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Computing in School. Is the time nigh? October 20, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in CPD, Musings, Twitter.
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The other night I attended a local CAS Hub Meeting  at Sheffield Hallam University; the first I’ve been to. Attended by an eclectic mix drawn in the main from ICT teachers and leaders from local schools, but also including colleagues from HE, PGCE students and representatives of companies in the digital sector.

After an introduction from Phil Spencer, Simon Humphreys whisked us through an introduction to the Network of Computer Science Teaching Excellence:

… a closely knit national federation of university-led local school networks … A central goal of the local networks is to build a sufficient capacity of expert schoolteachers with the competencies and capabilities necessary to support the development of other computer science teachers.

Phil then took us through some of the robotics projects the recently established South Yorkshire CAS Hub had undertaken in conjunction with local schools. The evening hospitably drew to a close with a few nibbles and the opportunity to network with other attendees.

What was serendipitous though was when I got home and checked in on Twitter to find an ongoing discussion along the same lines as that which I’d been listening to barely an hour earlier. I think I’m right in saying it started with this from Neil Winton:

and blossomed to include John Johnston, Charlie Love, Rob Hill and Richard Anderson who touched on the value of coding in the curriculum, the skills associated with coding and computing and the dearth of computer scientists in the UK employment market. Although I chipped in briefly, I don’t have an agenda here. As ICT Development Manager in school, my responsibility is to ICT across all subjects (and beyond!) and my disposition towards it stems from the potential it offers to encourage, enhance and extend, promote and enable learning. That said, I’m only too well aware of and sympathetic towards some of the serious issues surrounding Computer Science, like the marked decline in numbers of students studying Computing in school and subsequently in higher education and the shortfall in the numbers of CS graduates available to fill jobs in the IT labour market.

There is a push then from organisations like CAS, the BCS, NAACE, from Government and from teachers in field to address the problem. That’s good. I support that and will lend my shoulder where I can. There’s a recognition that the shift of emphasis towards ICT during the past decade has left the teaching workforce denuded in people with expertise and capability to deliver Computer Science. That too is being addressed with Government incentives and through the efforts of CAS.

In support of the case, it’s often rightly argued that studying computing or coding is of value in itself, providing an ideal opportunity through which to develop logical thinking, critical reasoning, problem solving and being creative. These skills can be introduced as early as Key Stage 1 using devices like Bee-Bots and continued through school using applications and initiatives like Scratch, Kodu, Small Basic, Code Academy and more. I wholeheartedly agree with these propositions … yet have a nagging worry at the back of my mind – one of equity. It’s the same one I have when we put on open evenings where departments/faculties showcase their subject in order to help(!) students choose which subjects to study. If you’re a good enough teacher, then you ought to be able to ‘sell’ your subject, highlighting the unique aspects which help it stand out from the crowd and make it worthy of inclusion in a curriculum (whether the narrow one chosen by older students or the broad one imposed(?!) on younger students). I’m certain an equally compelling case could be made whether it’s Psychology, Latin, Economics, Media Studies, Politics, Anthropology or Sociology.

So I guess my point is, are all subjects created equal? Or should some subjects, like Computer Science, be more equal than others?


Close … and maybe a Small Panatela if not a Churchill? March 4, 2012

Posted by IaninSheffield in Inspiration, Musings.
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Back from a much warmer and sunnier (at least than Sheffield in February) San Francisco and the DML Badges Competition and DML Conference 2012. It’s been a real privilege to be able to attend these two events and certainly not something I’d normally have the opportunity to enjoy.

The first day, as I mentioned in the previous post,was spent at CAS prepping for our pitch.


cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/6805497380/

There were a lot of people there, many teams having half a dozen and more members. Having just a single representative from each half was quite rare, but perhaps allowed us to make faster progress. Along with many serious and intense discussions, it also seemed that folks were having fun and enjoying each other’s company too. Less frivolity on the second day as teams readied for their pitches. We were one the first tranche and our pitch seemed to go OK – just one tricky question from one particular member of the panel of three judges. Didn’t recognise him at the time – one Mark Surman? Well I don’t suppose he knew me either.

A real shame about the pitches was that we didn’t get the chance to see each other’s presentations and enjoy hearing interesting and knowledgeable people talking about their passions. But given the complexity of the whole process and in the interests of fairness, I guess that wasn’t really a possibility.


cc licensed ( BY NC SD ) flickr photo by ianguest: http://flickr.com/photos/ianinsheffield/6942532521/

But what of the result? Did we win? Well sadly no; not in name anyway. (All the winners are listed here) Given the pedigree of many of the winners (Carnegie Mellon Robotics Academy, Smithsonian National Design Museum, University of Michigan, Disney-Pixar, Intel, Microsoft, Badgeville and many more), there’s no shame in that I feel. Though in a way we still won because the solution offered by Richard with whom we were partnered has in fact been funded:

This partnership will allow Moodle to extend their current work, enabling badges and permit Mahara to add badges to their Gradebook resulting in a deeply representative electronic portfolio.

Given the importance and pervasiveness of Moodle and Mahara, funding the development of this infrastructure was crucial for Badges and in fact two other technical solutions were also funded – one for WordPress and one for the Peer-2-Peer University.  Since our ICT Quests are delivered through Moodle, we’ll still enjoy the benefits from this development.

And what of the DML Conference? Despite only being able to attend on the first day before I had to return home, I was able to enjoy listening to words of great wisdom from John Seeley-Brown, take part in two seminar/panel discussions (“Women and Girls Engaging with Technology” and “Are Badges the Answer? Perspectives on Motivation for Lifelong Learning”) and be inspired and entertained by the Ignite Talk speakers in the evening.

Oh and did I mention it was all in San Francisco?