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Category Archives: Girls in IT

The Importance of Teaching Media Creation Skills

There is an abiding myth that kids today are born digital natives. Anyone who has ever taught ICTs in any form will know that this is simply not the case. Digital skills very much have to be taught! Kay and Goldberg have described computers as a metamedium, a medium, in other words used in the creation of other media. As such it would seem axiomatic that computing should be taught to everyone. And yet this is far from the case. All over the world computing has to fight for a space in the curriculum. No doubt much of this contention stems from the expense of acquiring computing resources, and from securing adequately trained teachers. The great onlining of education has shown us the importance of computers as a medium of communication, but as a medium of creativity it can scarcely be less important. I have taught PhotoShop, Flash and Dreamweaver for many years, often in the context of web design, or game creation. I find that it is an excellent way to segue into coding for middle school students. Computers can be used to create all manner of digital content, but games are particularly alluring for students.

In this blog post I would like to walk through my thoughts about how the nature of remote teaching will have to change my curriculum and instructional design. I would like to cover the same basic concepts: namely photo-editing and game design introducing elementary programming procedures.

Starting with image manipulation in PhotoShop one can teach not only photo-editing skills, but also copyright issues. I usually teach students to use the Creative Commons Search Engine to find suitable images to use that are copyright free. There are many plarforms available for games creation. Up until last year I used Flash, despite the increasing difficulties as the platform becomes less and less supported. I have been considering using Scratch instead, but the seamless integration inside websites and the ability to run in a browser still made Flash a viable choice. My school had an Adobe licence, so justifying that expense was also a concern. I usually teach students how to create buttons in flash and use interactive behaviours. This requires starting to use ActionScript. We use existing scripts and learn how to tweak them. After a few tutorials I get the students to design their own games and then help them get it to work. The graphic shows one of the games created by students which depended upon drag and drop behaviours to work.

So, here’s my problem. I am due to start teaching this unit in May with my grade 8 class, and yet we are likely to be on lockdown, and I am wondering if it is a unit of work I can teach remotely. Certainly not with PhotoShop and Flash, as students are unlikely to have the Adobe Suite. But apart from the problem around access to the software and the necessary data or devices – most of my students use iPads if they do not have a laptop. This presents a number of problems. Firstly, I will be really sad not to have the linkage between image editing and games creation. Realizing that everything about remote teaching and learning takes longer, I will have to concentrate on the game design alone. For remote teaching an online Photo editor such as Photopea appears to work well. The crucial skill is removing a background and saving as a gif with transparency. I am not sure that I will be able to adequately support students through photo-editing online, and the games design, however. So I will have to play this aspect by ear.

In my experience getting students to the point where they can design their own games requires a good few basic tutorials teaching base skills, and then a great deal of scaffolding the process of discovery, especially where it requires coding beyond my own capacity! Tackling this online presents problems. It is difficult to help students debug their code when you can’t see their screen, or where you have to reconstruct it to test it on your own screen! It also needs to be something that can be done on an iPad if a student does not have access to a laptop or pc. It should also not involve any downloading of software or purchase of an app.

So I have decided to use Scratch on the MIT platform which works inside a browser, and apparently works fairly well on an iPad and allows students to use a free account. Students can also share their projects with others. This is crucial because I would like students to work in small groups. I usually get students to do a few tutorials online and then set the project as a group project. Working with groups might prove tricky during remote teaching and learning, but might also help overcome some of the isolation of working from home.

To test the versatility of the platform I created a quick pong game and a tamigotchi game, and it seems to me that Scratch works very well at enabling game creation. The platform also has tutorials which allow for students to work on their own, and develop capacity beyond any tutorials and tasks I create for the class. It also has an extension for the BBC micro:bit controller, which I use for robotics. I have not been able to explore this, but it seems to me that it creates some potential tie-ins, which is important. I also use the MIT platform for mobile app design with my grade 9s, so using Scratch on the MIT platform to introduce coding seems a good fit all round.

To my mind the key to instructional design in a case like this is to have a programme in mind which can be cut short, or can be extended, depending upon the time available and the capacity of the students. In this case the vagaries of remote teaching becomes a particular concern. I will write a follow up post after completing the unit.

Bibliography

A. Kay and A. Goldberg, “Personal dynamic media,” Computer, 1977, pp. 31-41.

 

Promoting Girls in IT – is there a gendered digital gaze?

One of the selling points of the school I teach at, our marketing department tells me, is that we are one of the few girls’ schools to offer Information Technology as a subject to Matric. But although the number of girls taking IT has doubled in recent years, it is still one of the less popular subject choices. This should not surprise us, as internationally the number of girls opting to study Computer Science has remained low. Far more boys take the subject. The reasons for this gender disparity have been the subject of much debate, and usually revolve around gender stereotyping and how computing has been gendered since the emergence of the pc.

The focus in junior and middle school teaching, while including some robotics and coding, is generally on applications, and most specifically on self-expression through digital technologies. From what I have observed students spend time using computers as tools for communicating their feelings and ideas rather than for learning to code per se. Even when coding platforms like Scratch are used, it is often to create games or tell stories. Stop-frame animation, video creation and digital story-telling platforms are also popular. Office applications likewise are used in creative, rather than business-oriented ways. I find that students really enjoy using PowerPoint to create colourful, graphically pleasing posters and brochures. So, what changes when students get to make a subject choice in grade 10?

Karl Maton (2014) has argued that what you know (a knowledge code) and who you are (a knower code) constitute a set of rules of the game for academic success. By making these rules explicit, rather than keeping them a secret, teachers can grant access to their students.

The diagram below, taken from the LCT website, demonstrates four codes based on the relative strength or weakness of Knowledge (epistemic relations) and Knowing (social relations). These codes broadly define the rules of the game for knowledge practices within particular fields. At an intuitive level we all know that sometimes what you know is important, and sometimes it’s more about how you know, more about your approach or perspective. As a rule of thumb, the Sciences tend to care more about the knowledge, and the Humanities more about the knowing. LCT uses rather difficult terminology and can be tricky to get into, but provides very powerful tools for understanding what happens inside classrooms. The vertical axis indicates the relative importance of knowledge, compared to the horizontal axis showing the relative importance of knowing.

The Knowledge Code indicates that knowledge is important, but the knower is not considered as important. In Science, for example, having the knowledge is the key to success. Your personal background or point of view is largely irrelevant.

The Knower Code is where having the knowledge is not as important as your gaze, your perspective, the way you see things. A literary critic, for example, does not need any specific body of knowledge, but needs to have an appreciation of the canon, a sense of what to look for in a piece of writing.

The Relativist Code is found in fields where no particular knowledge or perspective affords legitimacy. Personal experience and opinion is what counts.

The Elite Code describes success in fields where both the knowledge and the ways of knowing are important. In Architecture, for example, the architect must know why a building will not fall down but must also possess an eye for design.

Understanding these codes allows a teacher to understand the basis for success in each field of specialization and helps us to better understand what is at stake.

I think it would be fair to say then that IT as a junior and middle school subject is mainly characterised by a Relativist and a Knower Code. How you communicate your feelings and ideas to others leads to success in IT at this level. All ideas and feelings are equally valued (Relativist Code), but IT is used as a vehicle for expressing them, and how you go about organising and communicating your ideas forms a Knower Code – a digital gaze if you like. Marc Prensky (2005) has argued that age is the basis for possessing a facility with digital technologies, that if you are born after a certain date you have that code, elusive to older generations. But this idea has been widely debunked. Digital nativity is not based on age alone. Possessing digital dispositions and approaches that facilitate using technology seems to sit with some and not with others. And it is a code that can be taught. In junior and middle school, I would argue, most practices revolve around moving students from a Relativist Code, expressing themselves, towards a Knower Code in which the student is cultivating a digital gaze, a facility with using digital tools to communicate and solve problems. Good students are one who seem to possess an “eye” for using digital tools for communicating their ideas.

By the last three years of high school, by contrast, students make particular subject choices, and if you choose IT as a subject it is focused on programming and on the theory of hardware, software and networking. Subject specific knowledge becomes far more important and there is a code shift towards a Knowledge Code. Students find learning to program a hard skill to master. It feels abstract and self-expression gives way to learning how to solve problems using a machine by designing algorithms and writing code. Given that relatively fewer girls see themselves as taking up a career in IT, this effort might not seem worthwhile in what is perceived of as a hard and time-consuming subject. In any case doing it as a matric subject is not necessary for entrance into a BSc in Computer Studies at University.

It might be the case, in addition, that this shift from a Relavist/Knower to a Knowledge Code is a shift boys are more comfortable making. Perhaps the digital gaze is a somewhat gendered one. Gender stereotypes around the appropriateness of future careers might be creating in boys and girls different digital gazes: one a code match with the Knowledge Code of Computer Science, the other, more geared towards careers in which digital technologies are used for communication and expression (a Knower Code), a code clash with Computer Science.

Bibliography

Maton, K. (2014). Knowledge and Knowers: Towards a realist sociology of education. London, UK: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.

Prensky, M. (2205). Teaching Digital Natives: partnering for Real Learning. Thousand Oaks, California. Corwin.

 

 
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Posted by on August 30, 2019 in Girls in IT

 
 
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