Why Is ICT Boring?

Not all youngsters are bored in their ICT* lessons, of course, but it’s a sufficiently common complaint to have made me do a mental double-take when Maddi, an Australian teenager, happened to mention that she actually enjoyed her ICT lessons.

Photograph is (c) Nicole Zimmer (See References) This area is fraught with anecdote, meaning that perfectly sensible professionals who understand, at least on an intuitive level, the need for statistical robustness will feel no embarrassment at declaring that they “know” ICT lessons are boring because their neighbour’s daughter’s best friend told them so. This is on a par with the “arguments” I used to have to counter when I first started teaching, my subject being Economics:

Student: I don’t think unemployment is that much of a problem in this country.

Me: What makes you think that?

Student: Well, our neighbour three doors down has been offered loads of jobs but he just keeps turning them down.

Me: Do you think your neighbour is representative of three million other people then?

Of course, notwithstanding all this, the truth of the matter is that youngsters often are bored in ICT lessons, which is why a few years ago I published Go On, Bore ‘Em: How to make ICT lessons excruciatingly dull. It’s not just a figment of my imagination either. The Royal Society has just launched a new educational research project to address:

… growing concerns that the design and delivery of the ICT and computing curricula in schools is putting young people off studying the subject further.

I’m going to be serialising some extracts from my book over the next ten days, because despite having been written five years ago it is still (unfortunately) relevant. 

There's no doubt that teachers do start with a huge disadvantage, namely that youngsters often are  more tech-savvy than they, the teachers, are. However, I think this is true only to an extent. In my experience, not only is it not true that all  young people are so-called "digital natives" (see The Myth of the Digital Native) , but even those who are tend to be so on a pretty superficial level, although I can see that I am about to descend to the level of anecdote, so I'll not take that argument any further for now.

It isn't important anyway, because what matters is not whether youngsters are digital natives, but whether teachers perceive them to be. If you start out with an underlying sense that the people you're teaching know more about the subject than you do, your self-confidence in those circumstances is not likely to be terribly high. 

In compiling my ideas for the book I identified ten key issues which ICT teachers should address in order to avoid their lessons being yawn-worthy. For example, the beginnings and endings of lessons often need to be tightened up. Another "biggie" is setting tasks which are inherently boring. This gives rise to another issue, namely that tasks set in ICT lessons can be supremely unchallenging.

A task that has the dubious merit of ticking both of these boxes is copying data from a paper handout to a spreadsheet. I once asked a teacher what he thought the educational value of that activity was, and he replied that it was good keyboarding practise.

"But", I said to him. "The aims of your lesson didn't include keyboarding, and that's not in the National Curriculum anyway."

So do I think that all ICT lessons have to be full of multimedia whizz-bangery? Not at all. In my opinion, setting a challenging and meaningful task that you can get your teeth into is what matters. Spreadsheets, for instance, are not inherently boring, but the tasks associated with them often are.

I'll be going into a little more detail on such matters over the next couple of weeks, starting tomorrow. In the meantime you may wish to read these articles:

How good is the teaching of ICT? An interview with Edith, an English teenager

Should Games Be Played in Secondary School ICT Lessons?

* ICT = Information & Communications Technology