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ICT Move to Computer Science More Than A Makeover

computersciI’m following the ICT (Information and Communication Technology) to Computing and Computer Science, National Curriculum change the UK is headed for in 2014. There may be some correlation to Common Core Standards in the states, but the UK curriculum has some real computing clout to it, going a bit beyond suggestions of computer and Internet use.

At the core of computing is the science and engineering discipline of computer science, in which pupils are taught how digital systems work, how they are designed and programmed, and the fundamental principles of information and computation.”

Why the change from ICT in the UK to Computer Science? Well, to some, the shape of ICT was seen as weak, and students were mere passive consumers rather than active producers. There is definitely an economic issue, too. Why shouldn’t the world look to the UK for a new generation of programmers, application builders, and technologically minded entrepreneurs?

“Instead of children bored out of their minds being taught how to use Word or Excel by bored teachers, we could have 11-year-olds able to write simple 2D computer animations.” ~ Michael Gove, UK Secretary of State for Education

Can little hands and computer science thinking brains open new technological frontiers for the UK?

Aside from a lot of the UK edtech universe looking to change URLs and social IDs to “Computing” there is already a discussion happening in the ICT education world about what this will all mean. As a seat of the pants technologist myself, I know there will be some trepidation venturing into the unknown for those self taught ICTers. Some of them have never taken a scheduled course in the field, let alone one at “A” level. But my feeling is that there will be many of those offered, and in most cases the knowledge has probably already been gained—seat of the pants, and if not, it will be a snap to do traditional computing courses and gain accreditation.

While there may be some fear that newly trained, and just out of university computing educators will have an edge attaining jobs, for less salary, I think that most understand that anyone already in a position needs to pass more than surface requirements. The goal here is to have students step ahead, and to do that educators know they must step ahead, too. The up side for educators looking for a job is that there should be a lot of career opportunities in computer science education in the UK, and elsewhere for that matter. There’s a definite shortage there.

All that said, I think it will be, for those ICT pioneers, who have already met the standards, or see it as a mere formality, to respect, have patience, and calmly guide those who don’t. The last thing anyone wants to hear is, “I took the courses, I can do it, and if you can’t find another show!” Hopefully there will be a limited amount of that and a lot more of, “How can I help you get to where you need to be?” I’m sure that in some cases certain of the ICT crowd will head for other positions or possibly retire, but that should be a career and life decision only.

Note: Please also check Alfred Thompson’s post Computer Science – Part of English Baccalaureate at his blog The Computer Science Teacher.

I remember in the early 70s programming little cursor icons we affectionately called turtles around an ancient “computer” screen. I figured it out pretty fast, and I quickly discovered that when I programmed in lines, tracing the turtle’s path, I could draw things. I moved from simple geometric shapes to actually sketching animals and faces on the screen. The professor, who knew very little about computer science, and sorry to say, far less about teaching, checked my work after a couple of weeks of on-my-own activity, “What in the world do you think you’re doing?” I was 18, working a few jobs, short on food, money and sleep, so I said something like, “Drawing. It’s pretty cool what you can get these things to do.” Young adults are like big kids, and the class was at my screen asking how I got that turtle to do that. “That looks like fun,” they said. Unfortunately, the professor didn’t agree. “Computer science is serious work!” After class I walked over to the student administration building, and dropped the class. Pretty bold, for even me, and very expensive—cost me fifty dollars for that course—and set me back a few credits, too.

The really awful thing, though, was that it left me with the thought that computer science was a closed-minded endeavor, where creativity wasn’t an option. Fortunately years later, on my own again, and teaching my own classes, I rediscovered computing.

I remember that as clearly today, and often kid my computer science education friends with, “Is computer science really fun?” And those who know me best, understand it’s a set up. But every once in a while I’ll hit a raw nerve—and someone will let me have it with, “Computer science is, and has always been fun!” And then I’ll have to listen to why. I really enjoy that.

In education, the pendulum for change usually travels to extremes before finding its true path, and if not, it heads in another direction. I expect no different here. Through it all, though, my question will continue to be, “Is computer science and learning still fun?

Written by

34-year veteran educator, ed tech author, and education marketplace reporter.

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