B is for … Blues and ICT
There are several parallels one can draw between Blues music and ICT. There are probably parallels to be drawn between lots of things and lots of other things, but I happen to like both the Blues and ICT, so I thought I’d play around and see what emerged.
Most Blues is predictable in terms of both musical form and lyric structure. There’s a reasonably comprehensible explanation of the musical side at the BBC’s Bitesize website, while the lyric structure is pretty simple in itself: AAB, eg:
If I was a catfish, swimmin' in the deep blue sea
If I was a catfish, oh, swimmin' in the deep blue sea
Have all the pretty women out there fishin' for me
(From Easy Rider, Blues for Peace.)
In the same way, I think lessons should be predictable too, in the sense of following a particular pattern. It means people know what they’re doing and what is expected of them. In a subject like ICT, or indeed any subject where technology is used, predictability in the form of a routine can add a much-needed element of safety. For example, one of the routines might be that no more than two people are allowed to hang around near the printer at any one time.
It’s easy to do it badly
Predictability is a double-edged sword. It’s easy to play the Blues, which means it’s easy to play it badly. Even established Blues musicians sometimes forget themselves and use their time in a song to display their virtuosity rather than using their instrument to actually say something meaningful.
Similarly, it’s easy to have a routine in ICT lessons, but that means it’s unfortunately easy to introduce bad routines. For example, a routine whereby pupils check their personal emails at the start of the lesson is not a good routine, unless the teacher has emailed work to their personal email accounts – which is a pretty bad idea in itself. I never started my lessons as a teacher checking my email, so I don’t see why this would be considered an acceptable way of pupils’ passing their time – yet I have seen it go on.
I’ve also seen pupils being allowed to use the last five minutes of a lesson for playing games. Again, I think this is unacceptable – unless it happens to be a game designed to do something like improve their knowledge of the subject in some way.
For me, a good routine at the start of the lesson would be for pupils to read over or listen to their teachers’ comments on their last piece of work, or to get everything set up so that they can start work as soon as possible. At the end of the lesson, a quick test or quick-fire Q & A session or a randomly-selected pupil giving a presentation on what they have been doing in the lesson would be examples of a good routine.
There’s a sense of being at the mercy of things beyond your control
Blues songs are often about events and circumstances that are beyond one’s powers to do anything about. Not being able to find a job, for example, is a standard feature, and this no doubt reflected the reality for a lot of people who wrote and performed those songs.
I suppose in the same way there is an element of unpredictability surrounding ICT. You never quite know when something is going to stop working or go horribly wrong. This is a problem with anything that plugs in, as far as I can tell.
It means that taking preventative measures (such as always backing up your work) or having a Plan B (such as an alternative way of achieving the same thing even if the technology has let you down) is an absolute must. As far as I am aware, examination bodies will not accept a failed computer as an excuse for losing one’s IT-related coursework, because they expect students to have taken suitable precautions.
They are right to be zero-tolerant in my opinion.
You can make your point with humour
Although on the face of it Blues songs are full of doom and gloom, there is also a fair helping of humour. For example, there’s the slightly farcical:
I got 29 ways to make it my baby’s door
I got 29 ways to make it my baby’s door
And if she needs me bad I can find about two or three more
(From 29 Ways)
Or the exaggerated:
You know, I have worn out my shoes
And now I’m wearing out my socks
(From No Escape From The Blues)
Or the wry and dry observation that:
If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all
(From Born Under A Bad Sign)
These lyrics get their point across successfully because of the humorous way in which they’re expressed, and I’m sure that instructions related to ICT would be far more effective (memorable) if expressed with bit of humour rather than through lists of Don’ts, as I discussed in ICT Posters: Credit Rating.
East Point Police in the USA has very helpfully made available a citizens' self-arrest form. The idea is that if you witness a crime you can perform a citizen’s arrest. If you commit a crime you can arrest yourself! I wonder if any school would be brave enough to introduce a Responsible Use Policy that used a bit of humour to help make it more memorable?
I realise that this is not the usual sort of article to appear on this website, and also that much of what is written here does not apply exclusively to ICT. But the exercise was an interesting one for me, and I hope you have found it so too. You might even try it yourself, or encourage your pupils to. Take something you enjoy and are interested in, and see how many parallels you can draw with ICT (or any other aspect of the curriculum).
It strikes me that one happy outcome of such an exercise would be that you would gain further insight into how your pupils view ICT – and perhaps even their understanding or misunderstanding of it.