How should Technology be taught in a 21st Century School?

The contrast in the way technology is taught in schools in the UK and USA is fascinating.

England: From September 2013 onwards, a new “computing” curriculum was introduced in the UK, focusing on teaching coding, algorithms and debugging, among other topics. The curriculum, according to the then Education Secretary, Michael Gove, “teaches children computer science, information technology and digital literacy: teaching them how to code, and how to create their own programs; not just how to work a computer, but how a computer works and how to make it work for you.” The focus on these skills has been received favourably by many in the Technology industry who see the new curriculum model as an innovative way of closing the “skills gap” between the ever-increasing jobs available in the industry and the number of people qualified to fill them. This appears to be a minimal educational objective and seems to reduce children to mere “means of production” for a future society. Furthermore, the skills taught are not obviously transferable, and many might argue they will be obsolete before the children of today enter the workforce of tomorrow.

USA: Technology Integration is a common model for teaching “computing” in the United States. This curriculum model, when implemented to its potential, has several advantages. Many schools have implemented “one to one” programs that ensure that every child has access to a device (often an iPad or MacBook.) Students carry these devices with them to all classes, and the expectation is that they will utilise them in all of their subject areas. To ensure that this is a reality, school’s employ technology specialists as “integrationists” who work alongside teachers and students to ensure that computers are an effective tool for learning. Perhaps the biggest strength of this approach to teaching computing is that technology is used in a multi-disciplinary fashion, and skills are acquired in a contextualised environment. For example, students might use Garage Band in Music lessons, iMovie in Drama class, Live Tweet from Social Studies or submit English homework via Google Drive. It is understood that not all teachers have the capacity to get the best from the technology they might have at their fingertips. Still, by working with an integrationist, they can hone their own computing skills whilst giving students real-world technology experiences.  To ensure that there is a benchmark of the expected standards that students reach in computing schools, use a set of Standards from the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). These Standards set out the skills and knowledge that students should develop at each grade level and enable schools to map their curriculum to permit the Standards to be met in a genuinely cross-curricular manner.

The Technology Integration model is dependant upon effective implementation and skilled curriculum coordination. For students to develop their computing and technological competencies, teachers must be open to collaborating with integrationists and seeing them as partners in their planning and classrooms. There will always be Luddites who do not see the value of technology and/or do not think it is their role to teach students about technology. More often than not, the model works successfully and enables students to embrace technology in a powerful and meaningful way.

England: Proponents of the English curriculum model argue that learning coding and programming skills are almost akin to learning a modern foreign language or a musical instrument and encourages creativity in students. Some argue that it helps children think logically and develop skills that can be used in other curriculum areas. This may be true, and one does not deny that some exposure to coding and programming may be of educational value to students. Still, the same skills and knowledge can be mastered using a technology integration model that makes computing more relevant and reinforces a transference of knowledge and skills between “subjects” and enables young people to see “bigger pictures” that may permeate across traditional academic disciplines.

Having worked for years in the UK and more recently in an International School that has adopted a Technology Integration curriculum model, complemented by a “one to one” program, I firmly believe that the integrationist model is far more in tune with modern pedagogy and helps students to develop their skills in a multi-faceted manner that is far more relevant to the real world. Good curriculum coordination ensures that screen time is monitored and taught how to be safe and responsible digital citizens. That technology maintains its position as a fundamentally important tool for learning. For the teaching and utilisation of technology in education, I would suggest that UK educationalists learn from their counterparts in the USA.

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