Thursday, November 08, 2007

Computing: training, teaching, education and emancipation

Time for schools to teach computing, not just train users | Technology | Guardian Unlimited

"There is a fair amount of skills-based IT training taking place, so that students leave school knowing how to write a letter, make a spreadsheet and create a presentation, even if their skills tend to be oriented around Microsoft Office instead of being more general.

But this really is training, not teaching. IT has been embedded into the curriculum and students learn how to do stuff, but there is no space for discussion and debate that might lead to a deeper understanding of the technology or the issues it creates."
So said Bill Thomson, quoted in a blog post from yesterday's Guardian website. And that's just an extract from the opening few paragraphs - the article is just packed with good stuff! It chimes very well with some of the issues we were wrestling with at the Schools Computing: The Future conference (see for example my blog post: Computing is...). The distinction made in the post is between ICT training and ICT education - we were trying to make a distinction between ICT and Computing Science.

The post is just packed with quotable quotes. The one that initially attracted me is:
"...computers are intrinsically emancipatory devices, whereas schools are basically institutions of control."
-- Seymour Papert
I saw this in John Johnson's Tumbelog {note to self: investigate Tumblr soon!} and had to go and investigate. There is a great section which ends with "...where pupils can use the technology only under ludicrously restricted conditions" and it reports possibly my favourite quote of the year so far:
"To appreciate the distinction, think of sex. Would we be happy if schools provided sex training rather than sex education for our children? You only have to ask the question to know the answer."
(This replaces my previous favourite quote: "Digital World? - It's more like Forbidden Planet!")

So, what do you think? At least one of the people commenting on the Guardian blog remains unconvinced. However, my contention is that we live in a digital world. Pretty much all of the recent developments in science, technology and (possibly) the arts have depended on, or sprung from, the digital word. We ignore this digital world in schools at our peril... or rather at our children's peril. I simply do not believe it is enough to assume that children will all have computers and therefore will learn all they need to by osmosis.

...Or am I just being a grumpy old Computing teacher?

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Andrew said...

FWIW - I think you are spot on here David. When I think of the amount of time I have spent working with staff to learn applications, only to have the manufacturer release a new version within weeks or months of the training!

What we need is more of a focus on education rather than training. The big question for us all now is what would that education consist of? Using the lovely example of sex education rather than training - I think we've got this one off target too. Most of sex education deals with the what to do to avoid pregnancy/infection, rather than dealing with the importance of fidelity and the value of intimacy. My fear would be that computer education would focus too much on the dangers and not enough on the positives?

Mr Lee said...

I think you are spot on with this - it's a "discussion" I've had with a secondary school colleague who maintains that because my P7s can't alter page margins using Word that they are not the IT users I think they are. Despite their blogs, wikis, presentation skills, research, international communication, blah,

Chris said...

Just you go on being a GOCT! (Pity you're not teaching Accounting - better anagram)
I think there's a huge difference between educating kids to be technology savvy over a wide field and training them to lay out a nice business letter - let alone training them in the workings of the techy stuff. If I were still in school, I'd like to assume that my pupils were being taught the things I've discovered for myself (via folk like yourself, Ewan etc) so that I didn't need to teach that first before making use of them in my English teaching. Just as, I suppose, I expected most of my S1 pupils to be able to read when they arrived in my class - though I was occasionally caught out!

john said...

More agreement, this week my class have been writing poems and starting to post them onto the blog, they will then do a bit of 2 stars and a wish peer assessment. The children type the poems in ms word basically to use it as a spell checker, after they have blogged it (the communication bit in ict) they go on to format the poem and add illustrations in word. I see this as a finishing off activity. Blogging needs less technical skill than neatly formatting a word doc, but is a more powerful use of tech for learning.

Glad t osee someone is reading my tumblelog, come in David, the water is lovely.

Kenneth... said...

I wonder if ICT & Computing are part of a heirarchy. I wonder where comparisons can be made between the established areas of learning and the new areas of ICT & Computing.

What is the heirarchy of knowledge for English Language? What knowledge needs to be learned first, second, third and so on till someone can understand and appreciate Shakespeare? What is the order of learning when writting a story or letter?

What is the order of learning for someone to blog? What knowledge do I need in place first before I can engage in blogging?

Next thought!!!
What knowledge did Tim Berners-Lee need to create the WWW? Did he fixate on the dangers of pornography or did he fixate on the code and structures and standards? Now the teacher who uses the WWW as a learning tool for education might need to consider issues of use but will not need to consider HTML and JavaScript. So for some Computing is about the creation of a tool to solve a problem (Tool makers) and for others its the use of that tool to solve a problem (Tool users).

How does this compare to other subject?

Biology/Chemistry - I can learn how chemicals mix and interact to make a medicine (maker). I can learn what effect a medicine has on a human body (user).

English - I can learn to understand and appreciate poetry (user). I can learn to use word and poatic techniques to create my own poems (maker)

I hate the way that some Computing teachers fixate on the software ( brand and features) and fail to look at it as a tool that allows you to solve problems. You see this in web design courses or DTP courses where the teacher focuses on the software rather than the output from the software. It would be like a Technical Teacher fixating an a saw rather than on the uses and things it can help create.

Rant over... Kenneth...