When teaching ICT and computing, it’s so easy to get bogged down with coding and programming, but we need to remember that the subject means so much more than that. I’ve taught ICT at A-level for around ten years now and I’ve noticed the transition from traditional ICT to an increased focus on computer science, which is a great thing, but there are certain skills that I pray are not forgotten. For me, it’s all about project management.
In ICT lessons at A-level, second year students embark upon a coursework project which is very much computer science related; it requires them to solve a problem with an ICT solution. Often this necessitates coding in some way, but the major part of the challenge is that it is a project that must be managed from start to finish. From identifying the problem and researching it thoroughly to finding possible solutions and assessing their suitability, all the way through to completion of the final project, students are presented with a very comprehensive and challenging task. If there is too much focus on teaching purely computer science, then only part of this challenge is presented; students are only required to present a coded solution and aren’t completing a full project that links to a real life problem. The ability to follow a project from start to finish is an incredibly important skill and one that can be of huge appeal to potential employers. Some of our students have even had their work used by commercial companies!
What does ‘project management’ involve?
The multiple stages of the project help to demonstrate a range of important skills, including:
- Definition – deciding on the client and what the issue is requires clear understanding and communication skills.
- Investigation – researching and communicating findings and making recommendations relies on good presentation skills.
- Design – putting plans in place, usually re-working them in consultation with the client requires creativity and team-work.
- Development and testing – creating the product and testing it, with improvements being re-tested and checked means being precise and having patience when needed.
- Installation – drafting user guides and a maintenance policy requires a thorough understanding of the solution and how best to break it down for other audiences.
- Evaluation – how successful was the project? This process is all about critical thinking and learning from any mistakes or successes.
I’d love to see a project like this one being introduced even earlier than at A-level, perhaps bringing it into the GCSE syllabus because it’s so important for children to understand everything that’s involved in developing an ICT solution. After all, every subject teacher’s goal should be to prepare their students for life after education and give them the best possible chance of succeeding in their future careers. I’m extremely passionate about the power of project management for enabling this. Focusing on solving real-world problems is a great way to ensure your students are engaged, challenged and really serve to gain something from the work they put into the subject. In some cases, this may even mean securing work before they leave full-time education! What more could you want for your pupils?!
Shaun Eason is assistant headteacher and head of ICT at All Saints Secondary School in Dagenham.