Off to Edinburgh today, to meet✝ Vint Cerf.

✝ Meet (vb.) to be within acceptable tolerances of the same GPS identifiable location.

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Perceptual cliffs and credit card thin iPhones would be a good starter for a critical thinking, next-generation device discussion.

Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow - John Siracusa

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The downside of cabled updates…

Tangled 30-pin cables

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There are many issues with Configurator and VPP that need to be sorted, in order to scale this operation up by a factor of 30!

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And the second set of iPads were deployed today! Next week the real business end begins…

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It’s been a long journey so far, but today our first set of pupil iPads have been deployed. Happy days!

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And tomorrow (today) is provisioning day! I really should start writing this up…

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Computing and Information Science - feedback

The SQA, and no doubt a large host of teachers and consultants, have been busy in recent months building the framework for the new Senior Phase courses that are designed to embed the ideas of Curriculum for Excellence into Scotland’s qualifications, including the “gold standard” Higher.

As part of that process, many subjects, courses, and their contents have been rationalised or overhauled. Amongst those significantly affected has been the study of Computing. From having a mix of Computing Studies at Standard Grade, as well as distinct Computing and Information Systems courses as part of the Higher Still qualification, to a single subject now named Computing and Information Systems.

The SQA have requested feedback throughout this process. I thought I would share my feedback here… which it should be pointed out, is made without access to a significant amount of connected documentation which is not due until after the deadline for providing feedback!

Course Specifications

Purpose and Aims

I would like to start by whole-heartedly agreeing with the purpose of the (Higher) course:

Computing and information science is vital to everyday life; it shapes the world in which we live and its future. Computer scientists play key roles in meeting the needs of society today and for the future, in fields which include science, communications, entertainment, education, business and industry. Our society needs more computer scientists and for all young people to have an informed view of the IT industry and its contribution to the economy.

The aims are also broadly admirable. Although there is a lack of definition of what some of the aims refer to, such as what the “key concepts” of the subject are. I would have hoped that precisely these types of questions should have been answered first, and not vaguely alluded to in course specifications.

Course Structure

I am concerned that in rationalising the previous Computing and Information Systems courses, the content of the optional units have mostly been dropped, and that has left just Software Development and Database Systems, along with a little bit of Computer Systems and some web development thrown in.

I am glad that we have managed to exorcise ICT skills from the study of Computing, as important as ICT competency is, but we have to be careful not to reduce Computing to little more than programming and databases. Computing is a broad discipline with many areas of specialisation, so confining the course to a pair of fixed units is very limiting. I would like to see some opportunities for these specialism, and other aspects of Computing, to be included in the course, or least the flexibility for teachers to include extra content in their own delivery.

Unit Specifications (National 4/5)

The outcomes of the Software Design and Development and Information System Design and Development units seem more or less appropriate at the levels they are intended, within the context of my concerns about the system specifications.

I am more concerned about the “mandatory skills, knowledge and understanding for the Computing and Information Science (National 4) Course” which appear in the only documentation I have seen which describes what students will be assessed on in the new qualifications. They include a significant number of already dated terminology, without some built in process for allowing the subject to adapt to developments in technology.

Let me exemplify with a couple of examples.

The types of computer stated mean that students must define (at the equivalent of Int 1, or General, level) what a “mainframe” is despite their being a great chance they will never encounter one even if they eventually work in the Computing industry. Similarly, they must define the term “PDA” despite the fact that this is a term (and class of device) that has almost universally obsoleted.

The same point could be made of the discussion of data types as well as storage, input, and output devices. Apparently arbitrarily missing from the fixed list of output devices are LED displays, and yet a distinction is made between LCD and plasma displays.

I have no issue with the actual terms, rather with embedding them in the assessment documentation, and therefore burdening students and teachers with their definitions until such a time the course is revised. Why do these terms need to be specified at all? Is it not enough to talk about the principles of these types of devices and allow the learning and teaching process to focus on the devices/terms that are appropriate at the point of teaching?

There is also the issue of design considerations being in the section on web-based applications (not sure if this refers to applications hosted on the web or those for creating web content – the term suggests the former, but the content statements the latter). Surely these principles apply equally to software and database development?

Finally on the the National 4 assessment, I am concerned about the sheer number of content statements, particularly related to the Information System Design and Development unit. I would like to see a more skill/task based course with supporting theory, whereas the content statements suggest to me that the opposite would be the result for that unit. I understood that one principle of the CfE courses was to allow for depth of study. At National 4 level I think that will be difficult with that amount of content.

General Comments

I am surprised at the closed nature of this development and consultation process, given the increasingly widespread use of the social aspects of the web. I have chosen to publicly share my feedback, and I would be glad if others did likewise. Transparency in the decision making process would help to reassure everyone that the result is the best outcome. After all, if I am the only person to feel as I do, I can hardly be unhappy if the result is not what I would like to see.

Related to this, I would like to know what input universities and industry had in helping to determine the topics that make up the course, and the content statements that make up each topic.

Could research and feedback, and not just selected highlights of the same, not be posted and available for all?

And finally, as I post this as feedback, I notice that you are not asked to leave a contact. So feedback will be taken, but there seems to be little plan to follow this up afterwards. I am sure that would be useful in a number of situations.

Addendum

Update: This post was written before the subject name was refined to simply Computing Science. The SQA have now finalised information on all levels of CfE Computing Science.

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#EduScotICT

A month ago Scotland’s Cabinet Secretary for Education, Michael Russell MSP, recently posted a message on YouTube announcing a consultation into the future of GLOW.

In one week there will be a conference in Stirling, with a mix of invited guests attending, with streaming of discussions for anyone to join/comment. There was even a wiki set up to elicit opinions and start the discussion going. I have to say the attitude is refreshingly progressive.

I am not sure I feel qualified or entitled to contribute to the debate. I first saw GLOW three years ago, and have bumped into it a few times since, but I have never had a GLOW account – and sadly I am not likely to in the future, but I will come to that later.

I can only scratch the surface here, but after a month of reading and occasional discussions, the following things occur to me…

Objective 1: Change the culture of the use of ICT

ICT skills need to be treated with the same importance and weight as numeracy and literacy. Until then pupils and teachers will not be expected to have the skills they require, and schools will not be expected to provide them.

Pupils need to be able to access the same resources at school as they can at home, and ideally on their own chosen device. It is ridiculous that a school would block YouTube (for example) when so many wonderful resources reside there, and when pupils can sit during lunch watching completely unfiltered content via their 3G smartphones.

Filtering, if it is to exist at all, needs to be implemented in a far more liberal way. Teachers need to be the arbiters of appropriateness of material, not technical staff or local authorities.

All this technology makes it really easy to share resources, and yet somehow it happens surprisingly rarely. The #EduScotICT wiki, as well as numerous individual blogs, is evidence that people can share, but it happens infrequently in a meaningful way. We have the opportunity to produce shared instructional materials and activities, and on top ofthat we can encourage debate and interaction with and beyond these.

Objective 2: Improve confidence in the use of ICT for learners, teachers, school leaders and parents

Expect competency from teachers and support learners (including teachers, leaders, and parents). We expect numeracy and literacy to a minimum level from our teachers, surely we should expect the same of their ICT skills. But, of course, support is needed to make sure that they can meet expectations. Training, exemplification, sharing, and encouragement – for all these learner groups).

Recognise a wider variety of skills. Can we please kill our obsession with Microsoft Office? Although we have to be careful not to replace that with an obsession with iPads. If you can demonstrate a skill, or an understanding, does it matter how you do so, or which tool you use? Let’s understand that people learn in different ways.

Be wary of qualifications. ECDL and PC Passport are formulaic approaches to delivering and assessing ICT skills, and if they fit your needs then that’s great. However, teacher training courses had ICT as a core skill a decade ago and yet still teachers are joining the profession lacking skills and confidence. A piece of paper is less effective than a commitment to share ideas and good practice.

Create national resources. Good resources. Resources to help all learners specifically with ICT skills, and more generally resources that teachers will want to use. If there are benefits to gaining ICT skills, people will be more likely to want to gain them.

Encourage the use of “personal learning networks”, whether via Twitter-like tools, forums, or blogs. Equally, encourage the same in the physical space. Teachmeet, in-school groups, area discussion groups, and national conferences. I am sure there are many more options available.

Objective 3: Promote new behaviours for teaching

I cannot really comment on this without thinking that the real issue is actually that we need to work out what we are going to teach and how we are going to assess it. But that’s another post.

I don’t think it’s about “new” behaviours so much as good practice, which must always have been at the forefront of any good teacher’s mind. Of course, with changes in technology, especially as it infiltrates further into schools, there will be a need to change teaching behaviours. But I hope that all good teacher would recognise that.

We also need to recognise that just because technology is an integral part of life, and increasingly school, does not mean that everything should be about the technology. But again, I am sort of hoping that this is a given.

Objective 4: Deepen parental engagement

All schools should go beyond the web site. And it might depend on the school, the parent population, and the currently prominent tools. But communication in a number of ways, from which parents can chose, seems a minimum.

Email. Twitter. Facebook. It really does not matter, except there should be multiple methods of communication, and new ones should be added as they become widespread. The parents should choose the one they want.

Open pupil records to parents (and pupils). Let them log in and see a pupil’s progress and current work. Give them a chance to discuss and promote the school.

Let pupils contact parents, and other pupils, themselves. Blogs and wikis, or Facebook and Twitter – again, it perhaps depends on the school etc., and as technology changes so must the available tools.

Importantly, give pupils and parents some control over the method of communication. Again, we all work in different ways. We all want different things.

Objective 5: Strengthen position on hardware and associated infrastructure

All schools need a reliable, high bandwidth network connection. Without the infrastructure, no amount of improvement in ICT provision within school will be of benefit.

Whole site Wifi access is required in all schools, with pupils and staff allowed to make use of their own devices, in and out of classes. Ubiquitous access to all resources.

One to one deployment of devices should be the norm. Type and uniformity of device, and funding issues, are up for much debate no doubt – but everyone needs something. Universal access to all resources.

Ideally there should be a single login for each user. Technologies like OpenID/oAuth allow such an idea to be a reality. Many tools already support generic login methods, and others do so by use of plug-ins, while I am sure others would be able to with relatively minor funding/encouragement. Though this is much less essential for staff, much less likely to be an issue for parents, and only really critical in junior school years.

Create a national resource repository. Encourage sharing, editing, and rating of resources. All teachers should have access to all resources. Resources need not be centrally stored, but should be catalogued by course and topic. We have thousands of teachers in this country, and many more internationally, let’s make use of that. Let’s all create things for each other.

And finally…

I would not have thought about this, but for my involvement in trying to get GLOW opened up to independent schools and further/higher education, but really…

Whatever replaces GLOW, assuming it is somehow curated, will not be a truly national resource if organisations are excluded from accessing it and contributing resources to it.

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