Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Nostradamus moment?

Just a couple of days back I wrote a blog post entitled MOOCs? where I also drew reference to a blog post I wrote a couple of years back where I discussed my worries that the current ICT curriculum in UK schools is not a substitute for learning Computer Science : ICT is not CS!  Which seems to have almost been prophetic when two directly related posts cropped up on the web yesterday.

The first web announcement was spotted on a website dedicated to development of software, games, and interactive media, which highlights the new government outlines for the new Computer Science course which is to replace ICT Which very much echos my thoughts and hopefully addresses the shortcomings of ICT as it is at present. The new curriculum  aims to deliver a structured introduction to computer science starting at KS1 and adding new concepts as well as building upon principles through to KS4.

           "The government has outlined the new curriculum for computer science in schools.

A program has been drawn up for Key stages one through four, which will mean students will begin learning computer science from early primary school and then throughout their education.

The statutory guidance states the aim of the national curriculum for computing is to ensure students can understand and apply the fundamental principles and concepts of computer science, including abstraction, logic, algorithms and data representation.

Pupils will also be taught to analyse problems in computational terms with practical experience of writing computer programs to solve them, to evaluate and apply information technology analytically to solve problems, and also ensure pupils are responsible, competent, confident and creative users of such information and communication technology.

The publication stated that such a “high quality education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world”.
The new GSCE subject in computing will replace ICT from September 2014."

Reading through the key stage subject contents listed, this certainly looks like an improvement on the existing ICT syllabuses and will be welcomed I feel by both pupils and some educators.... 

....But there lies one of the problems...

With a course of this type, the educator - the person delivering the material will really make or break the learning experience that children have at all levels. The GCSE Computer Science syllabus really needs someone a little more "geeky" to deliver it well, someone who has a good understanding of the concepts to be delivered and an active interest in the area, as well as general teaching skills and the enthusiasm for the subject that can be passed to the pupils. I have no doubt that some - possibly many existing teachers of ICT will be more than capable of meeting the demands... But I am equally sure that many may struggle. Which sort of brings me round to my point...  How can these complex subjects be brought home to pupils when the teachers may not be fully up to speed themselves on the subject?    - MOOCs may be the answer... High quality interactive online learning material produced by the examining entities themselves. ??

...And this isnt perhaps out of the question...

The second web announcement yesterday is that Cambridge University Press announce that their GCSE Computing MOOC goes live at the end of the month (September 30th). This is a OCR accredited GCSE in computing course thats available and supported online right now, based around learning using the Raspberry PI platform. 

             "It's a GCSE, but not as you know it... Computing rules the world, or at least a large part of it. Cambridge GCSE Computing Online will provide free and open access to OCR’s GCSE in Computing, supported by resources from the Raspberry Pi Foundation and Cambridge University Press. Together we’re busy creating a ground-breaking site to help you make sense of the technologies and opportunities this amazing vehicle offers in industry, education and every aspect of our daily lives. Through a mixture of videos, animations and interactive exercises, the content is being designed to challenge and inspire you. We know that studying Computing is about using creativity and problem-solving to unlock opportunities all around you, inside the classroom and far beyond it."

This will be Freely available  (Free as in beer to use the linux analogy) to schools to help deliver this qualification and will provide a valuable resource, but more crucially is also available to students already in education worried that they have been disadvantaged by the current ICT curriculum. But they would have make their own arrangements to sit the exam - and it is important to stress that :  

             "No OCR GCSE Computing certificate will be available direct through the Cambridge GCSE Computing Online website but the content will help students prepare for the exam." 

So individuals interested in this qualification would need to see if a local school or college was  able to host the final examination.  Im sure that when this takes off a number of local groups will emerge, and due to the Raspberry Pi involvement it will be a hot topic in local Hackerspaces and groups, attracting interest from enthusiasts so finding enough people in a geographic area to make it worth while putting on an exam, or perhaps travelling to where one is running should not be out of the question.

In my opinion this has been a looooong time coming, and will be too late for some, but at least now there is light at the end of the tunnel for those students who are frustrated in their efforts to learn "Computing" rather than having "ICT" thrust upon them.

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