Deciphering Computing Education: Digital Literacy, Information Technology, and Computer Science

Computing education is an essential component of 21st-century learning. But as we all know, it can feel a little like venturing into uncharted territory. Today, we’ll delve into a perspective of computing education advocated by Miles Berry, a renowned expert in computing education. Berry’s model neatly divides the computing curriculum into three distinct, yet interrelated areas: Digital Literacy, Information Technology, and Computer Science. This three part approach not only enriches our understanding but also empowers us to facilitate more effective learning experiences, both as teachers and as subject leads.

So in brief Berry classifies computing in the curriculum as falling into:

Computer Science – The foundations

Information Technology – The applications (and the application of them!)

Digital Literacy – The implications

I really like this thinking map of the subject as it helps to organise, prioritise and consider computing education in a number of ways. Let’s dig into each of these pillars in more detail:

Digital Literacy

Firstly, Berry emphasizes Digital Literacy, which is about understanding, utilising, and engaging with digital technologies responsibly and effectively. DL is centred around understanding and implications. It answers the ‘why’ behind our digital choices and actions. Think of it as the new literacy for the digital age, akin to reading, writing, and arithmetic. It’s about ensuring students can navigate the digital world, critically evaluate information, understand online etiquette, and respect privacy and security.

Teaching Digital Literacy equips our students with the ability to use technology tools, participate in online communities, and protect themselves from online threats. They learn about responsible digital citizenship, recognising fake news, and maintaining a positive digital footprint. These skills are crucial in a world increasingly dominated by digital technologies.

Through teaching DL, we equip our students with the knowledge and skills to make informed decisions in the digital world. They learn about the ethical, safety, and societal aspects of digital technology use, providing them with a balanced and mindful approach to digital interaction.

Information Technology

The second pillar of computing is Information Technology (IT). IT is the application of computing. It’s where we ensure our students can utilize a wide array of products and software to plan, develop, and create. IT-focused units cover a diverse range of media, including video, audio, art, photography, and music.

The IT strand helps our students become competent, creative, and practical users of technology. By teaching IT, we allow our students to go beyond merely consuming digital content; we encourage them to be creators and innovators in their own right, harnessing the power of digital tools to bring their ideas to life. Students should experience many different apps, tools and software, to ensure they learnt to create in writing, drawing, photography, video, audio and music, as well as opportunities to pull all these together for purposeful learning projects.

Computer Science

Here students are introduced to the principles and practices underlying all digital technologies. It’s about understanding what’s happening behind the screen – the logic, the code, and the algorithms.

Here, students learn about computational thinking, problem-solving, algorithms, and programming. They grasp how software interacts with hardware, how data is stored and manipulated, and how different technologies communicate. With these skills, students can begin to unlock the full potential of technology, not just as users, but as designers and developers.

We delve into the intricacies of how networks, including our school networks and the wider internet, function.

Teaching Computer Science is akin to pulling back the digital curtain, revealing the core principles and practices that govern the digital world. As a result, our students acquire a deep, under-the-hood understanding of the digital tools they use daily, empowering them to control and shape these tools rather than just using them.

Why This Organisation Makes Sense

Now, you might be wondering, why is Berry’s approach a good way to structure our computing curriculum? There are several compelling reasons.

Holistic Understanding: By splitting computing into these three sections, we provide students with a holistic understanding of digital technologies. They learn to use technology (Digital Literacy), apply technology (IT), and understand technology (Computer Science). It’s a comprehensive, 360-degree view that leaves no aspect of computing education untouched.

Progressive Complexity: This structure presents a progressive increase in complexity, which aligns with students’ cognitive development. They start with the basics of using technology (Digital Literacy), move to applying technology in various ways (IT), and finally delve into the more complex workings behind technology (Computer Science) in every year of their education, building on previous learning. A curriculum model that has a spiral nature built on this can be incredibly effective for this reason.

Adaptability: Berry’s three pillar approach is flexible and adaptable to different contexts, resources, and student abilities. It allows for different entry points and pathways, catering to the diversity of our learners.

Future Readiness: In an era where digital skills are becoming (at least) as important as traditional literacy and numeracy, this approach prepares students for the future. They gain the digital skills needed for further education, the workplace, and as responsible, informed citizens.

The ‘So What?’

Miles Berry’s organization of computing education presents a thoughtful, structured, and comprehensive approach. By considering it, we can ensure we are providing our students with a well-rounded, progressive, and adaptable curriculum that truly prepares them for a digital future.

Remember, our role is not merely to teach students to use technology. We’re here to empower them to understand, engage, and innovate with it. By reflecting on your own practice in light of this three pillar model, as teachers we can identify weak or uncovered areas in our practice, and as subject leads we are able to consider where the weak areas are both across each year group, phase and key stage of learning, and target CPD and resources accordingly.


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