Monday, 1 April 2013

ICT - Programming: The 'Human Factor'

I have been reading the resumé of results from the consultation following disapplication of the Programmes of Study for ICT from the National Curriculum.  It makes interesting reading and you can find the document on:

Amongst the generally upbeat responses was an understandable worry that the status of the subject could suffer and that a programme of Teacher Training needed to be put in place if new/challenging items were to be put in place, something that we noted in the previous blog.  An interesting response was that there was a risk that in some cases a school’s ICT curriculum would be based on the skills level of the teacher rather than the ability and interest of the pupils.  In response you could say that this is true for anything taught and it goes to the heart of regarding teaching as a profession rather than a job.
Time to consider the customers?
In this blog I’m considering methods to incorporate one of the recurring themes, programming, into a new curriculum.  I am supposing this to be a central item in the eventual new National Curriculum for Computer Science/Computing/ICT or whatever the new baby is to be called and I also suppose that this is likely to be a rubbing point for many teachers and pupils.  Perhaps the efforts of the great and good are worth looking at first.  There is a curriculum, “Computer Science: A curriculum for schools” already for you to incorporate into your current provision:

Since this development has the backing of the BCS, Microsoft, Google and others it is probably close to the final document and consequently worth having a look at.  I suspect the problem in using this will be in the translation of the themes into lessons. There is a missing sub-text: for example, asserting that “both interpreted and compiled languages are “executable” does not get a lesson off to a cracking pace.  There is going to be a need for classroom teaching material in the form of a well-versed teacher and very probably, well versed teacher or not, pupil-centred text with exercises and examples.
There are many web-based learning schemes available, for example Code Academy which is a feature in the Autumn 2012 newsletter of the BCS:

A problem with many of these is the lack of specificity in the available help feedback.  If your program doesn’t run there are many possible causes.  Those of a certain age will remember the seminal book “Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance” which recognised the limitations of a purely mechanical “scientific” approach to solving this type of problem.  The human approach to problem solving, with its reliance on minimum effort - “likely problems first” and even more so, “knowing you, I would expect that there is a semi-colon missing at a line end” are the short-cuts missing to a mechanical approach.  A personalised approach is needed.
Of course it’s one thing to comment and quite another to offer assistance and in an attempt to do one’s bit, I’m going to suggest classroom material for starting teaching programing to 10D strugglers, with as much emphasis on the missing 'Human factor' as this medium can provide.  This will start in the next blog, so until then,


John Giles

John Giles is an educational consultant and author specialising in IT and computing. He works closely with exam boards, and has written syllabuses and exam papers.

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