Friday, 30 January 2009

Your Weekend Look Into the Future

KRON's Animated Golden Gate Bridge ID used fro...Image via Wikipedia

As the recent theme has been the way forward lets move into the weekend with some high-tech visions of the future, from 1981.

Cue wavy lines and theramin music...

1981 primitive Internet report on KRON

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Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Open vs Closed Models of Education

A Strange Education album coverImage via Wikipedia
Educators are aware of the increasing pressures to move towards a more open, blended model of providing education. The question is, how?

This page isn't a solution but it's a great starting point for anyone struggling to get to grips with the differences and opportunities.

Education Innovation: The Open Model of Education
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Monday, 26 January 2009

Browser Security Handbook

Image representing Google Code as depicted in ...Image via CrunchBase
Google has released a browser security handbook covering all sorts of threats to your computer from browser exploits.

This is the sort of background reading anyone doing a web programming unit should know about.

Main - browsersec - Browser Security Handbook landing page - Google Code
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Friday, 23 January 2009

A Slight Departure... Thriving on Less - Simplifying in a Tough Economy

$100 Laptop prototypeImage via Wikipedia
Leo Babauta has released an ebook taken from his book "The Power of Less".

"Thriving on Less - Simplifying in a Tough Economy" looks like an interesting read. After all, will your institution have more money in the next couple of years?

“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” - Albert Einstein
From the introduction:

The recent economic recession has a lot of people worried, about their jobs, their businesses, their homes and their bills. When your income is dropping or in jeopardy and you still have a mountain of bills to pay, things can get pretty scary.

However, tough economic times do not have to be a time of struggles! If you look for the opportunity in the middle of difficulty, as Mr. Einstein suggested, then tough economic times become an opportunity to transform your life.

Table of Contents

  • Introduction
  1. A Simple Lifestyle
  2. Focus on the Essentials
  3. Thriving on Less, Not Struggling
  4. Focusing on Enough, Not More
  5. Make Small Financial Changes First
  6. Look at Large Expenses for the Long Term
  7. Changing Your Spending Habits
  8. A Guide to Getting Out of Debt
  9. Tools for a Frugal Life
  10. Resources
Free Ebook: Thriving on Less - Simplifying in a Tough Economy
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Thursday, 22 January 2009

Area #6 - Inspection Regime

Likelihood Mode ChoiceImage via WikipediaThere is a clear understanding that HMIe should inspect and ensure that teaching and learning are well implemented. In general this is the case throughout the country's Computing departments but Computing often falls down in the concomitant performance indicators.

Where departments show good teaching and learning and the associated pastoral support of students, judgements should reflect more significantly that fact and poor attainment should be seen in the context of Computing across schools, colleges, HE and other countries as this is not a localised issue.

If this does not change, departments will further move towards choosing students solely on the likelihood of their passing the course. The knock-on effect for colleges, which have traditionally been the place for second chances, and the students, who have benefitted from those chances, will be significant. There will be a reduction in opportunities for those who wish to return to full or part time learning as the risks for the departments will be too high.
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Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Area #5 - Course Standards

A typical, basic Maths24 card. The two red dot...Image via WikipediaThere is no doubt that Computing qualifications show clear progression routes. What is less clear, however, is that units across different curricular areas, that are notionally of the same standard, actually involve the same degree of difficulty. There is anecdotal evidence that Computing subjects are subjectively more difficult than in other curricular areas. This could impact on retention and attainment for the subject.

SCQF must undertake to look at the levelling of courses on a cross-curricular level to ensure that standards are equal across them. Until this is done comparisons between different college departments will be invalid.

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Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Area #4 - Qualifications

Monitoring and Control project activitiesImage via WikipediaThe danger for all qualifications is their limited shelf life. Alan Kay said that the best way to predict the future was to create it. Unfortunately, there is a minimum eighteen month development cycle for qualifications that means that often the course has a degree of redundancy by the time it is available. The inevitable outcome is that the future has become the past before we can influence it.

In addition, the 'big bang' effect in colleges means that getting a new qualification, creating assessments, writing support notes and shepherding the new award through the quality process ensures that only the most enthusiastic, or foolish, colleges immediately implement new qualifications, ensuring that they are further out of date.

What is needed, perhaps, is nothing less than a root and branch reform of Higher National Computing to address these challenges.

A core change could be to create an HN General Computing. To achieve this award, students would have to successfully complete the required number of units. These units, save for some exceptions, can be those that are approved for any Computing course of study. There would be a relatively small (say three or four) number of mandatory credits which would be 'soft' skills such as project management or working in a project team.

To ensure a proper spread of knowledge, areas/topics would be grouped and a limit placed on the number of units available from each group. For example, there might be a minimum of one and a maximum of eight credits available from a programming group that could count
towards the award.

Where duplication exists, such as with the 'Professional Issues' units, only one unit would be eligible.

To differentiate awards and give them an identity, sets of extra mandatory units could be created or a specific number of credits from a group might be set. In either case specialism would not be necessary to achieve the general award.

The other major change would be to set up a revolving standing committee responsible for researching, writing and implementing new units in response to demand from stakeholders. These units would be immediately added to the pool of units available for the award.

This approach would be advantageous for all stakeholders:
  • Students would not be forced to specialise on their first day at college. Instead they could work towards an award secure in the knowledge that their work would not be wasted.
  • Colleges would benefit from being able to consolidate many classes, only providing specialisms where there was clear demand and at the latest possible time in the course. Those specialisms could also be closely tailored to local articulation routes.
  • Practitioners would benefit from a stable set of base units with small but regular turnover.
  • Industry would have access to more computing students with current skills.
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Monday, 19 January 2009

Area #3 - Funding

Bottom line - money talks.

When deciding on a funding model for Computing students, the SFC (Scottish Funding Council) must look beyond its standard model and consider the work involved in delivering the Computing curriculum.

To illustrate the challenges, we can consider programming. As noted before, to become a proficient programmer it is necessary to spend significant time developing knowledge and skills – time that is not always available. This leads to practitioners that may not, potentially, have the skills to ensure learner engagement with the programming language.

The inevitable outcome of this problem is that colleges throughout the country are removing computing awards that incorporate programming from their prospectuses. The knock on effect for industry will be a dearth of programmers, just as the requirement increases.

To address this problem, Computing courses that incorporate programming units should be funded in a similar way to music courses where practical units are given double SUMs. This will translate to more time available to staff to teach the more challenging units.

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Friday, 16 January 2009

Area #2 - Colleges

Microsoft OfficeImage via WikipediaFor many years, Colleges rode the Computing boom with their departments. They looked upon Computing as a significant source of students (and funding). Now that the boom is over it is vital that colleges become fully involved in providing support for their Computing departments. This starts with being fully cognisant of the challenges facing the departments.

College management may find it challenging to understand the technicalities and skills involved in Computing. This has led to unrealistic expectations of the flexibility of Computing practitioners.

An analogy can be made to the teaching of languages. There would be no thought of walking into the work-room of a lecturer in French and announcing that, as of next week, they will teach Mandarin Chinese.

Computing lecturers are routinely asked to take classes for which they may have had inadequate professional development e.g. rather than teaching Pascal, they are asked to teach C# or rather than using Office 2003 the package of choice will be Office 2007 (and, by the way, the class starts on Thursday!). Becoming proficient in a programming language is not a trivial exercise.

Re-training, that should take several weeks of work, can be expected within days.

Colleges, who benefit from the provision of up to date courses, must provide practitioners with the necessary time, training and support required to update their skills.

(P.S. If you are not sure why moving from Office 2003 to 2007 should be a problem then I have proven my point.)
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Tuesday, 13 January 2009

Area #1 - Practitioners

ooooooppppppsssss!!!!Image by confusedvision via FlickrIt was clear during our workshops on the future of computing that everyone knew exactly where the problem lay and, of course, it was never with us, the practitioners. It seems right, therefore, that I start this short series by addressing an area where we as practitioners can change.

The flexibility of courses offered by colleges is intimately bound to the skills and competencies of the staff. Too often, however, the provision of courses is hindered by the lack of available skills and the unwillingness of practitioners to expand their skill base.

The apotheosis of this is the situation, all too common throughout the country, where practitioners have 'their subjects' or, at the extreme, where practitioners keep the same timetable for several years.

This is not to say that practitioners should not have their specialist subjects. Computing is too broad to allow an in depth knowledge of all aspects of computing. It is vital, that to fully address the ongoing challenges facing Computing, practitioners become, and remain, as flexible as possible.

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Be Realistic

BANGALORE, INDIA - APRIL 12:  Employees work a...Image by Getty Images via DaylifeWhat's the first thing that Computing practitioners should do? Be realistic.

Computing took great advantage of a boom in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. This boom was fuelled by many reasons including the massive uptake of computers in general business, the millennium bug, the boom etc.

This boom led to a large increase in the number of course offered and the number of computing professionals added to the pool. The pool of professionals has now reached a natural plateau where the requirement, at HNC and HND level, is mainly to refresh the pool of talent rather than expand it.

Computing as a high-end technical subject has less potential for attracting students than IT as a business support subject. Therefore consideration should be given to Computing departments teaching IT subjects that are embedded in other curricular areas such as Business Management programmes to ensure their quality and viability.

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Computing vs IT

Box of w:Punch cards containing several comput...Image via WikipediaFollowing yesterday's post and in advance of the next few I think it is necessary to define what I mean by Computing.

For the purposes of this blog, differentiation is made between Computing (a technical discipline where programming is an example of a subject that might comprise one part of an award) and IT (as within a business discipline including areas such as word processing).

This blog concentrates on the challenges and opportunities facing Computing departments teaching Computing subjects.
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Monday, 12 January 2009

Scottish Computing - An Agenda for Change

Lion Rampant -- Royal standard of Scotland, wi...Image via WikipediaAs we start a new year it seems an apposite time to spark a discussion on the way forward for the teaching of Computing in Scotland.

In my work with the SFEU (now Scotland's Colleges) I have been involved in conferences and workshops that address that very question. As ever, though, it is easy for fingers to point everywhere except at oneself.

Over the next few days I will be posting on several areas where I believe that we can make a difference to Computing provision. The suggestions are not in order of priority, nor are they definitive or even complete. They are, and should be taken for, discussion points and jumping off points for progression. They include suggestions for:
The numbers choosing Computing as a subject, end hence as a profession, are dwindling. We must take action now if we expect a future for the teaching of Computing in Scotland.

This agenda for action was created following two SFEU events. The first, in June 2008, attracted over one hundred Computing practitioners from Scotland’s colleges. The standout workshop at that event was concerned with the fall in recruitment, retention and attainment in Computing throughout Scotland’s colleges.

This workshop prompted a follow-up event held at SFEU and attracting representatives from almost half of Scotland’s colleges – an indication of the level of concern throughout the sector.

At the events several challenges were discussed and various strategies suggested. What was clear, however, was that no one stakeholder group was able to take the actions necessary to address these challenges. This document continues the discussion and suggests strategies for moving forward.

It is intended to stimulate debate and initiate responses. There may be items that you may disagree with and approaches that you consider to be inappropriate – please indicate this if it is the case and, of course, make alternative suggestions. These issues need addressed and it needs to happen now.

Read the suggestions, digest the ideas and respond, either in public or in private. You have the future in your hands.
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