Creativity, Curiosity, Consideration, Consistency

This is a series of three posts that look at the history of ICT in schools and the learning frameworks that are working.

Ever wondered how ICTs got the way they are in education? Part 1/3

Technology was originally used in schools for ‘drill and skill’ learning. It was a ‘science’ in the 1980s and spent many awkward years in the maths department, science department and even industrial arts. In short it has always been a dependant of something else. Eventually, it became a whole school thing – a bolt on to existing disciplines and not all teachers welcomed it’s introduction to ‘their’ syllabus’.

The software used throughout the 1990s and was based on Computer Aided Instruction (CAI). We bought software on CD-Rom, and CD-Roms with pre-developed worksheets. There are still a vast amount of titles on CD-Rom for this purpose, and a multi-million dollar ‘marketing’ machine pushing into school classrooms. Schools had little choice – as the Internet was still the preserve of ‘experts’ and software had evolved into quite sophisticated CD-Roms teaching anything from German Grammar to Touch Typing. CAI was widely adopted in schools. Schools began ‘using’ software where Universities used the Internet to collaborate and share academic research. Ironically much of the discussion in the 1990s in University over the www, was about ‘software’ such as HypeCard – and not the www itself. They used listservs, message boards, MOOs etc., schools had almost no access to the www, in NSW until the late 1990s.

Another decade, same debate

In the archives of the NSW Parliament, 30th May 2001. The minister of Education and Training replies to the question “What is the latest information on the Government’s plan for students to use the Internet and email?

“I remind honourable members that it was the first Government to connect every school to the Internet, a program which was completed by the end of 1996. Since 1995 it has had a roll out of 90,000 new and replacement computers and a further 25,000 computers will be rolled out during the next two years. More than 20,000 teachers have been trained in how to use IT in teaching and learning, with another 20,000 to be trained during the next two years. It is now time for IT to revolutionise not just what our students learn about or what tools they use to learn with, but how they learn.”

So by 1998, a decade ago, every school had internet access, new equipment and trained teachers apparently. Are we not having the same discussion today? – The next post looks at how the internet disrupted the ICT classroom.

4 thoughts on “Creativity, Curiosity, Consideration, Consistency

  1. Perhaps the most powerful yet most overlooked advantage of a computer in developing writing skills is as a glorified typewriter. It waits as a blank page which can be written upon, corrected neatly, proofread, edited, added to and rearranged with a minimum of effort, and without rewriting. It allows an approach to teaching writing that is impossible with a pencil and paper, and may have its greatest impact in the earlier years of school.

    It is important not to be distracted by technology, and get carried away with multimedia, interconnectivity and internet access. The keyboard and screen can be used to empower children to master the written word, and produce written output at a level necessary to cater for their learning needs. It can be used to teach sentence construction, grammar, punctuation and spelling, the mundane but essential building blocks of written literacy, without being dependent on good handwriting skills which may be slower to develop.

    Production of written output is essential to the learning process in school. A child who cannot write cannot learn effectively, so one of the first tasks of school is to teach the child to write. Writing is a complicated process requiring the simultaneous execution of several difficult activities. There is the content, there is the sentence construction, there is remembering to go across the page from left to right, and remembering what shape the letter “e” is. There is the physical movement of pencil on paper. The coordination and complexity involved in handwriting has been compared to that involved in driving a car.
    Up until now, all these skills had to be taught simultaneously, and were deeply dependant on how quickly the handwriting skill developed.

    It is no wonder that some children are slow to develop adequate handwriting skills, which retards the whole of their school career. Teachers are aware of students whose written output does not match their intelligence, comprehension or verbal language skills.
    This can be because their handwriting skill is not adequate for their learning needs.

    A keyboard and screen allows the middle order writing skills to be taught in isolation to handwriting. Handwriting must still be taught, but it is no longer the limiting factor. Handwriting skills may develop with maturity and practice, so that when a student is required to produce handwriting for an exam, not only do they have handwriting skills, they also have something worth writing.

    Middle order writing skills include such things as sentence construction, grammar, punctuation and spelling. Sentence construction can be broken down into discreet steps, and leverages from a child’s verbal language skills. When they start school, children already use extensive language skills. They do not know the technical terms for the parts of a sentence, but they certainly know how to use them. The “Davidson Method” of sentence construction uses the advantages of a keyboard and screen (any computer with a text editor) and scaffolds a child’s existing verbal skills into the written form.

    Davidson Method for Sentence writing

    1. Choose an action word, a verb.
    A verb is an –ing word
    e.g. chasing

    2 Ask who or what thing is doing the action. (noun,object)
    dog chasing

    3. Ask who or what thing is the action being done to. (noun, subject)
    dog chasing cat

    4. Describe the things (adjective, phrase).
    black hairy ferocious dog from next door chasing mangy yellow cat

    5. Ask when or where or how the action is happening (adverb, phrase).
    yesterday afternoon black hairy ferocious dog from next door quickly chasing mangy yellow cat across the park

    6. Check that the tense of the verb matches sentence. Does it sound right?
    Modify verb (auxiliary verb, compound verb)
    yesterday afternoon black hairy ferocious dog from next door was quickly chasing mangy yellow cat across the park

    7. Add words to make it sound right.
    yesterday afternoon the black hairy ferocious dog from next door was quickly chasing a mangy yellow cat across the park

    8. Add commas and full stops. (Punctuation)
    yesterday afternoon, the black, hairy, ferocious dog from next door was quickly chasing a mangy, yellow cat across the park.

    9. Add a capital letter to the first word.
    Yesterday afternoon, the black, hairy, ferocious dog from next door was quickly chasing a mangy, yellow cat across the park.

    This method allows a sentence to be built logically rather than sequentially, the screen holds the parts in place rather than trying to juggle all the pieces in memory while attempting to write neatly.
    It is easier to choose a letter from a keyboard than try to remember the shape of a letter.
    Correction is neat and does not require the whole page to be rewritten.
    Spelling can be checked as a separate step.
    The sentence can be copied by hand to paper when complete to practice handwriting, and it is relevant to the child because it is their sentence with their ideas. There is no need to print the sentence.
    There is no dumbing down of the ideas in the sentence to match writing or spelling skill.
    Proofreading and editing are being taught as an integral part of writing.

    It should be emphasised that this does not replace handwriting. Handwriting must still be taught in the normal way. It does make handwriting more effective by allowing some ideas to be taught and practiced in isolation, thereby increasing focus and effectiveness.

    It should also be emphasised that we still need a competent and dedicated teacher to lead the child, to encourage, to nurture. The keyboard and screen is just a different writing tool, with features that a good teacher can use when required.

    Computers can be used to increase learning outcomes in KLAs –here-now-today in ordinary classrooms, and bring relief to children who are struggling or giving up because they cannot write fast enough or neatly enough to produce the written output required to cater for their learning needs. Avoid the temptation to reinvent the school system and philosophy of education in order to justify spending money on ICT. Instead look at the problems that are in our classrooms and see if technology can help a competent and dedicated teacher find a way forward.

    • wow, that is so kind of you to write such a great response. This is very much the point of this 3 part series of posts. To make sure that educators are clear about where the metaphoric tools have come from and what they can be used for, in a world that seems obsessed with reducing language to 140 characters or less – I can’t agree more, that using technology to enable the act of writing is an entirely appropriate use. The features you suggest are pervasive in digital writing tools – and indeed the ability to move between hand writing and digital text – to expand, support and nurture ideas is critical.

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