Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Secondary ICT - The Importance of Freedom

When setting assessment tasks there are many criteria to consider. Certainly the most important is the relationship between the assessment task and the specification of the course. This, set by the examination board, is central to our thinking, but there are of course many other criteria which we have to bear in mind.  Can the task be tackled? Are the students ready for the assessment and are the resources available, notably time being one of these?

Perhaps we need to recognise our differences
I wonder if we sufficiently rate freedom. What I have in mind is both freedom of expression in an aesthetic sense, but also freedom to develop academically, to be able as a student to try to push out from the cosy set of skills and ideas into something new. If we are to value this type of approach then we have to accept the risk that the final “product” may be handicapped by unrealisable dreams.  Students are young and, when motivated, often want to produce software solutions well beyond of what they are capable. Ah, the idealism of youth! How risky it is for us, how much safer and assessable it feels to prescribe the tasks and hope that the moderator misses signs that the “cookbook” has been used.

It’s pretty obvious though isn’t it; just consider the moderator’s view for a moment. He or she will have seen not just our school’s offerings, but those of another half dozen or so schools this year and for an experienced moderator many more than this. Won’t it be plain that the scenarios used are the same? No problem with that, but if the solutions to the problems set by the scenario are all very similar, here’s the problem. If the solutions look the same on paper or electronically, then it’s going to be difficult to discriminate between work submitted by the students. Even more difficulty will be found in proving values ascribed to the work.

How do we get round the problem? We could rely on nuances between the students’ work such as better layout, better font size, better design of GUI, but do we feel this really reflects the differences that we know there are between the students over the last two years?

There is another side to this and it relates to the students’ responsibility for their own learning, a respected aim of the National Curriculum no less! Just as a practical issue, this must be worth considering: ministering to every need of everyone in the class is an impossible task and cannot be expected to deliver high quality aid for each of the students. Taking control of an ICT project is not the same as accepting responsibility for one’s own education, but it surely is part of the culture. Whose project is it?  If it’s yours teacher, then you can do it; or if I have to, then the brain is elsewhere – it doesn’t come with this package, sorry.

John Giles
John has taught in various secondary schools for over 30 years, including roles as ICT coordinator and Head of ICT. He is also an established author and has worked as an examiner and moderator for a number of exam boards.

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