Let us hope that "ICT" is dead and buried

Fragment of a discussion from Talk:PeterT's bliki
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Crispin said:
I do not accept that new technologies are substantively changing disciplines, nor do I accept that you need to understand sociological change in order to be able to operate in society. On the contrary, there has always been a view that there is an inverse relationship between being a philosopher and being a man of the world. Finally, I think the impact of new technologies on society is highly contentious and likely, particularly when being presented to school children, to become a matter of unproven dogma. But I would be interested to see what you would expect to be taught under this item.

I don't think I was saying you need to be a philosopher - just that it is important to understand that digital technology (in a similar but different way to the internal combustion engine) has an impact on the way society operates. It is helpful to be aware of this - for example, being aware of the ways in which the media might try to manipulate our thinking - is empowering.

I think we disagree about the extent to which digital technology has impacted on and will continue to impact on society. Offshoring is one concrete example that has real impacts on people (who either become less employable or more employable depending upon whether you are in the 'home' or 'outsource' country. I suspect that as automation becomes even more prevalent we will see radical changes in society - and will need to rethink how our economy works - see my overview of The Lights in the Tunnel for more on this.

PeterT17:06, 7 May 2013

Peter, I do not disagree that IT is having massive impacts on society - it is just that we are so much in the thick of the revolution that it is hard to make sense of it at the moment. People have long been predicting mass unemployment as a result of automation, without it ever having happened to any significant extent. As some functions are automated, people have always discovered other things that need to be done and appetites for increased consumption has proved virtually limitless. Your reference seems to me to make my point - the first line of the article is "This book explores the possibility that automation will lead to mass unemployment". It is speculative theory which I am not sure schoolchildren are well equipped to evaluate. It seems like a good topic for a sixth-form debate, not a KS3 sociology lesson.

As for the media manipulating our thinking, I do not entirely disagree but I think that there is at the same time a danger of peddling negative and what might easily become conspiratorial theories. As a History teacher, it has always struck me that we are quick to teach children about other people's propaganda, but almost completely blind to our own.

The right approach, I believe, is to try and positively equip children to think for themselves and approach all assertions with an open and skeptical mind - but this is a very tough objective and you will fail most of the time. I am with John Stuart Mill that the real threat to independent thought is not authority but the pressure to conform to social orthodoxy - a pressure that Twitter and Facebook have very substantially increased. There is perhaps another sixth-form debate along the lines of whether the Press is motivated primarily by propriatorial agendas or the popular appetites of its consumers.

My main concern is that all this is very controversial and in my experience even teachers are often not very good at thinking for themselves. This means that there is a significant danger of classrooms being used to peddle teachers' pet theories.

Crispin Weston17:49, 7 May 2013

Again we agree about much here:

  • digital technology is having massive impacts on society - but the future is uncertain (who knows what those impacts might be in 5, 10, 20 etc years time)
  • New media provide new ways for people to communicate and influence others (you didn't say this but its implicit in your partial agreement re media manipulation I think)
  • we want to equip children to think for themselves and approach life with an open mind
  • this is all complex and controversial stuff

Where we seem to disagree is that I think that despite the complexity and messiness we ought to be helping children understand it (as best we can and at a level that is appropriate to the maturity of the children), whereas you seem to be saying that because its so uncertain, complex and messy we shouldn't try to teach about it (until the children are much older).

I can see where you are coming from - I just don't agree with you on this occasion.

PeterT16:22, 8 May 2013

Peter, I am not sure we are so far apart. It is question of the level at which you address the issues - and in a way it echoes the Gove vs. Rosen set-to on language. Rosen, it seems to me, is talking about the study of linguistics, Gove is talking about the ability to study a version of English that will prove most useful to children. I am with Gove, not because the study of linguistics is not valid - but I do not think it is what will be most useful to KS3 children. There is also a danger that, in teaching university level stuff at KS3, you end up with a platitudinous mush.

On the impact of computers on society, I think dealing with peer pressure on Facebook and protecting confidential information are critical issues which at the moment are only dealt with at KS1 and ought to be promoted further up the curriculum (at least to KS2, which is where - though I have not taught at this level - I would have thought children would be adopting an online persona for real).

As for "thinking for yourself", this is a much more fundamental issue, part of the core academic curriculum, led by analytical subjects such as History. The way I would see this working is that Computing would give children the prerequisite digital skills (as defined by the Royal Society) to navigate the web and manipulate web resources, and let the History teacher (perhaps with cross-curriculum support from the Computing teacher) run a "contemporary History" project, showing the similarities between the skills required to evaluate Nazi propaganda with the ability to evaluate some of the stuff that you are likely to find on the web. A "contemporary issues" discussion or debate might take this forward by questioning whether the internet revolution has brought benefit or harm to the way information is circulated and accessed.

So on the particular case of the effect of IT on society, I am all for stimulating debate and intellectual curiosity and pointing out the relevance of abstract learning to the here and now; and I am also all for helping students lead their own lives at a PSHE level. What I am against is making the computer's effect on society a hard curriculum topic, any more than we should get KS3 children writing about euthanasia, abortion and homosexual marriage. It's all good stuff, maybe for an A level ethics or sociology course - but I just think that at KS3 it will hit the platitudinous waffle trap.

On the general question of cross-curriculum activity, I am all for finding synergies. But I am against Computing hijacking creative / evaluative / analytical learning which is properly the domain of other subjects. It should rather deliver the prerequisite digital skills to enable those subjects to address their traditional subject matter, working through digital media.

Crispin Weston18:40, 12 May 2013

In an ideal world I would agree that we should be expecting 'the <insert subject> teacher' to address the big issues in their subject, whilst the Computing teacher has ensured that the children have the necessary level of digital literacy to be able to use digital technology to help them do so. However, I think that the competences required to use digital technology go beyond the ability to operate the technology, and incorporate what in the past we might have called ICT Competence (a broad set of knowledge (i.e. the ability to apply information), understanding and skills related to digital technology). Furthermore, whilst learning digital literacy 'in situ' (e.g. across the curriculum) would be better than having it as a discrete subset of Computing, in practice at present if it isn't explicitly specified in the PoS then there is a serious danger that it will not be addressed (or at best will be addressed inconsistently by different teachers).

PeterT08:18, 13 May 2013

Repeating what I have just written on another thread, I think the difference is between curriculum aims and pedagogy.

One of the great benefits of the new Computing curriculum, which I have been arguing for for a long time, is the disentangling of the teaching of technology and the use of technology to improve teaching. I think what we are discussing here is part of the second of these points. I don't think that technology changes the fundamental other subjects - but it does change the way that it can be taught and the fundamental learning contextualised.

Why do teachers not read the academic literature or research evidence? How do we stimulate a more vigorous debate (1) on pedagogy as a "design science" and (2) on ways in which technology can help that process? How do we stimulate a pull dynamic, rather than always relying on a government funded push? For me, those are the key questions.

Crispin Weston10:00, 13 May 2013

We clearly disagree about the extent to which digital technology impacts on disciplines and should therefore impact on school subjects. Whilst we agree that what I've been calling TEL shouldn't be the focus of Computing (the subject).

However I think that digital literacy (my broad definition rather than the narrow technical skills definition) is different to both of the above things and does need to be taught as a discrete subject for reasons already set out in other posts in this discussion.

It seems to me that digital literacy is more important than computer science on the basis that everybody needs to be digitally literate whilst only a minority of folk need to be computer scientists.

PeterT08:27, 14 May 2013