Common misconceptions

I remember that as part of my PGCE I had to write a document to describe common misconceptions that students have in ICT lessons. I don’t remember what I wrote, to be honest, but I’m sure that I wrote it from my perspective and didn’t actually ask the kids – just based the document on my own observation.

Fast forward a couple of years and I started using the (free & excellent) Yacapaca KS3 assessments to baseline our Year 7 students as they entered the school. I used this to generate an apporximate level for each student – but didn’t delve too much into the specifics.

Fast forward another couple of years and I finally decided to delve a little deeper into the question-by-question analysis that is available. 20 minutes later and I had a list of common misconceptions based on the students’ answers, rather than my own ubsubstantiated observations. For every shocker listed below there was another question that was answered well and I haven’t included particularly difficult or unfair questions (such as how many managed to identify the correct HTML syntax for a mailto hyperlink).

Before I show you my findings, what does this mean? Well, first of all it is not meant as any kind of attack on our Y7 pupils or on the primary sector. It is what it is, and I am sure that my school is far from unique in our results. We are a very successful school with a largely affluent intake (>99% of students have an Internet-connected computer at home), so there is no shortage of access to equipment. I see it as an indication of the level we need to be aiming at as we start KS3.

Next time you tackle a spreadsheet unit, think about your language. If over 70% of the class don’t understand the term ‘profit’, then how can you expect them to create a formula to calculate it?

So here is the list:

18% of students thought the best way to copy a real photograph was to cut and paste.

54% of students thought that a table of data would be a better graphical aid than a colour coded diagram.

66% of students misunderstood the differences between cut & paste and copy & paste.

22% of students thought a database is a program for writing documents.

18% of students thought that a DTP package would be suitable for sending emails.

16% of students thought a joystick could be used to copy a photo onto a PC.

60% of students were unable to identify ‘fields’ and ‘records’ in a database table.

36% of students thought that a search engine would find files within their own workspace.

56% of students thought that the word count, spell checker or grammar checker would be a useful tool for improving the layout of a page. [Correct answer: print preview]

44% of students thought that a printer, scanner or speakers were required to access the Internet.

49% of students thought that a spreadsheet, word processor or database would be used to design a flyer [11%, 27%, 11%].

67% of students were unable to recognise a decision in a flowchart.

48% of students thought that ‘including lots of animation and music’ is an important factor in web design. [On a personal note: AAARRRGGGHHH!!!!!!]

Only 22% of students thought that most important way to ensure that a business website will be useful would be to obtain a list of requirements from the staff.

Only 41% of students correctly identified that a web designer would need an Internet-connected PC. 25% suggested a high quality printer, 21% suggested a plotter and 13% suggested datalogging equipment.

68% of students thought that a flashing light, buzzer or monitor was an input device.

72% of students failed to identify that the primary benefit of a financial model was to try different prices.

38% of students thought that too much text or too many hyperlinks would significantly slow a website down, rather than too much multimedia content.

50% of students failed to identify which fields to search in a database table.

79% of students failed to recognise formulae as a spreadsheet tool used to make predictions.

76% of students were unable to identify the definition of ‘profit’.

52% of students failed to identify a database as the best tool for storing details of inventory.

25% of students thought that the total costs and income would need to be calculated BEFORE being entered into a spreadsheet model.


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