in Education, Reflection, Responses

Thinking about The Tyranny of Relevance

I advocate two strands in technology curricula: a technology integration strand where technology is embedded into core classes and a computer science strand where students study actual computer science concepts, respecting computer science as a separate field of study with its own habits of mind. The former would include things like word processing, blogging and podcasting while the latter would include programming, history and trends in technology/computer inventions, data representation, parts of a computer, computer aided design. I’m lucky in that I work at international schools so we get a chance to mold our own curriculum for ICT. When I went through the process at my last school, we discussed technology integration versus separate computer classes and decided to focus on integration in elementary and continue it in middle and high school while providing students compulsory computer classes in middle school, and elective computer courses in high school to focus on topics in the field of computer science. This was our introduction

The Integrated Curriculum – A Two Strand Approach

This curriculum uses a two-strand model, recognising that authentic technology education takes place in the context of authentic use; and recognising also that computer science is an independent discipline, whose foundational principles embody habits of mind relevant to all aspects of a student’s learning.

Thus students learn applications and explore the creative possibilities of technology in the context of their core subjects. Application of technology is therefore integrated into all subject area curricula, at all levels.

Students will be introduced to computer science concepts, particular those concepts that are relevant to other fields of study and to life. Students develop algorithmic and critical thinking processes explicitly, and learn to identify patterns in system processing, as concepts of computer science. These will be addressed within other curricular areas such as social studies, math or science, but must also be considered explicitly as topics in computer science. Therefore, this curriculum articulates skills and understandings in computer science as a separate strand.

The ICT curriculum at the middle school level has a required computer science component at each grade level and learn its value and importance in society. At the high school level, computer science courses are offered on an elective basis.

Relevance in and of itself is not a bad thing. Students may have better chance of constructing understanding of spreadsheets if we create one to plan a class party instead of using random worksheets. Relevance becomes a tyrant when the emphasis on it overshadows all else resulting in a lack of balance and the disservice of never exposing our students to the field of computer science.

Some topics that could be covered in a computer science class has connections to other subjects e.g. graph theory to Math(s) and extracting information from data is important in many subjects, computer aided design to art etc. We should highlight those connections where possible so that students learn about computer science, as well as it’s relationship to other fields.

Desiring relevance for educational technology is not the problem, doing so to the exclusion of computer science is.

Written in response to by Terry Freedman.

  1. Thanks for responding to my post, Damianne. I think there is much to be said for the two-strand approach you suggest. One problem with ICT as a subject is that it can be superficial and rootless, if I can put it like that. Including some history and computer science could help to overcome that.

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