Solving the IT skills crisis

Decline in IT skills
A popular refrain in teacher circles is that schools don’t do as much Information Technology (IT) skills as they used to. This is often blamed on the move from ICT to Computing and the addition of computing science squeezing out or reducing other areas of Computing or ICT as it was called prior to 2014.

IT in the National Curriculum
There is a strand of IT in the 2014 Computing National Curriculum. It was designed to be less prescriptive so schools could change with the times but in many ways, it has led to less IT being taught. Turns out most schools do like prescriptive.

The national curriculum for computing aims to ensure that all pupils are responsible, competent, confident and creative users of information and communication technology.

Use technology purposefully to create, organise, store, manipulate and retrieve digital content. Recognise common uses of information technology beyond school.

Use search technologies effectively
select, use and combine a variety of software (including internet services) on a range of digital devices to design and create a range of programs, systems and content that accomplish given goals, including collecting, analysing, evaluating and presenting data and information.

undertake creative projects that involve selecting, using, and combining multiple applications, preferably across a range of devices, to achieve challenging goals, including collecting and analysing data and meeting the needs of known users.
Create, re-use, revise and re-purpose digital artefacts for a given audience, with attention to trustworthiness, design and usability.

Clearly IT is in the Computing National Curriculum and pupils are at a disadvantage if they don’t develop a wide range of IT skills.

So how can we train pupils in essential IT skills using less time?

My solution comes from adapting a small part of Connectivist learning theory.

“learning IT skills is less about remembering and more about being able to find and apply those skills when they are needed.”

Train pupils in basic IT skills through a mixture of show and do, use-modify-create and making things for real purposes. Expose pupils to more advanced skills. Show pupils how to find more advanced skills.

Solution Limitations

  • Connectivist IT only works if pupils have a core set of skills on which to build. If they don’t have a core set of IT skills, then they don’t know that the skill set is available.
  • This also assumes that pupils have been exposed to the possibility of a wide range of more advanced IT skills in any area which they can discover properly when they are needed.
  • Pupils need to know how to discover and access more advanced skills when they are needed. The most common form of IT self help available on the internet is via video tutorials which makes them accessible to upper KS2 pupils and some to lower KS2 pupils although typically not the majority of KS1 pupils.

Defining Skills Areas
We also need to define a common core of IT skills areas in which to train pupils in the basics and to alert them to more advanced skills. My common core in Primary would be

  • Word Processing
  • Desktop Publishing
  • Spreadsheets
  • Stop Motion Animation
  • Video & Photo Editing
  • Presentation
  • Green Screen
  • Using the Internet (including how to find advanced IT skills)

What would you add or subtract from this list?

Primary School Model
In the model shown below, pupils develop cross application and simple file management in KS1 (PINK). Typically, they might do these through word processing, presentation, photo and video creation.  

In KS2 they extend their cross-application skills in a couple of the basic skills areas and extend their file management skills (PINK).

In KS2 they learn a wide variety of basic IT skills in computing or cross curricular IT (GREEN). Teachers make sure that these skills are revised in the wider curriculum where the focus is another subject.

At the end of each basic skills module pupils are exposed to a wider range of more advanced skills (BLUE). At some point, mid KS2, pupils are taught how to find these advanced skills so that they can self-learn when they need new skills in the future.

Connectivist IT model illustrated using four areas of IT

Curriculum Design
In defining basic Word Processing, Desktop Publishing, Spreadsheet & Presentation skills I have been guided by the skills that define that area rather than just what is easiest.

Advanced skills are any that are not basic skills. Schools will differ in where they draw the line between basic and advanced and some may choose to extend some modules into advanced skills.

Curriculum Models
I am building up lists of basic and advanced skills as well as suggesting different curriculum models on Moodle + Hampshire HIAS curriculum subscription service. This is open to any school in or outside Hampshire and offers HIAS advice across all subject areas.

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Introducing a range of research supported programming methodology that works in the classroom in a way that a non-specialist teachers can understand. Details here