My notes from the Royal Society meeting in Glasgow, 22/3/11
The Royal Society are producing a report on the issues affecting the uptake of Computing in schools in the UK. Last week a group of teachers and other professionals got together to discuss the issues that affect Computing in Scotland.
Timetabling was thought to be a big issue. Often Computing has the lowest amount of time allocated to pupils. Often we are trying to teach topics such as games design in one period of 40-45 minutes. This reflects the perceived importance of the subject by the SMT to the pupils so they then view it as unimportant. All pupils are entitled to learn about Computing and ICT as part of Curriculum for Excellence. Amount of time given to the subject reflects how important the subject is to SMT and the kids pick this up. We are expected to teach to the same quality with a quarter of the time.
It is also frequent that Computing is in the last column for subject choice, displaying again the unimportance of the subject to the pupils – it’s just something fun to choose once you’ve selected all the critical subjects.
Computer Science outcomes are entitlement for all pupils, not just as an elective but this depends on how the head teacher feels about this. We wondered if the teaching of CS for all be enforced by HMI / Scottish Government?! Do they even know this is a problem?
Osmosis of skills was also highlighted. It is a common parental view that “My little Susie doesn’t need to take Computing because she’s really good at that, she’s always on Facebook….” People/parents also think you can learn Computing on the job but so many people don’t ‘work smart’ and spend hours on things that would take seconds with the right skills
It was suggested that we could do an audit of skills for new S1 pupils to research and record the difference in the skills they have and the skills we feel they should have. This would demonstrate the need for Computing and ICT in the curriculum.
There needs to be meaningful progression from the work done by pupils in ICT. For example if pupils have used Scratch then we need to challenge them with proper programming concepts using BYOB or similar (I am not saying Scratch isn’t proper programming but that pupils may not have been introduced to the theory behind the fun of Scratch).
It’s crucial to have meaningful, relevant and engaging contexts for learning and not to teach theory in a dry isolated manner. There were some great examples of contextual learning given today (Jason Bain from Fife talked about a fantastic murder mystery topic run in his school). We need to have this exciting teaching happening to ‘win’ the pupils at course choice time.
All this good practice HAS to be captured! We need a way of sharing all the learning and teaching resources being developed in schools across Scotland. Glow Futures / Glow 2 needs to have a way of easily sharing materials, although I’m not sure if we can wait until September 2012 to be doing this sharing.
We need a lead teacher at the council level to help with the strategy and representation. I am very aware that not all councils have someone providing the role I play at Edinburgh Council. I also involve other nearby councils when I share information and have positive feedback from them. This role will become more important as the number of Faculties increase and we lose Heads of Computing.
Web filtering is also a problem. We can’t teach cyber bullying and social networking effectively. We also can make use of national resources such as the CANVAS OpenSim virtual world by LTS in many councils due to the firewalls not being opened up. We need national guidance on this.
Computing is an easy subject for schools to justify reducing as it is one of the more expensive. Annual costs for maintaining computers, network costs, software updates every few years (and the resulting time required to learn new packages and adapt teaching materials), printer costs and other peripherals all combine to make Computing more expensive than teaching History with the same textbooks every year.
In the olden days programming BBC Microcomputers was a way to get kids enthusiastic about coding. Nowadays the equivalent is games design or mobile phone app development. There seems to be hurdles to any teachers wanting to introduce new initiatives such as app development. In my council we have the enthusiastic teachers, we have companies willing to train the teachers for free but we don’t have the right operating system installed and there seems to be all sorts of issues in getting that resolved.
Too many hurdles for new projects and initiatives means teachers lose enthusiasm, lose the skills they have learned in training and lose the will to live!
There was general consensus that there is no money for CPD yet it is the one subject that changes the most. English teachers don’t come in and find the plot of Hamlet has suddenly changed. We need regular, focused CPD to keep us up to date.
Teachers are generally allowed to go to CPD if it is free and in our own time. Events during the day are out because cover costs too much. There is very little suitable or relevant CPD.
We’d like content based CPD (eg applications such as Flash etc) but also general CPD on what’s happening in Computing. The sessions that have been run by the University of Glasgow have very well recommended but are difficult to get to from outside Glasgow.
Linking a project I heard about at Game to Learn with a school in England teaching games theory and game design via Adobe Connect and Moodle with lecturers in Fife and Chicago and featuring guest speakers from the games design industry (Heads of big games development companies worldwide). I think this would be a great way for teachers to learn new skills and keep them current without the expense of traveling somewhere else in Scotland or getting cover to be out of school.
We talked about the use of mobile devices and engaging with the technology in class while managing class behaviour. There is a real benefit to utilizing technology plus we can use pupils enthusiasm for mobile devices.
Virtual Worlds were also discussed. CANVAS didn’t get used because only a few councils opened their firewalls. It will now use Unity and be ‘single-player’. There are huge benefits to using virtual worlds in education though.
We need people to realize the generic skills learned from studying computing – information gathering, problem solving, etc. Not every kid will become a programmer or a systems analyst.
We need a good publicity campaign! For example, the Royal Society had a “not all Chemists wear white coats” campaign. BCS could do this very well.
Economic arguments for Computer Science: there is a shortage of computing graduates. The industry has continued to grow despite the dot com boom, recession etc and Computing has become the second most lucrative career (behind Medicine but before Law). There is a huge variety of jobs and careers involving Computing and other disciplines that utilize computing skills. This message not getting through to pupils!
Computing introduces a new way of thinking about the world. Alan Bundy from Edinburgh University ran a series of talks by people from other fields on the effects Computing has on their lives (http://www.inf.ed.ac.uk/research/programmes/comp-think/previous.html). A Geologist said that when they worked on paper they were restricted to flat models, but with Computing they can have computational models. Computing changes how we think about the world!
It was overall an interesting and fairly positive day. England seem to be looking to Scotland as having the answers but there was generally consensus that we have problems here too but just less extreme at the moment. The time to resolve issues is now – before we lose too many Computing departments in schools.