A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.
In November, as part of our work with Computing At School (CAS), Sue Sentance (Anglia Ruskin University) and I submitted a paper for Koli Calling 2011, the 11th International Conference on Computing Education Research. Our paper, entitled Computing At School: Stimulating Computing Education in the UK, describes the rationale and motivation for CAS, presenting the current state of computer science education in the UK, as well as its range of initiatives to support teachers and drive curriculum and policy change.
Yesterday, the Royal Society published Shut down or restart? The way forward for computing in UK schools; it follows on from the publication of Nesta’s Next Gen. report last year and Michael Gove’s speech at Bett this week.
This report is the outcome of a project initiated in August 2010 by the Royal Society, with support from the Royal Academy of Engineering, and is published 30 years to the month after the launch of the BBC Micro. It was prompted by a high degree of concern, expressed by school teachers, academics and other members of the computing community (including learned societies, professional bodies, universities, and industry), about the design, delivery and provision of ICT and computing education in UK schools. The project, led by Professor Steve Furber (see interview) and an advisory group, has been informed by evidence gathered from individuals and organisations with an interest in computing.
The outcomes of the report are clear: the current delivery of computing education in many UK schools is highly unsatisfactory. Although existing curricula for ICT are broad and allow scope for teachers to inspire pupils and help them develop interests in Computing, many pupils are not inspired by what they are taught and gain nothing beyond basic digital literacy skills.
The headline recommendations from the report are as follows (see full report):
In summary: the UK has a proud history of contributions to Computing and especially to the discipline of Computer Science, but current terminology, curricula and qualifications are holding us back from being a nation of technology creators. Whilst a lot has been achieved in establishing a digitally literate population, our aspirations should not stop there. There are many barriers to progress, and a joined up approach is required. This report sets out a positive way forward for the community.
Check out this excellent research resource: the Best Paper Awards in Computer Science, a collection of the best paper awards of some of the major computer science conferences since 1996 by Jeff Huang.
This listing contains a couple of the conferences that I’m interested in, especially PLDI; however, it’s a shame that it does not collate POPL‘s Most Influential Paper Award (presented annually to the authors of a paper presented at the POPL held 10 years prior to the award year).
It’s also of interest to see the institutions with the most “best papers”.
2011 was a promising year for computer science in schools, with government ministers (even the Prime Minister) appearing to recognise its importance from both an educational and economic perspective; all in the midst of a uncertain large-scale education review in England. 2012 is shaping up to be just as promising, starting with the publication of the Royal Society’s 18 month study on computing in schools in a fortnight. Computing At School (CAS) have been busy on a number of fronts over the past year, but in particular advocacy at national policy level (along with the BCS Academy of Computing).
However, we have to remain grounded — there is still a huge amount of work to be done (and nothing is yet guaranteed). As well as continuing the policy work, one of the priorities for CAS is to further connect with and support the network of Computing and ICT teachers across the UK, as well as changing the wider public’s poor perception of computer science — into a rigorous, practical and intellectually useful academic discipline (and as a pathway to a wide range of careers). There are also a number of excellent initiatives to support that focus on developing the key skills of computational thinking and programming, as well as genuinely engaging young people with technology: Young Rewired State, Hack to the Future, Apps for Good, Codecademy et al.
— Dr Tom Crick (@DrTomCrick) December 31, 2011
I will be using this hashtag to promote Computer Science in 2012; please use and spread the message!
And why is 2012 especially important? It’s also the Turing Centenary, a celebration of the life and scientific influence of Alan Turing on the centenary of his birth on 23rd June 1912. A number of major events (such as the Computability in Europe 2012 conference) will be taking place throughout the year, with many linked to places with special significance in Turing’s life, including Cambridge, Manchester, Bletchley Park and Princeton. 2012: The Alan Turing Year and the Year of Computer Science.
We can only see a short distance ahead, but we can see plenty there that needs to be done.
Alan Turing, Computing Machinery and Intelligence (1950)