According to the latest IB Coordinator’s notes, the new ITGS Subject Guide is due for publication in 2021. This is an incredible 11 years after the publication of the current syllabus (January 2010). To put that into context: you wouldn’t have been able to read that shiny new syllabus on your (original) iPad, because Apple didn’t release it for another six months.
Although changes have been made to the assessment of ITGS since 2010, the core content of the syllabus remains the same. Eight years is a long time in the fields of information technology and computer science, and many developments have occurred since 2010. The subject guide makes a nod in this direction, stating:
“Other social and ethical considerations may emerge during different scenarios discussed in class. These may be related to changes in attitudes towards the use of IT systems, or new developments in IT such as social networking or e-assessment.”
You shouldn’t encounter an examination question asking you to explain or define a new term not found in the subject guide. However, examination question scenarios may still involve new technologies. This is true for Paper 2 in particular. In fact May 2017’s Paper 2 news article focused on the use of smart phone apps to control drones – a technology that isn’t in the syllabus and was still in its infancy in 2010. The last two Paper 3 case studies have also focused on more recent technological developments. So, with this in mind here are five technologies that didn’t exist at the publication of the current ITGS syllabus.
Perhaps the example which shows the age of the current ITGS syllabus the most: the original version of Apple’s iconic iPad wasn’t released until 6 months after the ITGS subject guide was published. Tablets and PDAs had been released before then (the subject guide mentions ‘handheld devices’), but it was the iPad which really drove the market to new levels. Education is the area where the greatest impact can be seen: by the end of 2014, the BBC claimed tablets were used by pupils in 70% of UK schools. One-to-one tablet programmes, bring your own device (BYOD) policies, and textbook replacement programmes have all arisen as a result of the increased use of tablets. Despite this, debate continues over the benefits of tablets and laptops – particularly for younger students. Education case studies are great for ITGS students because they all have experience of using technology in schools and lessons. Activities such as choosing an ITGS strategy for a school (laptops vs tablets vs phones? School owned or student owned? Single make or a mix?) and discussing use policies are a great way to get students thinking about the issues relating to these technologies.
2. 3D printing
3D printing technology has actually existed for decades. However, its availability and affordability for home use is a relatively new development, and it isn’t mentioned in the ITGS syllabus. In recent years 3D printing has been used for creating spare machine parts, printing medical devices, and even printing an entire house. The ability to print creations from digital models brings with it a host of issues. Intellectual property rights are a significant concern. In the 1990s services like Napster enabled copyright infringement of music on a massive scale. Could 3D printing do the same thing for…everything?
3D printing is another good example of how new technology often renders existing laws inadequate or obsolete. There have already been several examples of untraceable, 3D printed guns being created, with their plans free to download from the Internet…
3. Driverless cars
The Business and Employment section of the ITGS syllabus has a dedicated transport section that mentions “IT systems in cars”, but it doesn’t mention driverless vehicles explicitly. The technology isn’t covered in the 3.11 Robotics, artificial intelligence and expert systems HL topic either. It did form the basis for an exam question in the November 2015 Paper 1 HL though.
It would therefore seem pertinent to revise the topic as it draws together many of the core ITGS social impacts and ethical issues. Driverless cars are an example that can help students understand the various AI techniques in the syllabus too. And, of course, it’s fun to learn about driverless cars – especially if you use Lego robots (or a simulator). Developments in driverless vehicles are rapid, but a good overview of recent news can be found here.
4. State sponsored malware
Malware slots into section 3.2 of the syllabus (Software), and even cyber-warfare is explicitly mention under 2.6 Politics and Government. However, in 2010 there weren’t a lot of cyber-warfare examples to choose from. Or perhaps they simply pale in comparison to what would come next. Stuxnet (2010) and Flame (2012) were sophisticated espionage tools allegedly created by the US and Israel, with Iran as the target. Shamoon (2012) was created by an Iranian group with the (successful) goal of damaging computers connected to the Saudi oil industry. Not to be outdone, in 2010 Google revealed it had been part of an ongoing hacking attack by China, dubbed Operation Aurora. The US takes the prize in this area though, with the Equation Group. This is malware so advanced, it is apparently able to infect the firmware of hard drives.
State sponsored malware and spying is tied to another key event of the last decade: the Edward Snowden revelations. In ITGS we have often studied examples of employee surveillance and even student surveillance. But public revelations of widespread and unlawful government surveillance really opens a new category of examples to be studied.
Like 3D printing drone technology has been around for some time, with the US military leading development. It wasn’t until the early 2000s that improved technology made true remote control flight possible though. Military use of technology falls under the Politics and Government section of the ITGS syllabus. If you’re interested in the military applications of drone technology, Predator and Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control are two good books to get you started (they’re on my classroom book shelf). Eye in the Sky is another good introduction to the topic – rare among films in that it doesn’t stray (too) far from the actual capabilities of drone technology.
Home and commercial use of drones is a much more recent phenomenon. Drone use can be linked to many areas of the ITGS syllabus – Home and Leisure, Business and Employment, and Politics and Government (which includes police) are obvious examples. Amazon have plans to deliver packages via air, and have even successfully tested the system. In terms of consumer drone use, probably the biggest fear is a collision with an aircraft. There have been several near misses and even a few collisions, though luckily no injuries yet. Drones are another technology that have found their way around (over?) existing laws – with concerns about privacy in people’s gardens and issues surrounding ownership of the airspace above your home. Thought your back garden was private? You might be wrong.
Drones were the subject of the May 2017 Paper 2 news article.
You don’t need to study in detail new technological developments such as these. Understanding precisely how these systems work is unnecessary. In ITGS the key skill has always been to read and assess a situation presented to you. By reading technology news articles you can give yourself a head start. Practice thinking about the issues and impacts raised by these new technologies, and how they relate to existing technologies we have studied. This also has the advantage of giving you examples you can refer to should you get an exam question on the topic. To find ITGS news article you can follow my Twitter feed or use one of the recommended news sources.