Information Technology? It’s what you do with IT that counts!

Constable's scene today
Shame, no dog today!

Just a bit jealous

I’m a bit jealous! I’m at the lovely Flatford Mill Field Centre in Constable Country with my geography-teaching colleague and a group of rowdy Year 7s. I’ve had a wonderful 2 days out in the field as the Year 7s have traipsed around in the mud and sand on the beach and splashed around in the rivers taking those time-honoured geographical measurements. But I am jealous of my colleague.

Partly, because she gets to go on these trips throughout the year, but mostly because no one is a accusing the geography curriculum of being dull and not moving with the times, not appealing to all students and, the latest even after its significant reform, too narrow in focus. Geography has remained steadfastly unchanged for decades regardless to the world changing around the subject. This field centre has been carrying out the same investigations (more or less) with school groups for over 60 years. And why not, they are just as relevant today as they ever were.

Getting busy with IT

But I’ve been busy! While we are here we have used annotated digital photos of our study sites, compared old and new aerial photography to see changes, designed formula for generating useful data for our measurements and then built the most appropriate graphs and visual representations of our results. They wouldn’t have done that 60 years ago!

‘Context’ rather than ‘cross curricular’ use of information technology will always be the only way forward.

So, I get the gold star for contextual information technology and demonstrate totally that appropriate IT could be built in to other subjects. Just as well, as we are now being dissuaded from teaching IT discretely and being led to believe that anything even suspiciously similar to the old <em>skills based </em> ICT approach has lost its educational value.

But don’t they just know how to use IT already?

Information technology, despite a mention in the curriculum, seems now to remain in our schools now as a completely cross-curricular element. We are all quietly accepting that it is there just to support our learning in other subjects, if circumstances allow. We are also assumiung our pupils are helpfully picking up the skills to use IT along the way. The great assumption is that Information Technology doesn’t really need teaching . The pupils just know how to use technology anyway. Wasn’t this always the case?

In short, no.

Time to access the possibilities of IT means more is then possible with IT

Year 7 did not know intuitively how to do any of the tech work, despite being ‘digital natives’. I had to teach them, in lessons not about the geography work, but solely about the use of the applications. It was when we introduced the context (i.e. their project data) that they were able to put the IT to a purpose, evaluate the use of IT and see it as it is – an evolving tool for managing information outcomes.

The IT helped them pick out errors and anomalous data they might not have spotted themselves. It helped them share a great deal of data between themselves. It helped them turn tables of numbers into meaningful graphics. They chose what to use and sourced their own apps in some cases. However, you don’t really need to know this. What I want to make clear is that they needed input from me (and each other) on two fronts: skills – to fast forward them to a level capability where they could get the best from software, and possibilities – we focused on how we wanted the information to be presented, what we wanted to achieve… and then we found IT that could make that happen.

Skills are still important

Most importantly though, when my geography-teaching colleague saw the work they had achieved on the computers she said: “I would never have been able to do that!” This is another reason why we need IT skills ot be taught as much as we need to teach the computer science or coding aspects. Maybe I’m not so jealous now after all, maybe I’m just a bit smug instead.




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