Teach IT: Teaching methodology for a classroom with advanced, intermediate and complete beginners

What would success look like ?
By the end of this presentation, you will have some useful ideas on ...
teaching IT to a group of advanced, intermediate and complete beginners.....

Reasons for this approach:

  • Give the participants a clear idea of what your teaching objective is.
  • Without this, they can easily assume that the class is just killing time..
  • This clarity frees the expert pupils to demonstrate mastery of the goal and suggest more advanced goals for themselves...
  • Beginners have a clear idea of their goal ...
  • The description and the lesson structure needs to be revolve around a small number of key content points as hooks for student memory.
    Detail is more memorable when it surrounds and complements a few seed ideas.

Set a task that requires the knowledge and skills
  • What would success look like: Students can use excel features and formulas to write files that serve the needs of a business.
  • Script: I run a shoe shop employing 12 staff. Some are paid more than others for experience.Some earn more through commissions on sales than others. Some work more hours than others.I need to calculate the superannuation they must invest as well as the tax they owe. It is a real pain, often takes along time and i make mistakes that embarrass me and annoy them. I would also like a better picture of my business costs and my best employees.
    Here is the business data (employee lists, wage rates, hours worked, sales figures, commission rates, tax rates, superannuation rates).
  • Task: Help this business organise it’s data better using as many features of excel as you can.
Responses range from decorating the data with colours and borders, to building in conditional rules for superannuation rates to save time and error.
The task allows beginners to start exploring the data by organising it in simple ways (separating sections logically, presenting it clearly, start to recognise relationships within the data – e.g. wages dependent on hours, as well as various rates and commissions.
The task allows advanced students to show how far and fast and clearly they can build an interlinked data file that calculates as much as possible from the key data entered and displays the data in the clearest way to serve the business interests.


  • A task focus inherently allows students to work to some extent at their own pace.
  • As students learn the skills, the role of the teacher is to learn the students as fast as possible ... to be there just before the frustration turns to rejection, and before failure is accepted.
  • An important part of a teacher’s creativity is the imagining of these tasks.
    The more a teacher learns his/her students, the more the context for these tasks resembles the world for which the students are preparing.
  • One complex but coherent task is ideal. More than one task is often necessary.
  • If every specific skill requires a separate task, then the class is likely to be “stop start” (sometimes called “lock step”) as the teacher has to take control again and again
  • This actually tends to increase student dependence on the teacher and reduce student exploration and independence.
  • Temporary frustration at a hard task is an essential prerequisite for a sense of achievement
  • Small failures are important contribution to the pleasure of success.

    Encourage copying, sharing, communication.
    • What would success look like: Students can manage a mail merge from a database into a large number of word documents or emails.
    • Script: I want to provide every one of you with a personal letter summarising your assessments for this course, making a comment and including your address and other relevant personal details.
    • Here is the data. I need you to build a database and embed the data in well presented and accurate letters. If possible, a set of mailing labels and a class results summary sheet would be great as well.
    • I need you to work with one computer between two students for this task.
    • Copying and communicating are very effective ways of using the varied levels of expertise in class as a resource to improve outcomes for all rather than as a problem.
    • Usually the sharing is informal and based on pre-existing friendship groups.
    • Usually, the curriculum includes objectives such as team building, ability to work in a group, communicate effectively, etc.
    • In these cases, copy and communicate groups can change to match strangers or deliberately mix beginners with experts etc. This manipulated grouping can accelerate the learning of IT skills in some while developing communication and team work skills in others.

    • An important aspect of lesson planning is to minimise the “busy work” and maximise the “brainy work”.
      One key way of achieving this is providing students with digital data for any significant task.
      The data should need to be reorganised in some ways so that it does not imply specific solutions, but students are not slowed by excessive data entry.
      Busy work is a comfortable trap for teachers that can keep students of all abilities busy for some time without significant learning outcomes.

    Clarity and pace of demonstration matches intermediate class ability BUT the teacher collects, creates or points to resources that can reiterate the presentation.

    They sometimes say of a great teacher: "We did it ourselves".
    A teacher needs to be constantly working to make him/herself redundant.
    In IT, this means providing:
    • many opportunities for students to discover through guided experimentation
    • restatement of the usefulness of resources such as software help functions and examples, online help, printed manuals, human expertise sitting beside them, or on a searchable blog site somewhere on the planet....
    • resources specifically created for the course such as well structured notes, videos, sample files, etc etc
    In summary, techniques for teaching mixed ability classrooms are also the best techniques for teaching in general...
    • Clear Goals: What would success look like ?
    • Open ended tasks: What do I need to learn to get this task done well ?
    • Encouragement to copy success: What is the best model to follow ?
    • Resources: Which of the many resources that I know of will get me the best info fastest ?

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      This post contains some responses to questions that I have been asked by various people over the last few years. In most cases, I have also posted the information on relevant online community forums such as moodle.org. I hope that you find this useful. Stephen Digby