We've come a long way since the first keyboards appeared in class. Mick Waters, Director of Curriculum at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority takes a look at the ways ICT began - and now continues - to influence positive interaction between students, teachers, parents and the world beyond.
Cast your mind back...back to the time when computers were first introduced into education. The technical revolution started with the ZX81 and a BBC. Both needed to have programs loaded via a tape recorder; a process that took well over five minutes. (Of course, without the National Curriculum, we had plenty of time to wait!) Even with such primitive technology, there was a fear that computers would destroy human interaction: visions of students spending days alone in front of a screen, their activity reduced to pressing buttons.
Very early on, we saw how computers could have the opposite effect. The school chess club, for instance, was usually a quiet sort of place. Since players took exception to anyone discussing moves with their opponent, "That's not fair, he's helping her," opportunities for discussion and improvement were limited. However, once we had waited the seven minutes to load a chess program, the world changed. No-one would commit to a move before canvassing opinions from all other club members and all avenues were explored. Fingers hovered over keys until full agreement was reached. The individual club members had formed a strong partnership.
Now, of course, there's a multitude of programs that promote discussion, teamwork and partnership. These fit well with the need for young people to develop the Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills (PLTS) that are part of the new curriculum and the new Diplomas. Programmes such as Dudley Local Authority's 'Learning Journey' (www.tlj.org.uk) link these skills to aspects of subject programmes of study, and require students to work together in groups to solve problems and find information. Many other programmes also serve as catalysts for co-operative working and the development of a range of PLTS that are best developed in partnership. Computers need not lead to separation and isolation.
Young people themselves are using ICT more and more in their own lives for social networking. Through texting, MSN and the wide range of networking and contact sites, young people are levering the power of ICT to bring people together and are also showing their keenness to engage in this way. Schools and colleges need to tap into the power of this technology - not just for Personal Learning and Thinking Skills, but for aspects of the subjects as well. This is a major area for future development. If we could harness the power of networking sites and the interaction they promote, and use it for learning within the curriculum, we would have a very effective learning tool.
Schools such as Notre Dame School in Norwich build a curriculum which requires and enables young people to make email and electronic links with people in other countries. It enhances international contacts and partnerships with young people abroad that was not possible previously. Email and discussion-board type links along with video and Skype are being used successfully in a wide range of schools now to promote the learning of a foreign language. These are approaches that can quite easily be extended. These contacts also develop a significant contribution to the international dimension of education which forms a part of the new secondary curriculum. This work is not confined to secondary schools, for instance, pupils in a Birmingham primary school have been part of a project to work with four other schools abroad to co-construct an animated film. This wonderful example of how international partnerships can work is only possible with the advent and creative uses of ICT. With this sort of ICT collaboration now fairly common in primary schools, secondary schools and colleges need to think carefully about how they are going to capitalise on this work and move it up a gear; the progression challenge.
The establishment/parent partnership is being enhanced in many schools through the use of ICT. School and college Web sites have become extremely valuable sources of information and communication; showcasing students' work and giving valuable information about the curriculum.
Some establishments are moving beyond merely providing information, to directly communicating with parents and carers. In this way parents are becoming partners in the assessment of their own children's work, providing online comments and receiving continuous teacher feedback on progress and new targets. This two-way communication between establishment and parent enables the wide and deep supported learning of a student. It's said that some schools have introduced webcams in classrooms in order for parents to 'keep an eye' on their offspring. Probably not a route most will want to go down, unless they're thinking of preparing students to appear on 'Big Brother'.
There are many examples of ICT being used by schools and colleges to forge partnerships with industry. These include the development of web-based industry projects where students interact with people in firms in a virtual environment. Companies are proposing weekly mentoring for students. Industry is providing time for the mentors to visit schools and colleges and for students to visit the workplace. These valuable relationships extend the horizons and aspirations of students whilst dynamically supporting their programmes of learning. In many cases, these schemes are enhanced by regular email or message-board contact. Learners arrive in school or college to find an encouraging message from their mentor, and they have the opportunity to communicate with their mentors during the day for help and advice. Given the time demands made on industry, this willingness to work in partnership with schools and colleges can be enhanced profitably and facilitated by the creative uses of ICT.
ICT is supporting a network of partnerships across our schools and colleges: partnerships that include parents, industry and international communication. These partnerships are valuable as part of a learner's social development, and invaluable to learning across the curriculum. ICT does not lead to isolation and inactivity, and even if it still took seven minutes to load a program - it would usually be worth it!
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