May 21, 2007

Life B.C. (Before Computing)

What is the role of Computing Studies, learning the science of computing, when so much of the curriculum that has been devised and relatively unchanged for the past 10-15 years is now expected to permeate the rest of the curriculum?

On Friday afternoon I had a great final session (for the moment) with some of East Lothian's computing studies teachers, Morna Findlay and Duncan Smeed (who suggested the title of the post) from Edinburgh and Glasgow universities and a teacher visiting from just over the county boundaries in the Borders. We set out a couple of months ago to look at what the Computing Studies classroom could look like in the age of the Live Web, empowerment of pupils without the need to know about coding or programming. It was a tough session in points, but we came out in the second half of our 200 minutes with some superb ideas and some actions to take forward.

There were a few things that I picked up on:

Extreme_learning Project and product-based learning
It seemed that often the common or garden computing course is made up of units, weeks or lessons based around particular technology (Week 3 is Word Processing, Week 4 is Spreadsheets). I showed my favourite Be Very Afraid video, where a student has taken several concepts (databases, spreadsheets, craft and design, potentially digital video and photography, too) to come up with a product. Two worlds collide.

The process of the product involves everything our Curriculum for Excellence stands for, but we are left asking the question: "What was the role of the teacher here?" We were also left wondering how the student learns the nuts and bolts required to see the potential of tools that could be used, how the student designs a project where (s)he reaches his or her zone of proximal development. How do you know what you don't know? How do you design a project which, each time, brings you a little higher than you were before? How do we do both 'fun' personalised projects and get the pupils to acquire the knowledge that's required to fulfill their projects? What comes first, the training or the project and experiential learning?

Bebo Social computing is where students' passion lies
Since computing has always, to some degree, lain in the domain of bringing people and knowledge, and people and people, together, we need to design a curriculum and process which underlines this. The ethics of computing need to appear and be discussed to understand the potential of the tools. From these discussions the ideas for projects may arise.

Life B.C. (Before Computing)
It's all too easy for us to be astounded by the potential of computing technology, from email to the gaming console, but for kids technology has always been a given (I remember by computing studies teacher being astounded by coding a traffic light system to work, but I had been doing coding every weekend on my Spectrum since I was six - I wasn't as impressed, or motivated for that matter.)

Taking a look at technology's impact over time, looking at what life would be like without certain technology helps us understand the ethical implications, positive and negative, of each technology. This helps frame why we might want to learn more about how they work and how we can harness them for our own gains or the gains of others. This is where the basis for a project à la Extreme Learning may come into play.

Learning (b)logs
I've been hammering on about learning (b)logs instead of learning logs (on paper) for years, and even had some of my research on it published. For me, the links are clear, and even clearer for a subject where a learning diary is already being kept for examination purposes. For once, we can see the direct use of a blog for examination and formative purposes - all at once.

But it also makes a superb introductory term for our first year secondary students: here's your own blank blog. Write a first post (what is computing for you?), design its look, choose your widgets, personalise your workspace. Ethics is in there from day one: what is public, what is private, what is acceptable?

Yes, they may already have their own online space but, at that age, many won't. Also, this is introducing the concept of a social space as being a workspace, too, something their Bebo page almost certainly is not.

As a result, we should have at least 200 new eduBuzzers this coming term.

Firefoxscreensnapz001 Primary-Secondary Computing
We all had a little play of Scratch, and see this as a great way to get primary students into programming in a fun way. How secondary school computing teachers build on this is the challenge. Could we see the start of more primary-secondary collaboration as gaming, game-making and programming make their way into the primary schools, in the same way as Digital Video, animation, podcasting and web publishing are more P6 than S6?

I look forward to being of as much help as possible in helping a new project-led curriculum emerge, along with the ICT Team and other teachers at East Lothian Council Education. It's the beginning, I think, of an exciting and bright new chapter in computer education.


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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

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School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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