Category Archives: CS education

Five Programming Top Tips (from a seven year old)

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Earlier today I tweeted the above image of five handwritten top tips from a seven year old female who had been learning programming; these were extremely astute observations and were a delight to read.

After digging a bit deeper, I found the original blog post, describing in more detail the poignant observations of @fjsteele‘s daughter after spending an hour using Hopscotch, a visual programming language for the iPad. In the blog post, he explains that this was his daughter’s first programming lesson and he asked her to write down instructions on how to draw a square, and then use Hopscotch to make one; after that, they tried a triangle:

It was fun to see the `lightbulb’ come on as she tried different blocks, failed, tried something else. It was really fun to watch her discover debugging. She quickly learned not to do too much work before testing it out.

 
Not a bad summary from an hour of programming! What else would you add to this list?

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Critical questions for computer science education research

Over the past two years, we have seen wholesale reform of computing (and more specifically, computer science) education in the UK. In England from September 2014, a new national curriculum subject Computing, with a challenging and aspirational programme of study (“A high-quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world.”) will replace ICT; in Scotland, we see Computing Science forming part of their Curriculum for Excellence; in Wales, September’s review of the ICT curriculum is shaping the ongoing Curriculum for Wales review; along with burgeoning activity in Northern Ireland.

While there is a large corpus of computing education research, along with national and international policy reports, such as the ACM/CSTA’s Running on Empty (2010), the Royal Society’s Shut down or restart? report (2012) and ACM Europe’s informatics education report (2013), there still remain a number of critical questions in computer science education. The recent announcement of the UK Forum for Computing Education provides an opportunity to support this important research agenda. Further to a group discussion led by members of the CSTA at a recent ACM Education Council meeting, the following list of questions cover a breadth of issues and reflect the deep need for further research-grounded solutions to the issues we face.

  • What are the indicators of incoming student success in introductory level computer science in colleges and universities?
  • Does computer science learning in schools contribute to success/improvement in other disciplines, especially mathematics and science?
  • What is the link between age/educational development and the potential to learn and master computer science concepts?
  • Are there issues of ergonomics in the introduction of computing devices with young children?
  • Is there a link between previous mathematics learning and success in computer science at school level?
  • What are the major factors that lead to students making early choices not to pursue computer science?
  • What is the role of informal education programs in scaffolding learning in computer science, especially in communities where access to computer science learning in school is limited?
  • What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of MOOCs in school student learning?
  • What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of MOOCs for the professional development of computer science teachers?
  • What models professional development are most effective for improving teacher mastery of computer science concepts and pedagogy?
  • What are the impacts of current efforts to market computer science to students?
  • To what extent do poverty and lack of home access to computer science tools impact computer science performance and or interest in school?
  • Do one-to-one devices per child programs have any impact on computer science interest or performance?
  • What are the major factors in computer science teacher retention?
  • What is required to increase the availability of teacher preparation programs for computer science teachers?
  • What is the impact of transitioning the the content of teacher preparation courses in “educational technology/AV” to a focus on computational thinking across STEM?
  • What is the ideal balance between content knowledge learning and pedagogical learning in computer science teacher preparation and alternative certifications?
  • Do hybrid programs (educators and volunteer partnerships) improve student access to rigorous computer science courses and increase the pool of well-prepared computer science teachers?

Which of these do you think is most important? And what is missing? (the questions are listed in no particular order and have been labelled alphabetical for easy referencing in the comments)

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UK Forum for Computing Education

A new expert body on computing education was established today: the UK Forum for Computing Education (UKForCE), which will provide an independent and unified voice to advise UK government and other agencies on issues relating to computing education. UKForCE is led by the Royal Academy of Engineering and will provide advice on the curriculum, qualifications and assessment and the supply and training of computing teachers.

As per today’s press release, the expert body has been established in response to the 2012 Royal Society report “Shut down or restart: the way forward for computing in UK schools”, which had as a key recommendation the formation of a UK forum for the UK’s computing bodies. UKForCE brings together representatives from across the communities of education, computer science, digital media, IT, engineering and telecommunications. The body will be independent of government and awarding organisations and will work towards improving computing education across all education sectors of the UK.

UKForCE will consist of a smaller strategic group, along with a broader representative forum (invitations to be sent out shortly); the current members of the group are:

  • Chris Mairs FREng (Metaswitch Networks)
  • Andy Connell (Keele University)
  • Bob Harrison (Toshiba Information Systems, UK)
  • Simon Peyton Jones (Microsoft Research Cambridge)
  • Bill Mitchell (BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT)
  • Liz Bacon (University of Greenwich)
  • Theo Blackwell (Next Gen. Skills)
  • Mark Chambers (Naace)
  • Debbie Forster (Apps for Good)
  • Quintin Cutts (University of Glasgow)
  • Tom Crick (Cardiff Metropolitan University)
  • Sue Nieland (e-skills UK)
  • Rhys Morgan (Royal Academy of Engineering)

Chris Mairs, Chair of UKForCE and Chief Scientist at Metaswitch Networks, said:


The new computing curriculum, which comes into effect in September 2014, is a most welcome step change in computing education. There are many amazing initiatives springing up to build upon this bold move both inside and outside the classroom.

UKForCE will be the connective tissue between all these initiatives, central government and other relevant bodies. With a coherent voice and government commitment, our children will be the world’s most savvy digital citizens and a tremendous asset to the UK economy.

As well as providing a springboard for great software engineers and computing specialists, effective delivery of the new curriculum can literally improve the life chances of an entire generation. UKForCE will help make this happen.

The creation of UKForCE, to sit alongside similar organisations such as ACME, SCORE and E4E, is a significant opportunity to raise the profile of computing as a discipline, as well as support its delivery across all four nations of the UK. I look forward to working with the forum in 2014, in particular to continue to promote the reform of computing education in Wales (see the review of the ICT curriculum in Wales from October).

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Camden and Islington embrace Computing at Google

Today I spoke at Google to a large group of Computing/ICT teachers from Camden and Islington Councils, to prepare them for the new Computing curriculum from September 2014. It was great to see proactive engagement at the local authority level, wonderfully facilitated by Google, recognising the significant changes and need to support teachers in this transition.

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I spoke about CAS, an overview of the changes to Key Stages 3 and 4 (leading through to the new(ish) computer science qualifications), as well as addressing some of the myths perpetuated about the balance and programming requirements. I was joined by a number of other excellent speakers, including Maggie Philbin, Belinda Parmar, Miles Berry, Genevieve Smith-Nunes, Carrie Anne Philbin and Alison Pearce from OCR, as well as support from a number of great organisations and initiatives, including Code Club, Make Things Do Stuff, Apps for Good, Decoded, Young Rewired State and Technology Will Save Us.

It looks like a promising computing future for young people in Camden and Islington schools; here’s a Storify of the event, as well as my presentation slides.

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A set of top Computer Science Education blogs

Further to my most-read blog post (from May 2012: A set of top Computer Science blogs, 80,000 hits and counting), here’s a follow-up: blogs on computer science education.

As before, instead of a list, it more closely resembles a set: the order is irrelevant and there are no duplicate elements; membership of this set of blogs satisfies all of the following conditions:

  1. they focus on computer science education (research, policy and practice);
  2. they are of consistently high quality;
  3. I regularly read them.
  • Computing Education Blog by Mark Guzdial (@guzdial)

    Mark is a professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology and a researcher in computing education. His blog is about how people come to understanding computing, and how to facilitate that understanding, cross-cutting research, policy, practice and wider societal issues. And while it is US-focused (as you would expect), it is an excellent venue for the discussion of key topics in computer science education.

  • Teach Computing by Alan O’Donohoe (@teknoteacher)

    Alan is a busy chap: as well as being principal teacher of Computing at Our Lady’s High School in Preston, he’s the founder of both Hack To The Future and Raspberry Jam, the global community of events for everyone to discover the wonders of the Raspberry Pi. His blog tracks his five-year computing journey: from improving classroom practice (listen to his Teach Computing podcasts), contributing back to the community as a CAS Master Teacher, to shaping the development of a new curriculum subject in England.

  • Miss Philbin’s Teaching and Learning Journal by Carrie Anne Philbin (@MissPhilbin)

    Carrie Anne is an award-winning secondary teacher at Robert Clack School in Essex and a passionate advocate for women in technology. She is the creator of Geek Gurl Diaries, a YouTube web series for teenagers who want to be makers and creators of technology (which recently won a Talk Talk Digital Hero Award) and vice-chair of the CAS initiative #include to address diversity issues in computing. Her blog also covers the gamut of classroom practice, the transition from ICT to computing, supporting the wider community, to shaping policy in England.

  • Academic Computing by Neil Brown (@twistedsq)

    Neil is a research associate in the Programming Languages and Systems Group at the University of Kent, working on the BlueJ and Greenfoot projects. He writes thought-provoking pieces on topics spanning computing (and more broadly, STEM) education, programming and socio-technical issues. He also has a second blog on learning and applying mathematics through computing: The Sinepost.

  • An Open Mind by Miles Berry (@mberry)

    Miles is a principal lecturer and the subject leader for Computing Education at the University of Roehampton. He sits on the boards of both CAS and Naace, with wide experience of curriculum development in the UK. His blog, a personal perspective on education, technology and culture, covers a range of interesting pieces on computer science and programming pedagogy, CPD and agile practice.

  • Computer Science Teacher by Alfred Thompson (@alfredtwo)

    Alfred is a high school computer science teacher in New Hampshire, having previously been the K-12 Computer Science Academic Relations Manager for Microsoft and a software developer for 18 years. He currently sits on the board of the Computer Science Teachers Association. His blog covers a wide range of topics, including computer science and programming pedagogy, curriculum development and US education policy.

  • Knowing and Doing: reflections of an academic and computer scientist by Eugene Wallingford (@wallingf)

    Eugene is an associate professor and head of the Department of Computer Science at the University of Northern Iowa. He has been blogging since 2004 on topics across computing, software development, higher education, learning and teaching, as well as managing and leading.

  • Raspberry Pi Blog by the Raspberry Pi Foundation (@Raspberry_Pi)

    These guys need no introduction, especially after the two millionth Raspberry Pi was sold in October! With the huge success and penetration of the Raspberry Pi over the past two years, the platform now exists for the Foundation to fulfil its wider educational objectives. A diverse blog, ranging from technical posts, peripherals and resources, to superb examples of innovative uses of the Raspberry Pi.

  • CSTA Blog by the Computer Science Teachers Association (@csteachersa)

    The Computer Science Teachers Association is a membership organisation (free to join), supported by the ACM, that promotes and supports the teaching of computer science and other computing disciplines in the US, providing opportunities for K–12 teachers and students to better understand the computing disciplines and to more successfully prepare themselves to teach and learn. Its blog covers a wide range of topics across computer science education, programming, curriculum design and education policy,

  • CAS Online by Computing At School (@CompAtSch)

    Computing At School is a membership organisation (also free to join), supported by the BCS, that promotes and supports the teaching of computer science in UK schools. Formed in 2008, it now has over 7000 members from across schools, colleges, universities, industry and government and is the subject association for computer science. Along with numerous high-quality articles in the quarterly CAS newsletter, Switched On, CAS Online provides the UK computer science education community with a wide range of forums, events, policy discussions, consultations and a veritable wealth of resources to support learning and teaching.

This set is most definitely incomplete — please post your computer science education blog recommendations in the comments below. You can also read some of my posts on computer science education.

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2014 University Guides: Computer Science

While the higher education sector is swamped with league tables and rankings, I find it useful to keep an eye on the subject-specific tables (especially w.r.t. year-on-year variance, as well as changes in metrics/weightings). Therefore, here are the four three main 2014 UK university guides for Computer Science:

(cf. the 2013 guides)

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The ICT Steering Group’s Report to the Welsh Government

welshictreportcover

Today, the ICT Steering Group published its review of the ICT curriculum in Wales, at a launch at Box UK’s office in Cardiff attended by Huw Lewis AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills.

This is the culmination of eight months of discussion, evaluation and consultation, to identify a way forward for ICT in Wales. As co-chair of this review, I am delighted with what we have delivered: a declaration of intent for Wales, to change the profile and perception of a subject of tremendous educational and economic importance to Wales. I truly hope that the Welsh Government adopt the report’s recommendations in full and use this as an opportunity to highlight the importance of computing and digital literacy in a modern, challenging and aspirational national curriculum.

As per today’s written Ministerial Statement:


The report of the ICT Steering Group, published today, poses some very significant questions and explores themes that we must now consider in the context of the wider review of assessment and the National Curriculum…I am very grateful for this report and will respond in full to all these recommendations in due course.

The full report is now available to download (English, Cymraeg).

Headline Recommendations

  1. A new subject named Computing should be created to replace Information and Communications Technology (ICT) from Foundation Phase onwards. This new subject will disaggregate into two main areas: Computer Science (CS); and Information Technology (IT).
  2. Computing should be integrated into the curriculum as the fourth science, served by a mandatory Programme of Study, and receive the same status as the other three sciences.
  3. A Statutory Digital Literacy (DL) Framework should be implemented to work alongside the Literacy and Numeracy Framework from Foundation Phase through to post-16 education.
  4. Perceptions of Computing education pathways should be changed to recognise the key societal roles of computing and technology, as well as promote the importance and diversity of IT careers.
  5. The revised Computing curriculum should encourage creativity, allow thematic working and develop real world problem-solving. It should be flexible enough to continually evolve to remain current, adopting an Agile ideology and approach to ensure this.
  6. A range of engaging and academically rigorous pathways and bilingual qualifications for Computing and Digital Literacy should be devised, encouraging interest and opportunities for deeper learning.
  7. Engagement and collaboration between education and industry should be an integral part of the curriculum to embed current practices and skills.
  8. Pathways for Initial Teacher Training (ITT) in Computing should be created to encourage the best talent into the profession. All entrants to the teaching profession should have the skills to deliver the Digital Literacy Framework (DLF).
  9. A programme of training and professional development to enable the new Computing curriculum should be accessible to new and existing teachers.
  10. A National Technology Framework should be devised to create an effective technology infrastructure for education. Welsh Government, local authorities, industry and learning providers should be responsible for its effective implementation and strategic development.
  11. Effective monitoring arrangements should be created for Computing and the Digital Literacy Framework. Estyn should consider relevant changes to the Common Inspection Framework in light of all of these recommendations.
  12. An appropriate body or properly constituted group should oversee the implementation of these recommendations. Its remit would need to be broad enough to encompass this crucial governance role, utilising appropriate expertise and representing key stakeholders.
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The Times and The Sunday Times University Guide 2014: Computer Science

Today saw the publication of the first combined The Times and The Sunday Times University Guide 2014 (£), in which the University of Birmingham was named University of the Year, along with strong performances from Bath and Coventry (also named Modern University of the Year). Looking at the methodology for the new combined guide, with higher weightings on student satisfaction (NSS) and research quality (RAE 2008), it looks similar to the original Times methodology rather than the Sunday Times. Whilst generally sceptical of the plethora of university rankings and league tables, I wholeheartedly agree with Phil Baty (Editor-at-Large, THE) — it seems mad to reward universities for dishing out more first and upper second class degrees, as surely this metric is trivially improved?

As always, there are familiar institutions in the top 10 of the Computer Science category; due to the similarity in methodology, I’ve compared this new combined table to last year’s Times table (but it is also worth comparing to the 2013 Sunday Times table). I’ve also added another column to compare to the position in the overall table:

Ranking 2013 Overall
1. 1. University of Cambridge 1.
2. 2. Imperial College London 5.
3. 5. University of St Andrews 4.
4. 3. University of Oxford 2.
5. 8. University of Southampton 20.
6. 14. University of Birmingham 16.
7. 4. University of Bristol 15.
8. 7. University of Glasgow 25.
9. 11. University of Bath 7.
10. 10. University of Edinburgh 22.

 

And the rankings for Wales:

Ranking 2013 Overall
21. 34. Cardiff University 33.
37. 33. Swansea University 47.
52. 26. Aberystwyth University 82.
66. 72. Cardiff Metropolitan University 87.
83. 60. Glyndŵr University 109.
85. 41. Bangor University 56.

 
N.B. there was no data available for the University of South Wales (formed from the recent merger between University of Glamorgan and University of Wales, Newport) or the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (formed from the recent merger between University of Wales Trinity Saint David and Swansea Metropolitan University).

While there have been some significant drops in ranking for a number of Welsh institutions (most likely to due to student satisfaction scores), this does not seem to correlate with the 2014 Guardian University Guide from June (which also places a high value on the NSS). However, it is encouraging to see Cardiff just outside the top 20.

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Winchester Science Festival 2013

Yesterday I spoke at the 2013 Winchester Science Festival, a fantastic weekend of science communication and science education with some excellent speakers. My talk was entitled “Computing: The Science of Nearly Everything” (slides), which attempted to reset the perception of computer science: highlighting the importance of computer science education (in particular the wide utility of programming) and how modern science and engineering increasingly leverages computation.

Précis: We have seen how computational techniques have moved on from assisting scientists in doing science, to transforming both how science is done and what science is done (also see this Royal Society report). Thus, perhaps we should value the increasingly cross-cutting and interdisciplinary field of computer science, as well as computational literacy from school through to postgraduate research skills training.

Dr Tom Crick opening slide

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(you can also see other photos from the 2013 Winchester Science Festival, including me doing silly gestures)

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Guardian University Guide 2014: Computer Sciences and IT

University ranking season is upon us once again — this week saw the publication of the Guardian University Guide 2014. In the Computer Sciences and IT category, there has been significant movement in the top 10, especially comparing against the 2013 table:

Ranking 2013
1. University of Birmingham (7th)
2. University of Glasgow (8th)
3. Imperial College London (4th)
4. University of Bristol (5th)
5. University of Southampton (3rd)
6. University of Sheffield (10th)
7. University of Bath (11th)
8. University of Cambridge (1st)
9. UCL (18th)
10. University of Warwick (13th)
(full table)

 

As always, of particular interest to me were the Welsh rankings:

Ranking 2013
28. Cardiff University (29th)
28. Swansea University (27th)
58. Aberystwyth University (68th)
73. Bangor University (33rd)
88. Cardiff Metropolitan University (64th)
99. Glyndŵr University (101st)

 
(N.B. no data was available for the University of Wales Trinity Saint David and the recently formed University of South Wales)

Looking at the table headings and the methodology, research does not feature as one of the ranking metrics, while student satisfaction (in particular, indicators from the National Student Survey) features highly; as you can see from last year’s university guides, the different metrics and weightings can change the ordering somewhat.

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