ICT versus Computer programming- a false dichotomy in the computing in schools debate. An update.

I am surprised that the original article I posted continues to be viewed, across the world apparently. There is obviously much interest in this topic as well as many concerns. View my original post here.

I have been drawn back to this debate by a couple of recent articles, both looking at the way young people use the internet and ICT.

The first article I refer to is : Snapshot of a Modern Learner by Mike Fisher.

In this post, Mike Fisher imagines/narrates the way that “Santos” experiences school life and the everday connected life that he leads. He is “misunderstood” by his teachers and his skills and ways of learning and absorbing information underrated by the educational system. (This is my summary of the piece; please read the original and form your own opinions.

I agree with this well written and thoughtful post and think that as educators we often undermine or ignore the knowledge that our students have and underestimate their ability to learn in different ways to us. But alarm bells rang when I read this part of the narrative:

“Santos knows where to find information. He does not necessarily discern what information is relevant, and he doesn’t necessarily know what he needs to learn from the information. But he knows where it lives: everywhere. He is more likely to find and copy information without attribution than he is to connect ideas and create something from it.”

This to me is a big concern; that some students like Santos cannot create their own opinions, cannot connect and form new links. This after all is the beauty of the internet. I came across another article that highlights the problem:

More than 10% of college papers plagiarize Wikipedia

A bold headline indeed. my first instinct is to do a reverse stats on that : “More than 89% of college papers DON’T plagiarise Wikipedia, but it is a concern.  Students are not being taught how to analyse and process information. Should that be the job of ICT lessons?

Yes, if, in ICT lessons students are being asked to use information. But as I stated in my earlier post increasingly, this should be challenged in other subjects were the internet is being used to garner information. Too often teachersne will ask students to “use the internet to find out about x” without giving guidelines and advice. (Yep, I’ve done that…) Computer literacy skills should in my view be treated in the same way as literacy skills. And the treatment and use of information on the internet should be used and questioned in the same way as any other source of information. I would personally like to see more education on how to “read” newspapers, pictures, TV news etc in schools .

Without that understanding, without that ability to connect, how are we going to create the programmers of the future? Programmers that can select, have an opinion, make choices.

This brings me back to my my original point; that the debate between teaching ICT and teaching computer programming is a false dichotomy. We need to be teaching both.

I have  been using my 1/2 hr a week ICT lessons to teach yr7 SEN students to programme. Very limited to be sure. For me, it has been about teaching the students about following instructions, being patient, learning from mistakes and above all, having a go. For them, it has been about having a sense of control and creating something. Iwant them to feel the same way about their use of information.

[My latest discovery has been Scratch  , a brilliantly simple but creative tool for creating games, stories and art.]




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