“Mr Wilson! Look it can do this!” – Teaching Technology?

I would just like you to know that I am typing this wearing a yellow jersey! Refraining from making the possible cow jokes here, I am wearing it in honour of the Tour de France which is currently in Yorkshire – where I live. Yesterday it was in the Dales, today in York itself. As you can imagine, the centre of York is virtually closed down to traffic and thousands of people are already congregating. I, myself, am sat in my usual Sunday morning haunt, writing this week’s waffle which is all about teaching technology.

The future of teaching technology?

The future of teaching technology?

When I moved to higher education to teach I was lucky enough to be able to cover on IT session. I was interested in doing this since, not only was it one of my favourite subjects to lead and teach in primary school, but also one which I really wanted to see whether or not my skills were transferable. What follows are the ‘principles’ of my IT teaching which I used, now some years ago, in primary school.

  • Skills and application – The most important part of technology, in my opinion, is being able to apply it in an appropriate manner at an appropriate time. In order to achieve this it is important to know what programs do and how they can be used. The teaching of the skills associated with IT and specific programs is therefore essential. I always wanted the children to understand how to use a program and what it could be used for so when I gave them an open ended task they would consider the use of technology for that task. Sometimes the children would not use IT for this, for example if I set them a task to create a poster, some would prefer to use paper and pens rather than an IT program. This was completely acceptable, as long as they could discuss their reason for either using or not using the technology to support them. Within my IT lessons the children were introduced to new programs and what they could be used for. Skills were used as success criteria and steps to complete a ‘certificate’ in that program e.g. once you could demonstrate that you could save, load make and fill a shape, then you got a certificate. This also supported assessment.

  • Technology within technology – When I taught IT within HE I was disappointed that some of the software that was available within primary IT suites were not available within the university’s suites. Due to my age and subsequently failing memory, I forget the name of the program which was installed on the network which supported my teaching but I do remember it had several features which were helpful – such as freezing all the computers, locking the mice and keyboards and being able to project my screen or any other person’s screen onto everyone else’s – the power was immense! Putting the acquisition power to one side, there were several very good uses of this software, especially when it came to sharing and working collaboratively within the lesson.

  • Time to play…I mean ‘explore’ – A good program or application is one which anyone can just use. The more intuitive it is the better. Despite being a ‘geek’ I rarely use handbooks or guides until it is really necessary, although I must admit I do enjoy watching ‘how to’ videos and manuals! When introducing the children to a new program, I had three steps. Initially, I demonstrated what the program was capable of. This was very motivational and demonstrating what you could achieve with the program encouraged the children to extend their own learning. Watching two experts doing ballroom dancing definitely makes me want to learn how to become that graceful – its the same principle. Secondly comes the ‘play’ part – or exploration. This is when I allowed the children the time to explore the program. It is very similar when I am introducing a new science topic – e.g. magnets. This exploration stage is very important. First it allows the children to focus on more specific learning later on and secondly, it allows them to find things out for themselves. There is nothing better for a me than to hear, within the exploration part of the lesson, a child exclaim – “Mr Wilson! look it can do this!”. This exploration also allows the children the opportunity to develop their own learning – e.g. How can I do this? After these stages comes the focused learning however, the time to explore became an important part of the recap session each week.

  • “At the same time, assuming that they know nothing can lead to boredom – followed quickly by the checking of Facebook.”

    Once I had taught the skills involved in using any program the application of how to use the program in specific tasks would start. Even when I was teaching, there appeared to be a move away from IT suites to laptops within the classrooms – and now iPads. I do consider that the best environment to teach ‘skills’ is within the suite setting, with the application of these skills being more suitable to laptops within the classroom allowing the valuable links to other subjects to be made. I would say it is similar to teaching the children how to use the four operations within mathematics before they can apply them to problem solving situations.

    Finally, teaching IT to all learners can present some challenge. Assuming the capability of learners can prevent maximum progression and can even be demotivating. At the same time, assuming that they know nothing can lead to boredom – followed quickly by the checking of Facebook. As with any subject, IT has two distinct learning strands, the pedagogy of teaching IT and the subject knowledge. The latter is what I have concentrated on within this waffle – the knowledge of what a program can do and how to actually do it. To me, the best way to gain this knowledge is to actually to do the tasks, with these being differentiated for different learners always remembering though that even if someone can complete a task, actually teaching someone else how to do it can be very different.

    Hopefully this has given you an insight into my principles of teaching IT. If you have any comments or further ideas then I look forward to hearing them. Please add them in the comments below or send me them to be via twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, google+ or email.

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    Have fun, engage and I’ll catch you later