Download the latest list of vocational Computing qualifications here.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Digital Passport in the news

The day I stopped for annual leave, the Times Educational Supplement (Scotland) carried a prominent article about Digital Passport. I was pleased with Julia's article, which seemed to be a fair summary of the strengths and (potential) weaknesses of the new award.

Overall, it was positive and emphasised the originality of the new qualification. The team behind it worked hard to ensure that it captured up-to-date digital literacy skills, and I do think that it is unique in what is covers. One of the criticisms of the qualification in the article is that it mustn't be "too closely linked to a narrow set of skills". That was a major objective of the development team -- to ensure that the qualification embraced high order knowledge and skills that could be transferred to new technologies as they come along.

The units are available now. The group award is available to pilot centres. Contact Hilary for more information about Digital Passport.

Friday, 18 July 2014

National Units in Digital Passport now available

The National Units that are included in the forthcoming Digital Passport award have now been published on the SQA website. They can be downloaded from the usual place by searching on their titles or they can be directly downloaded from these links (all PDFs).
These Units are available to all Scottish schools and colleges from 1 August. Other types of centre may require approval to offer them. It's great to see them published at last. It's taken a long time to produce them because they cover such new territory but, I hope, that they are worth the wait.

Contact Hilary for more information about the units or the award.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

National Occupational Standards for Big Data

I attended a focus group meeting yesterday afternoon, at Ibrox Stadium, which was organised by E-Skills UK to discuss new National Occupational Standards relating to big data.

The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the job roles and skills that are involved in this new area. Representatives of JP Morgan, RBS, NHS and other Scottish employers attended.

One of the key questions was: are there intermediate level jobs in this area? It's well known that there is a demand for data scientists. What is less clear is if there is a requirement for mid-level data analysts. The consensus was that there is. We discussed the skill sets involved in these roles. E-Skills hopes to have the new NOS available by October.

SQA is developing new HN Units in this area. Our focus is broader than workplace skills, and includes a high educational component (such as the social implications of big data). These new Units will be available to centres from September. Contact Caroline for further information. You can preview the units now.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Regional college contacts

I recently mentioned that I planned to create a list of regional college contacts for Computing. With all the changes to colleges over the last few years, the team's contact list is now out of date and doesn't reflect the changed college structures.

So I plan to identify a person from each regional college to be the "contact person" for the college. We would use this list of names to disseminate information to centres. The designated person would cascade the information within his/her regional college to their colleagues involved in delivering Computing qualifications.

This list would not replace the existing forms of communication. So, for example, update letters would continue to be sent to SQA Co-ordinators, and this blog would continue to provide information to anyone who reads it. But the list would be helpful to ensure that information can be disseminated quickly, perhaps in advance of a letter to centres.

We'll use our existing mailing list to ask you to identify one person from your regional college to serve as the lead contact. It's entirely up to each college to decide who this person should be. I've created a form to capture this information.

Once you've decided who you want to represent your regional college, I would appreciate if that information was added to the sheet.

Contact Caroline if you have any queries about the list.

Monday, 30 June 2014

Summer holidays

I had planned to post this message before the schools and colleges stopped for the Summer. I still miss my long Summer holidays (I enjoyed 22 years of them) but, on the plus side, it's a good time for me to catch up with things since the office is relatively quiet for the next few weeks. And it's nice to take my own holidays when it's cheaper and quieter.

Me and my team will be busy over the Summer. We are organising the pilot of Digital Passport (and developing support materials for that award), commencing the review of PC Passport, producing assessents for the revised NC Computing with Digital Media award, finalising a new CBQ in Information Security, getting the review of HNC/D Interactive Media off the ground, deciding what to do with HNC/D Information Technology, finalising new HN Units on big data, and considering some new qualifications in the area of cyber security.

Don't forget to follow us on Twitter. Even if you're enjoying the beach, it won't take long to check the team's tweets. And we'll be sure to advertise opportunities to work with us on Twitter.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

National Certificate launch event

We held the launch event for the updated National Certificate in Computing with Digital Media yesterday at the Stirling Management Centre in Stirling University. There was an excellent attendance with 46 people there, including many from schools.

The purpose of the event was to explain the changes to the current award (NC Digital Media Computing) and to outline how we will support centres when they move over to the new award. The contents of the new qualification appeared to be well received. We've added units on social media, academic skills and introduced a project in each of the three levels. We've also tried to introduce greater variety from level to level, which was a criticism of the old qualification.

The updated qualification (at SCQF Levels 4, 5 and 6) will be available to all centres from 1 August 2014. Many centres expressed an interest in running a hybrid qualification next year, comprising the old award with some of the new units added. The existing qualification will go into lapsing from 1 August 2015.

Contact Hilary for more information.

Digital Passport information event

We held an information event yesterday for the new Digital Passport qualification. The event was held in Stirling. Nineteen centres attended.

It's taken a long time to get to this stage so it was a pleasure to move on from qualification development to explaining what's in the qualification. My presentation covered the contents of the new award in some detail.

Digital Passport is a digital literacy award and, we think, its contents are pretty innovative, covering such diverse topics as big data, e-safety, social presence, network neutrality and critical thinking. It has a particular focus on "digital citizenship" and the role of digital technology in modern societies. Many of the audience were from schools and I pointed out the "good fit" between Digital Passport and the recent report on vocational education in schools.

We are piloting Digital Passport next year so that we can trial support materials, and give centres an opportunity to deliver some of the challenging material inside the qualification. Please contact Hilary if you want to know more about the pilot or get involved.

Digital Passport will be officially launched (to all centres) in Spring 2015 and available for delivery (by all centres) from August 2015. In the meantime, you can download the FAQ here.

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

Annual Computing Conference

The College Development Network held their Annual Computing Conference yesterday in Stirling, organised by Gerry Dougan. There was an excellent turn-out, on a beautiful day in a lovely location. The focus of this year's event was teaching and learning.

It commenced, appropriately, with HMIe Sheila Page giving feedback on the forthcoming Aspect report on Computing in colleges (due September).

Sheila's comments were generally positive, and made it clear that improvements had been made since the previous report (in 2009) that was "hard hitting" as she put it. Sheila reported that the sector was "buoyant", with excellent job prospects, and a shortage of skills in many areas (particularly programming). She also emphasised that Computing was also becoming a "social enabler", needed by everyone to participate in contemporary society.

More specifically, she reported on improvements in teaching and learning, team working, and learner interaction. Less positively, colleges needed to work more closely with employers and some learning was "too passive". But the overall picture was good. Sheila made a particular point about the role of mathematics within Computing qualifications and suggested that this needed to be looked at.

A number of colleges gave presentations on best practice. The case studies were excellent. I was pleased to see Computing qualifications at the heart of many of the examples, such as New College Lanarkshire's innovative MA programme with The Royal Bank of Scotland that involved an HND.

I gave a presentation on SQA qualifications in Computing, particularly the new ones such as Digital Passport and NC Computing.

It seemed to be well received. I reminded the audience about the forthcoming launch events for Digital Passport and NC Computing, which will be held (in Stirlng) next Tuesday.

I was pleased the see the focus of the event return to teaching and learning, and thought that it was an excellent day.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Regional college contact

The last few years has seen huge changes in the college sector, with many merging into "regional colleges". From my subject's perspective, this has meant that Computing Departments have combined across several centres, often into a faculty structure along with other subjects.

I like to think that me and my team are pretty well known in centres but I am less familiar with these new combined course teams. So, during the new session, commencing August, I hope to work my way around each of the regional colleges.

I also intend to identify a regional college contact (for Computing), a single person who I can communicate with when I want to liaise with a regional college about a Computing-related issue. This won't replace my normal channels of communication (which include this blog, Twitter, QSTs, Sector Panel, and regular update letters) but gives me a named person for each new college. I'll progress this in the coming months.

Central verification of Graded Units

Central verification of the Graded Units for HNC Computing and HNC Interactive Media is taking place today (and yesterday). Half a dozen verifiers, led by the Senior External Verifier, are in the Glasgow office to look over 29 question papers (and scripts) submitted by 24 centres.

It's going well. The team has made good progress and, although they've come across one or two issues, their general view is that centres have done a good job.

They pointed out to me that we have only published two exemplars and that it would be a good idea to have more -- ideally four more but at least two more. I've asked the Senior EV to formally request this so that I can seek funding for it. I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

SQA leaflet

SQA has produced a new leaflet on vocational Computing qualifications. It can be downloaded here [PDF]. Alternatively, you can use my portfolio diagram.

Digital Passport information event

I've previously written about the pilot of Digital Passport next year. So far, we've had a great response, with almost 30 centres expressing an interest in getting involved.

Hilary is currently organising an information event for these centres, when we will explain in more detail what's in the qualification and how the pilot will work. The event will take place on Tuesday, 24 June in Stirling.

I recently updated the qualification FAQ, which now includes a link to the draft units. The FAQ should answer most of your questions about this new award.

The units will be finalised in the next few days (the current versions are almost final versions) and will be published on the SQA website on 1 August. The qualification itself will be available to centres from the same date. Only pilot centres will be able to offer the award next year.

It's not too late to get involved in the pilot (or at least find out more). Contact Hilary if you want more information about the award or join us at the information event.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Education Working For All

The final report from the Commission for Developing Scotland's Young Workforce was published last week and I recently took time out to read it. The report is called Education Working For All [PDF], was commissioned by the Scottish Goverment, and was written by Sir Ian Wood.

The background to the report is the (almost) one in five young people who are unemployed in Scotland - three times higher than the adult unemployment rate. The report focuses on the majority of young people who don't go to university and into the professions.

It has 39 specific recommendations but its essence is that Scotland must raise the status of vocational education. This will involve not only a change in perception by "parents, teachers, lecturers, employers and the media" but also greater priority to vocational pathways in schools. Among the recommendations (in fact, the first recommendation) is that the senior phase in schools should deliver vocational qualifications alongside academic qualifications. It provides examples of schools offering National and Higher National Certificates in partnership with regional colleges.

Computing is one of the subjects already pretty popular in schools. Awards such as the NPA in Computer Games Development are taken by thousands of pupils alongside more traditional courses. But there is more we could do. The idea of school pupils undertaking and HNC Computing is exciting and one that I hope to progress in the coming months.

Contact Hilary for more information about vocational Computing qualifications or download the portfolio diagram.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Diploma for Information Security Professionals (CBQ)

We are looking for writers and vetters to produce Assessment Support packs for new competence based qualifications in Information Security at SCQF levels 6 and 8.  The assessments will be required for knowledge and understanding as well as practical tasks.  Support material for 8 Units at each level is needed by September this year. There may be existing material for HN Units that could be re-purposed for this work.

If you are interested, or would like more information, please contact

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

HNC/D Interactive Media and HNC/D Information Technology

I've previously mentioned my operational plan for the coming year (April 2014-March 2015). There are two HN developments in the plan.

The HNC/D Interactive Media is due to be reviewed this year. We will be forming a Qualification Development Team (QDT) in the near future to take this forward. We've already got some volunteers but it's not too late to get involved. Contact Caroline if you want to know more or join the QDT.

The other development is a little more complicated. The HNC/D Information Technology is (over) due a review but the uptake is low and I've received suggestions for alternative qualifications to replace it. These suggestions include a new HNC/D Business Technology. I've separately received a suggestion to create a new HNC/D award in the are of cyber security. So, I plan to have a meeting with all the interested parties to decide a way forward. Once I'm clear about what to do, I will form a QDT to develop one or more of these awards (or a combination of them). Contact Caroline if you want to be involved in this meeting.

I am speaking at the forthcoming Annual Computing, ICT and Digital Media Conference when I will provide more information about both of these projects.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Alternative assessments for HN courses

A team of writers and vetters has been working on devising "alternative assessments" over the last few months. The assessments have been designed to provide a "university experience" to college students by combining the assessment of a number of outcomes into an examination or project.

The team has devised six "Alternative Assessment Approach Support Packs" (AAASPs). Here is a summary of what each one covers.

For example, the HND Networking examination covers all of the knowledge and understanding in two complete units.

We recently wrote to centres to invite you to participate in the pilot of these assessments next year. I'm delighted to report that Computing got a great response - better than any other subject area. Only designated pilot centres will be permitted to use the alternative assessments but it's not too late to volunteer. Please e-mail if you want to know more or volunteer to get involved.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Qualification Support Team

The Qualification Support Team (QST) for Computing met today in the SQA offices in Glasgow. Thirteen people attended today's meeting. Members are drawn from colleges, schools and training providers.

The role of the QST is to "effect on-going improvements to group awards and exemplify national standards". In plain English, that means the QST monitors qualifications and suggests improvements.

A key role is to consider proposals from centres to change awards. Over the course of a year, we get many suggestions for adding, removing or altering awards and units, and the QST considers each one. If it is accepted, my team implements the change. Another key role is to suggest new support materials that are needed by centres. So we spent some time today considering what is needed by centres to help them deliver SQA awards.

The QST is not a talk-shop. Today we agreed a number of changes to units and awards that we will implement before the start of next session. Please contact Hilary if you want to know more about the work of the QST or volunteer to join it. We're particularly looking for school and workplace members. The QST meets annually, with online communications between meetings.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Digital Literacy Framework

I recently mentioned SQA's Digital Literacy Competency Framework, which we have been using as the basis of the new Digital Passport awards. I asked for feedback, and one of the comments that I took to heart was that it's not a competency framework (more a list of knowledge and skills). So it's been retitled Digital Literacy Framework (DLF). It's also been updated (a little).

It's interesting to see how the "traditional" view of digital literacy (as computer literacy) is shrinking while the more contemporary view of it (as a mix of online skills, behaviours and attitudes required by "digital citizens") is growing. I think that reflects our times. The important thing to know isn't how to post a status update on Facebook (which is trivial) but what that means in terms of your social presence (and, potentially, your safety). People need to know about the opportunities and threats posed by big data more than they need to know how to design a database.

The Framework will continue to evolve. The latest version is available here.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Digital Passport pilot

I wrote to centres last week to invite you to participate in the pilot of Digital Passport. We've had a good response so far with 14 centres already coming forward.

We've also had a lot of questions from centres about such things as: "What involved in the pilot?" and "What support materials are available?". Pilot centres will be used to trial the qualification. In return, we will provide tailored help and support. A big part of the pilot will be to test the contents of the qualification and try out the support materials. We're currently developing assessments and plan to produce teaching and learning material in the near future.

Pilot centres can offer all the levels or one level -- or even one unit. Please contact Hilary if you want to know more about the pilot or volunteer to be involved. Or you can check the qualification FAQ to find out more about the award.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Cloud-based unit development

I've previously mentioned that we're producing a couple of new HN Units in the area of big data. These are:

  • Big Data (SCQF Level 7)
  • Data Science (SCQF Level 8).

The Big Data unit will be generic (but suitable for HNC Computing) and the Data Science unit will be more suited to STEM subjects (such as HND Computer Science).

I'm taking a non-standard approach to the development of these units. I plan to use the cloud (in this case, Microsoft's OneDrive) to produce them. The idea is to assemble the units in the cloud by collaboratively writing them stage by stage. The collaborators will be the writer, the vetter, and the validator.

The normal approach is to complete various forms and send versions of the units by e-mail. This works but takes time and it can be hard to monitor progress. The cloud approach promises transparency and, of course, progress is self-evident. It also permits you to see how the units are coming along, instead of the "big bang" approach whereby you don't see them until they are published.

You can see the current state of the units here. Only the Big Data unit has been started but both units will begin to take shape over the coming days and weeks.

It will be interesting to see if this approach works. Both units will be available from August.