Generic Software and 21st century skills

Teaching Strategies

By Michael Hilkemeijer

Over the many years that ICT has been encouraged to be used in education I have seen the introduction and development of new and emerging educational technologies.  The use of this term sparks many imaginations amongst teachers and it has become synonymous with the other frequent term these days – technology integration. As teachers, this speaks of innovation in our classrooms and so many teachers, at least the ones I have spoken to, have tried to seek these out. However, when it comes to becoming a technology integrator in the classroom there really is no need to do so. Much technology already exists at schools today and here is the good news – research shows that it is the best to develop student ICT capability.

Student ICT capability involves more than students just learning techniques. It has to do with the student actually going beyond this and recognising not only that they have these skills but knowing the best solutions to apply these skills and techniques to.

Generic software or content-free software is perfect for the development of student ICT capability. It gives students a clean-slate to start from scratch. Most importantly, the effective development of ICT capability requires a high level of decision-making and control from the students. Common examples of this type of software in the classroom includes word processors, presentation software, spreadsheets, painting or drawing programs, desktop publishing software, and even databases. I note these because they are software that most teachers either use themselves or also except their students to use at some point in their education to do their work.

The widespread use of this type of software means that every teacher regardless of what year level or subject you teach, has the ability to develop student ICT capability. Despite this, because we all try hard to show innovation in our work teachers disregard this fact to a certain extent and continue to seek the latest developments in educational technology. Having new skills and techniques in such regard is desirable. Don’t get me wrong. The use of any educational technology provides excellent benefits to both teaching and learning and by no means am I trying to discourage it here. If teachers want to begin to become technology integrators at their school it is best for them to exploit what they have first and then to look outside the box.

Another reason why generic software is ideal for teachers is that behind each of these software there are specific concepts involved. For example, word processors involves the person understanding that they are creating a document that contains characters with formatting tags which in turn  control how it appears printed on the page. This differs to that of a DTP where each page has a set of frames at specific positions and the formatting is different in style and design. Multimedia files such as those in presentation programs like PowerPoint are diverse in their formatting style and allows the person control over what happens. For each generic software many different techniques and concepts exists and it can be quite easy to talk out about. However, the point that I am trying to make is that conceptual understanding is a vital component of student ICT capability.  As a teacher, you should not only just then help students learn to use techniques but also help them to understand why you use these techniques and when best to use them.

Another interesting point to remember when using this software in the classroom is that as these all do have concepts involved,  in the case when technology fails you – and let’s face it, it probably will someday – you as a teacher if you plan correctly can teach the concepts behind the techniques. Not only this but through a whole-class discussion you can help students develop their higher order skills and this another important component in the development of ICT capability.

In addition to the above reasons the use of software such as word processors, DTP and even databases can aid in both the development of student ICT capability and literacy.

Here are some other reasons why generic software is effective.

Word Processors:

  • Writing is effectively presented and easily changed;
  • Students can use Spell Checkers to obtain guidance on what they have made errors  and what correct spelling is needed;
  • Aids collaborative work;
  • Electronic or online work can be produced – this can be effective with the structured information and questioning given by as a teacher.


  • The many features of DTP allows it to make authentic results in a professional manner;
  • It is easy to incorporate text and images from various sources and this also supports collaborative work.

Presentation Software:

  • Great value in supporting and supplementing oral presentations by showing visually the structuring of ideas;
  • The many features that it provides such as sound and animation help to emphasise important points and the focuses the students’ attention on key issues;
  • In addition, the slide and bullet point structure can aid the authors’ identification, development and sequencing of points to be made. Not only is this ideal also for teachers, but it is even more valuable for students as they present their ideas. When students use this software, it can demonstrate to you their higher order skills used and this can be monitored and used for determining their ICT capability.


  • Educational value in quantitative subjects is considerable;
  • They can enhance the display and analysis of data and this enables students to gain rapid and accurate summaries and graphs from raw figures;
  • They enable the simulation of situations to be carried out without expensive equipment; and
  • Give students the opportunity to represent their conjectures about relationships and test them out in comparison with actual results.


  • Databases allows students to analyse the information that they are recording and this enables students to have a greater understanding than merely reading the information.

What else is out there that develops student ICT capability?

Although generic software such as the common word processor and DTP are recognised to be the most effective in the development of ICT capability for students, there are other types of ICT tools that are also commonly used. Incorporated in each are concepts, processes and techniques bonded together by the higher order thinking skills a student needs to use in order to create the solution for the problem. Here are some examples.

  • Email;
  • World Wide Web;
  • Web creation tools;

The development of student ICT capability is an important skill to have in order to actively participate in a knowledge-based economy and be empowered by ICT. Together with the above bulleted points the benefits of using this software should be clear to you on how you can not only encourage your students to use it but also to help them to develop their capabilities. For this to occur, it will mean that you will need to choose one that you are familiar with the most and decide from there how the features can be used effectively in your lessons.  As a result, you will become a technology integrator at your school and furthermore, an ICT capable teacher as this does require you to know everything about technology itself. It also gives you the added bonus that you need not to lose any further time, something that all teachers are short today, to research, learn about, practice and reflect on. Content-free software is therefore one of the best ways for teachers to effectively integrate technology and develop student ICT capabilities. Best of all, it is readily available and ready to use.

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