Your Weekend Look Into the Future

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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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Open vs Closed Models of Education

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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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A Slight Departure… Thriving on Less – Simplifying in a Tough Economy

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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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Area #6 – Inspection Regime

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Image 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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Area #5 – Course Standards

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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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Area #4 – Qualifications

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Image 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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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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Area #2 – Colleges

Image 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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