Saturday, August 13, 2011

To Word Process Or Not To Word Process?

I came across the blog of Fraser Speirs the other day some time ago, and in one particular post found this interesting statement:
We are also focusing heavily on presentation skills using Keynote on the iPad. It is my personal belief that Word Processing - setting text on a computer in preparation for printing on paper - is a skill that will wane in value over time. [Emphasis added.] Communicating your ideas to an audience is a skill that is already a clear competitive advantage for those able to do it effectively. Few skills demand the development of confidence like public presenting. [link]
Word processing is one of those areas that has become regarded as a quintessential IT skill in many areas, including education. It has always been the first application covered by the ECDL/ICDL, for example. It is specifically mentioned in the new National Curriculum 18 times. It's part of the Computing Skills test my Year 10 students do as part of their (soon to be defunct) School Certificate exams.

However, Speirs' statement got me thinking – has word processing been over-emphasised?  Are presentation skills more important to focus on, as Speirs seems to suggest?

What is the point behind teaching word processing anyway? A search of the new National Curriculum reveals something interesting - while word processing is referred to multiple times, nowhere does a rationale for teaching it appear.

A search of the Web leads to a great many items that discuss how to teach word processing, but very few that discuss why. Those that do address word processing as a means for teaching writing and composition.

But does that require a word processor? Can the same objectives be achieved through blogging and other online activities?

Thinking a bit more about Speirs' statement, it's the bit about printing on paper that I keep coming back to. Do we only do word processing in order to print stuff? In my own work, preparation of documents remains an important skill, but a large proportion of those documents do not get printed - they get turned into PDFs and emailed or put on a server.

On reflection, I think Speirs' definition is the problem - if we think of word processing as only 'setting text on a computer in preparation for printing on paper', he probably has a point, but if word processing is about composition and its visual presentation (and obviously I think it is),  word processing will be around for a long time yet.

On the other hand, what should schools be teaching? Writing and composition? Definitely. Presentation? Certainly - but in what format? Does blogging meet our educational requirements? Or does word processing remain part of the picture?