Concepts, understanding and skills best developed through studying ICT


Each subject in the curriculum contributes concepts, understanding and skills that are far more easily taught and learnt through that subject than through any other subject. For ICT to justify its place in the curriculum this is what it must do.

Now I must distinguish here between digital literacy and ICT, in the same way that one distinguishes between numeracy and maths, and literacy and English. I remember a lovely man called Alan Haigh, who was the Maths Adviser in Barnsley in the early 80s, and Barnsley's representative on the MEP Steering Group that guided my work as Computer-Based Learning teacher-training co-ordinator. He wanted to remove Maths from the curriculum for five years. Because he reckoned that in that time, schools would be forced to develop teaching of numeracy through all the other subjects. Then Maths could be brought back and would hold its position through the concepts, understanding and skills that it can uniquely well contribute as a subject, rather than as the 'subject' through which numeracy is taught.

Which brings us to what ICT can uniquely well contribute to the curriculum, rather than just digital literacy. Any ICT teacher who cannot state this as well as a Science, History, Geography, D&T or Maths teacher can do, should either stop teaching now or put some rapid thought into the conceptual basis of ICT.

I will offer you the following, but I don't think this is the complete list. And I defy any other subject to state that they can develop understanding of these concepts better:

- Programming; analysis of processes in order to produce complete and correct programs/sequences that will provide the desired result. This is an important skill whether or not ICT is involved. In any kind of development of human processes you are better able to identify gaps in operational sequences if  you have honed these skills through programming.

- Interface design; this is about human interactions with information and other humans, and the ways in which information and the development of the interaction are presented to stimulate and guide the interaction. Other subjects touch on this but none can handle it with the depth and effectiveness that ICT can. Because they cannot provide the interaction when you roll-over or click.

- Information structuring; this includes hierarchical, relational and hyper-linked structures, and while some of these are covered in say science with biological keys, relational and hyper info structures can only be satisfactorily worked on with ICT. This could be pulled into other subjects, but I see little hope of that at present. And while they dally, social information structures are developing which take this a step further.

- Networked communication; even simple examples such as how to use the asynchronous nature of email effectively are hardly covered in the English subject curriculum, and where social networking is taking us most certainly is not. The concept of network and the affordances of networks is not dealt with anywhere else in the curriculum.

- Language structure and semantics; while this is shared with human language studies when they look at grammar, there is a broad range of semantic structures used in programming languages that human language does not use. And which are very powerful. Included in this are the ideas of variable, sub-routine and iteration.

- Data; including coding of data, data redundancy and issues around compression of data. This relates strongly to file-structure, file-size and bandwidth. You may think of these as simplistic notions, but they are far from simple in their impacts and they are central to the way our main communication medium is developing.

- Sensing and feedback. Control systems are all around us. Science uses bits and pieces of this, as does Geography, but neither invites students to play with and control this concept to make things happen as they want them to.

- Search and information validation. We are only just scraping the surface of this one. Have you any idea what is happening behind every Google search that you do? I think we ought to know, because it dictates and constrains what we are presented with.


Is this enough to justify the place of ICT as an important subject in the curriculum?

I am all for ICT learning being spread across the curriculum, because then ICT teachers will be able to concentrate on the important bits. Just as Maths teachers could concentrate on the magic and music of maths if all the other teachers picked up their responsibility to develop numeracy. (And that does include Language teachers!)