A course outline to increase relevance of IPT

A few weeks ago I posted about some apparent trends in the number of enrolments within the Queensland High School subject Information and Processing Technology (IPT). All things being equal, I’ll be qualified to teach that course in Queensland High Schools next year.

One of the assignments I had to complete was to design a work plan for a single year of an IPT course. The following is an edited extract of the design I came up with and its rationale. The design was expressed in the formal structure used in Queensland schools, the following just gives the main points.

Introduction

The Queensland Authority subject Information Processing and Technology (IPT), and other school subjects in Information and Communication Technology (ICT), are boring. That is one of the findings made by Anderson et al (2008) from their survey of 1453 Queensland senior high school girls. This is but one contributing factor to worldwide trends that show a reduction in total enrolments in IPT courses and a very low rate of female participation in those courses (Anderson et al., 2008; Koppi, Sheard, Naghdy, Edwards, & Brookes, 2010; Lasen, 2010).

These trends are visible in IPT enrolments in Queensland schools. Figure 1 shows the percentage of all Queensland OP students enrolled in IPT (1992-2010) split by gender. Male enrolment has dropped from a peak of just over 35% in 2002 to under 20% in 2010. The female participation rate has never exceeded 10% and currently sits at under 3%.

Percentage of gender enrolments
Figure 1. The percentage of male and female OP students enrolled in IPT (1992-2010)

Figure 2 shows the same trends using the average number of students per school that is offering IPT. On average, an IPT class in 2010 has less than 10 students with less than 2 of those students being female. Addressing these trends is seen as a major aim of the changes being made to this work program.

# of IPT students per school
Figure 2. Average number of students enrolled in an IPT course.

The aim of IPT is to provide students with knowledge and skills to create, manipulate, store, retrieve and communicate information with a range of technological devices (QSA, 2010, p. 1). While intended to be useful to all students, IPT is known to be “closely associated contingently with transition to University computing degree programs” (Anderson et al., 2008, p. 1305). This tendency contradicts the IPT syllabus’ perspective that IPT touches many aspects of human life and is applied to diverse fields of study (QSA, 2010). In an extension of this argument, Rushkoff (2010, p. 130) suggests the ability to understand IPT people will be left to conform to the needs of the technology, rather than the other way around.

The IPT syllabus (QSA, 2010) specifies four dimensions of general objectives that must be taught. These include three assessable general objectives (Knowledge and Application, Analysis and Synthesis, and Evaluation and Communication) and a fourth group of objectives (Attitudes and values) that are not directly assessed but should be covered by learning experiences (QSA, 2010, p. 2). The syllabus outlines a total of eight topics from which material may be drawn. Two of these topics (Intelligent Systems and Computer Systems) are considered additional material. Another two (Human Computer Interface and Social and Ethical Issues) are core, but are not taught separately from other topics. The remaining four are core topics (Relational Information Systems, SQL, Software Programming, and Algorithms).

The Units

The idea is that during Year 11 these IPT students will complete the following four, term-long (10 weeks) units

  1. What is IPT and why is it important?
  2. Telling computers what to do.
  3. Manipulating and visualising big data.
  4. Using IPT to make a difference.

The following provides the unit description for each of these units. The assignment had to show the direct connections with the IPT syllabus requirements.

What is IPT and why is it important?

As IPT becomes increasingly ubiquitous and important to society, enrolment numbers in Queensland high-school IPT classes are dropping. In this unit students are charged with developing – as a group – a website that uses a variety of multi-media resources to demonstrate what IPT is and why it is an essential skill to the future of a diverse collection of professions. Students will use the information systems design cycle to design, develop and evaluate their website. Students will be exposed to a range of perspectives on and examples of the value, nature, and societal impact of IPT. They will be required to gather, query and manipulate data about IPT enrolments, student perceptions of IPT, and the perceptions of the broader community. They will be introduced to and expected to apply knowledge and understanding of web design, peer review processes, copyright and intellectual property, user-centered design, and accessibility to develop their website.

Telling computers what to do

Computers are protean, a meta-medium, they are infinitely malleable. This unit focuses on showing students how they can get computers to carry out tasks relevant to a range of professions and careers. Students will be guided in selecting a 3GL programming environment that matches the careers they examined in the previous unit. They will use their chosen 3GL to develop software that is relevant to a particular career. To do this they will be introduced to the basics of algorithms and their basic elements, algorithm design, and the basics of 3GL programming languages.

Manipulating and visualising big data

One of the biggest of the current IPT challenges is figuring out how to make sense of all of the available data. This unit focuses on providing students within an introduction to how they can query, analyse, manipulate, visualise and generate insight from “big data”. Students will be shown how to combine 3rd generational programming languages with Structured Query Language and other formal methods for manipulating information to generate insight relevant to a range of professions. To achieve this, students will also examine relevant social and ethical issues and interface design methods.

Using IPT to make a difference

The focus of this unit is on the production of a complete information system that brings together and extends previous work from this year. Students will identify and then implement and document a program that fulfils useful task relevant to a particular profession. The system will need to draw upon and extend knowledge of programming, data manipulation, human computer interface and social and ethical issues. Students will be expected to complete the entire software development life cycle.

Assessment overview

Semester Unit Conditions
1 What is IPT and why is it important? 5 week, group website developed with SDLC. Individual work, including reflective blog posts. Completed 50:50 student:class time
Telling people and computers what to do 60 minute, closed book, theory exam
Students maintain a blog folio of 3GL programs in response to required exercises.
2 Querying, manipulating and visualising big data Students maintain over 6 weeks a personal blog with both reflective journal posts and folio items of their work with big data.
Using IPT to make a difference Students design, implement, evaluate and document over the entire term a relevant computer application using the complete SDLC.

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