ICT is dead - long live ICT

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Definitions wordle 12-06-01 v3.jpg

The National Curriculum subject is going to be called Computing, but far from being the death knell for ICT this signals its rebirth.

ICT, the brand, was severely damaged (not least by Gove's "ICT in schools is a mess" speech at BETT in 2012). However, the criticism he was making (let's not get into a discussion about whether or not it was justified here) was with the teaching of the subject rather than other aspects of ICT. Indeed, (as I have noted previously) the biggest problem with ICT was that people used the term to mean so many different things - the subject, the equipment and infrastructure, the cross curricula use of digital technology - and this meant that they often talked at cross purposes. The answer to the question 'How do you enhance ICT in schools?' clearly ought to be different if you mean 'the equipment and infrastructure' rather than 'the subject' or 'the cross curricula use of digital technology'. You would be amazed at the number of times over the years that I have been talking with someone about how to improve ICT only to realise late in the discussion that we were addressing two very different questions! So defining terms (however academic and dull it may be) really does matter.

The renaming of the subject is thus a great opportunity to remove one element of confusion about what ICT means. Here is my updated definition of key terms:

Computing: The National Curriculum subject (in effect a container), which should encompass:

Computer Science: the scientific discipline of Computer Science, covering principles such as algorithms, data structures, computational thinking, programming (lots of programming if discussion of the draft PoS are anything to go by), systems architecture, design, problem solving etc.
Information Technology (IT): the assembly, deployment, and configuration of digital systems to meet user needs for particular purposes. (Note that this is narrower than the use in industry, which generally encompasses Computer Science as well)
Digital literacy: the ability to operate effectively as a citizen in the 21st century. It covers the following areas:
  • Understanding the impact of new technologies on society, including the ways in which new technologies change disciplines (e.g. history, chemistry, English, etc)
  • Understanding the nature of digital identities and being able to manage your digital identities appropriately
  • Being able to interact safely in a digital world (encompassing e-safety, cyber-bullying, data security, etc)
  • Being able to locate, organize, understand, evaluate, analyze and (re)present information using digital technology (including using dynamic and procedural representations) - what you might think of as 'the creative' making and doing aspects of using digital technology (though of course many other aspects of the subject are creative too).

ICT: the cross curricula use of digital technologies, which can be subdivided into:

Embedded Technology (ET): the use of digital technology where it has changed the nature of a subject (other than Computing) and is thus now an integral part of that subject. For example, in PE where it allows you to analyse performance, or history where it allows you to analyse vast data sets (and in so doing extends the sorts of questions you can ask), or in the natural sciences where it allows you to measure and record much more accurately (again changing the sorts of questions you can ask and answer).
TEL (Technology Enhanced Learning): the use of digital technology to extend (and enhance) our repertoire of teaching strategies/methods (i.e. Pedagogy)

Digital technology: the equipment (hardware and software) and infrastructure that is needed in order to engage with Computing and ICT.

So, a big thank you to Gove for helping to clarify things and revive the term ICT (another example of unintended consequences I suspect - but good news none the less).