On not rushing to disparage the internet
Life in hypertext

What we're teaching this year

I thought I'd post here some links to stuff we've developed and are using with our first year students (13 year-olds). The material is in the public domain, on JotSpot.

So, here's the syllabus. (It's open to revision this year, as we teach it, and, of course, before we teach it again next year.)

Autumn Term

ICT at school, home ... mobile
Internet & web: key figures and events
Reading the social web: browsers, RSS and search
Communicating & collaborating, on- and off-line I: Office(s)

Spring Term

Communicating & collaborating, on- and off-line II: webmail, IM, chat, VoIP; blogs & wikis; video- and photo-sharing; social bookmarking and tagging; maps

Summer Term

Responsibility and Identity: Wikipedia (critical reading, responsible writing); social software (privacy, safety, digital identity)
The Law: copyright (links, permissions, problems); music (file-sharing, DRM); defamation and abuse (rights and responsibilities)
Virtual Worlds   

Then there's a wealth of linked-to background material that served earlier this year as stuff for the department to immerse itself in as it readied itself. (We're very fortunate in the quality and commitment of the team which teaches this course.) I update this material from time to time so it can remain useful. 

Finally, the lessons to date: 

1  Introduction

2  Home & mobile technologies

3  The internet

4  Internet pioneers

5  The web

6  The web

7  Browsers

8  Personalisation and home pages

9  RSS and Aggregators

10  Search

11  RSS & Search: improving the signal to noise ratio

12  Office: I

We've had fun delivering these within the constraints of time (one 40-minute lesson a week!) and the engagement of the pupils has been inspiring. 

In doing what we've been doing, my concern has been to leave behind what John Naughton called (in the Observer) the Old Person's ICT Curriculum. I also found inspiration along the way in Dave Snowden's blog post, Huginn and Muginn. Not everything there meshes with what we're doing (we're not delivering touch-typing and, yes, we should be) and we are teaching something of a body of knowledge (eg, about web history —€” Eliot: 'A people without history Is not redeemed from time' — but that's not what he was referring to: see 'don't teach ICT as if it was a "body of knowledge"'). Such things apart, I'm entirely at one with the spirit of remarks like these:

make computers and broadband a universal right, like water … most computing skills and all social computing capability is learnt by doing and by regular practice rather than classroom lessons.

what really matters is that children experience and contribute to the evolution of technology, and to see that evolution as a symbiotic relationship with human kind. That requires us … [to be] thoughtful and mindful. We don't need to sacrifice an eye to gain wisdom … but we do need to sacrifice an over explicit non-experiential approach to ICT teaching.

I also like his fifth point:

Let things emerge, don't plan … It's not so much about repeating a success as repeating the conditions which led to that success. In any complex system you can never replicate outcome, but you can replicate starting conditions. … you want multiple diverse initiatives to emerge, and you want to measure their impact on the social and educational fabric … not a series of pre-determined targeted outcomes.

There's been a surprising amount of room for things to emerge: pupils experiment in their own time, bring a lot to the table, anyway, and are excited by discovering more about the powers given them by contemporary computing.

I'd add to all this a word about the re-appraisal of Prensky's influential digital natives meme — a re-appraisal that has been going on for some time now. Here's Henry Jenkins (writing earlier this month):

Talk of "digital natives" helps us to recognize and respect the new kinds of learning and cultural expression which have emerged from a generation that has come of age alongside the personal and networked computer. Yet, talk of "digital natives" may also mask the different degrees [of] access to and comfort with emerging technologies experienced by different youth. Talk of digital natives may make it harder for us to pay attention to the digital divide in terms of who has access to different technical platforms and the participation gap in terms of who has access to certain skills and competencies or for that matter, certain cultural experiences and social identities. Talking about youth as digital natives implies that there is a world which these young people all share and a body of knowledge they have all mastered, rather than seeing the online world as unfamiliar and uncertain for all of us.

Teaching this course this year, we have had it confirmed that being born in 1994 doesn't mean that online life, for all that it may be familiar, is well understood: where it's come from, what it can do and what your options are —€” these are all things that unite adults and teens as we seek to develop and mature in this new and changing world.