Area #1 – Practitioners

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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

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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 dot.com 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

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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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Scottish Computing – An Agenda for Change

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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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