Tag Archives: STEM

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.

Tagged , , , ,

Inquiry into STEM skills in Wales

The National Assembly for Wales’ Enterprise and Business Committee is undertaking a follow-up Inquiry into STEM skills, after the publication of a report on the STEM agenda in Wales in January 2011. The terms of reference for this consultation are as follows:

  • What impact has the Welsh Government’s strategy Science for Wales and Delivery Plan had on STEM skills in Wales?
  • What progress has been made in addressing the issues identified in the Enterprise and Learning Committee’s 2011 inquiry into the STEM agenda, including:
    • The adequacy of provision of STEM skills in schools, further education colleges, higher education and work-based learning (including apprenticeships);
    • Value for money from the additional funding to support and promote STEM skills and whether the current supply of STEM skills is meeting the needs of the Welsh labour market;
    • The supply of education professionals able to teach STEM subjects and the impact of Initial Teacher Training Grants and the Graduate Teacher Programme on recruiting STEM teachers and education professionals;
    • The effectiveness of education and business links between education institutions and STEM employers.
  • Whether any progress has been made on addressing negative perceptions and gender stereotypes of STEM and promoting good practice to encourage women to acquire STEM skills and to follow STEM related careers.
  • What progress has been made on learning STEM skills through Welsh medium education and training?

See the full consultation; the Committee welcomes responses from both individuals and organisations, with a deadline of Friday 25 April 2014.

Tagged , ,

Simon Jenkins on mathematics education

There has been much discussion online of yesterday’s CiF article by Simon Jenkins (For Britain’s pupils, maths is even more pointless than Latin). Click-bait aside, he has been here before; ignoring the derivation of the now-pervasive “x is the new Latin” meme, as well as overlooking the majority of the straw men and other logic fallacies, the main thrust of the article presents a false dichotomy. It appears to reiterate an antiquated Two Cultures-type of divide between mathematics and “creativity and social and emotional capacities” (which also frequently crops up in discussions on programming and computer science education). Furthermore, it implies the drive to reform mathematics education in the UK is ultimately misguided, with few jobs requiring advanced mathematical skills (STEM agenda? No thank you!), and we would be better served by focusing on numeracy as well as encouraging “key industries”:

If British schools are to be slaves to Gove’s economic dogma, they should be turning out accountants, lawyers, administrators and salespeople. That is where the money is. Britain needs literate and presentable young people, sensitive to culture and the world around them, skilled in health, entertainment, finance, the law and citizenship. The truth is that Gove, like most of Cameron’s ministers, is an old socialist planner at heart.

 
Now, this is not to say that there are no issues with mathematics education in the UK; ACME has been arguing for a mathematics curriculum fit for the 21st century, supported by Ofsted and reports highlighting the importance of mathematics in the other sciences. Conrad Wolfram has long maintained we have the wrong focus in how we teach mathematics — in a similar way for computer science, contexts and problems must come first. I have long maintained it is socially acceptable to be bad at mathematics — it is rare for people to publicly admit they are unable to read or write, but happily proclaim a lifelong inability to perform basic calculations.

Jenkins has thus thrown together a ragbag of prejudices (a love of the arts, a dislike of international education markers, a sympathy for progressive education) with personal anecdote and concocted an argument completely detached from reality. As epitomised by this quote:

I learned maths. I found it tough and enjoyable. Algebra, trigonometry, differential calculus, logarithms and primes held no mystery, but they were even more pointless than Latin and Greek. Only a handful of my contemporaries went on to use maths afterwards.

 
…which reminds me of this xkcd comic:

Tagged , , ,

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.
Tagged , , , , , , ,

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).

Tagged , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Interview with ITWales

I was interviewed last month by ITWales, to talk about computer science education, CAS Wales, the Technocamps project and the future skills and expertise required to underpin the digital economy in Wales.


(full interview here)

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Barack Obama on computer science and programming

Watch Barack Obama’s recent Google+ Hangout, in which he discusses the importance of computer science in preparing the USA’s future workforce, in association with the ACM (following on from a successful CSEdWeek in December).

A very clear message about teaching computer science and programming at high school, to develop creators and not just consumers of technology:


(N.B. Obama seems fairly comfortable with computer science, as this interview with Eric Schmidt from 2008 highlights…)

Tagged , , , ,

£3m investment in Computer Science and Digital Literacy in Wales

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 between the ages of 11-16.

Leighton Andrews AM

This is how Leighton Andrews AM, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills, opened his keynote speech at the 2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps Conference at Swansea University on Friday 22nd June. It was a clear declaration by the Welsh Government of the importance and wide utility of computer science education. Building on last year’s successful inaugural conference, the 2nd CAS Wales/Technocamps Conference had the bold tagline of “Delivering Computer Science for Wales“.

The Minister’s speech touched upon a number of key issues, highlighting computer science as a key underpinning STEM discipline, recognising the value of learning how to program, as well as the wider educational impact of computational thinking, problem-solving skills and information literacy across all subjects in the curriculum. He also agreed with the findings of the Royal Society’s report Shut down or restart?, recognising the three distinct strands of computer science, information technology and digital literacy. As part of a broad and balanced curriculum, the Minister reiterated that there should be flexibility in the programmes of study to let teachers deliver a tailored curriculum that best meets the needs of their learners:

I have asked my officials to look at the current ICT Programme of Study at Key Stages 2 and 3 and explore opportunities where computer science may be incorporated within the curriculum.

And more importantly, in response to the headline recommendations of the Digital Classroom Teaching Task and Finish Group to improve digital learning in Wales:


I am pleased to announce today an additional £3m of funding over the next three years to support a range of measures to improve computer science, digital literacy and ICT in schools and colleges across Wales.

While it remains to be seen quite how this money will breaks down, this is a clear Ministerial commitment to promoting and supporting the teaching of computer science in Wales (further to my letter to all state-maintained secondary schools and colleges in Wales in April). There is also a clear imperative for investing in CPD to upskill ICT teachers across Wales to teach computer science:


I believe that provision for continuing professional development for teachers is critical here. The Welsh Government will work closely with delivery partners such as Computing At School and Technocamps to ensure that this CPD programme is well-coordinated and has a significant impact on learner outcomes in digital literacy, ICT and computer science.

The Minister also applauded the work of CAS Wales and Technocamps:

I would encourage headteachers to ensure that their school is engaged with Technocamps. I am also keen to promote the Computing At School initiative by encouraging ICT teachers across Wales to take advantage of this excellent free service.

2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps conference group

(from L-R) Stuart Toomey (Project Manager, Technocamps), Professor Ian Cluckie (Pro-Vice Chancellor, Swansea University), Leighton Andrews AM (Minister for Education and Skills, Welsh Government), Dr Tom Crick (Chair, CAS Wales), Maggie Philbin (CEO, TeenTech), Professor Faron Moller (Director, Technocamps) and Professor Simon Peyton Jones (Chair, CAS)

A huge thanks to all of the keynote speakers and workshop leaders who made the 2012 conference a success, especially Technocamps and Swansea University. Check out the Storify of the conference and the Bring & Brag event, as well as images from the day.

This is a significant milestone in government support for computer science education in Wales (UK?), but it all depends on how we progress from here. Will 2012 be the year of computer science in Wales?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Google’s Luvvies and Boffins at the Science Museum

Google's Luvvies and Boffins

Last night I attended the second Google Luvvies and Boffins event at the Science Museum, after the inaugural event at Google’s UK HQ near Victoria in December.

The context for these events was Eric Schmidt‘s MacTaggart lecture last August, in which he spoke about the importance of bringing the worlds of art and science back together if Britain’s creative industries are to succeed in the digital era:

There’s been a drift towards the humanities –- engineering and science aren’t championed. Even worse, both sides seem to denigrate the other. To use what I’m told is the local vernacular, you’re either a ‘luvvie’ or a ‘boffin’…

Luvvies and Boffins badges

Luvvies and boffins, he said, need to work together, identifying the idea of STEAM (rather than just STEM) education: Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics. While the idea of a ‘digital luvvie’ may conjure up images of Nathan Barley, it is an interesting concept, especially in light of the Next Gen. report published in February 2011 (which, amongst other things, advocated the teaching of computer science in UK schools) and the wider importance of the digital and creative industries in the UK.

This event (which coincided with the monthly Science Museum Lates) was also celebrating the opening of the Science Museum’s new year-long Codebreaker: Alan Turing’s Life and Legacy exhibition, with tours from the curator. There was also the opportunity to see a demonstration of the Babbage Engine (video), as well as some hands-on science with the Technology Will Save Us team, creating your very own Lumiphone from scratch:

Lumiphone kit

Overall, an excellent evening — where else could you solder and drink cocktails? — thank you to Google and the Science Museum for hosting.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps Conference


As Chair of Computing At School (CAS) in Wales, I am pleased to announce the 2012 CAS Wales/Technocamps Conference, to be held at Swansea University on Friday 22nd June. The tagline for this year’s conference is: “Delivering Computer Science for Wales“.

Building on last year’s successful inaugural conference, CAS Wales are continuing to work in partnership with the Technocamps project to drive forward the computer science education agenda and provide an opportunity for teachers, practitioners, academics, local government and industry representatives across Wales to come together to discuss the latest policy issues and share best practice.

I am pleased to confirm the keynote speakers for the conference:

There will also be a full workshop schedule featuring: Programming with Greenfoot (Dr Neil Brown, University of Kent), Kodu (Stuart Ball, Microsoft Partners in Learning), cs4fn (Professor Peter McOwan, QMUL), Wearable Arduinos (Sophie McDonald), Aber Robots (Technocamps, Aberystwyth University), OCR GCSE Computing forum (David Pearce, Brynteg Comprehensive School), Interactive Fiction (Kristian Still, Hamble Community Sports College), Algorithmic Problem Solving (Dr João Ferreira, Teeside University) and Computational Modelling (Professor Faron Moller, Technocamps/Swansea University).

Registration for this free event is online; there is also a TeachMeet-style “Bring & Brag” event the evening before the conference for teachers and practitioners to network and connect with the wider CAS and Technocamps community and showcase some of the innovative and engaging ways in which they are teaching computer science at school. You can also follow the event on Twitter: @CASWales and @Technocamps on the hashtag #caswales12.

With the recent attention on computer science education in the UK, this conference is a prime opportunity for the Welsh Government to recognise its importance and invest in its delivery in Wales. In doing so, it would take a massive leap ahead of the rest of the UK.

I look forward to welcoming you to Swansea University at the end of June.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Will 2012 be the Year of Computer Science?

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.

After a recent conversation with @BringBackCS, it seemed an opportune time to coalesce Twitter discussions under a unifying hashtag:


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)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Beti Williams MBE

I was delighted to hear this morning that Beti Williams had been made a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to women in sciences, engineering and technology in the 2012 New Year Honours List (full open data list of recipients here).

Beti has worked tirelessly on promoting computer science and IT careers in Wales, primarily as Director of ITWales for 15 years and a founder of BCS Women in Wales. Prior to her retirement, Beti was instrumental in obtaining EU funding for two projects worth £20m: Software Alliance Wales (creation of a pan-Wales knowledge network for software developers) and Technocamps (which aims to promote and support the study of computer science in schools and colleges). In 1996, Beti was a finalist in the Welsh Woman of the Year and in 2006 was the winner of the Best Woman in Technology (Public Sector/Academia category) in the Blackberry Woman of the Year Awards.

Thoroughly deserved. Congratulations Beti!

Tagged , , , , , ,

Expert Panel report on the National Curriculum review

Yesterday, the Expert Panel for the National Curriculum review released its report: “The Framework for the National Curriculum“, alongside a written ministerial statement by Michael Gove.

I have a huge interest in the outcomes of the National Curriculum review in England, primarily through my work with Computing At School (CAS), but also its impact on education policy in Wales. With the BCS Academy of Computing (the learned society dedicated to advancing computing as an academic discipline), CAS submitted a response to the call for evidence in April 2011; one of the main aims was to highlight to the Department for Education that computer science is a rigorous academic subject distinct from digital literacy and for it to be considered separately from ICT in the National Curriculum review. This letter to Michael Gove in June 2011 from the BCS and high-profile tech industry leaders further reinforced the strategic national importance of computer science to industry and the UK economy.

Here are two key snippets from the Expert Panel’s report (page 24):

Despite their importance in balanced educational provision, we are not entirely persuaded of claims that design and technology, information and communication technology and citizenship have sufficient disciplinary coherence to be stated as discrete and separate National Curriculum ‘subjects’.

We recommend that…Information and communication technology is reclassified as part of the Basic Curriculum and requirements should be established so that it permeates all National Curriculum subjects. We have also noted the arguments, made by some respondents to the Call for Evidence, that there should be more widespread teaching of computer science in secondary schools. We recommend that this proposition is properly considered.

This has come a week after a rather damning Ofsted report on ICT in schools, which says that only one third of secondary schools achieve ‘Good’ or better at teaching ICT. There is clearly still a lot of work to be done to ensure that we are developing the appropriate level of computational skills in schools (irrespective of what the subject is called), but this statement from the Expert Panel is certainly a positive step (although “We recommend that this proposition is properly considered.” is a bizarre turn of phrase, with little commitment). I am also concerned that embeddding ICT across the curriculum has been attempted before, with little success.

Let’s see what the Royal Society’s report says in January.

Tagged , , , , ,

Research on STEM careers in Wales

Chwarae Teg, in partnership with the Science Council, are undertaking comparative research in the career paths of men and women across Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) industries in Wales. The survey is intended to be completed by men and women who either live or studied in Wales and hold a post-16 STEM qualification; for most people this will mean education and training undertaken after having completed your O-Levels/GCSEs.

Targeted subjects include: Physics, Chemistry, Mathematics, Computer Science, Engineering, Biology, Geography, Geology, Forensic Science, Psychology, Sports Science and Archaeological Sciences.

The research will explore why women and girls do not progress into STEM careers in Wales; it forms part of the Agile Nation project run by Chwarae Teg, funded by the European Social Fund and Welsh Government.

Please complete the survey (also available in Welsh) and pass along to your colleagues and networks in Wales. The deadline for the survey is Tuesday 20th December 2011.

Tagged , , , , , ,

Microsoft UK Partners in Learning Forum 2011

mspilfuk2011

On Thursday 24th November, I will be speaking at the 2011 Microsoft UK Partners in Learning Forum, a free one-day conference for teachers and educators at Microsoft HQ, Thames Valley Park in Reading. This year, the workshops and keynotes are all STEM-focused and address the theme of “Teach more, learn more, inspire more“. As with last year’s event held in Manchester, they will also be announcing this year’s Microsoft UK Partners in Learning Teacher Awards.

This year’s keynotes are Ian Livingstone (of Games Workshop and Eidos fame, as well as co-author of the recent NESTA Next Gen. report on the video games and visual effects industry), Alex Bellos (author of the popular science book Alex’s Adventures in Numberland) and Ollie Bray (the National Adviser for Emerging Technologies at Education Scotland).

I am leading one of the featured workshop sessions on how we need to develop and encourage the next generation of technology innovators in the UK. I will be discussing the work of the Computing at School (CAS) working group, as well as highlighting the importance of computing from both an educational and economic perspective. Since many of the other workshops are more hands-on (such as using the Kinect SDK, building gadgets with .NET Gadgeteer and using Skype in the classroom), I intend to stimulate discussion in my session by drawing attention to some of the problems with the current state of ICT education in the UK (and how we can try and resolve them), as well as how computing is a core STEM discipline.

There are still a few places remaining, including the informal TeachMeet the night before. I hope to see you there!

Tagged , , ,

Where are the Cross-Party Groups for science and technology?

The National Assembly for Wales is the democratically elected body that represents the interests of Wales and its people: it makes laws for Wales and holds the Welsh Government to account. Alongside the day-to-day Assembly business of plenary meetings, Committees and the legislative process, there exists a number of Cross-Party Groups.

A Cross-Party Group is not a formal Assembly grouping (and hence is not bound by any of the Assembly’s Standing Orders) but may be set up by Assembly Members in respect of any subject area relevant to the Assembly. A group must include Members from three political parties represented within the Assembly. Like All-Party Groups in Westminster, they have no formal role in policy development, but they indicate an area or a topic that is of importance to the Assembly or to Wales in general.

During the Third Assembly (2007-2011), there were two Cross-Party Groups in which I held a professional interest:

  • Cross-Party Group on Science & Technology: To bring together Assembly Members and others with an interest in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in Wales, with the aim of raising awareness amongst AMs of important developments in STEM, both technological and educational; and how policy issues impact upon these areas.
  • Cross-Party Digital Group: To promote the use of digital and information technology in Wales.

The existence of these two Cross-Party Groups was a hugely positive step by the Assembly, recognising the importance of the STEM agenda and of digital technologies to Wales. However, looking at the Cross-Party Groups that have been registered in this Fourth Assembly, there are no groups that solely focus on any of these crucial areas. While the creation of a Chief Scientific Advisor for Wales in 2010, along with the Science Advisory Council for Wales, are both significant steps forward, there are no legislative Committees that clearly have science within their remit. This is a concern.

The Welsh Government have repeatedly highlighted the importance of the Digital Economy/ICT sector, identified as one of the priority sectors for economic renewal. The significance of the cross-government Delivering a Digital Wales framework is also clear: a wide-ranging strategy to reflect the importance digital technologies now play in our lives, touching upon virtually every strand of public and private sector activity. The strategic importance of the provision of STEM subjects was firmly underlined with the publication of the Enterprise and Learning Committee‘s The STEM Agenda report in January 2011. Furthermore, the imminent publication of Science for Wales: A Strategic Agenda for Science in Wales by the Chief Scientific Advisor (of which I have been part of the stakeholder consultation), further reinforces the importance of science to Wales, from both an economic and educational perspective.

This is an open call to all Assembly Members (though specifically Huw Lewis AM and Bethan Jenkins AM due to their previous involvement in the two Cross-Party Groups named above): please form a new Cross-Party Group to focus on these key areas. It is imperative that the Assembly continues to recognise and highlight the importance of science and technology to Wales, as well as engaging with the wider Welsh science community. I would happily work with this new Cross-Party Group to further advance the STEM and digital agenda in Wales.

Tagged , , ,

SuperLab: Future Chips

Yesterday I travelled up to the University of Bradford for the British Science Festival, one of Europe’s largest science festivals. Each year the Festival travels to a different UK location, with over 250 events, activities, exhibitions and trips taking place over a week to showcase the latest in science, technology and engineering. The theme for the 2011 Festival is “Exploring new worlds“. The British Science Festival is also the culmination of my British Science Association Media Fellowship, after working with BBC Wales (predominantly BBC Radio Wales) for the past six weeks. I will be reporting from the Festival’s press centre throughout the week.

However, I am also here for SuperLab, a joint initiative between the National Higher Education STEM Programme and the British Science Association. The National HE STEM Programme supports higher education institutions in the exploration of new approaches to recruiting students and delivering programmes of study within the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines; I have previously worked with the Welsh HE STEM “spoke” based at Swansea University.

SuperLab consists of a poster-based campaign focusing on the wide range of in-store STEM applications in a modern supermarket, for example, the physics behind barcode scanners. It was originally planned to coincide with National Science and Engineering Week 2012 (every March, NSEW showcases how the sciences and engineering relate to our everyday lives and helps to inspire the next generation of scientists), but was reorganised to be part of this year’s Festival, as part of the Science in Action exhibition.

The topic for my research poster was the microprocessor, entitled “Future Chips“, somewhat subverting the original SuperLab theme. Nevertheless, I would assert that the invention of the microprocessor has had the greatest overall impact on our lives and development — I wanted to try and highlight to a wide audience how reliant we are on the all-pervasive microprocessor (especially its multitude of applications), as well as the ubiquitous nature of technology. In doing this, I wanted to get four main themes across:

  • Swimming in a Sea of Silicon: highlighting our reliance on microprocessors;
  • Limitations of Moore’s Law: how we are hitting the limits of existing architectural models and fabrication technologies;
  • The Future is Multi-Core: the move away from a single high-speed processor to a multi-core methodology — a single computing component with numerous independent processors;
  • The Challenge: Power Efficiency: in our increasingly connected digital world, improving the energy efficiency and power consumption of the billions of devices is paramount.

SuperLab wordle

So, with thanks to the superb work from the professional designers (especially considering some of my inane scribblings), here it is:

SuperLab: Future Chips

For further reading…

If you are interested, here are the references to the research that is (briefly) mentioned in my SuperLab poster (or contact me):

I’m also involved in HiPEAC, the European Network of Excellence on High Performance and Embedded Architecture and Compilation, funded under the European Commission Seventh Framework Programme (FP7). The aim of HiPEAC is to steer and increase European research in the area of high performance and embedded computing systems and stimulate cooperation between academia and industry; for more information about HiPEAC, check out its research and activities.

Tagged , , , , ,

Science and the Assembly 2011

I have been invited to speak at Science and the Assembly 2011, an annual event organised by the Royal Society of Chemistry, designed to develop closer links between the scientific community in Wales, the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government.

I’m one of six invited speakers from across academia and industry, as well as the WAG Chief Scientific Advisor, Professor John Harries, on themes heralded by the International Year of Chemistry. However, I will be subverting the theme somewhat by discussing the importance of Computing to Wales, highlighting how it underpins modern scientific research and where it sits within the STEM agenda:

Computing: Enabling a Digital Wales

The strategic importance of the provision of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects, as well as their contribution to the Welsh and wider UK economy has been frequently discussed, but there appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding with where Computing and related disciplines sit within the STEM portfolio. It should be regarded as the quintessential STEM subject, involving scientific enquiry, engineering design and mathematical foundations, as well as embodying deeper computational thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills.

In December 2010, the Welsh Assembly Government outlined a framework for Delivering a Digital Wales, a wide-ranging strategy to reflect the importance digital technologies now play in our lives, touching upon virtually every strand of public and private sector activity. Hence, being able to innovate with technology will be a crucial part of the future economic strength of Wales. And therein lies the importance and relevance of Computing education: it is imperative that there is a clear strategy for Computing in Wales that distinguishes it from “digital literacy”, recognising it as a core discipline that underpins modern scientific research.

This is a well-timed event considering the recent Assembly elections, so I hope there is a strong turnout from both newly elected Assembly Members and policymakers.

The seventh annual Science and the Assembly takes place in Cardiff Bay on Tuesday 24th May 2011 at the Pierhead Building and the Senedd; registration is online.

Tagged , , , , ,

Computing: Enabling a Digital Wales?

A few weeks ago I was invited to write a blog post for the Campaign for Science & Engineering (CaSE), discussing science policy issues relating to the impending devolved elections in Wales. Since I now have my own blog, I thought I would repost it here and keep an eye on any science policy developments over the next month or so in the lead up to the elections on 5th May:

CaSE logo

Computing: Enabling a Digital Wales?

In December 2010, the Welsh Assembly Government outlined a framework for Delivering a Digital Wales, a wide-ranging strategy to reflect the importance digital technologies now play in our lives, touching virtually every strand of public and private sector activity. The WAG Economic Renewal Programme further reinforced the importance of ICT/Digital Economy as one of the six priority sectors for economic renewal.

Deputy Minister for Science, Innovation and Skills, Lesley Griffiths said at the Digital Wales launch:

The growth of our economy and the well-being of our citizens are now inexorably linked to advances in technology. We must be prepared to respond quickly to new opportunities and challenges that rapid technological change will continue to bring.

While substantial inroads in developing the infrastructure for a digital economy in Wales have been made, there is still a long way to go. A third of the adult population in Wales do not use the Internet, less than 40% of Welsh SMEs actually sell online and one in six Welsh employers consider the IT skills of their employees insufficient.

Large-scale ICT infrastructure improvements, including the roll-out of superfast broadband across parts of Wales, the funding of High Performance Computing Wales and even Improving Care through ICT for Health in Wales, have created a strong platform to support the proposed Digital Wales plan, but what about the strategic development of the required technically-skilled workforce? Emphasis has been placed on broadening and deepening the skills base in Wales, but is this being done in the right areas?

Understanding Computing

The strategic importance of the provision of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects and careers and their contribution to the UK economy has been frequently discussed, but there appears to be a fundamental misunderstanding with where Computing and related disciplines sit within the STEM portfolio. Furthermore, there are a number of questions about how Computing is taught in schools across the UK; in essence, it isn’t. As in England, most schools in Wales teach ICT (Information & Communication Technology) rather than Computing. Unfortunately, ICT invariably consists solely of teaching how to use office productivity software such as word processors and spreadsheets. This is creating a generation of technology consumers (the “PowerPoint generation”), who do not have any deep comprehension of the technologies they are using beyond a superficial application-focused understanding. Futhermore, it is disengaging students who mistakenly believe that this is what Computing as a discipline (or potential career) is actually about.

A part of the Digital Wales agenda is focused on equipping people to become digital citizens; one facet of this is educating children so that by the time they become adults they are capable of making a valuable contribution to the digital society and economy. And therein lies the importance and relevance of Computing education; schools should equip every child with the basic understanding of how computers work and with the technological capabilities to take part in a knowledge-based society and economy. By spectacularly failing to do this, there is a serious problem.

Part of this is perhaps to do with terminology: Computing is not just about computers (as per Edsger W. Dijkstra’s famous quote: “Computer science is no more about computers than astronomy is about telescopes.”); it embodies deeper computational thinking, problem-solving and analytical skills. In some ways, it is the quintessential STEM subject, involving scientific enquiry, engineering design and mathematical foundations.

Positive Steps

The importance of the creative industries in Wales (including recent funding for West Wales and the Valleys) demonstrates that being able to innovate with technology is a crucial part of the future economic strength of Wales. Not having the skilled workforce or graduates to supply this future demand would be disastrous. However, there are a number of recently announced initiatives that are addressing this lack of strategic focus on Computing education and training.

The announcement in February 2011 of £6m funding over three years for the Technocamps project was a huge step forward; it aims to encourage young people in Wales to follow in the footsteps of successful technologists and entrepreneurs by inspiring them to study Computing-based topics underpinning and aligned with the STEM subjects. Over 2,600 pupils from across the Convergence area of Wales will get the chance to develop their technical skills and gain an insight into the wide range of Computing-related careers open to them.

Technocamps is further supported by the announcement in October 2010 of 13m investment over five years for Software Alliance Wales (SAW), which will boost the growth and competitiveness of the strategically important digital technology sector. One priority of SAW is to increase higher-level ICT skills across all business and industry sectors. Complementary funding was also announced in 2010 for the National Science Academy and STEM Cymru to ensure Wales has a continuous pipeline of people graduating from colleges and universities with the appropriate qualifications and skills.

But there is still significant work to be done; Computing at School (CAS), a membership association formally supported by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, is actively working in Wales in partnership with the Technocamps project to support and promote the teaching of Computing in Wales and stimulate curriculum change. The widely reported Royal Society review into Computing in Schools, along with its importance and implications for the economic and scientific strength of the UK, is due in November 2011. A national debate on subjects in Wales announced in February 2011 by Leighton Andrews, Deputy Minister for Children, Education and Lifelong Learning, to discuss the future of A-level and vocational subjects in Wales, will hopefully recognise the importance of Computing in supporting future economic growth and enabling a Digital Wales. In England, the Department of Education review of the National Curriculum has restarted a similar debate; Scotland has already included Computing as part of its Curriculum of Excellence. It would be extraordinary if Wales did not do the same.

(A related article has been written by Dr Bill Mitchell, Director of the BCS Academy of Computing, the learned society dedicated to advancing computing as an academic discipline: The Collapse of Computing Education in English Schools)

Tagged , , , , , , ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 351 other followers