This morning I saw on Twitter an article about the Scottish ICT curriculum and how it has been praised by Hal Abelson, who I respect greatly and I’m also reading one of his books, which quite rightly praises the approach the Scots are taking (and many sassenachs are taking as well!) to craft real-life and relevant approaches to the ICT curriculum.
The article then also quite rightly takes a boring and repetitive approach to office skills to task but I think it is missing quite an important point about ‘Office skills’. The problem with this, as I wrote in the comment underneath the piece, is that they shouldn’t be seen as ‘Office skills’ but as ‘productivity skills’ as using the term ‘Office’ instantly equates it only with what Microsoft has to offer. Pupils should be taught good productivity skills both to support their learning in other subjects but also to prepare them for tertiary education and employment.
Whether they use Microsoft Office, Google Docs, Zoho, Openoffice etc or any other productivity suite is irrelevant they must still be learning how to …
- Write a good document which is suitable for a target audience
- Create a usable and engaging slidedeck (and present with it)
- Manage and manipulate data within a spreadsheet and draw results and conclusions from it
- Store and manage data within a database and extracts information from it
- Manage communication in a professional manner through channels such as email
- Research and synthesise relevant information
Like grammar, basic algebra etc pupils should be leaving school with these skills so that employees do not have to waste time teaching them just as much as they shouldn’t be having to give remedial english and maths skills.
So the question is – how to teach it? When I see examples of schools doing fancy mobile app development projects I think to myself: are the pupils being asked to write decent technical documentation? Are they creating slidedecks to demonstrate their products as if they were seeking investment? Are they using spreadsheets or databases to track inventories and test runs? Productivity skills can still be taught but instead of being the main focus ‘This term we learn Mail Merge!’ they become a support to what is being asked of them in collaborative group work projects.
This blog post is not an attack on computing and computational thinking in the classroom. I am full supporter of the increased role of computer science in class. I just do not see this approach of ‘computing’ first, everything else ‘boring’ or second as the right approach. Productivity skills have their approach and can still be used and taught extensively and effectively in class.
Image attribution: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Microsoft_Office_2013.svg in public domain