Let us hope that "ICT" is dead and buried

Fragment of a discussion from Talk:PeterT's bliki
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Re Embedded technology

Crispin said:

I disagree with your use of this term for three reasons.
1. As already argued, we “embed” things when they have a different purpose to the surrounding environment (a reporter in an army unit, for example) but we do not embed things which serve the main purpose of the surrounding environment. We do not “embed” tables and chairs in classrooms and neither should we “embed” weather stations in Geography lessons or MIDI instruments in music lessons. I think you understand this really: the problem is not that you use the term “embed” incorrectly but that your justification hides your true purpose. You really want to introduce different aims into other subjects under the pretence that the subject has changed in ways that you understand better than native subject experts. Your use of this term therefore signals your desire to act the cuckoo, laying your agenda in everyone else’s nests.
2. In my view, you have grossly over-stated the claim that technology is changing the nature of the rest of the curriculum. When you look at the substance of the argument that you have made, it boils down to the fact that the English curriculum should refer to “texts” rather than “books”. I completely agree with that point. But the fact that literature is delivered through a new medium does not change the essence of the subject one iota. Even Computer Science itself, according to its chief advocate the Royal Society “has longevity (most of the ideas and concepts that were current 50 or more years ago are still applicable today), and every core principle can be taught or illustrated without relying on the use of a specific technology”. Computers have not even changed the discipline of Computing and I see no evidence that they have changed the fundamentals of any other subject either.
3. The term is redundant. We have never required an abstract noun to refer to IWBs, Bunson burners and poly-gyms – why do we need such a term now, other than to smuggle in your very contentious theory that all these subjects have been changed by technology?

I basically agree with the first point - Embedded Technology (as I define it) is about something that is integral to the discipline and thus becomes invisible, its not an add on. I think Crispin mis-reads my motivation - but we will come to that in a moment.

I agree that the subjects taught in schools have not been fundamentally changed by digital technology (Crispin's item 2). However, I believe that the disciplines outside schools have been transformed by digital technology - the things that people in 'real world' (meaning the world outside school) are different because of digital technology, the sorts of questions they can ask and the ways in which they can try to answer them and represent their answers are radically different. I think that this is really problematic - the subjects taught in schools should bear some relationship to the real world disciplines. Thus my motivation, and the reason why I think we need the term Embedded Technology, is to flag up the ways in which digital technologies have changed the nature of disciplines and should therefore impact on the school curriculum.

The specific point about putting 'text' rather than 'book' in the English PoS reflects a desire to operate in the real world - if one suggested more radical changes to the draft PoS then you would be totally ignored - so its about trying to make changes which appear trivial but at least open up possibilities and might have some chance of being implemented.

I find the claim that 'computers have not even changed the discipline of Computing' difficult to grasp - firstly, I think the discipline is called Computer Science (at least that is what the BCS, CAS, RAEng have been calling it. Secondly, (and not withstanding the first point), if it weren't for computers there wouldn't be a discipline called Computing ...

In response to comment 3 that the term is redundant - if it were the case that school curricula reflected their related disciplines then I would agree with you. However, until that is the case there is a need for a term in order to highlight the issue and give us a way to talk about it meaningfully.

PeterT07:50, 5 May 2013


Maybe I was sloppy in talking about "Computing" rather than "Computer Science" in reference to the thing that hasn't changed. The latter is an essentially logical process and is prior to computers themselves. You could study it, for example, using a hypothetical Turing Machine. It is basically Maths and logic and that does not change. It is not me who says that, it is the Royal Society and they should know.

While I support you on "texts", I do not see how this affects the essential subject, which is either about literature (e.g. D H Lawrence's approach to industrialisation) or language (the use of devices such as metaphor and assonance, different rhetorical registers etc) - none of this is affected by whether you are reading from paper or a tablet.

I accept that the nature of *work* may have changed but this does not mean that subjects have changed - except when you move towards vocational training. But perhaps you could give some examples of how you think technology has changed subject disciplines.

I will accept (what may be different sides of the same coin) that:

(a) computers have changed the ways in which abstract knowledge is applied, new ways of working; (b) computers have created new disciplines like computer modelling; (c) computers may have changed what we think is worth learning; (d) computers may have enabled us to discover new things - they have provided new sources of evidence...

...but I maintain that all of these changes are in fact fairly peripheral. The core knowledge of Maths and English, History and Science, problem solving and teamwork, analytical thought and creative endeavour, have hardly changed at all.

Perhaps you could give some examples of how you think computers *have* fundamentally changed subject disciplines?

Crispin Weston12:11, 7 May 2013

Hmm - I struggle with the notion that the discipline of Computer Science exists separate from computers today. I recognise that the logical processes that underpin Computer Science and some of the early (mechanical) computational devices pre-dated computers, but at some point the discipline presumably has expanded beyond the underlying maths and logic as a result of digital technology. Isn't that so? Could you teach Computer Science without reference to computers today?

PeterT10:36, 8 May 2013

I am intrigued by your argument that the changes that digital technology have made are "peripheral" to the core of disciplines.

It seems to me to parallel the debate about whether digital technology has changed how we think and/or learn. In that debate I tend towards saying that digital technology hasn't fundamentally changed how we think or learn - it may be that some of our 'cognitive muscles' have become flabby from lack of use, and other 'cognitive muscles' have got stronger. However, there may come a point, and this is where I struggle, at which the unused 'cognitive muscles' atrophy, and when that happens then something has changed (cos those 'cognitive muscles' no longer exist, they can't be revitalised by future use).

I do wonder what the point of a discipline is - and I guess I would argue that it is about a way of seeing and engaging with the world. If that is the case, and as you have agreed, digital technology has changed the ways in which we apply knowledge, work, think is worth learning, provided new sources of evidence (and allowed us to ask and answer new questions) then hasn't the discipline changed (even if some of the fundamental 'knowledge' has remained constant?

I'd love to hear from other people who are experts in other disciplines on their views about whether or not digital technology has changed their discipline. My strong feeling is that it has, whilst agreeing that some fundamental principles (e.g. 1+1=2) have not changed.

PeterT10:49, 8 May 2013

I think we are very close on this one - and I agree that the general discussion is an interesting one. I think it also parallels an educational discussion about the point at which you move to vocational courses. If it is the application of subject knowledge rather than its fundamental principles that have changed, then too much emphasis on technological application may represent a premature move to vocational training.

At the same time, I think that abstract principle needs to be contextualised in a variety of challenging and compelling ways. E.g. what maths was used to work out the mass of the Siberian meteorite? My only quibble is that this is a function of pedagogy and not curriculum (i.e. top level learning objectives).

I echo your call for more contributions to the discussion!

Crispin Weston03:52, 13 May 2013