Data Handling Skills

Data Handling Skills – across the subject

Dunnill, Richard

Data Handling Skills across the subjects. Support materials for ICT training. Principal Author and Editor Steve Hurd. Contributors Karen Brailsford, Andrew Garner, Bob Jones and Simon Uttley, Statistics for Education, 1999, 128 pages and one CD-ROM. 59 plus hAT Phone 01279-652183. Website http: llwww. statsed. co. uk ISBN 1 872849 776

Data Handling Skills describes itself as an ICT skills training package. It comes in a ring binder and consists of a set of loose-leaf photocopiable worksheets and a CD-ROM.

The CD-ROM contains the SECOS data handling program and a range of sample datasets, together with a PowerPoint presentation for trainers and Word files containing the worksheets.

The worksheets cover a number of areas: a summary of the data handling requirements of the New Opportunities Fund (NOF) ICT training, Key Skills Levels 1 to 3 and National Curriculum KS4. There is also a description of the SECOS tour, instructions on how to create a statistical database using SECOS and guidance and exercises in data handling for Key Skills and in a number of subjects at KS4 geography, history, business studies, economics, mathematics and statistics, sociology. An appendix covers the contents of the CD-ROM and provides card copies of the PowerPoint slide sets.

SECOS has been around for over ten years now and, in its current version, it remains both a valuable source of data and an accessible data handling program in its own right. The whole package declares its purposes as follows:

To support the training of teachers in the use of ICT for data handling and interpretation.

To provide training in the use of the SECOS data handling program. (p3)

So how does it measure up to these declared purposes? Well the second purpose begs a question or two. What does it imply about SECOS that it needs an additional 59 package to train teachers in its use? No, it is the first of these purposes that should act as the criterion against which to comment on the effectiveness of the package and in these terms, the answer is rather mixed.

I am convinced about the potential of SECOS in the training of teachers. There is a good literature in our subject area on the effectiveness of using student learning resources in the training of teachers, starting with the Economics Education 14-16 Project and ongoing with the Nuffield Project. What is critical, though, is the nature of the resources and activities for the teachers in training and it is here that I have some doubts about this package.

The nine pages summarising the requirements for data handling in teacher training, Key Skills and National Curriculum are crisp and clear. However, all too often, the associated Teacher Activities are not.

… (non-mathematics and ICT teachers) examine carefully the list of data handling abilities being developed with KS4 IT and mathematics…. brainstorm some ideas of how you could make use of these capabilities and build upon them within your own subject area.

.. (post 16 teachers) examine the Key Skills requirements in IT and Application of Number .. devise a set of ICT and data handling activities which meet the learning goals of your subject and cross reference them to the Key Skills targets. (p13)

Tasks such as these might well form a possible outcome of the whole package, but as an activity designed to help identify training needs they are just too large in scope and potential outcome.

The sections covering the SECOS tour and on creating a database are fine as generic introductions, but why not contextualise these for teachers of different subjects and age ranges, thus opening up the issues rather better than in the above tasks? It would be possible to combine the familiarisation tasks (SECOS and curriculum requirements) in order to identify training needs and curriculum development possibilities. The outcome would be a set of focused and purposeful activities with clear and achievable outcomes for the teachers involved.

The worksheets contain exemplar activities for teacher training and for students across a range of Key Skill areas and KS4 subjects. They hold a wealth of ideas and tasks and a thorough reading will reward any teacher by providing food for thought and some practical strategies for including data handling opportunities in their day to day teaching.

This strength is also, however, a weakness. The worksheets are presented in black and white, presumably to aid photocopying, but the layout is, frankly, poor. Learning resources for all learners, ‘teachers’ and ‘students’, need careful planning not least in layout, and it looks as if this aspect has been rather neglected. This results in a rather high density of text, and illustrations that resemble clipart used for decoration rather than to provide relevant visual information. The activities/tasks are invariably listed at the end of the worksheet instead of being staged and they all too often focus largely on the data handling issues to the exclusion of the intended subject learning.

Finally, there is the question of level. Admittedly the activities are exemplars but, leaving layout aside, their use with the majority of students at KS4 might require significant modification.

Overall, therefore, it will be clear that this reviewer has some doubts about the package. The intention is commendable. The SECOS element is excellent. What is more problematic is the professional development component. It is missing evidence of (at least some of) the worksheets and activities having been worked through in practice with teachers and students where appropriate. If this has been done, why not follow the example of some of the better professional development texts in presenting these teachers’ (and/or students’) responses as data through which to stimulate readers’ own professional thinking and practice? It also lacks the professional layout that aids learning.

If you have the money to spend, and the time to customise the materials in some detail, (remember they are available on the CD-ROM in Word format) then the package will be useful to individual teachers, departments, schools and teacher trainers. Otherwise, simply buy and use SECOS alongside a close scrutiny of the relevant curriculum documentation.

Richard Dunnill Canterbury Christ Church University College

Copyright Economics and Business Education Association Summer 2000

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