Let me first make it clear I’m not talking about software hacking, but about lifehacks. A lifehack is ‘a tip, trick, or efficient method for doing or managing a day-to-day task or activity’ (source: Dictionary.com).
This post will show you some tools and functions in Canvas that you may not have been aware of, which can save you time and stress.
See what’s what.
Sometimes we have so much information available to us we can’t find what we are looking for. In Canvas, most teaching staff use the Card View on their Dashboards. This option has some great little tools to help you make it easier to see what you are looking for.
Not every module you have a current role on needs to be on your Dashboard. By using the ‘star’ icon in your list of Modules you can choose which cards appear on your dashboard. So you can keep your teaching modules where you see them first, and others where you might have less involvement (as moderator, for example), can stay in the Modules list.
Even within the collection of cards you want on your Dashboard there are likely to be some you use more often than others. You can rearrange the cards on your Dashboard into any order you prefer, so the ones at the top can be the ones you access most often.
You can move cards by dragging and dropping, or by using the Move options under the 3 dots on each card.
If you have several cards with the same or similar names (such as undergraduate and postgraduate versions) you can add a Nickname that only you will see to help identify them. The real name of the module will still appear underneath your chosen Nickname.
Some people like to use colours to distinguish between things. Whilst not something we would advocate generally, as it is not accessible, here we are talking about things only you will see. So if it helps you, go ahead and use the card colour option to change the colour of the dot, the title, and if there’s no module image, the colour of the card itself.
There is also an option to have a colour overlay on all the cards on your Dashboard. This is on by default, but if you don’t need it, you can turn it off from the 3 dots at the top of the Dashboard. This will generally make your Dashboard look brighter and card images clearer.
For these and more options to personalise your Dashboard see the Canvas Guide (please note, Canvas uses the term Courses for what we call Modules).
Turn back time.
We all make mistakes from time to time, and Canvas gives you a couple of options for undoing them.
When you are editing a Page it is easy to accidentally delete something important, or maybe you changed your mind about some changes. As an editor you have the option to view all the previous versions of a Page (please note this only applies to Pages, not other types of content). You can select a version to look at it and then click on Restore this revision to make it the current version.
Because you have this tool available it’s a good idea to Save often while making big changes to a Page so if you do need to go back, you won’t lose too much progress.
If you accidentally delete an item from your Canvas site it is probably not gone for good. If you type /undelete at the end of the site’s URL (so if your module URL was https://canvas.sussex.ac.uk/courses/45679 it would become https://canvas.sussex.ac.uk/courses/45679/undelete) you will see Assignments, Quizzes, Announcements, Pages, Units and more that has been deleted from the site. To restore something just click the Restore button – disaster averted!
As always, if you want any help with these tools, please contact your Learning Technologist via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last month, 46 colleagues participated in the first ever Education Festival at Sussex. The sun was shining on the ACCA on May 4th, perfect for a half-day dedicated to sharing good practice, research and innovation in teaching and learning.
After some refreshments, we began the day with a welcome from Kelly Coate, who placed the Education Festival in its wider context, such as the DARE to Transform network and associated Pedagogical Revolution events. We then began our first panel of speed presentations dedicated to building inclusive learning communities.
Up first, Katherine Kruger and Heather Taylor presented reflections on their inclusivity connector project, which explored how students’ racialised identities impact their learning experience here at Sussex. Katherine and Heather shared their students’ reflections so far, including how inclusive initiatives can be othering and the need to make space for students’ own perspectives and experiences in the classroom. Next, Dorina Cadar shared her thoughts managing emotions in the classroom, including practical advice on how we can respect and use those emotions to support students’ learning experiences. Lastly, Clare Hardman and Adam Bradley presented reflections on their pilot module mentoring project, alongside some humorous illustrations! They explored an issue we’ve all been thinking about a lot recently: encouraging student participation.
The second speed panel focused on assessment and feedback. Josephine Van-Ess introduced self-reflective logs and their potential for life-long learning. Then, Masters students, Tsholo Molefe and Marlene Gadzirayi, drew on their experiences of writing self-reflective logs to explain how powerful they can be, in particular for developing a sense of belonging and empowering students in their learning journey. Sam Hemsley showed us Buddycheck, a new peer evaluation and scoring platform which will be integrated into Canvas from September. The tool simplifies the collection and review of peer comments and scores on contributions to group work, and provides students with automated feedback. Lastly, Jo Tregenza showed us an alternative assessment from a unit of work on the needs of pupils with EAL and bereavement. Over the semester, her students compile sketchbooks full of activities and reflections, with some truly inspiring results.
After a break (with our Education Festival playlist in the background), we divided into two groups for the interactive sessions. First up, participants had the choice between Lucila Newell and Brena Collyer de Aguiar’s workshop on gamified learning practices, or Carli Rowell’s workshop on staff student co-creation. Lucila and Brena introduced a new gamified Online Distance Learning module. They explained why gamified learning is effective and allowed attendees to try one of the module challenges by imagining themselves in 2047. Carli introduced us to the pedagogic motivations behind student co-creation and showed us how she co-created one of her modules with her students. Drawing on this experience, Carli then offered a guide to embedding co-creation in the curriculum. Next up, Brena and Helen Todd shared their practical learnings from supporting online students. Examples included providing audio recordings of content for students so they have flexibility and where are how they study. Meanwhile in Marcelo Staricoff’s workshop on dis-metacognition, two volunteers were asked to demonstrate the different experiences of navigating the ‘pit of not knowing’, before we considered practical examples, including framing learning outcomes as questions.
After lunch, we enjoyed another speed panel which focused on different ways of disseminating scholarship. Sue Robbins introduced us to the Infographics Project, which is exploring novel and engaging ways of communicating scholarship. Catrina Hey informed us about an innovative Library pilot project focusing on creating open access teaching resources, and Sarah Watson introduced us to a new online resource dedicated to developing the scholarship of teaching and learning. The new webpage has cross-disciplinary and disciplinary specific resources, as well as a guide to progression for colleagues on Education and Scholarship pathways.
Lastly, we could not host an Education Festival in 2023 without the mention of the infamous generative AI! Sam Hemsley provided us with a timely awakening post-lunch with the deliberately provocative statement: ‘ChatGPT means the essay is dead’. The statement was certainly divisive! We split into groups to discuss our initial reactions to Sam’s statement before opening our Solution Room. Participants considered whether they agreed with the statement, and what the implications for future assessment could be. Thoughts varied from practical, immediate actions such as how we can design written assignments to be more robust in the face of AI, to the fundamental, pedagogical underpinnings of how and why we assess students. We ended with a call to action in the form of a new community of practice focused on generative AI. If you’re interested in being a part of this community, please email the Academic Development team who will let you know what’s coming up.
Overall, we were thrilled with our first Education Festival at Sussex. The day felt very collegial and ‘warm’, and we left with pages of notes and further avenues for development. Thank you again to all of our speakers and participants. We hope to see you and many more for more education fun at the festival next year.
Links to presentations in this post are limited to University of Sussex staff only
When I started my English PhD in the US, it was expected that I would teach the introductory composition courses that are required for all first-year students. I was surprised to find that I did not really know how to speak to my students about writing. During my undergraduate English degree in the UK, I had picked up how to write a literary analysis essay, albeit with much confusion along the way, but I still did not know how to explain and conceptualise the conventions of my discipline nor how it was different from writing in other disciplines. Later, after training as a Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) fellow and in my role as an Associate Professor of English, I learned more about the US’s approach to writing, which is one that embeds writing and metacognitive reflection about writing in multiple spaces across the curriculum. Now that I am an Academic Developer at Sussex, I see that much has changed since I left the UK and that teaching academic skills, especially student writing, is an important topic of conversation. Thus, in this blog, I will give a brief overview of WAC in the US, and, while acknowledging the differences between higher education in both countries, I will discuss what we might learn from the US’s more systematised approach to developmental writing.
What is Writing Across the Curriculum in the U.S?
Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) is an initiative in US higher education that calls for frequent opportunities for students to write, revise, and discuss writing in all their classes, not only in introductory writing courses. The idea behind WAC is to help students develop their writing skills while learning the content of various subjects. WAC encourages active learning and the construction of knowledge through writing and reflection, all of which help students to develop critical skills for success in all fields of study and in the workforce. WAC programmes in the US support collaboration between writing instructors and faculty in different subject areas to develop assignments that are contextualised and relevant to the learning objectives of each course, while also providing students with opportunities to practise and develop their writing skills.
Over half of all universities in the US have dedicated WAC programmes, but in Britain WAC is mostly a primary and secondary school initiative (Russell, 1991). Why is this? Structural differences between US and UK higher education can explain why WAC did not take off in the UK. Students in the UK specialise earlier, narrowing down their disciplinary focus for A-Levels. The British degree is shorter and more focused, and assessment is largely essay and exam based. By contrast, students in the US study a wide range of subjects until they graduate from high school. At the university level, students spend their first year taking a range of general education courses and enrol in composition classes to practise academic writing and research. Students in the US usually do not decide upon their disciplinary focus, their major, until they are in the second year.
WAC emerged in the US when scholars in the field of composition and rhetoric argued that writing is central to disciplinary teaching and learning and that it should be embedded across the curriculum and contextualised within a particular discipline (Bean & Meltzer, 2021). WAC includes Writing to Learn (WTL), writing activities that allow students to learn foundational concepts and instructors to check students’ understanding of material, and Writing in the Discipline (WID), the embedding of writing within the genres and conventions of specific subjects. Shanahan and Shanahan (2012) note that: disciplines “differ extensively in their fundamental purposes, genres, symbolic artifacts, traditions of communication, evaluation standards of quality and precision, and use of language” (9). Thus, WID develops authentic writing tasks for audiences that students will write for when they are professionals and promotes classroom reading and writing using materials that support the development of content-specific knowledge.
WAC and WID promote writing beyond the traditional essay by having students read and write in genres that mimic professional writing and that introduce students to the conventions of a discipline, such as grant proposals, progress reports, management plans, lab reports, position papers, literature reviews, case studies, and many more depending on the discipline. Students engage in rhetorical analyses of disciplinary genres that not only focus on content but also on rhetorical elements such as scope and focus, organisation, types of evidence used, use of citations and style, and they record what they learn in reading and “jargon” journals. These writing activities help students to practise critical thinking skills that are relevant to analyses in their chosen discipline and to provide a broader field-wide context for the subject (WAC Clearinghouse). WID asks faculty to make it more explicit to students how they are participating in a particular discourse community that has its own way of thinking, reading, and speaking.
WAC in UK Higher Education
Earlier specialisation in UK higher education has meant that students are expected to be familiar with the writing conventions for their discipline when they enter university. Yet, there has been a long-held concern that students do not know how to write, which has only intensified with the recent emphasis on Widening Participation and inclusivity. Indeed, with the changing context of higher education, we can no longer assume that all students will be proficient in academic writing when they start their degree. Wingate (2009) notes that in contrast to the US, writing support in UK higher education often takes a remedial approach and skills are taught separately from the subjects students are studying for their degree (A15). As a result, students struggle to understand the requirements of their discipline and what lecturers expect of them.
In their study of UK higher education, Lea and Street (1998) found that what faculty viewed as good writing, and the type of feedback they provided students, was defined through “implicit assumptions about what constitute valid knowledge within a particular context,” assumptions that were not clearly understood by students unfamiliar with the language and writing conventions of that discipline. They argue, therefore, that student writing in UK higher education should be understood not only through a study skills model but through an academic literacies approach, which like WAC, acknowledges that “From the student point of view a dominant feature of academic literacy practices is the requirement to switch practices between one setting and another, to deploy a repertoire of linguistic practices appropriate to each setting, and to handle the social meanings and identities that each evokes” (Academic Literacies).
While some universities have established writing centres that promote WAC and WID, there has been a mixed response to introducing Writing Across the Curriculum in U.K. higher education. Clughen and Connell (2011) report that although faculty support for writing instruction is high, there is often tension between literacy development tutors who argue that students need to learn writing in the context of a particular discipline and lecturers who prefer the provision of skills-based support outside of subject curricula (333). This debate, they note, raises doubts as to whether WAC’s integrative approaches to writing development can be incorporated into UK higher education because the issue of who is responsible for writing instruction is still contested (334).
Despite these challenges, as the University of Sussex embarks on its ambitious Curriculum Reimagined, especially in its goals to be entirely inclusive and future-proofed, we should consider what we can learn from WAC’s focus on engaging students in constructive and experiential learning. As well as embedding employability initiatives across the curriculum, there should be an emphasis on supporting and developing partnerships between writing specialists and faculty so that writing instruction is embedded within specific writing cultures and aligned with the specific expectations of different disciplines.
At Sussex, the Academic Skills Hub already offers support to faculty in the embedding of academic skills across the curriculum, and the Academic Skills team, led by Clare Hardman, is keen to collaborate with faculty in the disciplines. Russell (1991) points out that lecturers are crucial partners in this endeavour because they “bring to bear their resources as specialists, addressing the unique curricular and pedagogical problems of their disciplines” (19). Since the U.K degree is shorter and there is less time and space than in the American curriculum, it is important that WID initiatives are mapped along with course learning outcomes to allow for progressive interventions in the curriculum over the course of a degree.
WAC does not look the same in every institution, but a more recognised and systemised recognition of WAC pedagogy could help to solve some of the most contested debates about student writing. For instance, viewing writing as a mode of learning rather than a means of assessment brings a different perspective to the debate about Artificial Intelligence technologies such as ChatGTP. In their statement about AI, the Association of Writing Across the Curriculum (AWAC) noted that although AI can be integrated in fruitful ways into writing pedagogy, it cannot facilitate the kind of deep learning that happens when students construct knowledge through writing to learn or through writing in the context of a particular discipline. The statement concludes by reaffirming best practices in WAC pedagogy:
Current AI discussions remind us, yet again, of long-established best practices in Writing Across the Curriculum, grounded in research and extant for decades: designing meaningful and specific assignments that foster learning and develop skills; focusing on processes and practices such as peer-response and revision; encouraging writing in multiple genres, including ones connected to specific disciplinary practices (2023, para. 7).
Perhaps most importantly, WAC initiatives promote equity and inclusivity by seeking to ensure that all students have access to the tools they need to succeed in college and beyond. Moreover, by helping students to see that literacy is socially situated and contextualised, WAC encourages critical thinking and innovation. Being able to identify the ways in which academic writing is constructed to establish and promote the values of specific academic cultures also reveals the ways in which those who do not share this culture’s way of thinking, writing, and speaking are excluded. Indeed, Clugen and Hardy (2012) argue that integrated approaches to writing are “not just about socialising students into a particular writing culture, but also about opening opportunities for them to enter into a dialogue about and even shape the cultural convention of writing so that their individual contexts are recognised as being central to the culture in which they are participating in” (xxiii). In this, WAC and WID can engender the very transformational learning that is at the heart of Sussex’s mission.
Wingate, U., Andon, N., & Cogo, A. (2011). Embedding academic writing instruction into Subject teaching: A case study. Active Learning in Higher Education, 12(1), 69–81. https://doi.org/10.1177/1469787410387814
The recent Global Accessibility Awareness Day got me thinking of whether there’s just one thing you can do as module convenor to improve the accessibility of your Canvas module sites for next year. But I kept coming up with just one more thing. So here’s a fewthings you can do when setting up your Canvas module sites to make them more accessible.
Use the Canvas Accessibility Checker
An oldie but a goodie. When editing your pages in Canvas, always use the accessibility checker before saving. But using that doesn’t cover everything on your module site. You also need to:
Fix the alternative text in files before uploading.
Before I started my role here at Sussex, I worked at another institution, whose virtual learning environment (VLE) had a handy tool which not only checked the pages of the module sites, but the content of any files uploaded to module sites too. The number one issue with accessibility across the VLE? Missing alternative text on images in files uploaded to the modules. By a mile.
Now, Canvas doesn’t have that handy tool, and I’m not suggesting we switch our VLE, but let’s assume that our files are probably in a similar state. What can you do?
It may feel overwhelming to retrospectively check all of the files on your Canvas sites. But you can start making a difference by checking that all the images in a file have alternative text, before you upload the file to Canvas. You can use the accessibility checker in Office to help. Just doing that will make a big difference for making your Canvas module more accessible. If the accessibility checker throws up other issues, our Digital Accessibility Toolkit can help you fix them.
Avoid veering from your schools agreed module layout.
All schools have module templates to give students a consistent experience when navigating different module sites. Having certain links or information in the same place on all module sites makes it easier for all students to find what they need quickly but is especially important to support neurodivergent students. The Web Content Accessibility Guidelines consortium (WCAG) state that ’predictability in navigation, … increases accessibility for all users, in particular those with autism, ADHD, and other neurodivergent ways of interacting with their environment.’ [WCAG Blog. (2022). Digital Accessibility and Neurodiversity: Designing for Our Unique and Varied Brains. Accessed 18/05/2022]
So wherever possible, stick to the agreed template structure for your school: Keep the left-hand menu links in the same order; stick to the agreed page layout and location of key information; don’t rename key links. And follow this year’s guide to updating key information for your school to ensure consistency.
That’s just a few things you can do to make your Canvas module sites for the coming year more accessible. Do you have any other tips to share? If so, please let us know via the comments below. And if you need any help with anything to do with your module set-up, including the accessibility checks mentioned above, please contact your Learning Technologist via email@example.com
I’m hoping to tell you something you already know. This post is as much a celebration of the team I work in as it is a mission statement for the year ahead. This is a post about kindness. First, some reflections.
Reflection 1: Our team
Over the last year, our team of Learning Technologists have all either been new to Sussex, started a new role within the team or had their role changed in some manner. Over and above this, we’re all working in different ‘post-pandemic’ ways. As a hybrid team, we’re in the office some of the week, at home the rest. Some of our team are on reduced hours, some on compressed hours. The support for flexible working at Sussex appears to be, well… working.
As the manager of this team, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on how to get this balance right, how we become a great team and how to ensure we’re meeting the needs of the individuals in this team and those of the university.
Reflection 2: What is a learning technologist anyway?
As Learning Technologists, one of our fundamental activities is building relationships. Across the organisation we work with central teams, school teams, senior leaders and students. Building relationships enables us to affect change, question existing norms, and enable people to feel comfortable addressing any perceived shortcomings in using technology for the betterment of their and their students’ experience.
Unofficial motto 1: Embrace the chaos
It’s well documented across the sector how varied the role is, let alone the title. There is a great series over on the #ALTC blog about it. Our work often takes us on journeys around the institution, picking up pieces from various initiatives, starting our own or helping people build their confidence in the classrooms. There is no typical day and priorities shift daily.
Unofficial motto 2: Don’t be afraid to be the idiot
We expect our colleagues to recognise their own need for development, often requiring colleagues to accept they need help or have a digital skills gap. So we expect this of ourselves, we challenge each other to feel comfortable asking the ‘silly questions’, if not, how can we expect people to be comfortable doing that with us?
Reflection 3: The climate in and around higher education
In recent years, I feel there has been a shift in the underlying themes of conversations within and around academia. Themes of kindness, inclusion, community, conversation and relationships have been recurring. Having recently attended events on the topics of learning technology and student-staff partnership activity, it really stood out to me just how front and centre some of this stuff is.
Perhaps the pandemic and the need for collective healing have contributed to this shift in tone. Or maybe recent tensions across the academic community have forced various communities to rally around and rebuild bridges. Whatever the reason, this shift has resonated with many individuals and teams, including ours.
So, against the ever shifting landscape of the UK higher education world we inhabit, how do we build as a team, grow in the roles and meet the needs of our colleagues across the organisation?
Can you keep a secret?
[Whispers] Kindness is the cheat code. Really, it’s magic. Recently the Educational Enhancement (EE) team won the Inclusive Sussex Award at the education awards, for demonstrating one or more of the Sussex values. Kindness being one.
At the beginning of the academic year, two thirds of the the Learning Technologist team within EE were new to the role and half were new to the organisation, yet they have achieved an incredible amount in no time at all. I’ve little hesitation in attributing this to the immense kindness they show each other, and importantly to themselves, in allowing themselves to ‘be the idiot’, to ask the silly questions and build relationships founded on, you guessed it, kindness.
As I head into my second year in this job, my focus will go deeper into asking, what does being a Learning Technologist at Sussex mean? I think by having the above reflections, I already know what the foundations are for this. It starts with kindness, to others in building relationships, and to ourselves in being comfortable with vulnerability.
As we move forward, our team of Learning Technologists will make it our mission to prioritise kindness, it’s the cheat code, the rest will fall into place.
Over the years I have seen and responded to academic and senior management interest in usage data to support teaching and learning. Digital tools often provide access to data to provide insight to how they are being used. This helps better manage our time and effort, as well as resource. For this post, I have asked Benoit Sharp, the ITS trainer, to contribute and help promote the support and resources the University offer.
Data, for example Panopto usage data, can have filters added to reduce what we see to specific areas of interest. There are other options available to manage and view, but another of my favourites is the freeze panes option, which allows me to be sure what fields the data is part of with large volumes of data. There is often a need to do more with exported data, like make checks and extract parts of it, and this is where functions and formulas come in. Here are some examples:
SUM is useful for quickly totalling a range’s values.
SUMIF allows totalling of numerical data based on data in another range.
COUNT allows us to count up numeric instances, and similarly COUNTIF will count instances but based on a criteria.
VLOOKUP allows us to use multiple data tables, to bring across data, where a column value (like a name or id) exists in both tables.
IF can be used by itself, or expanded upon, to create a field with data from checking another field (you could check if people are revising based on recent dates).
My final functions to mention are LEFT and RIGHT, which allow you to create a field with data and take a number of characters from another field, either starting from the left or the right. More information on functions and formulas in Excel can be found in this video Excel Formulas and Functions Quick Tips.
A quick point about General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) when gathering data and analysing it. Any use of personal data must be necessary and proportionate, so Canvas data use should be reasonable, and usually linked with teaching and assessment. In most cases you should be making the data anonymous and creating your own summaries. If you have any queries about data protection, please contact GDPR@sussex.ac.uk
Support for analysing data and understanding Excel is available to you at Sussex. EE can help you understand what data is available and how to act upon your findings (contact your School LT or email firstname.lastname@example.org). ITS can provide you with access to data (where needed) and will offer training material to develop your skills. You can contact ITS by visiting the ITS website and clicking on the ‘Contact us for help’ tile to open a support ticket.
Do you use Canvas Announcements to let your students know about events your school is running? Are students not responding to important announcements, only for you to find that they have disabled that notification channel?
A Student Communications Survey by Middlesex University London found that almost a quarter of students say that they receive too many emails, with 14% opting not to access their university email account on their phones. It is important to keep students informed, but with so much information to share, it can be easy to fall into the trap of posting too many announcements in your VLE. This can be overwhelming for students, and it can also make it difficult for them to find the information they need.
Feedback from students in a recent University of Sussex Education Committee Report states that ’students are receiving too many emails‘ and that ’lecturers have complained that students are not reading emails because they are being too overwhelmed by the mass‘. Announcements about school events were specifically cited as contributing to the volume. Students (and staff!!) reach ‘announcement fatigue’ which results in them muting all announcements from certain channels.
Here are a few tips on how to avoid posting too many announcements:
Only post announcements that are truly important. Before you post an announcement, ask yourself if it’s necessary. If you’re not sure, err on the side of caution and don’t post it.
Group related announcements together. If you have several announcements, group them together in one post. This will make it easier for students to find the information they need.
Apply a time limit to your announcements. Regularly review and delete old announcements after a set period – the recommended period is two weeks, maximum. This limits the amount of scrolling students need to do to reach important information on the page. Operate a ’one in – one out‘ policy to stay on top of announcement administration, with a limit on the number of announcements in play at any time.
Keep your announcements short and to the point. Get to the point quickly to make it easy for students to find the information they need.
Use the Canvas Course Calendar to hold information about events. Store school events in an account calendar to avoid duplication and instruct students how they can subscribe to the calendar when you send out other messages.
Use clear and concise language. When you write an announcement, be sure to use clear and concise language. Avoid using jargon or technical terms that your students might not understand.
By following these tips, you can avoid posting too many VLE announcements and keep your students informed without overwhelming them.
When I first worked in EdTech towards the end of the noughties, a rather catchy and exciting term was emerging in our conversations: children born after 1990ish were ‘Digital Natives’; they had spent the entirety of their lives in a digital world and were believed (did anyone really believe this?) to be as comfortable with electronics as my dear old grandad would have been with a yoyo. Of course we were blithely overlooking the fact that my grandad was not born able to use a yoyo and he had to be taught its art, much in the way he taught my brother (born after 1990) the very same. At a recent event held at the University of Sussex by ICT for Education, Tig Williams, a school teacher in Computing, explained very clearly: ‘There’s no such thing as a digital native; if you give a six-year-old an Excel spreadsheet they will not just start auto-formatting the cells.’
Tig went on in his interesting presentation to explain some facts about ICT in schools which shocked me, and I spent most of my working life in schools. Having carried out some further research, I ask if you knew the following:
It is mandatory for high schools in England to offer GCSE Computing and not doing so can cause them to fail an Ofsted inspection.
While computing must be taught to children aged 5-16, it is not necessary to choose it in ‘options*’.
Schools have such difficulty recruiting Computer Science teachers that many of them cannot offer GCSEs in the course.
According to a 2022 Government report, over 50% of teachers delivering the Computing course at secondary school do not have a higher qualification in the subject.
The shortage of resources and other factors can mean that a lot of younger children are taught shorter courses in Computing than the National Curriculum requires.
Schools with higher rates of economic hardship in the community are less likely to offer Computing as a GCSE subject.
In 2022, approximately 16% of GCSE students took exams in Computing.
Approximately 4/5 of students who take GCSE Computing are boys.
Clearly this is not the Brave New World we envisioned for 2023 when those BBC Basics were wheeled into the primary schools of the 1980s, but what does it mean for the school leavers who join us every September and whom we assume come with levels of digital literacy which do not reflect the reality?
It is important to note that the GCSE in Computing is far from the only indicator of digital literacy and that students who can code, program or hack are not necessarily going to find our apps and platforms easy. Indeed, the opposite can be true. It is also important to make it clear that while our Freshers may arrive with gadgets and devices that could outperform an early space rocket, that doesn’t mean they know how the tools actually work. I’m reminded of a job I had over ten years ago where I trained supermarket cashiers on how to use and support the self-scan machines. As you can imagine, a lot of my learners saw themselves as ‘not very technical’, products of a ‘different education’ and even ‘too old’ to learn. It was a common refrain that I was ‘wasting [my] time’ and that only ‘they [gesture to the Saturday kids] would understand’. In response I would ask the group if anyone had ever used a twin-tub washing machine; many had. I would select someone to explain to us the process and they would recount, word-for-word and step-by-step, the entire task. They would include moments when they had to use their judgement to change the water, the temperature, whatever, and they would do so with the tone of a true expert. We would then ask one of the teenagers to explain how the washing machine in their home worked: ‘You press the button’ would be the reply and thereby demonstrate that access to a technologically advanced bit of kit does not make the user advanced.
Our students have access to some of the most sophisticated tools ever created and their exposure to digital content is unparalleled. They are consumers and creators, but it is unfair to assume they are experts. If you are reading this and are one of the tutors here at Sussex, perhaps consider putting some time aside to make sure your students know how to find the resource you’re directing them to or how to use a digital resource they might be unfamiliar with. As always, if you’d like to explore ways to use digital technology in your teaching and would like some support in that, you can reach us at email@example.com.
*options = colloquial term for the subjects students choose to take for GCSE, also used to refer to the process of selecting these subjects.