Keith Grimwade of the GA says ICT should be used to enhance geographical learning
ICT is set to become increasingly important in geography. Its use is encouraged at key stage 1, statutory at KS2 to help in "geographical investigations", and a component of four of the major skills strands at KS3. Significantly, candidates' ability to use ICT in geography should feature in the scheme of assessment of the new GCSE specifications from September next year.
There is no shortage of high-quality guidance on how ICT can be used to enhance geographical learning. For example, High-tech Geography is a collection of articles (primary and secondary) available from the Geographical Association. A wealth of appropriate uses is presented, from increasing access to sources of geographical information to modelling systems and processes.
Although some departments have made real progress in recent years, many still struggle. Constraints include teachers' lack of competence and confidence, inadequate access to computing facilities and a lack of easy-to-use software - particularly in the case of geographical information systems (GIS).
At the start of a flight, adults are told that, if they are travelling with a child and oxygen masks descend, they should put their own mask on first. The same applies to ICT - begin by developing your own competence and confidence. If you use ICT to keep up-to-date and to provide stimulating resources you have already started using ICT to raise standards of achievement. The Department for Education and Employment's New Opportunities Fund training will help. However, it cannot deliver a proficiency in all geography-related software; for example, it takes considerable time to learn how to use a GIS package.
At KS1-3, identify at least one ICT opportunity per geography unit. Make sure that it is n activity that is improved by the use of ICT; for example, using a data logger to capture a continuous record of temperature as opposed to two temperatures, the maximum and minimum.
At GCSE careful planning may be required; for example, it may be necessary for pupils to have the opportunity to use ICT as part of their coursework. Prioritise these opportunities and implement a small number successfully before developing the repertoire further.
Part of this process will be the management of stand-alone computers in the primary classroom and making the case for geography's access to whole-school facilities in the secondary phase. This is where "statutory" requirements can work to the subject's advantage.
Stay in touch with pupils' access to ICT facilities out of school. Inevitably, there will be schools with disadvantaged catchment areas whose pupils have limited or no access to ICT at home. However, non-PC access to the internet is growing rapidly; an increasing number of libraries are internet-linked and much can be done with generic and free software.
The GA is supporting the development of ICT with its re-launched website www.geography.org. uk. With its news area, links to other sites, connections to subject experts and the online resources catalogue, it is worth a visit. The site will grow significantly in the coming months ICT fits with geography because there are things it can help us to do better. Using ICT appropriately in our subject will also make an invaluable contribution to the wider curriculum and to preparing our pupils for life in an ICT-rich world, at work and at leisure.
Weather on the web, page 10 Keith Grimwade is acting senior adviser, geography, for Cambridgeshire LEA and chair, education standing committee, the GA, 160 Solly Street, Sheffield S1 4BF. Tel: 0114 296 0088