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How did we get to here?

Tuesday, 9 January 2007
I was reading a book the other day that, charted the development of ICT in the curriculum. (Technological literacy and the Curriculum - John Beynon + Hughie Mackay, Falmer 1992)

In the chapter, Social Histories of Computer Education: Missed Opportunities - Richard Capel, talks about the impact of an influential report by the British Computer Society (BCS) in 1975.
The BCS put forward 3 methods of approach.

1) Study the computer as an information processing machine, it's applications and implications.
2) Study the computer as a subject in it's own right. (Goes on to become computer studies)
3) The study of the computer and it's use within a much larger framework of 'technology' education. Here they suggested the computer would be seen as but one of many influences by which technology affects peoples lives.

However, the report excluded the wider 'technology' framework:

"One problem of this approach is the lack of teachers with the necessary breadth of knowledge to develop it, in spite of the research which is being carried out in a few places it seems likely that this shortage will persist for some considerable time. For this reason, the 'technology' approach will not be considered further. (BCS, 1974 p5)

This approach was dropped, not because it lacked merit, but that there were insufficient numbers of people who could teach this perspective. It retrospect, it seems pretty short-sighted that a there was no recommendation to address this lack.

As a result of this decision, IT training took a narrow focus which brought us to a recognisable place which , Land describes (in Staines, 1970 pII/452) as:

"We have been training computer professionals whose outlook is biased towards the machine... What they have not been able to do is design applications which meet the real needs of the organizations or match the skills (or lack of skills) of those involved in working in the organizations with the new jobs they have to carry out within the computer based system. There is increasingly evidence that the most critical aspect of a computer application is it's acceptance by the staff who work the system and the managers who use it. Non acceptance spells failure, poor use involves constant and uneconomic changes to the system. From his narrow technical base the systems designer has no way of assessing the likelihood of his design meeting the criteria of acceptance of those who have to work with the system. Indeed the systems designer often regards rejection of a system or it's misuse as a fault of the user due to their stupidity and lack of appreciation of the capability of the machine." (Land 1979 p45-46)

During the 80s and early 90s (and, as a continuing trend,) the dominant view of the computer was as a 'tool' with which children can think. This did not move the focus toward a broader view of IT, it attempted to render it 'neutral' and not in need of explanation. However there have been critiques of technology that have viewed it through a more broad 'technology' lens. Sally Hacker, draws heavily on the work of Lewis Mumford when she defines technology in 'Pleasure, Power and Technology' (1989)

"Technology is not simply machines. Technology can be defined as the organization of materials and energy to accomplish work. Work is a preparation, a making, a shaping, something upon which labour is expended. The area of leisure studies indicates how difficult it can be to draw a line between work and leisure. We most often think of military and industrial technology, but we can also think of technologies of childcare or housework, leisure or education. The important point is that technology is both mechanical and social.
Machines and systems are designed, developed and applied by people. They do not fall from the sky. They are designed and used with a great deal of passion. Technology also comprises highly complex systems of social relations. So by the term 'technology', I mean the machines and the social relations."

This brings us onto the importance of diversity within the field of ICT. When I talk about diversity, I think of Woolf writing in 'Three Guineas':

"Though we see the same world, we see it through different eyes. Any help that we can give you must be different from that you can give yourselves, and perhaps the value of that help may lie in the fact of that difference." (Woolf:1938)

What this means to us is that diversity needs to be more than numbers and proportions of different types of people (women, black people, gay people etc) within an organization. It also means that a diversity of views and perspectives need to be genuinely encouraged and valued.

The Equal Pay Act came into force in 1970, The Sex Discrimination Act came into force in 1975, (the same year the BCS Report was published). In April 2007 the Gender Equality Duty (GED) comes into force.

By 2007 the Welsh Assembly Government will spend £14 billion pounds a year on public services so it's important these services meet everyone's needs. Women's lives are different from men's and they need different things from public services. Meeting these needs often means changing the content of services and how they are delivered.

The majority of teachers in our primary schools are women, but on a recent open day to the IT department of Carmarthenshire County Council, of the two groups of 14 students who were interested in a career in IT only 2 students in each of the groups were girls.

Technology is a gender issue.

Don't let anyone try and tell you otherwise.


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I'm utilly From Wales, United Kingdom 'beyond utility' used to be my maker's mark. The pots that I made back then were pretty anti-utilitarian, so naturally I stamped the bottom of them 'beyond utility'.
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