Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Meeting with HMIe

I met with Iain Lowson, of HMIe, today. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss how SQA could respond to the recent Aspect report [PDF] on Computing within FE.

I agreed to take forward two things as a result of the meeting: (1) advice to centres about the teaching of programming; and (2) advice to centres about the use of portfolios.

Programming remains a problem in FE. Some centres use advanced languages to teach the principles of programming, such as C++, which the students find difficult to understand. So I agreed to look at how languages such as Scratch could be used within National Certificate (NC) programmes.

The report also mentioned how assessment can sometimes drive learning. We discussed how portfolio building could be a more natural way of generating evidence of assessment, rather than several short assessments. I agreed to look at ways of using portfolios within the NC awards. Some kind of digital portfolio (using Web 2.0 tools or e-portfolio products) would be the focus of attention.

If/when I am given the green light to take forward these suggestions, I will ask for volunteers on the SQA Groupsite, so don't forget to subscribe.

The Aspect report features prominently in next Friday's (4 December) Heads of Computing event in Glasgow. There are still places available if you want to attend. You can register here.


  1. The outcomes of this meeting seem very positive.

    As far as programming goes I feel that students tend to lack understanding of crucial programming concepts when using high-end development environments. We still work in our school with good old TrueBasic and find pupils understanding of the concepts relating to software development, in general, far greater than pupils learning to program using the aforementioned environments.

  2. My personal view is that there is still a place for traditional programming languages, as first languages for students to teach the fundamentals of programming. I know that Microsoft have a version of BASIC for that purpose.

  3. My view is that Languages like C#, C++ and Java should not be used as an introduction to programming constructs.
    Whilst Basic/True Basic/Unicomal are good languages for learning basic constructs. It is my experience in schools/colleges that students find great difficulty in contextualising them.
    My preference is with VB NET, although there are certain issues with using such an advanced language. It can show the concepts of programming easily. It is a commercial programming language, is free and the visual aspect if used properly, connects better with the students.

  4. Sounds like you had a good meeting and your proposals seem very sensible.
    Regarding programming, we use at NC level but some learners find the very powerful development environment rather confusing. I think it is important that learners at NC level concentrate on the logic of breaking problems down into steps and writing solutions in some sort of psuedo-code. We don't want them getting overly confused by a sophisitciated development environment and by the details of syntax (miss out one punctuation mark and generate 100 error messages!?)
    I have suggested to my staff that perhaps we should consider a simpler programming interface at NC level, such as FreeBasic or something like that.
    Nigel Kennington from Telford College told me he is using Alice to teach programming at NC level. Apparantly this is like an animation engine. The learners concentrate on breaking things down into simple steps. They then select statement s from pre-written code so they don't have to worry too much about the intricacies of syntax. I haven't had a chance to check Alice out yet (reminds me of a 70's pop song by Smokey?) but it sounds like a great approach.

  5. My experience is that students really struggle to transfer skills from one language to another, even in Higher Ed. BASIC (and VB) syntax is so different from Java/C/Actionscript that it's quite a hurdle to overcome. I've even seen students happily mixing both syntaxes and wondering why it won't compile. Personally I'm teaching Actionscript throughout DMC and into HNC/D Interactive Media and you don't need Flash to use it. Adobe Flex is free to education, along with Coldfusion server - and there are free teaching materials too. It can be used for standalone apps, web apps and games and will soon support iPhone apps too.