Category Archives: CS education

Simon Jenkins on computer science

In a polemic in The Guardian today, Simon Jenkins argues for a(nother) shake up of the UK’s education system, with less focus on STEM and computer science in particular.

This kind of misinformed ranting on the utilitarian view of STEM and why the UK should focus on being a service industry appears to be his CiF modus operandi — see a similar post from February on mathematics education. In particular, he displays a profound misunderstanding of the difference between digital skills/competencies and the rigorous academic discipline of computer science, as well as a lack of awareness of the profound changes to computing education in England from September for all pupils from age five onwards. He also doesn’t appear to be aware of the increasing demands from pretty much every industrial sector for high-value digital skills (both user and creator skills); see the recently published interim report from the UK Digital Skills Taskforce: Digital Skills for Tomorrow’s World. As for the perceived high unemployment rates for computer science graduates? Well, this isn’t the full picture and is also discussed in detail in the Taskforce report.

While it is tempting to deconstruct and refute his article line by line, I will just link to an excellent response from Chris Mairs, Chief Scientists at Metaswitch Networks and Chair of the UK Forum for Computing Education.

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Today’s “University View” column in the Western Mail

This is the short article I wrote for the University View column in today’s Western Mail:

Technology is arguably the biggest lever on our lives, affecting everything from the way we communicate, do business, shop, travel, access information and are entertained. Our dependence on digital infrastructure is increasing all the time; from the demand for high-bandwidth Internet connectivity through to the devices we carry in our pockets. We truly live in a computational world, glued together by software.

But the real question is: do we direct technology, or do we let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it? “Choose the former,” writes author Douglas Rushkoff, “and you gain access to the control panel of civilisation. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make”; in essence: program or be programmed.

So why do we have an seemingly antiquated perspective of technology education, primarily focusing on developing increasingly transient IT user skills, rather than equipping young people with a deeper understanding of how technology works, on how to solve problems with technology, on programming and computational thinking skills? Why are we not developing a generation of digital creators, empowered to make, break and manipulate their digital world, rather than a generation who are becoming consumers of technology?

This is a question I have been asking repeatedly over the past couple of years. Last year I co-chaired the Welsh Government’s review of the ICT curriculum, in light of significant reform across the rest of the UK. From September, there will be a new compulsory subject called Computing replacing ICT in England from aged five onwards, focusing on computer science, programming and computational thinking: “A high-quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world.” Precisely so.

We are currently in the midst of a significant review of education in Wales, asking fundamental questions about what education should achieve for young people. Alongside this we have long term policy evolving around skills, identifying the types of skills we require to create a healthy and prosperous society that is economically secure but also agile and adaptable to changing industries and sectors. While I recognise it is important that we take stock of where we are in Wales and identify the most appropriate solutions to some of our educational problems, it seems bizarre that we are delaying on what appears to be a no-brainer: making digital skills and computing education a core part of our curriculum. It is not a question of rushing into solutions, or copying other countries — this is about creating aspirations for our young people, developing future-proof skills and global competitiveness. I am baffled that we still have to justify why they should be core for all. We should turn the question around: can anyone justify why we shouldn’t make computing a core part of the curriculum?

Ultimately it comes down to what we want a future Wales to look like. Do we want to be a knowledge economy, leveraging our culture and being innovative and creative with technology? The Welsh Government have identified a number of priority sectors for economic renewal, alongside significant investment in our science and engineering research base, as well as recognising the broader societal and economic importance of e-infrastructure, connectivity and digital inclusion. All of these are predicated on having a country and citizenry with high-value digital and computational skills. It currently remains to be seen if we can deliver a digital Wales.

 
(N.B. text published in the print copy of the paper may differ slightly due to copy-editing)

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Paper in ACM TOCE: “Restart: The Resurgence of Computer Science in UK Schools”

Further to the previous CAS papers, Neil Brown (University of Kent), Sue Sentance (formerly Anglia Ruskin University, now CAS), Simon Humphreys (CAS/BCS) and I have had a paper accepted into ACM Transactions on Computing Education: Restart: The Resurgence of Computer Science in UK Schools, part of a Special Issue on Computing Education in (K-12) Schools.

The paper will soon be available to download for free via the ACM Author-ize service (or you can download our pre-print); the abstract is as follows:

Computer science in UK schools is undergoing a remarkable transformation. While the changes are not consistent across each of the four devolved nations of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), there are developments in each that are moving the subject to become mandatory for all pupils from age 5 onwards. In this article, we detail how computer science declined in the UK, and the developments that led to its revitalisation: a mixture of industry and interest group lobbying, with a particular focus on the value of the subject to all school pupils, not just those who would study it at degree level. This rapid growth in the subject is not without issues, however: there remain significant forthcoming challenges with its delivery, especially surrounding the issue of training sufficient numbers of teachers. We describe a national network of teaching excellence which is being set up to combat this problem, and look at the other challenges that lie ahead.

 
(see Publications)

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Guardian University Guide 2015: Computer Science and Information Systems

I’ve been blogging about the various university league tables for computer science for over two years now…and I’m not entirely sure whether this is actually useful beyond collecting them in one place. There are a multitude of UK and international university rankings, each of which have varying methodologies and weightings. It remains to be seen what they each contribute or how they differ, or what analysis you could make that could not be done by looking at raw HEFCE/UCAS data. From here onwards I will most likely continue to publish the three main UK league tables top 10 for computer science, as well as the rankings for Welsh institutions, but with minimal commentary.

So, today saw the publication of the Guardian University Guide 2015; check out the top 10 of the (renamed) Computer Science and Information Systems category (see all 2014 tables):

Ranking 2014
1. University of St Andrews (24th)
2. Imperial College London (3rd)
3. University of Oxford (-)
4. University of Bristol (5th)
5. University of Cambridge (8th)
6. University of Edinburgh (22nd)
7. UCL (9th)
8. University of Southampton (5th)
9. University of Surrey (17th)
10. University of Bristol (4th)
(full table,methodology)

And the rankings for Welsh institutions:

Ranking 2014
27. Cardiff University (28th)
54. Swansea University (29th)
74. Aberystwyth University (58th)
84. Glyndŵr University (99th)
89. University of South Wales (-)
92. Cardiff Metropolitan University (88th)
94. Bangor University (73rd)

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

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The Complete University Guide 2015: Computer Science

Today saw the publication of The Complete University Guide 2015, signalling the start of the UK university ranking season.

Comparing against the 2014 university league tables — especially last year’s Guide — there has been some movement, with two new entrants in the top 10 UK institutions for Computer Science:

Ranking 2014
1. University of Cambridge (1st)
2. Imperial College London (2nd)
3. University of Oxford (3rd)
4. University of St Andrews (15th)
5. Durham University (14th)
6. University College London (8th)
7. University of Birmingham (16th)
8. University of Bristol (5th)
9. University of Exeter (6th)
10. University of Glasgow (4th)
(full table)

 

As always, the rankings for Welsh institutions in Computer Science were of particular interest to me; Cardiff University retained the top spot, with a broadly similar performance to last year (albeit with some movement down the table for the top three):

Ranking 2014
31. Cardiff University (27th)
39. Swansea University (32nd)
46. Aberystwyth University (35th)
64. Glyndŵr University (93rd)
67. University of South Wales (-)
70. Bangor University (58th)
89. Cardiff Metropolitan University (89th)

 
N.B. no data was available for the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

The Complete University Guide’s methodology for the subject league tables are based on four measures: Student Satisfaction, Research Assessment, Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects. To qualify for inclusion in a subject table, a university has to have data for at least two of the four measures; a blank in the Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects columns is not a zero score but rather denotes that no valid data were available.

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Simon Peyton Jones on Teaching Creative Computer Science

An excellent TEDx talk by Simon Peyton Jones, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge and Chair of Computing At School, on why we should teach computer science at school.

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New A Levels in Computer Science from 2015

Today, the Department for Education published guidance for schools on GCE AS/A Level subject content, setting out the knowledge, understanding and skills common to all AS and A level specifications for teaching from 2015. This was in response to the consultation on A Level reform that concluded in December 2013, with a series of changes in the coming years, notably linear A Levels and standalone AS qualifications in certain subjects, including computer science.

Having been involved in this process over the past year, it is great to see these changes to the A Level computer science specification; in particular, the following aspirational aims and objectives:

AS and A Level specifications in computer science must encourage students to develop:

  • an understanding of, and the ability to apply, the fundamental principles and concepts of computer science, including abstraction, decomposition, logic, algorithms and data representation;
  • the ability to analyse problems in computational terms through practical experience of solving such problems, including writing programs to do so;
  • the capacity for thinking creatively, innovatively, analytically, logically and critically;
  • the capacity to see relationships between different aspects of computer science;
  • mathematical skills;
  • the ability to articulate the individual (moral), social (ethical), legal and cultural opportunities and risks of digital technology.

 
Note, it clearly expresses the importance of mathematics (“Computer science uses mathematics to express its computational laws and processes”): any accredited specification in computer science must contain a minimum of 10% mathematics. It will be interesting to see the offerings from the different awarding bodies as they appear in the autumn; check out the full computer science subject content specification.

Much of this new specification builds on the knowledge, understanding and skills
established at Key Stage 4 in the exciting new computing programme of study starting in England from September 2014 (purpose of study: “A high-quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world.”). It remains to be seen how this will stimulate reform in Wales after an underwhelming response from the Welsh Government to last September’s review of the ICT curriculum (blog post to follow shortly).

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Five Programming Top Tips (from a seven year old)

fivetoptips

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.

googlepodium

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 bizarre to reward universities for dishing out a higher proportion of first and upper second class degrees, as this metric can be 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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CAS paper at SIGCSE’13: “Bringing Computer Science Back Into Schools: Lessons From The UK”

Further to the previous CAS papers, Neil Brown (University of Kent) presented a paper entitled: Bringing Computer Science Back Into Schools: Lessons From The UK at SIGCSE’13, the 44th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, in Denver in March.

The paper is available to download for free via the ACM Author-ize service below; you can also listen to Neil’s voice-over of the presentation slides. The abstract is as follows:


Computer science in UK schools is a subject in decline: the ratio of Computing to Maths A-Level students (i.e. ages 16–18) has fallen from 1:2 in 2003 to 1:20 in 2011 and in 2012. In 2011 and again in 2012, the ratio for female students was 1:100, with less than 300 female students taking Computing A-Level in the whole of the UK each year. Similar problems have been observed in the USA and other countries, despite the increased need for computer science skills caused by IT growth in industry and society. In the UK, the Computing At School (CAS) group was formed to try to improve the state of computer science in schools. Using a combination of grassroots teacher activities and policy lobbying at a national level, CAS has been able to rapidly gain traction in the fight for computer science in schools. We examine the reasons for this success, the challenges and dangers that lie ahead, and suggest how the experience of CAS in the UK can benefit other similar organisations, such as the CSTA in the USA.

 

ACM DL Author-ize service

Neil C. C. Brown, Michael Kölling, Tom Crick, Simon Peyton Jones, Simon Humphreys, Sue Sentance
SIGCSE ’13 Proceeding of the 44th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, 2013


(see Publications)

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HEA STEM Workshop: “Rethinking The First Year Computing Curriculum”

In the context of recent (and ongoing) curriculum and qualifications reform for computing education in UK schools, I am hosting a one-day Higher Education Academy workshop in Cardiff in May entitled: Rethinking The First Year Computing Curriculum.

This workshop is being held under the auspices of the HEA Computing discipline area, as part of the HEA STEM workshop series:

HEA STEM (Computing): Rethinking the First Year Computing Curriculum

24th May 2013, 10am-4pm
Department of Computing & Information Systems, Cardiff Metropolitan University, Western Avenue, Cardiff, CF5 2YB

There have been profound changes to computing education in UK schools over the past two years, with significantly more to follow; soon we will see applicants to higher education courses with 4+ years of rigorous computing education at school. How will this affect the first year university computing curriculum?

This workshop will offer a forum to discuss this and related themes:

  • What are the potential issues with the new focus on computing in schools?
  • What changes do we envisage to the content and level of the first year computing curriculum?
  • How will the new GCSEs in Computer Science affect the pipeline of students coming through to university?
  • How can we change the perception of A-Level Computing, especially in light of proposed A-Level reform?
  • Getting kids coding: can we expect a better understanding or aptitude in programming?
  • How can universities encourage and support the teaching of computer science in UK schools (e.g. CAS/BCS Network of Computer Science Teaching Excellence)?
  • Are we doing enough outreach and public engagement activities for computer science, compared to other STEM disciplines?

Registration for this workshop is online (N.B. the cost is £50 for attendees from HEA subscribing institutions).

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Consultation on the Review of ICT and Computer Science Education in Wales

DfES ICT consultation

Computer science touches upon all three of my education priorities: literacy, numeracy and bridging the gap. It equips learners with the problem-solving skills so important in life and work.

The value of computational thinking, problem-solving skills and information literacy is huge, across all subjects in the curriculum. I therefore believe that every child should have the opportunity to learn concepts and principles from computer science.

Indeed, computing is a high priority area for growth in Wales. The future supply and demand for science, technology and mathematics graduates is essential if Wales is to compete in the global economy.

It is therefore vitally important that every child in Wales has the opportunity to study computer science.

Leighton Andrews AM, Minister for Education and Skills (June 2012)

As co-chair of the Welsh Government’s ICT Steering Group, announced in January to consider the future of ICT and computer science in Welsh schools, we are currently inviting stakeholder views as part of a wider open consultation.

Please participate by completing the official online survey (available in English and Welsh) by Friday 10th May 2013.

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