Rebranding & Refocusing on Applied Computer Technology

After learning about the messy history of computer studies in Ontario, I’ve been catching up on our school’s history.  The computer studies department was created just prior to the new computer curriculum in order to create a headship for a computer science teacher who has since moved on.  The headship consolidated computer technology, computer science and the school IT support role all in one place.

When computer studies (actually computer science) became its own area of study independent from the rest of computer technology in 2009, our departmental divisions minimized that damage by keeping the now separated computer studies/technology (what’s the difference? It’s hard to tell with the vague titles) together.
Was it a good idea to keep computer studies and computer technology (two apparently completely different courses of study) together?  I’d argue that it’s a pointless distinction based on a prejudice deeply ingrained in Ontario education.  Computer science teachers, like the majority of teachers, come from university/academic backgrounds.  These teachers are catered to in Ontario education with easier access to high pay grades (it’s much easier for an academic teacher to gain level 4/honours specialist).  Many technology teachers who come into teaching through industry experience and apprenticeships (many of which are as long or longer than university programs) never achieve the highest pay grades in teaching.  Teaching in Ontario is inherently geared toward academics.

When computer science was amalgamated into computer technology (as a technology course), many comp-sci teachers thought it a demotion into ‘tech’.  It took them eight years to get their academic subject back.

In a perfect world computer studies would be just that – computer studies, meaning a curriculum that addresses the subject completely from the most academic/theoretical side (computer-science) to the most applied/immediately useful (information technology, computer repair).  As in science (biology, chemistry, etc), we could have teachers with different backgrounds and training teaching complimentary subjects and collaborating within the same department.  It happens throughout the school (arts, science, tech), but apparently it can’t happen in computer studies.  I believe this is because it attempts to straddle that academic/applied divide.

Between the political history of Ontario’s computer studies and my own school’s focus on consolidating heads, it looks like our computer studies headship will go away and computer science and computer technology will fly apart.  Personally, this is a relief.  Trying to give students access to coding through a computer science department that does more photocopying than English and clings to Turing as the be-all and end-all of programming languages has been a continuing frustration.  Being able to refocus around the more open technology curriculum in comp-tech would allow me to develop real world computing skills for students, something that I think ‘computer studies’ has failed to do.

If applied computing is the focus of computer-technology, then I don’t intend to leave coding to computer science.  They can have the theoretical end of it all, and teach to university bound students interested in advanced mathematics, but I’ve long contended that coding is a universal skill that everyone should at least have a passing knowledge of, especially in the 21st Century.  To that end I’ve been remapping our course offerings in Computer Technology (as well as rebranding my subject area, because that is apparently – and sadly – what we have to do in Ontario).

A grade 9-12 curriculum of applied computer technology study using current technologies that would give students
immediately applicable skills. A student who took this path would be literate in information technology, computer
repair, networking and coding, as well as have an understanding of industry practices in all those fields.

Would this dig into computer science’s sections?  Yes, but isn’t it more important to introduce a computer technology curriculum that increases digital fluency school wide?  Computers may have once been a theoretical subject area, but they’ve long since become a daily part of our lives.  Our computer curriculum should be introducing computer fluency to as many students as possible.  Our comp-sci department hasn’t had a single girl in any senior course in the past four years.  That has to change.  Many other students who have an interest in digital technology are chased out of computer science by the photocopies, mistakenly thinking that comp-sci will teach them applicable skills.  That has to change too.

Rebranding computer studies to computer technology, because that matters to people in Ontario Education (though
it causes a lot of confusion for everyone else).  It’d be nice if pedagogy instead of prejudice dictated our computer
studies curriculums.
Here are some other pieces created for the rebranding:

Taken from’s fantastic array of promotional material and ICTC’s Canada specific technology industry research.
And yes, I cut out the word science after computer because that apparently causes confusion in Ontario.  Is this really
how we do computer studies in Ontario?  Yes, yes it is.

Here is the  post on the computer technology graphics.
Here is the post from grade 8 parent’s night, where computer studies was still a subject headship, that’s all gone now.

The computer studies prezi: showing parents a coherent focus on computer studies (comp-sci included)
The computer technology prezi: showing parents a coherent focus on applied computer technology (no comp-sci in sight).

Other Reading:

Straddling The Divide: the end of computer studies at CWDHS.
Do You Teach Computer Studies or Computer Studies?:  where Tim stumbles into the political distinctions in Ontario’s computer curriculum.

Collegiality vs Teamwork and Digital Technologies

We re-aligned our computer courses last year.  Our school formerly was one of the few with a Computer Studies Department, with computer science and computer technology courses all existing under a single banner.  Last year the department was dissolved and computer science was put under the Mathematics Department while computer technology was re-integrated with the Technology Department.

I transitioned from Computer Studies Head to a co-head of Technology, but I’m finding working in such a diverse (we cover everything from metal work to food school to digital design) department challenging.  With so many horses pulling in so many directions, I can’t help but feel that digital technologies tends to be a second thought.  Rather than feel excluded I’ve been finding ways to develop a stronger digital technologies continuum.

The computer lab has always been next to the design lab, though run by different departments.  Now that we’re on the same team so to speak, I’ve been re-thinking how digital technologies, always minimally represented in terms of classes, should work within the school.  We’ve been developing an integrated digital technologies curriculum in order to facilitate that.

With the dissolution of Computer Studies the realigning of our school’s digital technologies was inevitable.  No longer is Technology Design the lone digitally focused technology course in the department.  Combined with Computer Technology, our digital technology courses can now offer a continuum of learning across a wide variety of digital platforms.

I initially felt that dissolving the computer department was going to be bad for the discipline, but now I’m feeling a new synergy.

By drawing together our digitally focused technology courses under the many common threads they share we’re able to offer 9-12 curriculum in a wider variety of areas.  For students in a rural area where digital-tech doesn’t have the social impact it has in more urban settings this is a big deal.

The first step was to diversify our high-tech offerings.  I argued successfully at Heads for Tech-Design to offer Robotics (our tech design teacher has a background in it).  I also argued successfully for a Software Engineering option that would allow students interested in the field to experience industry standard practices around software development rather than the mathematics focus offered by computer science.

From the junior grades students get a wide variety of choice in 11 & 12 around what aspects of digital technology they want to pursue.  And even if the student isn’t going into a tech-focused profession, they are at least able to develop the kind of digital fluency that will be handy in any 21st Century workplace.  Of course, digital-tech doesn’t end at the workplace.  If we’re going to graduate citizens capable of communicating in the 21st Century, they need to have digital fluency.

I always felt isolated as the head of computers with only a part time comp-sci teacher who wasn’t interested in collaborating.  Now that I’m the co-head of tech, or perhaps Head of Digital Technologies fits better, I’m able to empower our tech-design as well as my own computer-tech fields and build a more complete set of options for our students to benefit from.

Change isn’t always easy, but in this case I feel like it’s led to a good place where teamwork and a common goal has replaced cold, distant collegiality.

A 9-12 Digital Technologies Continuum with a healthy variety of choice that will develop graduates ready to take on the challenges of the 21st Century:

The layout is so helpful I’ve expanded it out to the Technology Department as a whole: