Saturday, May 15, 2010


I've been mulling over this post for a few weeks now but coursework marking hell  prevented me from getting my thoughts into any sort of order. I believe ICT as a subject is at a crossroads. On the one hand there are brilliant opportunities to use ICT  to support higher order thinking skills across the curriculum and provide students with the digital literacy skills needed to function effectively in the digital age. On the other there is the pressure to 'process' students through the coursework mill to prop up school league tables. This second option is proving even more invasive with the introduction of ICT Functional Skills as a requirement for passing any Diploma. 

Steve Wheeler's 'Stop Calling it ICT' post challenges both the name and the purpose of ICT lessons. Is the name appropriate with it's focus on technology rather than learning. Do we need ICT as a discrete subject or should it be embedded across the curriculum? 

James Greenwood's article on Assessing Pupil Progress in ICT also gave me food for thought. I have been rewriting the KS3 SOWs this year to incorporate the new APP levels with it's three strands:-
  • AF1 planning, developing and evaluating
  • AF2 handling data, sequencing instructions and modelling
  • AF3 findingusing and communicating information
APP has proved to be a good framework for developing a curriculum which is not dominated by teaching students which buttons to press in various Microsoft  Office Applications. Like James I have been moving towards projects which incorporate various learning objectives and higher order thinking skills rather than the 'now we will do spreadsheets' mentality which seemed to underpin the old National Strategy lessons. 

So for instance year 7 are currently working on a project about dream holidays. This involves the following activities:-
  • Creating a questionnaire using Google forms. 
  • Analysing the data collected using google forms and Microsoft Excel 
  • Comparing spreadsheet applications 
  • Planning a holiday route using Google maps 
  • Use internet research to find out how much a holiday would cost 
  • Using a spreadsheet application to produce a model to calculate the cost of a holiday and answer 'what if' questions. 
  • Using a desktop publishing application to publicise the holiday package 
Yes this incorporates the AF2 data handling elements but also covers the AF1 concepts of planning out the project at the start and evaluating the outcome and the AF3 themes of finding and using information.

This approach stills needs more work as my starting point was introducing the use of spreadsheets followed by how can I incorporate other ideas and thinking skills. I need to turn this process round to a more Challenge Based Learning model:-

But can this approach work in a discrete ICT lesson? Surely it needs a bigger focus and more curriculum time to be successful. I recently visited Brunel Academy in Bristol which has has 80% of the year 7 and year 8 curriculum devoted to project based learning. Maybe the end point of the way my curriculum ideas are heading is agreeing that ICT as a discrete subject is dead. Alternatively this could be a takeover of the entire curriculum by technology enabled learning. Time will tell.

The other strand in this post is the increasing pull in the opposite direction, back to a Microsoft Application training model of ICT lessons that I'd hoped had been consigned to the past. ICT departments have long been under pressure to be a cash cow for results. Courses such as GNVQs and now OCR Nationals which are based on 100% coursework and which can turn out 4 GCSEs per student have propped up many schools in results league tables. This pressure has led to many schools compressing the ICT KS3 curriculum into yr7 and yr8 with the coursework production line firing up in yr9. The prevailing attitude in my school appears to be that any student can be given sufficient support to achieve an ICT qualification. These courses do however have a range of options enabling teachers to put together an engaging curriculum.

Into the mix now comes Functional Skills. At my school ICT is an optional subject at KS4. Suddenly from being in a sleepy back water ICT has been thrust into the limelight. 90% of the students now take a Diploma and all of them have to pass ICT Functional Skills in order to gain their Diploma. Late in the day the school is realising that this qualification needs to have significant time on the timetable following disastrous results for cohort after cohort given at most 20 hours ( GLH 45 hours ) study time. Some students are now taking the exam for the 4th time and are in real danger of failing their Diploma.

As a result the department is now under pressure to spend the whole of year 9 preparing students to take Functional Skills. To do this we would have to strip out all the digital literacy and thinking skills elements of the current SOW together with the game programming in Scratch and go back to Excel, Access and Publisher training. Pressure with year 11 has also seen a return to teaching spreadsheets as databases as a way of getting the students through. Fortunately as KS3 co-ordinator I have not been involved in Functional skills this year and I am moving to a new school in September which has not embraced Diplomas. However if this is the new vision for ICT then the sooner discrete ICT is put out of it's misery and consigned to the history books the better.


  1. Well written. Very lucid and remarkably similar thoughts in places to my own. I think I should share some of my "living theory" that I am currently writing as part of my MSc. Look at your inspiration already ;) I will post to my blog and link to Twitter in due course.

  2. Thanks Nick. I'e passionate about teaching ICT and e-learning and feel that the use of technology can enrich learning across the curriculum. This pressure to rebrand ICT as Microsoft Office training is just so depressing and will turn students off ICT for good. After a year of Functional Skills training how many students will choose ICT as an option at KS4 or KS5?

    I look forward to your blog as it's been a demoralising few weeks trying defend the progress I've made with the curriculum. I have the feeling that most of my work will be scrapped the minute I'm out of the door.

  3. Nick's post adds to this discussion and has given me much to think about. Need to mull some more and blog further on this.

  4. Excellent post - as I've said via Twitter - I fundamentally believe in the importance of ICT lessons to provide students with the opportunity to discover and develop their IT skills. They can then use these across the curriculum. There is a need for *both*. The best ICT lessons are those were students aren't preparing coursework or learning theory for exams. They are where a student is given software or an online tool and told to play around with it. Here they can then discover possiblities and develop confidence to use similar tools in the future.

    I agree entirely with what you've said in the post - ICT teaching is not about delivering Microsoft Office skills nor is it about jumping through hoops. We need to be able to share the enthusiasm of technology and how it can be used for effective learning and life-long skills.

  5. Andy - thanks for that - I've been really encouraged this weekend by the number of people who are thinking along the same lines. I believe that together we can make a difference and turn the tide.

  6. Excellent post. Sad that ICT is moving in that direction, but I see it too. English isn't about learning how you hold a pen, ICT shouldn't be about learning which buttons to press in MS Office.

    Hope that you're right about turning the tide!