So a while ago Michael Gove said the current ICT Curriculum is being scrapped. To be honest, hooray. The current offering is dismal, almost unforgivably so. There already seem to be a bundle of energetic, committed characters looking to redraft a better one and in response to Chris and his call for ideas here are some first thoughts.
- Don’t call it ICT
Don’t call it ICT.
I’d never heard of ICT before I became a teacher. I worked in IT in various capacities for 15 years before becoming a teacher and have an MSc in Computer Science. People work in IT. Please let’s call it that. Or pink elephants. Or anything that isn’t ICT
A ‘these truths I hold dear’ of sorts. Any IT curriculum should:
- be agnostic. In terms of pedagogy, let’s specify goals not routes. In terms of tech, let’s do operating systems not Macs, spreadsheets not Excel, and principles not implementations. In terms of society, let’s be accessible to as many as humanly possible.
- be focused on learning. It should be designed in such a way that the teacher can learn with the students. Tech moves very quickly and I see no shame in being the most experienced learner rather than the font of all knowledge.
- be challenging. There is a fear that children know more than adults. Fine. But don’t teach them what is difficult for you if it is easy for them. Don’t do Dreamweaver till you’ve done HTML. See previous point!
- be varied. Not just computer science, not just playing around with media, not just anything.
- be relevant, to children and to industry.
- be a work in progress. Because to be relevant you have to be.
And by contrast, no IT curriculum should ever, ever be a slop-bucket for other subjects’ technical projects, “oh because, you know, it involves a computer and the internet”.
So what should the IT Curriculum contain? I’m jotting down notes here but I’d think the key strands could be something like:
- Computational Thinking
This is an academic discipline in itself and has plenty of cross-curricular “oomph” especially with maths and sciences. In Google’s words, it “involves a set of problem-solving skills and techniques that software engineers use to write programs that underlie the computer applications you use”. In an IT Curriculum it could mean learning how to apply concepts such as abstraction, divide and rule etc. using software like Scratch, or building a basic app. It also provides a way to understand the hardware behind the software. Because it is an academic discipline, this can be as resource heavy or as resource light as one wants. If the budget allows, then Mindstorms , if not, then paper.
- Working Life
This is essentially a pared down version of what the curriculum is now, i.e. training for the workplace. Topics might be email, search, browsers, databases, word processors, spreadsheets, project management tools, photo editors, movie editors, sound editors etc. The important point with all of these, I think, is to show the grammar behind the tools. File menus, windows … Again, build-in comparison. If you do Microsoft Word, do Google Docs too as a comparison. Be agnostic.
- Digital World
This is essentially how 1 and 2 affect our lives. Topics might be: cybersafety, web design, information and truth, Open Source vs paid, connectivity vs influence, wisdom of crowds etc.
It’s probably a little OTT but I think these almost map onto Shannon and Weaver’s 3 modes of communication.
Concerns from #ukedchat
I had a look through Brian’s #ukedchat session and the following seemed to be the key concerns.
- Funding. Many were understandably concerned about resources. I’m not sure industry would be “delighted” to help out and in a way I think focusing on large donations is a misuse of energies. Equally, there is a fount of free stuff “out there on the interweb”, from Operating Systems up. More interesting to me are projects like Computer Science in a Box and RaspberryPi
- Assessment. This seemed a secondary school concern but I think it’s relevant to every level. The Hackday assessments sound intriguing, though I’m not sure I understand how they would work. More prosaically, there are the QTS style IT literacy tests to show you know how to use a word processor or a spreadsheet. There are project-based outcomes, for e.g. media related parts. And for the computational thinking elements, that could easily be done as a paper-based test. That’s just for the summative. I see the need but I’m not sure I see the problem.
- Training staff. The concern here was how to get IT staff up to speed. It is astonishing how ossified people’s attitudes can be and I feel a bit stumped by this. Two points might mitigate it: first, by IT not simply being a glorified Microsoft Office training program they might take it more seriously; second, by making sure that an assessed part of the curriculum is ‘debugging’ in its broadest sense – how to know what to do when you don’t know how to do it (see e.g. this)
If you’re interested, some medium term plans are beginning, slowly, to take shape here: