3.1 Hardware

ITGS students must understand information technology in detail to achieve the best grades. Although ITGS is not a computer science course, knowledge of hardware is still fundamental and forms Strand 3 of the ITGS triangle. Input, output, processing, and storage technologies are introduced in detail in this chapter of the book. Clear explanations, examples, and illustrations help students without previous experience of technology, while maintaining the level of detailed required for the ITGS assessments. Topics covered in this chapter address the ITGS syllabus section 3.1 Hardware, with implicit links to all other areas of the ITGS syllabus. The resources below can help support students as they complete the exercises in the textbook:

Development of smart phones

Exercise 2.1: The Development of Smart Phones

How Smartphones work (HowStuffWorks) may help students with this exercise. The article explains the development of smart phone devices and related technologies such as PDAs, laptops, and MP3 players. It also covers the underlying developments that have enabled these technologies, such as lower powered processors.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Textbook exercise - Computer specifications

Exercise 2.2: Computer Specifications

The Top500 site lists details of the most powerful supercomputers in the world, and is updated on a regular basis. Other supercomputer brands students might want to investigate include Cray and IBM.

The types of computer links further down this page may also be useful for this task.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Textbook exercise

Exercise 2.7

Suggested rubric for exercise 2-7 on page 41 of the textbook, which asks students to select appropriately specified computers for a selection of clients.

To help students find specifications for various laptop and desktop systems, I often recommend they use a site such as Amazon.com. The products there typically have a lot of useful technical details in their specifications.

Updated: 2014-10-02
Textbook exercise

Exercise 2.8

The OLPC Foundation's web site is the primary source of information on the OLPC / XO laptop projects.

Although I would not recommend using the pages directly, the Wikipedia pages on the OLPC and the XO-1 both have extensive lists of citations for further reading.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Types of computer

Types of computer

Supercomputing Super Powers (BBC) provides a graphical breakdown of the fastest supercomputers by speed, country, and operating system, while the TOP500 Supercomputing Sites is a regularly updated list of world's fastest supercomputers. The Green500 list is a similar concept, but instead of measuring raw performance, measures performance per Watt.

Cray - The Supercomputer Company have many examples of specifications and applications of supercomputers - the site is an essential read for this topic. Titan supercomputer is the world's most powerful (Telegraph) discusses the Titan supercomputer, while Building Titan: The 'world's fastest' supercomputer is a more in-depth analysis of it, including examples of how it will be used. In June 2013 this record was re-taken by China's Tianhe-2 supercomputer. What Is A Supercomputer? and The supercomputer behind the US nuclear arsenal give a good overview of supercomputers and the kinds of specifications we can expect them to have as of 2019.

For smaller devices, Pocket marvels: 40 years of handheld computers (ComputerWorld) has an interesting slideshow showing the developments in processing power, storage capacities, screen sizes, and input devices over the past 40 years.

Updated: 2019-03-21
Input and output devices

Input and output devices

BBC Bitesize is a good resource for studying the more common types of input and output devices. It also has revision pages.

Devices with touch input are becoming increasingly common. Microsoft's page on their
Surface system contains a lot of useful material, while How does a touchscreen phone work? is an infographic that explains the three main type of smart phone touchscreens - resistive, capacitive, and infrared.

Skinput is a web site and video that describe a revolutionary new method of computer input which uses the skin as an input surface. Skinput is discussed on page 27 of the book. Some input device research is even making progress in using brain power to control technology (BBC) (video).

Accessible input and output devices for disabled users can be found further down this page.

Updated: 2014-10-02
Computer storage devices

Computer Storage

BBC Bitesize has some useful computer storage revision material which covers the most common storage devices.

How do hard drives work? and How computer memory works are two animated videos that do exactly what they say. They are useful for helping students understand the difference between primary storage and secondary storage.

The following videos explain how data is stored on magnetic, optical, and solid state storage devices (e.g. hard disks, CD-ROMs, and SD cards).

Updated: 2017-10-23
Ports and connectors

Ports & Connectors

A Visual Guide to Computer Connectors is an excellent (visual) resource for the most common types of ports and connectors on modern computers. The guide covers cables and connectors used for video, audio, data (internal and external hard disks), network connections, and general purpose ports such as USB.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Accessiblity options

Computer accessibility for disabled users

Computer accessibility for disabled users is fundamentally tied to the equality of access social / ethical issue. The Disability and Access section of BBC Bitesize is a good introduction to this topic, covering appropriate input and output devices. Both Microsoft and Apple have sections on their web sites that detail the accessibility features in their hardware and software.

Speech recognition is a common technology for physically disabled users - HowStuffWorks explains the technology behind it. Recently an Indian teenager created a device to convert breath into speech, desired for users with severe speech difficulties.

BrowseAloud is acessibility software for children with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. It includes functions to make text reading easier, including text to speech and colour highlighting.

Speaks4Me is a system to help autistic children communicate. Invented by a father who could find no useful system for his autistic son, the software runs on mobile devices and has a touch interface.

Another development currently being worked on is the ability to control a computer use brainwaves. Computer That Reacts To Thought A Lifeline For Brain Injured (Science Daily) and Voice recognition software reads your brain waves (New Scientist) are a good introduction to this topic.

This BBC news article and video shows a Cambridge lab where they test how elderly people use technology - the results are startling and highlight that a digital divide can occur in many situations.

Finally, The Madtoe Strikes Again: Hands-free Graphic Design is an inspiring story of a young man who, despite having limited motor control, creates graphic designs. The page details the variety of hardware and software systems he uses to create his work.

The Education page contains details of hardware and software specifically designed for people with special educational needs.
Updated: 2014-10-02

Computer Fundamentals: Case Study

Bright Futures Academy Case Study. This case study lets student apply their knowledge of hardware, software, and networking concepts, with strong links to social and ethical issues and impacts. It is useful, if used with good supporting resources, when you have a class of students with very mixed IT background and existing knowledge.
Updated: 2014-10-02

Wearable Computing

Just a few years ago, wearable technology was very much in its infancy. Since then it has developed significantly, and a variety of products are being trialled, including "life-logging cameras", wearable cameras for police officers, and of course, Google Glass. Wearable devices for health monitoring have also been developed.

However, these products have also raised several ITGS social and ethical issues, particularly relating to privacy ( BBC article, NYTimes article) and distraction of its users.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Banned words game

Lesson resources: Banned words game

Banned words game - This game is similar to 'Taboo' or 'Forbidden Words'. Each card contains an ITGS key term which students must explain to the class without mentioning the 'taboo' words listed on the card. The aim is to improve students' ability to explain key ITGS language and have a little bit of fun. Works well as a starter with the class split into two teams. I find printing the cards on coloured paper and laminating them works best.

Download the Hardware cards or the blank cards to make your own.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Revision flashcards

Lesson resources: Revision Flashcards

Online revision Flashcards to test students on the key hardware terms. The 'Learn' and 'Test' modes of Quizlet work best.
Updated: 2014-10-02
Keyword bingo game

Lesson resources: Keyword Bingo

Give students one or two cards containing ITGS key words, then read out the definitions. The first student to get all key words wins. This set of cards covers only key terms related to the Hardware and Software chapters of the book. Download: Student cards, teacher clues.
Updated: 2014-10-02
ITGS infographics

Classroom Resources: ITGS Infographics and posters

These posters and infographics can make interesting ITGS classroom displays:

Lifespan of Digital Storage Media. Infographic comparing the lifespan of various hardware storage devices.

How does a touchscreen phone work?. Explains how the three main type of smart phone touchscreens - resistive, capacitive, and infrared - work.
Updated: 2014-10-02

Hardware & network technologies in classroom: Handheld devices

Many schools ban mobile phones in the classroom, though there are growing numbers of teachers and schools using them for educational use. The resources below cover the positive and negative impacts of allowing tablets, phones, and other handheld devices during lessons:
  • When tablet turns teacher reports on a test of tablets in a school in Ethiopia
  • Apple has a page focused on the benefits of mobile phones and tablets in the classroom - not surprisingly, focusing on its iPhone and iPod ranges.
  • Controlling the hi-tech helpers takes a more considered approach, discussing the positive impacts but also highlighting potential problems 
  • The school that swapped its laptops for iPads - and wants to switch back highlights a key problem with any deployment a new IT systems - logistics and preparation. Even if a new system will bring many positive impacts, compatability, training, and even user acceptance are all key factors that could result in failure.

Updated: 2014-10-03
RFID in schools

School Administration: Student monitoring with RIFD

'Smart' student badges that use Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) or similar technologies have been tested in a number of schools. In one of the most famous cases, a student in Texas was suspended for refusing to wear a school issued-RFID tracker. Although she objected on religious rather than privacy grounds, the significant thing about this case is that the suspension was upheld by federal courts, who said the student would need to wear the badge or transfer to another school.

In other cases, such tracking systems removed by schools after complaints from parents, students, and teachers. School uniform manufacturers have even considered embedding tracking devices into uniforms - claiming parents would support such a move.
Updated: 2014-10-03
GPS systems

Global Positioning Systems (GPS)

Two diagrams showing how GPS networks function, from page 243 of the book. Click for larger versions of diagram 1 and diagram 2.

How GPS Works is a great video that clearly explains concepts like trilaterion, and the importance of timing. It also reveals some modern uses of GPS that might not be obvious (such as in the financial markets).

Updated: 2017-10-23
Personal health monitoring

Activity tracking devices

A wide range of devices are capable of monitoring users' vital data. This is a sector where technology is changing rapidly. A simple Amazon search for activity trackers reveals a huge range of available devices, from high end devices like the Garmin Vivosmart, through general purpose trackers like the FitBit Charge 2, to more budget options such as the Misfit Ray.

Product home pages are a good resource for learning about the technological features that are available today. Apple Watch, FitBit, and Misfit pages all contain a wealth of information.

The US military are even developing a 'smart tattoo' to monitor troops' vital signs constantly and unobtrusively.

Updated: 2017-02-08
Remote patient monitoring

Remote patient monitoring

Project Gerhome

Project Gerhome is the smart home / patient monitoring project I cover in the textbook. Its aims are to use a variety of technologies, including video cameras, to monitor elderly people in their homes. The site is primarily in French but there is an English-language page about the project here.

This page explains how multiple sensors are used to detect people in an apartment and even recognise different modes. For example, the experiments tried to detect people preparing a meal, eating, and fainting. The site includes some great images of how this might be achieved.

Remote monitoring articles

Could telehealth revolutionise NHS patient care? (BBC) and How tech can help the elderly stay independent (BBC Click video) discuss the potential benefits of these technologies. This BBC video explains how Alzheimer's patients can be tracked with satellite technology.

However, the New England Journal of Medicine performed research which suggested telemonitoring of heart patients produced no difference in outcome compared to in-patients. The article is a bit dense but includes some useful statistics.

Remote patient monitoring is a topic which is closely related to the smart homes topic in the Home and Leisure chapter.

Updated: 2017-10-23
Sports technology

Sports technology: Cricket, Tennis, and Football

Hawk Eye is a system used to assist the referee in several sports, including tennis, cricket and football. Haw Eye Sensors expands upon the original Hawk Eye system using a combination of video camera and sensors embedded into the pitch. Technology in Tennis, a blog by Jason Tsang, contains useful diagrams of the tennis Hawk-Eye system. The video Inside Hawkeye explains a bit more about how the system is used.

Virtual Eye is a similar system used in cricket to assist the third umpire and provide data analysis. Virtual Eye maker owns up to fault is an article about problems with Virtual Eye system.

In football, GoalMinder is system to detect whether a goal has been scored; FIFA want goal line technology to be deployed in future matches, and in the UK the Premier League approved the use of Hawk-eye goal-line technology for the 2013-2014 season. This video shows how the Hawkeye system is set up for a football match.

The video Badminton Hawkeye challenges is a good example of just how hard it can be for a human referee to make accurate judgements in modern sport.

Updated: 2018-03-28
F1 telemetry technology

Sports technology: Motorsport

Formula 1 Technology

F1 Telemetry is a very detailed article about the use of sensors, data logging, and data analysis in Formula 1 racing cars. Technology on Ferrari F1 Cars also has a lot of useful information. Formula 1's IT crowd: Software engineers power Marussia describes the IT systems (hardware and software) that power a typical Formula One team. High-performance computing drives high-performance F1 cars to success describes the hardware required to run a modern F1 team and ties in nicely with the ITGS System Fundamentals section of Strand 3. Can technology take Williams to the front of the F1 grid? examines the use of technology in F1, particularly in terms of reducing costs compared to traditionall development methods.

Formula E Technology

Formula E is a new motorsport involving electric racing cars on city circuits. Although electric cars themselves do not fall under the remit of ITGS, several examples of new information technology are used in the series.

360 degree video technology is being used in the races - move the mouse around while the example video is playing to get a view from the top of the cars.

Formula E also features the unique FanBoost concept, which gives spectators a chance to vote for their favourite drivers and award extra power to their cars during the race. It's an interesting use of social media and surely the first time fans have been able to potentially influence the outcomes of sport in this way.

Updated: 2015-11-14
Olympics technology

Sports technology: IT and the Olympics

The 2012 Olympics were a great opportunity to bring contemporary events into the ITGS classroom. Olympians use information technology more than ever before, for training, performance analysis, and for enforcing rules during the events themselves.

Technology and the 2016 Rio Olympics discusses how the preparations for the 2016 Games are progressing.

Olympic broadcast technology explains how technology is changing the broadcasting of the Olympics.

Updated: 2016-02-27
History Channel DVD cover

The History Channel: Modern Marvels - The Creation of the Computer


Charts the development of the computer in The History Channel's typical style. Note that his documentary is a few years old now (2005), so it does not deal with the latest developments. However, this itself could be a good point for classroom discussion, asking students to think about what developments have occurred since the film was produced and how they have affected society. Students could also be asked to predict how technology might develop in the future.
Updated: 2014-11-07
Pirates of Silicon Valley DVD cover

Pirates of Silicon Valley

Amazon.com | Amazon.co.uk

This dramatization of the history of Microsoft and Apple is quite well regarded. Although it does not tie into ITGS social and ethical issues it does, like the documentary Triumph of the Nerds, provide an interesting insight into how technology arrived at where it is today.
Updated: 2014-11-07
ITGS Dragons' Den activity

Dragons' Den activity

This is a fun little activity, based on the Dragon's Den TV series, to help cover some of the technologies in sections 3.1 Hardware and 3.2 Software of the ITGS syllabus (chapters 1 to 3 of my textbook).

The lesson activity involves inventing a (realistic) new use for a common technology - including RFID and QR codes. This gives students a chance to demonstrate their understanding of various input, output, and storage devices as well as apply the social and ethical issues and impacts from Strand 1 of the ITGS triangle and demonstrate some creativity. In true Dragon's Den style, students must pitch their idea to the class, focusing on the positive social impacts in an attempt to earn the class' 'investment'.

You can access the slides on SlideShare, where they are also available for download.

Updated: 2014-11-11
Distributed Computing

Distributed Computing

Distributed Computing, sometimes called Grid Computing, uses the combined processing power of many individual, geographically separate computers to solve large computing problems. Here are three examples of community distributed computing projects.

Folding@Home is a great example of using distributed computing techniques. In order to design better treatments for many common cancers and diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's, Stanford scientists are studying how proteins 'fold' and 'misfold'. Unfortunately these biological simulations take a lot of computing power - more than is available to the scientists. To solve this problem they started the Folding@Home project - by downloading a small program you can have your computer perform calculations on one of these folding projects using 'spare' processor time. So far over 150,000 computers are involved in the project, bringing much more computational power than would be available in one location. Rosetta@Home is a similar project that aims to determine the 3D shapes of proteins.

Another example of a distributed computing project is SETI@Home. The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence collects huge amounts of data from radio telescopes scanning the skies, and uses distributed computing power to look for patterns in that data which may indicate signals generated by an intelligent species.

Finally, ClimatePrediction.net bills itself as the 'world's largest climate modelling experiment'. Users running the climateprediction.net software help compute climate predictions for the next century, including temperature and rainfall data.

Updated: 2014-12-14
ITGS Key words game

Banned Words: ITGS Key word game

This is a PowerPoint version of the Banned Words game featured elsewhere on this page. This saves a lot of printing, cutting, and laminating of paper cards.

The gameplay is simple: students must try to explain the ITGS key word to their team without saying any of the forbidden words at the bottom of the page. Teams take turns and have a minute to explain as many ITGS terms as possible. The activity is designed to help improve students’ skills and description, definition, and explanation.

The slides can be viewed online at SlideShare, or you can download them from there as a PowerPoint file. If you download the presentation you can make use of the button which takes you to a random term each time and stops when all terms have been used (this is achieved using VBA code, so Office may give you a security warning).

Updated: 2015-10-28
Hardware specifications

Hardware specifications worksheet

This worksheet is a simple table with different types of computers as row headings (supercomputer, laptop, smart phone, etc), and different system resources as column headings (primary storage, secondary storage, screen resolution, and so on). It is designed to help students understand the different specifications of a wide variety of computer systems.

I downloaded the sheet from TeachComputing, a computer science resource site. Although ITGS does not require the same level of technical detail as the IB Computer Science course, this is a relatively simply exercise at the appropriate level. A good understanding of the limits of different hardware (e.g. the limited processing power or screen resolution of a mobile phone) is an important skill that is often tested in ITGS exam papers.

Updated: 2017-10-24