Here are seven important factors to keep in mind when you’re designing a new computing course.
1. SAFETY MUST COME FIRST
Everyone should feel safe in the classroom—from physical dangers, but also from being shown any form of disrespect and from being subjected to inappropriate websites. Keeping safe and showing respect need to be taught rather than assumed.
2. THE CURRICULUM MUST BE CHALLENGING
The course should stretch students. Lev Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development (ZPD) is useful here. Students are in the ZPD when they reach a point where they can’t solve the problem on their own but it’s not completely beyond their capabilities to make progress with a little help from peers or their teacher. The ZPD is a kind of halfway house between too easy (and therefore boring) and impossible and overwhelming.
3. THE COURSE MUST HAVE PERCEIVED VALUE
At one school where I arrived as the new head of computing, the students described one course as being for “dummies.” They therefore regarded themselves as dummies. As expected, when they were enrolled in a more challenging and highly esteemed course they stepped up to the plate, grew in self-esteem, and demonstrated to themselves and everyone else that they were not dummies after all.
Introducing input from local businesses can also add value to courses. Students can benefit from visiting businesses as well as from top experts coming to the school to talk with them. Collaborating with a local college or university about inserting extra elements into a course will add value too.
4. THERE SHOULD BE A CLEAR PROGRESSION PATHWAY
Courses that fit into a bigger picture have higher value. Beginning courses can be prerequisites for more advanced courses, for example, or can lead to internships of some kind.
5. TEACHERS SHOULD BE EXPERTS
Teachers need to understand enough about the subject to be able to help students get to the next level. They also need to be able to check whether students have understood what they’ve been studying.
I’m not suggesting that only those with degrees in computer science be allowed to teach. Support keen teachers who are prepared to learn with good courses, excellent lesson materials, and in-class support. (For more on this see “We Need ICT Teachers, Not Facilitators.”)
6. THE CLASSROOM SHOULD BE A STIMULATING ENVIRONMENT
A stimulating environment means anything but rows of computers with nobody talking to each other. There should be areas for collaboration, reference materials, and interesting and useful stuff on the walls. (For more, see “8 Elements of a Stimulating Computing Classroom.”)
7. APPROPRIATE EQUIPMENT SHOULD BE PROVIDED
Equipment doesn’t need to be the most expensive or up to date, but it does need to fit the purpose. It should enable students to do what they need to do, and what they want to do, in order to get the best possible results.
Terry Freedman publishes the ICT & Computing in Education website at www.ictineducation.org