May 04, 2007

The Future of Computing in Schools

Img_5751 I'm offering a mininote at the second day of Scotland's first ever summit on the future of computing (applied ICT, computing studies...). How does this subject sit in a school and 'real' world where computing infiltrates to an extent that many kids are potentially experts in the subject before they begin it?

Professor Brian Boyd, one of the architects of the wonderful potential in the Curriculum for Excellence, is stirring us up first, and believes:

  • the synthesising mind is the mind that will make the difference in our planet. Our curriculum does prepare kids for learning this essential skill;
  • collegiality needs to happen for successful cross curricular connections and synthesis to be made;
  • learning to learn, thinking and understanding are at least as important as learning stuff, if not more so. The Curriculum must help teachers teach kids about the unknown. Gone are the days where the teacher can second guess what might be in the examination and success for the students ensues;
  • students need to be able to perform their understanding in many different ways - it's the only way we can be sure they are learning. That means that assessment and classroom work are being adapted to allow this performance, rather than the regurgitation we've seen before.
  • we must focus on understanding. "How many times in the recent past have you heard yourself say: 'I don't care if you don't understand it, just learn it. That's all you need for the exam.'?"
  • inter-disciplinary learning, rich tasks, extreme learning - these are big challenges for many subjects, but perhaps computing studies is one of the best placed to take advantage of it. The Australian rich tasks work has shown that the subject disciplines are actually reinforced by inter-disciplinary work.

Is there an 'e-pedagogy'?

Personally, I don't think there is a separate e-pedagogy, and Brian agrees. Pedagogy changes to harness the richness of the technological enhancements on offer. This is something I'll bring up in my talk, too, with my reference to the HMIe's report on ICT.

What are the challenges, then, to achieve all this much better?

  • The downward incrementalism of exams - people writing as fast as they can for two hours is no way to test whether children can 'perform'. This deficiency trickles down to all areas of education.
  • Vocational versus academic - a false dichotomy? Like Brian's son (ubiquitous mention in every talk, I've seen his son grow up from Standard Grades [when I was studying teacher training] to his degree [now]) I studied a vocational course at university: Law.
  • Deep and surface learning.

Mark Tennant from East Lothian and David Muir have been here for the full two days and have just started to capture the debate around the promise of a Scottish system open to change and what happens elsewhere in the United Kingdom and the world that was being discussed yesterday. They'll also, no doubt, capture what it is I'm just about to go on about.


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I don't think that many kids are experts in computer studies when they arrive at school. They may be experienced in using some computer applications, but that's quite a different thing. It comes down to what you mean by computer studies. I don't think it has much to do with learniing how to use applications. Computer studies is really about the history of computers, social implications of computing, programming, technicalities of how computers work etc etc.

We wouldn't suggest that someone is an expert at linguistics just because they happen to be bilingual, would we?

I completely agree with Robert. What I remember the most from Computer Studies at A'level and even GCSE was the ethics and social implications. Spending too much time on teach kids how to use the applications is a waste of time in this area.

Must dash for plane, like the new site!


I agree entirely with what you say, Robert, and think that nearly every computer studies teacher would, too. However, the way the curriculum for this subject is laid out would suggest otherwise - your average computer studies course does seem to cover a large proportion of time on apps and office use.

In my talk this morning I was trying to suggest that the place of computing studies might well be to think... : "about the history of computers, social implications of computing, programming, technicalities of how computers work etc etc"

I still don't think there is an e-pedagogy, though, but rather that technology implicitly *should* alter the pedagogy of the 19th century, keeping the best elements and adapting it where there is a benefit. Again, computer scientists may be among the best placed to help map out where this can happen. That, at least, is where their discussion will have lain today.

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