Banging heads on brick walls

Brick wallIn calling for better teaching and better leadership in secondary schools, OFSTED and its political masters are failing to recognise the fundamental problem facing formal education.

There have been three interesting contributions to the ed-tech debate by the BBC in recent days. Yesterday, 10 December (link here, for 4 weeks only, and listen from 2:17:38), Chief Inspector Michael Wilshaw complained on the Today programme that too many secondary schools were providing an inadequate standard of education, due mainly to poor quality teaching and leadership. Today, the Today programme covered the problem that schools are having in teaching the new Computing curriculum (link here, for 4 weeks only, and listen from 02:39:00). The two items are connected in that they both demonstrate that the education service continues to fail to recognise its own fundamental problems. It also fails to recognise the importance of the message in this year’s Reith Lectures, given by Atul Gawande, ostensibly about medicine (listen to lecture 2, The Century of the System).

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“ICT” and “digital literacy” RIP

Still from the film "The premature burial"The term “Information and Communications Technology” (ICT) has referred to the curriculum subject taught in UK schools. As advocated on this blog, it is now being changed to “Computing”.

I laid out the reasons why the term “ICT” should be abolished in one of the earliest posts on this blog. The Royal Society made a similar argument at about the same time in its report “Shut down or restart?”. Yesterday, the Department for Education announced that it was initiating the the legislative process required to change “ICT” to “Computing”. It also suggested a surprising response to the debate over “digital literacy”—one that is equally welcome as far as I am concerned.

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Round-table with Ian Livingstone at Computing magazine

Round-table at Computing magazineWhy I disagree with Ian Livingstone (and why we should continue the discussion)

Last month I participated in a videoed round-table at Computing magazine’s offices in Soho, chaired by Peter Gothard. The panel included Ian Livingstone (the father of RPG games like Dungeons and Dragons and co-author of the Nesta NextGen report), Phil Bryant of OCR, and Joanna Poplawska of the Corporate IT Forum.

Part 2 of 3 of the conversation was published yesterday. Part 1 contains the panelists’ opening remarks and part 3 will address BYOD. It is this second part that contains the heart of the discussion.

I was a little taken aback, when I showed the video to my work colleagues yesterday, that they all complained that we were all far too polite to each other. “Where’s the passion?”, they complained. I assured them that this was not my normal reputation when discussing Learning Technology (indeed, I boasted, I had recently been threatened with legal action for defamation). But I can see what they meant. Maybe the shortness of the recording session and the unfamiliarity of the studio setting made us all a little stilted.

So, while there was much that the panel did agree on, I write this piece to highlight my disagreements with Ian Livingstone. They are generally disagreements of degree rather than of category—but they are significant nonetheless. When you add them together, they become pretty fundamental—and I would not want the importance of this disagreement to get lost in the civilities of the TV studio.

With all quotes coming from his first speech, I disagree with Ian…

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Computing in the National Curriculum

Michael Gove leaving a platform on the National CurriculumMy response to the Department for Education’s consultation on the draft National Curriculum

Following my previous posts on the review of the National Curriculum (Digital literacy and the new ICT curriculum and Good lord! Where’s the digital literacy?), I submitted the following response to the DfE’s consultation on the National Curriculum, with particular reference to Computing.

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Public sector productivity in education

Policy Exchange's digital government consultationA copy of my response to the public consultation by Policy Exchange on digital government

The think tank Policy Exchange has been running an online consultation on digital government (closing at midnight on Friday, 20 April). Most of the questions are about central government but question 4 is relevant to education technology: “How might modern tools and platforms help enhance public sector productivity?”

I am copying my answer, which provides a summary of the argument that I have developed on this blog.

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Good lord! Where’s the digital literacy?

Tintin, Captain Haddock, Professor Tarragon and Snowy find that the mummy has disappeared, from Tintin and the Seven crystal balls by HergéThe most recent draft of the Computing Curriculum for England and Wales has majored on Computer Science at the expense of Digital Literacy. Before we can discover where the latter has gone, we will need to agree on what it is we are looking for.

In November I posted an article on Digital literacy and the new ICT curriculum, which argued that:

  • the review of the ICT curriculum would allow us to disentangle the teaching of technology (“Computing”) from the use of technology to improve learning (“education technology”);
  • this opportunity was not yet being realised because teachers’ representatives were still led by adherents of the old conception of “ICT”, which deliberately conflated these two separate objectives.

The supporters of the old consensus have been arguing that there is no need to change the old ICT curriculum at all because all was well with the status quo. In response to some misleading information that suggested that this view had the support of OFSTED, on 5th February I wrote an opinion piece in Computing Magazine, clarifying OFSTED’s position and summarizing what I see as the problem with the debate over Digital Literacy.

This article gives some more background to the position described in Computing. It will:

  • analyse the current draft of the DfE’s Programme of Study (PoS) for Computing;
  • review the theories that lie behind the definition of “digital literacy” put forwards by the advocates of ICT;
  • restate the case for the adoption of the definition of “digital literacy” put forwards by the Royal Society;
  • propose a set of amendments to the current draft of the ICT programme of study, bringing back what I suggest is the right sort of digital literacy.

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Digital Literacy and the new ICT curriculum

The Royal Society made a convincing argument that ICT should be replaced by a combination of Computer Science and Digital Literacy. The current draft of the new ICT PoS does not live up to this vision.

In my post Scrapping “ICT” on January 18th, I attacked the term “ICT” on the grounds that it confused two concepts: the teaching of technology (which I proposed to call Computer Studies) and the use of technology to improve learning (which I proposed to call education technology).

I had not at that time read the Royal Society report, Shut down or restart?, which had been published five days earlier. This report argued along similar lines to my own, but suggested that the term “ICT” confused not two but five concepts:

  • the National Curriculum Subject called “ICT” (itself a combination of many strands);
  • the use of generic information technologies (e.g. the internet, VLEs, office software) to support teaching and learning;
  • the use of specific technologies to support individual subjects (e.g. weather stations in Geography, MIDI instruments in Music);
  • the use of technologies to support teachers’ administrative processes, and the school’s management information systems;
  • the physical infrastructure of a school’s computer systems: the networks, printers and so on.

I can agree with the Royal Society that “ICT” confuses many different terms without necessarily  agreeing that their five points represent the most helpful classification of the different concepts. Continue reading