So, instead of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) or Microsoft Office for beginners, as most of us knew it as, we have this new beast called Computing and Digital Literacy.
The basic idea is that Computing should count as a science and be given the same emphasis and importance whereas Digital Literacy should be ‘picked up along the way’. Before I discuss how I view this polarisation, let’s explain what this new heading means in simple terms:
Computing: Being able to understand basic algorithms (the new buzz word – it simply means a set of instructions), beginning to understand that computers and technology work from a set of instructions and that these instructions are called code. To understand and use block-based visual algorithmic software such as Scratch, Lego Mindstorm NXT etc. To understand that programming codes are written in different coding languages such as Python, Ruby, HTML etc
Digital Literacy: Being able to navigate and use a computer for a purpose e.g. to create a document or a presentation, to use the Internet for a purpose or to search for information. To understand that information on the Internet is not necessarily correct. To understand the importance of staying safe on the Internet (cyber safety).
At one point someone suggested to me that digital literacy should just be taught as part of English lessons or science lessons, or just at some point during the day – this was clearly put forward by someone who doesn’t understand just how much pressure is already placed on the English teachers to ensure that children are using capital letters, full stops, semi colons, onomatopoeia, metaphors, smilies and correctly deciphering complex ‘comprehension’ tasks. There is no time to slot digital literacy into other lessons so, unless it can be separately timetabled (in an ideal world), it has to be included in computing lessons.
So, with this in mind, what do we need to teach the children?
The main thing I’m going to be talking about in this blog is the computing side of the curriculum since that’s the bit that sounds the most scary, but here are a few bits & bobs about the digital literacy stuff.
I think that it is important that children understand that, while Microsoft Word is a useful way to produce a document and is very widely recognised as it is used globally by a lot of companies, other good software is available – I usually spend a lesson comparing Word with Pages on the Mac and with Google Documents (with the added bonus of being linked to their Google accounts so they can work on documents collaboratively). What we’ve established is that Word is the easiest platform to create a simple, elegant, written document; Pages is the best way to make a document which is a bit more interesting (especially with all the templates provided) and Google Docs, while not providing as much usability, is the easiest to save and the best way to work collaboratively. What you’re effectively teaching then, is the importance of selecting the appropriate tool for what you want to do.
There are some great pieces of software out there and it is useful to spend a lesson or two looking at them so that we don’t get lost in the coding and computing aspects. I spent half a term combining photo editing in iPhoto with using Comic Life so that Year 3 then had two sets of skills they could apply to any subject whenever they wanted to (we linked it up with science and they created comic strips about healthy eating, both taking and editing their own pictures before transferring them into Comic Life itself). The children also then picked up how to transfer their photos to their Google Drive and how to drag them to their desktop – it wasn’t taught explicitly, I just showed them once and those that figured it out went round and helped the ones who weren’t sure.
And I guess there you see the most important skill I’ve been teaching in my Digital Literacy lessons – having a go and helping each other. Learning useful skills and not being afraid to try for yourself. You may find I keep coming back to that….