Monday, May 21, 2007

Computer Workshop - Chris Stephenson

This is my second report from the Schools Computing: The Future workshop. (My first was Computing is...) A full report on the various sessions, including Powerpoint presentations, some notes and (for some) audio recordings, will eventually be published on the Schools Computing: The Future website. (There's a bit of a hold up because Andrew is in the USA.)

The first keynote was from Chris Stephenson, the Executive Director of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) in the USA. I've given the audio link here {Nope! See below for explanation.} so you can listen to the whole thing at your leisure. (We forgot to use the microphone for people asking questions, so you'll have to guess what was asked from Chris' responses.) I'll content myself therefore with a few quotes and observations. {Update: Scunner! I've left the laptop with the audio files in my office. I decided to post this just now anyway and add the audio later. Since I'm off to the eLive 2007 conference, I thought it would be Thursday before I could post the audio. However, I've just realised that I've left my train tickets in the office too! Rats. I'm going to have to get up extra early to go to the office to get the tickets to get the train to Edinburgh. Bah!}

Chris started by explaining why there was a need for a professional association for Computing Science teachers. Changes in the US curriculum for other school subjects are influenced (perhaps even driven) by professional bodies but there was no body to shape the Computing curriculum. Observation: The development of the curriculum may happen in a different way in Scotland but it seems to me that a professional body in Scotland could fulfil a similar purpose. It could collect and collate opinions, acting as a clearing house for ideas and trying to find consensus between competing ideas between curricular reviews. That way, when an update to courses is proposed we can hit the ground running. Note that the CSTA is open to international members. You can join through their website... I'm member 4754981. :-)

Next she started talking about the fragmented nature of the Computing curriculum. Computing teachers find it hard to agree or describe what we do. She said that as Computing teachers we were:
"Not just shooting ourselves in the foot but in the head!"
Observation: Yes, I recognise that! We have split into Computing and Information Systems but seem unable to define either particularly well. Chris said that if you ask Biology teachers what they do, they'll say something like, "We teach the science of life." Simple, understandable, although perhaps a bit trite and if you push it not exactly filled with meaning. However, it sounds good and non-specialists think they know what it means. Try asking Computing teachers the same question and what will happen? Firstly, you are unlikely to get two saying the same thing and all to quickly they will descend into incomprehensible geek-speak. Computing needs the equivalent of "The science of life". Someone suggested, "The science behind the information revolution." Chris said this was too long. I think there's too much geek-speak. However, it's better than anything I can come up with so I'm willing to go with it (slogan 1.0) ...unless you can come up with something better. :-)

Work issues
. I remember when I started teaching Computing, the commonly held belief was that a qualification in Computing was a passport to a very well paid job. Chris thinks that the dot bomb situation and a perception that everything is outsourced means that this has changed. However, the fact is, in the US, they are only producing 50% of the Computing Science graduates that industry needs. The situation in the UK is not much different.

In the passing, Chris noted that Higher Education seems to blame schools for the problems but in general they have little idea of what happens in school Computing courses. Is the same true in Scotland?

A couple of brief thoughts based on answers to questions. Firstly, an association for Computing Science teachers would seem like a good idea for Scotland. Chris was asked how they fund their organisation. She answered, "Any way we can!" :-) Secondly, are we a science subject, or a technology subject, or what? Chris sees problems wherever we position ourselves but thinks we should establish ourselves clearly as a science. What do you think?

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1 comment:

Digitalkatie said...

This is an issue that was discussed at the most recent PT Computing meeting in Edinburgh. There was support for it there, and I think the universities would support it considering the huge drop in numbers they are suffering. Can we arrange universities to support an annual conference where they help us with CPD and we learn better what skills they are looking for in undergraduates (rather than just the rumours that VB isn't good because they're learning bad programming techniques, or that admissions departments would prefer students NOT to have Higher Computing). It would also let us support each other with the very fast changing software and internet resources available.

How do people go about starting professional associations?!