Digital creativity and computing in the classroom

by Laurie O’Donnell, learning, technology and innovation adviser, consultant and visiting professor. Continuing our guest blog series featuring Informed Scotland subscribers writing on the theme Making connections across the learning & skills landscape.

In the last century I was a secondary computing teacher and saw my role as helping young people to better understand their digital world, supporting them to take the first few steps towards becoming active creators rather than merely passive consumers of other people’s digital products and services.

Over the last six months I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to evaluate a Nesta digital creativity project funded by the Scottish Government to explore models of teacher professional development in schools. For the purposes of the project digital creativity was taken to include computer programming, animation, video production and other activities that involve making rather than consuming digital products.

This project got me back into classrooms and I was really impressed by the enthusiasm of the teachers and the way their students were engaged with a diverse range of digital creativity activities. It was great to see young people develop their computational thinking and begin to understand the decision-making processes behind making a movie; to recognise the painstaking approach to detail required to animate a character; and to understand the precision of instruction necessary to successfully program a webpage.

I was left in no doubt that well designed digital creativity activities in the classroom can provide rich contexts for the development of higher-order skills and help young people to engage as active makers of their increasingly digital world.

All of this got me thinking about the importance, and arguably unique, contribution that computing can make to the school curriculum. After a long period of neglect and decline the last few years has seen the profile of computing in schools being raised. This is at least in part due to the IT and creative industries raising concerns around the difficulties they face in recruiting suitably experienced staff and, quite rightly in my view, lamenting the absence of computing in the curriculum at all levels across the UK (see Nesta’s Next Gen report and Eric Schmidt’s MacTaggart Lecture for example).

The response in England has been prompt with computing now replacing ICT as part of the National Curriculum and the expectation is that programming will be taught to five year-olds – albeit this is likely to be in the form of understanding simple algorithms rather than necessarily coding for all.  

In Scotland there are also some very promising developments that have the potential to raise the profile of computing in schools back to its high-point in the early 1990s, and with a bit of luck even higher. These include: PLAN C, a highly innovative approach to developing the pedagogical content knowledge of secondary computing teachers; the beginnings of more relevant computing qualifications from the SQA; the Skills Investment Plan for the ICT & Digital Technologies Sector; and of course the recent publication of the Wood Commission Report on Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce.

Not everyone in school is going to become a computer scientist, but there is something in computing that is fundamental to understanding our world. Something that is not covered anywhere else on the curriculum.

Although much of the current discussion around Curriculum for Excellence is focused on issues of implementation, assessment, resourcing and support it is worth noting the radical change that a 3–18 curriculum was supposed to herald. The formal principles of ‘breadth’, ‘depth’, coherence’ and ‘progression’ that underpinned previous Scottish curricula were extended. The new principles of ‘challenge and enjoyment’, ‘personalisation and choice’ and ‘relevance’ focus on engaging pupils where they are now and where they are going beyond school.

Engaging with the world of the learner is no longer an added extra but an expectation of every teacher’s daily classroom practice. In this respect computing and digital creativity have the potential to provide a rich seam of skills and attributes to help teachers deliver the outcomes and experiences at the heart of Curriculum for Excellence and give all of our young people the best preparation for life in the digital age.

For further information contact [email protected] or follow @laurieod

Read our previous guest blogs: SQA’s So what is open education? and UKCES makes connections between disparate ideas.


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