Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Difficult teenager

I still find myself talking about the difference between Computing and ICT and the need to make the distinction in education. There is general consensus (I think) that the distinction has to be made but there is still uncertainty as to what Computing is. The best one line definition I've heard is:
Computing is the science of the digital world
This is OK for a sound bite but perhaps not hugely helpful in defining the core of the subject. However, at least it asserts that Computing is a science.

As we were talking about this the other day, I found myself describing Computing (well perhaps just school's Computing) as a difficult teenager. Not quite sure what it is yet. Growing out of what it was but not clear about what it will be. As Britney would put it: "I'm not a girl, not yet a woman".

The more I ranted about this, the more pleased I became about the metaphor.

It wasn't that long ago that Computing was the golden child - the cute baby that everyone wanted to cuddle. We were turning pupils away from Standard Grade classes and parents were writing to their MPs to demand that their child would get in!

Now we've turned into Kevin the teenager - all angst, acne and anger! We've fallen out with our siblings (ICT) and fallen in with the wrong crowd. Our parents are worried but don't know what to do. Our only hope is that we will be able to get through these troubled teenage times and Computing will take its place with the grown ups of Physics, Chemistry and Biology and make a positive contribution to society, science and schools. However, it could all to easily go wrong. We could skid off the tracks and end up marginalised, disenfranchised and in dispair.

I'm not much further forward in defining the essence of school Computing but at least I had fun pushing a metaphor until it squeaked. What do you think? Helpful analogy or stupid waste of time? :-)

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{I can't quite believe I quoted Britney Spears in this blog post... Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear!}


Martin said...

Your metaphor could also extend to the internet. When it was born it was fragile, innocent and we all had great aspirations for its future. The early years gradually finding its feet, becoming established, developing a personality. The teen ages years a bit of a mess, obsessed with sex, trying to assert itself. I would say we are in late 'teens' now, just about to go to university, we have renewed hopes in our child.

David said...

Good call... I wonder how many other aspects we could stretch the metaphor to cover.

Neil Livesey said...

ICT is a life skill...something that we cannot do without. We all use it, abuse it and become confused by it. It changes daily with technological advances and we all play catch up.

Computing is rock solid built on underlying rules and concepts. It is the foundation for ICT and without it ICT could not exist. The same cannot be said of ICT.

So perhaps the reason that there is uncertainty regarding Computing is due to the poor curricular objectives of Standard Grade, some of which are still the same as I taught 20 years ago.

Not a Kevin more like Clyde (Ape from "Every which way but Loose") ;-)

David said...

I don't know Neil. I suspect Clyde could come up with a more intelligent response in most situations. :-)

More seriously, I'm not sure the "rock solid" foundations you talk about exist. More like overlapping tectonic plates. Solid enough to build on but still wobbly and occasionally explosive around the edges! {Just what we need - another extended metaphor!}

Also, I think I have fewer problems with the old S-Grade objectives (as opposed to the content) than I do with the newer Higher and Advanced Higher! However, basically I agree with your assessment.

Anonymous said...

I came across this discussion by accident, and was so shocked by the suggestion that computing doesnt have 'rock solid foundations' I had to comment. Ever heard of the Turing machine and the halting problem, or Shannon's information theory, or the theories of computability and complexity regarding the fundamental limits of what computing can do? These are the foundations of computing and would be familiar to anyone who has done a computer science degree. People who use Word, Excel and other applications don't need to know too much about these theories, but people that develop these applications and technologies generally do. Thats the difference. So I think Neil had it about right.