical writing is to reading.  I would further add that high level design skills are to ICT are what creative writing is to reading.

One is great for creating a software manual, the other is great for creating a novel and both are needed to create a textbook.




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