Thursday, 26 April 2012

Dear ICT you are an alcoholic.

ICT has a bad name, it probably doesn't need me to refer to it as an alcoholic as well, but I have good reason to. We all care about ICT, but it has been a little neglected and has had some pretty difficult changes in recent years. It can be a little aggressive, defensive, stubborn, but deep down in its heart it means well. It is a friend who's company we have enjoyed in the good times, but we need it to sober up and realise, it has a problem.

I love computing, ICT, IT whatever you want to call it. It is so much a part of my life that describing it as a separate thing seems strange to me. If I make music I make it on the computer, if I send a a letter I do it via email on the computer, if I want to communicate and idea, learn something, experience something I often do it via a computer. Technology is the means by which I can do all the various work I do and that technology at this stage is a computer in its various forms. It wasn't always so; it used to be a sheet of manuscript paper for writing music, paper, envelope and a stamp for sending a letter, the technology has simply changed, but that is not a problem. It is the way we view that technology. When and who decided that a computer was something so marvellous that it needed its own subject? This might sound strange coming from me, some one who uses computers so much in everything that I do, but that is exactly the point. We do use computers in everything we do, not all of us but certainly a lot of us. If that is the case then why is it so segregated from the rest of the curriculum?

ICT doesn't need a separate lesson, subject of part of the curriculum, does a pencil? They are the same, they are both just technology. Can you imagine A level “Pencil studies”. I'm sorry I joke, maybe it is to lighten the mood, distract from the real problem, just for a little while.

I can hear people already furiously shouting/typing/communicating all probably on a computer “but what about programming?” and I would suggest is something different altogether. Look at it like this if ICT is like learning to use a pencil, computer programming is making that pencil. Not all of us need to make pencils, not all of us need to make software, but a lot of us use them both, they are however just the technology. It might even amuse some of you to learn that I actually learnt computer programming with a paper and pencil on train, without a computer in sight.

I know not all schools and teachers use ICT so separate from everything else, but a lot of them still do, and it is those who are the problem, it is those who need to realise that it is a problem.

ICT needs to be brought back in, merged, welcomed and accepted in to the other subjects. It doesn't need to take over, it just needs a place, it needs to be a part of something again. ICT has a bad name and is at risk, of being a loner, losing the people who care about it, losing its job and losing its meaning, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Matthew C. Applegate / Pixelh8


  1. An interesting and thought-provoking post, thank you.

    I had a chat with someone about this only yesterday and will provide a primary teacher's perspective if that's ok.

    In many primary schools, there is a thematic approach taken to learning and this means that ‘subjects’ are often integrated and, in the perfect world, this would include the effective use of ICT as an embedded tool across curriculum areas – just as pencils are. However, one issue is that although every teacher I have ever come across is a skilled and accomplished user of pencils, the same cannot be said of their use and effective deployment of computers (and other technologies) for learning.

    I can hold my hand up and say that I am not the most accomplished musician or artist. However, primary teachers are obliged to teach these subjects. In the hurly-burly of a busy day, week or term I for one might sometimes let something ‘slip’ and, despite best intentions, this might be in an area in which I had slightly less confidence. For me, music or art – for others ICT. Isn’t this true also for secondary subject specialists? Their pencil skills are consistent and high-level. Their ICT skills?

    Now, contrast that with a situation in which our class *know* that on Wednesday mornings we are doing ICT and that this happens every Wednesday morning. This is much harder to avoid and slippage is much less likely. This is not to say that the ICT lesson is the exclusive preserve for the use of technology, it should also be fully integrated across the board as you suggest.

    I think I agree with you in principle but I think we (the teaching profession) are far from ready and ICT would be in danger of slipping away and being dropped and this would be a tragic disservice.

  2. I agree partly that ICT should be taught (partly) in a cross-curricular fashion. Mathematicians should make use of spreadsheet models, scientists should make use of a whole array of IT facilities, historians should present information in digital formats and so on.

    HOWEVER, likening a computer to a pencil is a flawed argument. Give a 2 year old a pencil, and they can not only make it do something, but pretty much exhaust its technical capabilities (draw, poke in eye...). A computer is a massively more complex device and so expecting a mathematician to make use of ICT to support learning is viable, but there is underlying knowledge on the part of both the staff and the pupils without which the mathematician ends up teaching students 'how to use Excel' before they can go on and do the modelling.

    Here is a very slight twist on your analogy. We shouldn't teach art as a discrete subject. The science teacher has students drawing diagrams, as does the geography teacher. The drama teacher can use graphical techniques to design or plan a set or a scene. Can you imagine an A Level in 'drawing studies?".

    I'm 100% behind ICT/IT/digital literacy being thoroughly embedded across the curriculum. I'm not at all behind the idea that this will allow us to remove ICT/IT/whatever as a discrete subject that needs to be explicitly taught.

  3. As an English teacher I would say the same for English language. It is a non-subject. It can be taught through other subjects.

  4. The parallel is not between pencil and computer, but between ICT and other subjects, say Science. Science is in the curriculum because it is the best subject through which to study very important concepts, such as the scientific process of observation, experiment, recording, analysis, hypothesis and further experiment to refine hypotheses. It is also the best subject through which to look at important areas of knowledge such as energy, life and so on.

    ICT similarly is the best subject through which to look at fundamentally important processes, such as programming - how to analyse processes in order to establish sequences of instructions to produce solutions. And also for areas of knowledge, such as digital data - the idea that physical things can be coded and expressed as numbers, or the idea of organisation of information and the principles of construction of human interfaces to that info.

    Just as I would like primary teachers to have a very clear understanding about the special and unique contributions science brings to the curriculum and to use this insight in their teaching, so I would like them to do similarly for ICT.

    When science was very new as a subject a case could be made for specialist science teachers in primary. Now that has become a matter of a science leader helping the other teachers to teach science better. While at secondary school having specialist subject lessons is still necessary because the depth of understanding required in each subject is too great for an individual to fully know.

    If primary schools are going to operate around having general class teachers who teach all subjects, separating ICT into specialist lessons is only going to delay getting it taught properly by all teachers.

    Would/should a primary headteacher allow a science specialist to keep science lessons separately taught? Or encourage this? It seems to me that the priority is to ensure that all primary teachers teach science, maths, language, history, drama, geography, RE - and ICT - as well as they possibly can. And only while this is being fixed to allow ICT to be taught separately.

    The only possible reason I can conceive of for ICT to continue to be taught separately at primary level is that the subject and its concepts and core knowledge is developing so fast that it is impossible for all the teachers to keep up - but actually I don't believe that as the principles inside ICT have not changed these last 20 years, and it is the principles and core ideas that are important not the particular examples of the time.

    I'm all for having ICT specialists in primary schools just as I expect primaries to have language and maths and science specialists. But the majority of ICT subject teaching should be being done by all class teachers.