Reviewing The Way That Computing Is Taught At School

I’m currently attending ITiCSE 2013 which is one of the world’s major conferences looking at Computer Science Education.

One of the major changes being discussed related to the planned changes in the way that Computing is taught in schools within the UK. Simon Peyton Jones (of Haskell fame) delivered a keynote address about his work with the Computing At School project, and this subject has also been picked up in discussions in person, in Twitter and during panel sessions.

The main problem expressed with Computing at school has been the focus on ICT skills. That is, trying to ensure that children are able to use computer packages (particularly Microsoft Office) and consume information, but not understanding the mechanics and science behind computers.

That approach has been said to be damaging to pupils, with GCSE coursework based around taking hundreds of screenshots. There have also been expressions that this is demoralising to staff, with the low level of teaching not allowing them to engage pupils (one delegate reported having to teach fashion students how to use a mouse).

The alternative, which is being pushed, is to offer several different choices of Computing qualifications, analogous to how Science may turn out Physics specialists as well as people with a more general Combined Science qualification. The push needs to be to treat Computing on a level with other core subjects.

The recommendations from the Computing At School Working Group include students being exposed to Computer Science from an early age, gaining a practical understanding of topics such as algorithms and logic. All of the GCSE accreditation bodies are now offering qualifications in Computer Science as well as in ICT. And, funding for training school teachers has now moved away from training ICT teachers to instead training Computer Science teachers.

One of the outstanding questions is how these changes will impact upon study at university level. Will students be arriving at university with higher level skills, thus requiring university courses to start and end at a more advanced level? Will at interest in Computer Science at school increase the uptake of Computer Science at university? As Computer Science is repositioned, universities will have to adapt to the changes.

Mobile, Social and Cloud

Over the past months, I’ve attended events and workshops run by three of the best-known (and biggest) IT vendors – Oracle, Microsoft and IBM.

And, three common themes have been emerging about where the IT industry is heading, and what skills students need to have by the end of a degree within a Computing discipline.

First Mobile. A substantial amount of Computing now goes on within mobile devices, whether these are phones or tablets. Students need to be able to develop apps and mobile websites for different purposes and to present a seamless experience, whether a site is being accessed on a mobile or desktop device.

Second, Social. Integrating social media technology into applications and web sites is essential, both to ensure that content can go viral and to increase the uptake of that content.

Thirdly, Cloud. Developing software and data that is only available on one device is of limited use. Even for something as a game to be successful, it would want to have the opportunity for people to compete against one another and have scores appear in a single high score table. This is something which requires remote storage of the data.

All three of these themes clearly link together. For instance, a mobile web site could be developed to store all of its data in the cloud so that it can be accessed from any device. It could use “Login With Facebook” to speed up access to the site and to promote activity on the site automatically on Facebook.

The challenge will be to what extent universities respond to these changes and integrate these skills within the technical remit of their courses. Certainly, an interesting area to explore further, particularly in my case, the more technical social media opportunities.

Computer Science – Birmingham City University – Word Cloud

I thought I’d generate another word cloud, so here’s one for BSc Computer Science at Birmingham City University, the course which I’m in charge of.

The text for the word cloud was generated by manually taking the text from the four tabs on the official BSc Computer Science course information page on the Birmingham City University web site.

Word cloud showing the BSc Computer Science course at Birmingham City UniversityIt’s interesting, as I think that this represents the course and it’s industrial focus very well, in particular the focus on software and systems. Many of the main course areas are prominent. The only word which looks out of place is the word credits, but that’s reflects the details of specific modules provided (quite rightfully) on the course information page.

Feel free to try this for your course and let me know if the word cloud offers a good representation.