It is one of the most commonly used generic software implemented in classrooms. Its techniques are imperative to our prospect of employment in any industry today and in the future. However, Microsoft Office and its applications is vastly being overlooked by teachers in the classroom as a key tool to the development of student ICT capability. When it comes to integrating technology in the classroom, it is not about exploring the field for the next big technological development to come around and solve that particular problem. To truly begin integrating means to exploit the available technology in your classroom at the time. Applications such as MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint and even Access possess fantastic potential for the development of student ICT capability. Students use MS Word in particularly a lot of the time and teachers expect students to use this program to complete word processing tasks such as non-assessment and assessment items. Yet, it represents a classic example of how teachers are failing to exploit the benefits of this technology by not taking the opportunity to develop student capabilities at the same time.

Emphasising higher order skills

As an ICT teacher with over 10 year’s experience behind me, I can a recall a time when I first started teaching when it was easy to pass on a set of instructions to students to be able to learn techniques about spreadsheets. In fact, it wasn’t so long ago when I was looking after a senior year class of students who were using the same strategies. However, research has shown that by doing this it only creates part of their capability. To be ICT capable you not only need to know how to use techniques, but be aware of this knowledge and be able to decide if this knowledge is appropriate to use for the particular solution. Student ICT capability is best facilitated through its development in a broad context and while MS Word is being used throughout all the curriculum to support the content learning, students are not given the opportunity in subjects to use their higher order skills in relation to the selection of ICT tools.

A significant part of the process of ICT capability development is the ability of teachers to help students increase their autonomy over the selection of ICT tools. Again we will look at the example of MS Word here, but this process can be used whenever students need to use technology for whatever purpose. With MS Word being so widespread in its use, instead of teachers just handing out tasks or activities to students and expecting them to use this application here is another method to implement. Why not spend the time with the whole class to discuss what your expectations are in relation to ICT use. Give them a choice of software to choose from and make it clear to them that they need to be able to justify their choice. In some cases, it might be needed to provide scaffolding in terms of pointing them in the right direction somehow.

What is the effect when a student unquestionably follows a set of instructions devised by someone else at to what to do such as techniques for using spredsheets?

Well, the student does not demonstrate their ICT capability. it is in using their higher order skills, in order to make decisions about how to apply the techniques they have learned, that enable them to execute the process and in so doing develop their ICT capability. ICT capability goes beyond the ability to use certain techniques; it includes conceptual understanding and making use of higher order skills.

Here is another example. Consider the activity of asking students to produce a publication using MS Publisher for instance. This would involve the following techniques (Potter & Darbyshire, 2005):

  • Selecting the page to work on;
  • Creating a number of frames;
  • Entering text into frames;
  • Selecting the text style;
  • Importing images into frames and;
  • Adjusting size/position of frames.

The decisions that students would need to make for example would include:

  • Making choices as to how many frames, in what position and what size to create;
  • Making choices as to which text style to use in different places;
  • Making choices as to which images to import;
  • Making choices as to the size and position of the frames.

Monitoring and intervening

Another method that is not being implemented throughout all subjects is the process of teachers actively monitoring and intervening in their students’ use of MS Word on computers. While teachers do typically do this it usually relates to the subject learning and is also used to keep students on task as a part of classroom management strategies. Monitoring is important when it comes to student ICT activities for that particular reason. However, research has shown that it is the best method of assessing the ICT capability of students. For this to occur, a simple checklist skills would be required or just observing for the most experienced. Teachers would need to have these strategies in place before

Intervening has been shown in research to be crucial in the aide of the development of ICT skills plus it is also is excellent in providing the opportunity to further enhance student higher order skills when it comes to using ICT. These can either planned or unplanned interventions. Despite this, it is doubtful that teachers in the classroom are not intervening for the sake of the development of student ICT capability.

 

The impact of an ICT capable teacher

Today, studies (Kennewell et al., 2000) have found that most teachers are confident in their use of word processors and DTP software like MS Word and Publisher.  For strategies such as the above, the extent that a teacher conducts these processes relies significantly on the ICT capability level of the teacher themselves. Their personal knowledge of the potential of the program and the techniques of operation have a resounding impact on the level of ICT capability that a student will achieve. For example, if a teacher was ICT capable and his/her knowledge and skills were up-to-date and advanced enough for the person to feel confident in the use of a program like MS Word, then they would sometimes be willing to allow students to explore new features themselves.

MS Word is not only an application that we use at school. Many teachers also have computers at their own residence with the software on it as well. The frequent use of MS Word for example both at home and school by teachers enables them to capitalise on its features in the classroom. It means spending the time with the software to know it in a way that you will learn the features of it that can assist students in their learning. This is what defines teachers as ICT capable.

 

When I think back to the time when even myself in the classroom expected students to use software such as MS Word in any of the assessment and non-assessment items that I gave them, my level of understanding on all the missed opportunities increases. Teachers today are still doing what they were trained to do and know what works for them. However, the 21st century calls for change in the way that we teach. With the decline in the student ICT skills according to the latest NAPLAN results looming over our heads it is time that teachers start to become the catalyst of change in their classrooms. As Bennett (1997) states “to develop children’s ICT capability to the full, they need to be given opportunities to use more intellectually challenging content-free software such as word processors, painting and drawing programs or databases where the child’s level of control and decision making is high.” Such a statement represents significant opportunities for teachers to make change happen by implementing key strategies that will develop student ICT capability. The widespread use of the generic software such as MS Office in all subjects allows this occur. In a time where digital skills are essential to have if we are to move forward in our society, the effective use of content-free software like MS Office and the like is critical.