Wow! It's has been a year since I started this Blog and thank you to all those who took the time to read it (and share their thoughts and ideas with me). As a person who actually worked as an IT Consultant before getting into teaching and qualifying as a teacher, I initially had a very open mind as to device provision and the use of technology in education. I initially assumed that a one to one program and free and open access to information technology in school would be an excellent idea but my experience and research have forced me to question these initial assumptions! This does not mean I dislike computer and IT at school, I still feel that teaching Computing and IT skills must be absolutely essential component of every child's education, what I have to take issue with is letting the technology replace good pedagogical principles and the possible negative effects of an over reliance and over dependence on technology.
Some new schemes of work and resources are in the pipeline as I type (HTML, IT Functional Skills in particular) but here is something I started writing when the blog just got going and I did not have time to go back and complete at the time.
Time-warp (my thoughts from 2015)
From my experience teaching, in curriculum design, and also from the majority of (appropriate) research I have read (i.e. research not conducted by commercial interests such as Apple); I have become very skeptical about tech adoption and integration in the classroom (especially when it is used to justify the removal of the discrete teaching of computer skills and knowledge) as I have not yet seen enough evidence convincing me that tech integration actually improves educational outcomes significantly (I fear that the use of computers and their pedagogical benefits have diminishing returns once a certain point of provision has been reached).
Before the tech advocates jump down my throat, I need to say that I love using tech and I find it useful in the classroom. What I don't like is those who see it as a panacea to all educational problems and therefore berate other and argue for its wholesale adoption without thinking about integrating it properly so that students benefit to the greatest degree possible. I also fundamentally disagree with those who think technology is a simple solution to a complex problem; technology can make good teaching better but it cannot transform bad pedagogy into good pedagogy.
Too often, the argument for technology integration is based upon bad science (or internet memes); one example of this would be the “Shift Happens” videos which seemed to have been doing the rounds in educational circles for the last several years (see this Blog post on More Myths for Teachers) and which have been used to support some changes in education based on very little supportable evidence but have been used to support this kind of logical fallacy
- We must do something
- This is something
- Therefore, we must do this.
Or in other words:
- To improve things, things must change
- We are changing things
- Therefore, we are improving things.
The problem is that some schools and curricula have removed the actual teaching of computing skills and knowledge and have gone wholeheartedly into a complete integration model (a reliance on an embedded curriculum which means that the teaching of discrete skills and knowledge have been removed) and this culminates in a situation where we have students who lack basic knowledge of what their devices can do and how they actually work.
Even worse than that, I have seen some teachers (and Digital Learning Coaches in particular) advocate and push for a change away from Computing to something more akin to Media Studies and Media Creation (making Podcasts / videos or using social media as if that is a replacement for the three basic foundations of Computing!). This also dovetails with a move towards a embedded curriculum and just providing devices to students in the vain hope that their digital nativeness will suddenly allow some divine manifestation of absolute computer related proficiency. I can only attribute this move towards media creation (and the softer options part of computing to be due to the fact that teaching coding / programming is not an easy thing to do).
Let's not forget that the move to an embedded curriculum in order to try to maximize student digital literacy (successfully) is, in itself, a very difficult task; functional skills are particularly neglected and underdeveloped; there is little doubting of student confidence in their Digital Literacy but students overestimate their own abilities and an embedded curriculum is not successful in facilitating good student Digital Literacy Skills; some kind of discrete computing content that can enable students to develop to their full potential is required and yes I think that having a dedicated space for computer use and teaching (like a lab or lab type area) still have its use.
I did not come to my conclusion based on hearsay or anecdotal evidence, I created a research instrument so students could evaluate their own level of skill / competence in Computing following the main components of Digital Literacy (and also correlated their feedback with in dept interview from the teachers who actually teach those very same students).
The Digital Literacy Framework I based my research on is on the right here and to which I added "Computational Thinking" (but I combined some of the concepts to keep the topics to a more manageable number - 6 in this case).
I must also clearly state that the research is very context specific and focussed on looking at an embedded approach to teaching computer and it would be useful to compare results with other schools who also take an embedded approach. as well as compare with schools how have discrete lessons to teach Computing / IT.
The research was of Year 12 students who had been participants in a one to one program from the start of Year 7 (their whole time in Secondary school) and who had been taught following an embedded curriculum the entire time (I excluded student data for any students who had not been at the school for at least 3 years prior to the data collection).
Interviews of teachers (who taught the same students) enabled triangulation of perspectives (in the absence of there being no teachers of Computing as a discrete subject).
This is how students consider their ability using ICT to generate new (sometimes unique) ideas using your imagination to make connections between ideas and generate creative output
2 Finding Information and Critical Thinking / Evaluation
This is the ability to find and judge the value of information and use sources selectively to help make arguments or do activities. This whether students can transform, analyse or process data or ideas to question, reflect on and evaluate content and sources on the Internet.
3 Effective Communication and Collaboration
This is whether students consider they have the knowledge, skills and understanding to choose the most appropriate communication tool for the task in hand and how to use it effectively to communicate and also whether they can use ICT to explain ideas and work with others to discuss and expand ideas.
This is whether students think they are a competent and discerning user of technology and can question technology use to make safe choices when exploring, communicating, creating and collaborating with digital technologies.
5 Functional Skills
This relates to whether students can identify, explain, and use the different components and functions of a computer (hardware and software)
6 Computational Thinking
Computational Thinking is an approach to problem-solving that involves analyzing and logically organizing data in order to create a model (flow chart or map to logically show how something works) to simplify to be understood by a computer. This then means that a computer can be used to identify and test possible solutions which can be applied in other situations. Solutions from this approach can be used to automate solutions that can also be applied to other problems.
It can be clearly seen that computer use is estimated to be 10.75 hours per day according to the data.
Students rated themselves as being at least average but mostly good with some excellent when evaluating levels of expertise. These opinions were somewhat contradicted when considering teacher comments; even student comments expressed reservations about their skills from the open ended questions. While students seemed able to do required tasks, their abilities did not reflect the emphasis and resources dedicated to focus on computing. This over confidence is consistent with Bartlett and Miller (2011) who found students are over confident and not as competent as they think they are.
For the Digital Literacies of Creativity, Finding information and critical thinking, Communication and Collaboration and E-safety; the findings show students have quite a high degree of confidence but lack competence, especially when progressing from basic to higher level knowledge and skills.
Student Creativity, while students seemed to consider themselves to be quite proficient at creating digital content; it seems this was restricted in scope; students not being aware of what the devices they have are capable of. Often they did not know what software options there were for different tasks and this culminated in students wasting time as they did not know the best and most efficient ways to achieve their creative objectives. It might seem surprising Year 12 students need support on this aspect as the emphasis of the school is towards being a producer (rather than just a consumer) of digital content but this is in line with the literature that student achievement depends on school Computing experts (Reynolds et al., 2003) requiring instruction in lessons.
The skills of Finding information and critical thinking should be good as these are used constantly and across all subjects and the students certainly identified themselves as very competent to find information, with confidence diminishing when it came to critically assessing it. The evidence from teachers was that students only knew the basics at best, again showing over confidence in student ability; students only have the basics and can perhaps find information but do not understand why and how more complex techniques of searching could be used with a general default to the first search page of Google.
The skills of Communication and Collaboration are very similar to the pattern identified for Finding information and critical thinking; students being confident with all aspects but, when looking at the detail; there is an oversimplification with very little differentiation to stretch the capabilities of more capable students. The best way to address these shortcomings would be allow school IT Computing experts to upskill the students or for the school to provide a mechanism where a baseline of Computing skills is effectively use to communicate expectations to students and allow then to make best and appropriate use of the devices they have.
The students were very confident about E-safety and this was a particular area of concern in the literature (BECTA, 2007); comments from the teachers however painted a very negative picture of an “ongoing battle” that has never completely or competently been addressed. The only progress that seems to have been made would be the backing up of information which has only improved due to it being automated and taken entirely out of student responsibility or control. There was a definite need for students to learn to use Computers responsibly outside school (Vanderbosch et al., 2014) and the issue of safeguarding needs addressing sooner rather than later.
A major surprise was that students considered their Functional skills to be Very Poor or Poor, especially in regard to their knowledge of how computers and networks function. They were confident using applications for normal office functions but again were over confident in stating their abilities as they estimated they could do much more than was evident from teacher comments. Some teachers, especially in Science and Maths seemed to resent the burden of having to explicitly teach computing skills; in particular skills using a spreadsheet which took time away from studying the actual content of the course. Once again, the fact that teachers removed degrees of freedom and choice from students by using templates to ensure that essential elements of reports would actually be present is testimony to a pervasive teacher lack of confidence in student abilities.
It was such a small number of students that were confident with programming skills and knowledge; this should be a major area of concern; especially when considering the very recent emphasis on coding in the USA with the hour of code (Code.org, 2015) and the revamped UK Computer Science course which places programming at the very core of the subject. One problem seems to be IB Schools do not offer Computer Science for the Diploma due to students not having been taught the basics of computing, perhaps because they lack subject specialists and rely upon the general embedding of computing within the curriculum; culminating in student digital literacy skills not being developed.
Student computational thinking skills were not high and this could be because students use the computers but are not taught how they work or what they can actually do and have no mechanism by which to understand how they function and how this functionality can be applied.
Students overestimate their own abilities developed from the Cross Curricular approach used in this study context when it comes to Creativity, Finding information and Critical Thinking, Effective Collaboration and Communication, E-safety and Computational Thinking.
Teacher data reflects an actual low level of Student ability for these aspects of Digital Literacy and students could only really function at quite basic levels. Students were more accurate when evaluating their functional skills which were weak.
This overall situation indicated students, worryingly, lack knowledge of basic fundamentals with little competence or knowledge of programming, databases, systems architecture and networking. Overall, an embedded curriculum, as implemented in the study context, is not successful in facilitating good student Digital Literacy Skills.
The consequences of student digital literacy skills not being as good as anticipated following the embedded approach are that this creates an unsurmountable barrier that effectively excludes students from studying computing at the highest level; firstly, students do not study computing and cannot develop an interest or passion in the subject; secondly, students do not develop prerequisite knowledge and skills to be able to access such a course; and thirdly, school leaders are not confident students will perform well in summative examinations (for example IB Diploma or A Level exams in Computing / Computer Science).
There are three possible recommendations to address deficiencies in the student Digital Literacy skills
- Collaboratively create an overarching scheme of work for all subjects that expressly details the expectations regarding to skills and knowledge (related to digital literacies) that are required at each year level and for each subject. Making an embedded curriculum work to maximize student digital literacy is very difficult; functional skills have been particularly neglected and underdeveloped, but the other key literacies are also quite basic. Bearing in mind the financial investment to date and the dedicated Digital Learning Coaches who have the responsibility of ensuring the cross curricular approach is successful (for teachers in their practice and for students in their study); it seems that they only benefit for students is their confidence.
- Create discrete courses that span the duration of study of the MYP and that focus directly on functional skills. These courses would have to be regular and designed to allow students to progress along predefined computing pathways with the aim that they would be able to perform tasks such as programming and focus on overall develop of every Digital Literacy.
- Combine the cross curricular approach with a dedicated computing course, and provide a clearly articulated curriculum, and scope and sequence, to cover every year in the secondary school (up to the end of Year 11), that focuses on digital literacy, with particular attention for functional skills and e-safety so students improve aspects of their digital literacy.
Reading this article: Students who use digital devices in class 'perform worse in exams' (see here) is just one of the many that supports my idea, the need to not replace sound pedagogy and great subject knowledge with gadgets! Here's another: Computers 'do not improve' pupil results, says OECD (see here)
I would be very interested to see if other schools would like to benchmark their student's Digital Literacy abilities or have opinions and data about student Digital Literacy Skills (and a survey can be seen as an example here).
So what do I think moving forward?
I think that all students should have access to a laptop type device (in secondary anyway) but I do not think that it is necessary to have a laptop or computer for all lessons (a one to one program does not yield concrete benefits for teaching and learning and often, some of the more traditational and just as creative ways of learning can be just as good, if not better).
On the contrary, I think a dedicated space or computer lab is by far the best solution to provide appropriate access to technology to maximise teaching and learning and ensure that students develop in a well rounded way. Student use of devices at home is going to occur regardless of what happens at school and schools with teachers need to instill good habits (and use the best pedagogy often without the use of technology) which will allow students to develop and learn using a variety of approaches to learning