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the idea (part 1 - the background)

Saturday, 6 January 2007
So, for a while now I have been formulating 'the idea'. It's not really one idea but a bunch of ideas that I think could be used to improve the way we teach ICT in schools. During the last 3 years my job has taken me to every primary school in Carmarthenshire, under the auspices of my role of 'Broadband Officer'.

Two things that I have really noticed during that time are that. I rarely come across a primary school teacher who sounds confident about using a computer for anything other than wordprocessing or email. The majority of these unconfident-with-technology teachers are women. I think that this is a problem. I think we need to take action to change this state of affairs.

The number of women in IT professions is falling, much of this is caused by the culture and image of the technology as being gendered and that gender being male. This culture and images is not going to change on it's own, and having childrens first 'official' experience of ICT in a educational context being from a teacher (of either gender), unconfident in the use of ICT is likely to re-enforce the image of ICT being 'difficult'. It also widens the skills gap between teachers who are currently being trained to use ICT in project based learning contexts and teachers who may have, some years back, been given training on office programs and a couple of sessions more recently on Interactive Whiteboards. We need to find a way of narrowing that gap.

Back when I studied for my Masters Degree in 1993, I read Seymour Papert and Sherry Turkle paper on Episimological Pluralism. In it they wrote:

The computer is an expressive medium that different people can make their own in their own way. But people who want to approach the computer in a "noncanonical" style are rarely given the opportunity to do so. They are discouraged by the dominant computer culture, eloquently expressed in the ideology of the Harvard course. Like Lisa and Robin, they can pass a course or pass a test. They are not computer phobic, they don't need to stay away because of fear or panic. But they are computer reticent. They want to stay away, because the computer has come to symbolize an alien way of thinking. They learn to get by. And they learn to keep a certain distance. One of its symptoms is the language with which they neutralize the computer as they deny the possibility of using it creatively. Recall how Lisa dismissed it as "just a tool."

Looking back on it, I suppose that was one of those life changing paragraphs. I had been more than 'computer reticent' when I had been in college. I did start using an Amiga and a paint program in my final year however and found it to be a useful tool, but, but more than that, a surprisingly fun tool to use. My discovery that computers could have such things as 'spelling checkers' spurred me to seek out further computer training after the degree course.

My time on a formal computer training course in Cardiff ITeC was the most miserable learning experience I have ever undergone. That experience was still pretty fresh when I went on to MA course in Ceramics, and in the spirit of postmodern enquiry, I made it my mission to deconstruct my experiences with technology and examine the relationships between Craft, Technology and Art. That work has been ongoing since then. In 1995 Papert put the idea of a $20
0 "high performance networked portable educationally oriented computational devices" just over 10 years on the $100 laptop seems creeps towards production. This speech from 1999 about Diversity in Learning is very reminicent of another thinker whose work is gaining influence in education is Howard Gardner and his work on Multiple Intelligences.

Although there is some debate as to the actual number of intelligences that can be identified (currently about 8.5) it is largely irrelevent as the crux of his work is that everyone has a differing set of intelligences and that because, of this people learn differently. To teach a group effectively requires that the teaching style encompasses different learning styles. This suggests that his theory is now gaining wider acceptance as it is widely quoted in A Curriculum of opportunity: Developing potential into performance.

I know from my own experience that I had a positive learning experience with computers when I used the Amiga to try out different designs and colour schemes for my studio practice and that I had a thoroughly dis-empowering and grim learning experience at the training agency when I was given an entirely context free tasks to carry out. If I had experienced the negative learning experience first then I think that it would have been highly unlikely that I would have opted for a career in ICT support. Because of the contrast between the two experiences, I have since felt driven to find a better way of teaching ICT to adults who are 'computer reticent' by using a more creative approach and finding a way of implementing this.

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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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