Volume 1 Issue 1 - Summer 2001
|Are networks in Primary the way forward? Joe Gallagher takes a philosophical look at the model of delivery that is the latest trend.|
Traditionally the model of Primary ICT has been one of each class having at least one computer which is used by small groups at a time with occasional use by individual children and possibly (but less frequently) whole class use. This model was felt to have several advantages over the “computer suite” approach found in secondary schools.
This approach has been called into question in recent years on several counts :
This feeling has perhaps intensified with the move towards whole class teaching. The drift back towards specific subject teaching will mean less opportunities for group work.
As a result some teachers have come to feel that the only way
to ensure delivery of the now core ICT curriculum is to treat the teaching of
ICT in a similar way as you might treat PE (another subject which requires
specialised equipment) and take the whole class to a special place where the
equipment is located. Given that access to this place is restricted in terms of
time, the teaching will need to be strictly timetabled. For some, this is an
attractive prospect as it will mean (for the first time in some schools!) that
there is actually time set aside when ICT is definitely taking place. It also
fits in with the current perception that there is too much “facilitating”
and not enough active teaching going on. In addition to the perceived
pedagogical advantages the following benefits could be held to accrue:
Sounds great doesn’t it? However….. if there is a problem (and they do occur) with the server then absolutely nothing will run. Worse still, all the children’s current work may be lost when the system freezes. Suddenly the delivery of ICT in the school boils down to the technical prowess of the hapless ICT coordinator who is of course the designated network manager in the school. Anyone who has been lucky enough to have held such a role will remember the sight of a face appearing at the door whilst you’re in full flow in front of your own class informing you that the network has crashed and could you please come straight away as Violet class are becoming a bit restless….
Peer to peer networking whilst not having the same degree of integration as a Local Area Network does allow for the sharing of physical resources as well as sharing of files between users.
For clustered standalone machines there can be advantages:
Undoubtedly, from the point of view of managing the system,
the cluster approach has significant advantages in comparison to the traditional
primary model. However the following considerations are worth bearing in mind.
How practical would it be to assess the work of up to 30 pupils in one go? Would print-outs from the session always provide adequate evidence as to their performance in ICT?
If, for assessment or other considerations, you wished each child to have individual access to the computer, how could this be managed in a class of 30? Very few primary schools would have the accommodation or resources to do this. If you decide to split the class, who will take the rest of the class whilst one half is on the computers for up to an hour?
What will the children actually be doing on the computers? One whole class computer based session per week adds up to a great deal of lesson planning over the course of a year. Unlike subjects such as PE there are very few high quality and sufficiently detailed schemes of work available to enable teachers to develop comprehensive and worthwhile lesson plans without much burning of the midnight oil. Even if such support materials were available, would the majority of teachers themselves have the confidence and experience to do them justice?
Setting ICT in a meaningful context
Whilst it may not always be possible to provide a meaningful context in which the ICT can be developed, it should be something that we aim to do as much as is practicable. Techniques developed on the computer can only become skills that the children can use when they can be related to uses or purposes they understand. It’s not impossible to do this in the context of an ICT “hour” in the computer suite but there could be a possibility that the session degenerates into a largely technique driven one with an overemphasis on the “hands on” aspect. Delivering ICT within the context of the usual classroom setting is, in itself, no guarantee against a shallow approach to the teaching of ICT but it can allow teachers to relate what is going on in ICT to what is going on in the everyday work of the classroom. What’s more, it can be done employing a mix of whole class teaching and adequate individual “hands on” experience for all children.
This would seem to be trying to square the circle, for without a bank of computers in the classroom, there would seem to be no way that enough children can get access to the equipment for the amount of time required to properly develop their ICT skills. However there is no reason why the introductory session cannot be carried out as a whole or half class teaching session of up to 15 minutes. Practice by individual children of techniques taught could be scheduled to take place over the course of a day or two with children taking short turns of no more than ten minutes to work on the computer. Group work with children attempting more challenging tasks which seek to integrate the skills they had learned earlier could then be catered for within the classroom setting allowing for flexibility in terms of time needed to complete the task.
Whichever model schools opt for, it will be important to bear in mind the rationale behind the choice. Are our decisions based on sound educational criteria or are they a reaction to technical frustrations or even a feeling of helpless when it comes to planning for the teaching of ICT? Do they reflect the way we approach teaching and learning in other areas of the curriculum?
The middle way?
Is it possible then to have the best of both worlds? Obviously if a school has the resources to have a clustered (and networked) group of machines plus one in every classroom then this would have its attractions. However it should be considered whether or not it would be more effective (space permitting) to double the available number of classroom based machines. Where it’s a case of “either or” then the argument comes down clearly in favour of classroom based machines. Even the case for ICT “specialist teachers” needs to be viewed with some caution. It may work to some degree in an area such as music but is it at the cost of de-skilling and de-motivating the ordinary classroom teacher? Would ICT become further marginalized as a result? How will this work be developed and extended in the rest of the curriculum?
In one sense it is possible to have the benefits of both approaches. It is possible to link together individual machines in different classes so that they can share resources such as expensive colour printers or access to the internet using a peer to peer network as well as sharing work they have done. The software is already there in modern computers and hardware costs in terms of cabling and network adapters are quite reasonable. In this way it is possible to have some of the “connectivity” and sharing that you get from networks and avoid some of the pitfalls.
Most importantly it allows ICT to be firmly embedded as an every day classroom activity to be developed by all teachers for all children. Only if this happens can ICT aspire to become a truly useful skill which will enhance our development of other areas of the curriculum.
Ex-Advisory Teacher for ICT, Greenwich LEA [Joe now works for an IT solutions company developing economical school intranets]
Volume 1 Issue 1 - Summer 2001