Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Merry Christmas

We stop for Christmas tomorrow and return on Tuesday, 5 January. It's that time of the year when you reflect on the past year.

One of the highlights was the addition of Hilary to the team, who joined us in June. Hilary replaced Shirley, who many of you know well, but she is full-time and Shirley was part-time, meaning that the team grew. As you probably know, my portfolio is roughly split between Caroline, who takes care of HNs, PDAs and vendors, and Hilary, who takes care of NC, NPAs and SVQs. The team tries hard to be known and visible to the sector and, I think, many of you have got to know Hilary already.

We've had a fairly productive year. Several NPAs were developed, the HND Interactive Media was completed, and a complete suite of SVQs was developed. Two special projects also occupied us - one linked to FITs and one linked to CEOP. The CEOP one was particularly pleasing since we have carved out something of a reputation in the Internet Safety/child protection area.

The HMIe report on the sector (the Aspect report) came out in November and was quite complimentary about SQA's work. In spite of the sector's well known problems (with uptake, achievement and teaching), I believe that the subject has had something of a resurgence in terms of popularity, with early indications about student registrations sounding very positive.

There have been disappointments too. The same report that complimented the range of qualifications also pointed out that there remains too much assessment. I also think that we still take too long to develop qualifications (the HNC/D Computer Games development has slipped a little). And, although the readership of this blog has steadily risen, it's not used interactively, with very few people using it to provide feedback.

I usually provide the names of people for you to contact -- but not today... we'll be enjoying Christmas with family and friends for the next couple of weeks. Have a good one too.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Computing Subject Network: Special Aspect report event

Scotland's Colleges organises regular subject networks when Computing lecturers get together to discuss curricular issues. There was a meeting on Friday dedicated to the recent HMIe Aspect report for the subject.

I was asked to speak about SQA's response to the report. My presentation [PPT] pointed out the good and not-so-good comments made about qualifications and assessment. My proposed actions included: continueing to try to reduce the amount of assessment, increasing the use of objective tests (and online assessment using SOLAR), and more innovative forms of assessment (using Web 2.0 tools and services). I will take these forward in the New Year. Feel free to use the comment facility if you think SQA should do anything else.

Overall, the report was pretty positive about SQA and the curriculum in general. The main criticism was about teaching and learning, and it was interesting to listen to some of the ideas about how this could be improved.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

New IT Professional Standards

I met with Chris Morrow, of E-Skills UK, on Monday afternoon to discuss new National Occupational Standards (NOS) relating to IT Professional. E-Skills maintains two sets of Standards: one set relating to IT user (ICT) and one set relating to IT professional (Computing).

It recently revised their IT Professional Standards and SQA, along with other awarding bodies, is now in the process of turning these Standards into qualifications. These have traditionally been SVQs but we explored the possibility of creating alternative awards, perhaps more attractive to employers. We'll be getting involved in this from January.

SQA uses the Standards for two purposes: (1) as the basis of SVQs; and (2) to inform our other vocational awards, all of which should relate to these Standards. The second purpose is important -- validation panels will ask for evidence of support from Sector Skills Councils and also ask how we used the Standards to inform our proposed award(s).

Contact Hilary for more information about SVQs.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Awarding Body Forum

E-Skills UK is the Sector Skills Council for IT. Once very quarter, it convenes a meeting of all of the awarding bodies involved in delivering S/NVQs. I attended the final meeting of 2009 today in London. SQA is one of a number of organisations that attend, including City & Guilds, EdExcel and BCS. I find it particularly useful since it is an opportunity for me to catch up with what is going on in the rest of the UK. There were several things of note at today's meeting.

It's not just Scotland that has problems with the teaching of Computing. OfQual has recently been critical of much the same issues in England. As a result, a new initiative called Vital has been launched by the OU and E-Skills to try to improve teaching and learning. The idea, if I understand it correctly, is for this project to collect useful resources and advise on teaching approaches. Although it is intended for England, the resources will be freely available. It will initially target the 14-19 age group. This initiative will be officially launched at BETT in January.

E-Skills own Skills Academy is progressing. The focus for this iniative is higher level IT skills. A pilot phase website will be available in April with the full launch in September or October.

There was also information provided about Online Basics, a training programme designed for the digitally excluded. It was pointed out that 29% of UK adults have never been online. This programme, which is part of the Digital Britain initiative, is designed to try to address that problem. It will be initially piloted in 39 UK Online centres in England and Wales.

Finally, a guy from Google gave a talk about a new initiative called Getting British Business Online, which, as the name infers, is about getting the 30% of SMEs with no web precence to use the Internet. The target is ambitious -- 100,000 extra business online within a year and it looks like there will be a big effort behind this in 2010. Google will provide every business that participates with a free domain name and website. Expect to hear more about this in the near future.

DIVA Refresh Survey

The SQA has commissioned a review of the Digital media & ICT Vendor Alliance (DIVA) programme with the aim of identifying any updating requirements and fresh opportunities relating to industry certifications and programmes in the IT, digital media and engineering sectors. The review is being undertaken by Sero Consulting, the consultancy team that worked with the SQA to establish the programme.

Feedback from colleagues in the sector is an important part of the review process. We would therefore be grateful for your support in completing a short survey on your experience and views regarding industry certifications and programmes.

We appreciate that your time is valuable so we have asked for the survey to be short and to the point. There are 11 questions that should take no more than 15 minutes to complete.

To contribute your views please click on the link below:

The survey will close on Wednesday 16th December 2009.

With thanks for your help.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Professional Development Award in Online Child Protection

A few months ago, CEOP approached SQA to ask if we would work with them to create a formal qualification based around their Ambassador programme. The Ambassador course is designed for professionals who work with children, and who want to be able to provide training to other adults in child online protection.

We were delighted to work with CEOP, and today I got great news --- the qualification is now validated! So SQA now has a formal qualification for people who want to specialise in child online protection. It's called the PDA in Online Protection & Safeguarding of Children and will be jointly certificated by SQA and CEOP. The Arrangements are not yet on the SQA website but should appear there in the near future.

We expect a wide range of professional people to undertake the qualification including teachers, social workers, and police officers. The award is very flexible, involving attendance at the Ambassador course followed by some online learning and uses online assessment.

I'm certain that it's the first national qualification of its kind in the UK and, as far as I know, the EU. It may even be a world first. There will be a national launch of the new qualification on Safer Internet Day in February 2010. In the meantime, please contact Caroline if you want to know more.

This PDA, which is for adult professionals, compliments the Internet Safety unit, which is for young people and others who use the Internet. And we're now looking at another unique area of protection in conjunction with a Scottish college.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Heads of Computing annual meeting

Every year, we organise an event for Heads of Computing in Scotland's 43 FE colleges. We held this year's event today. Around 40 people attended, which is pretty much someone from every college in Scotland.

The day seemed to go well, although we won't know for sure until we get the results from the post-event survey. If you attended, please complete this short questionnaire.

The focus of the event was the recent HMIe's Aspect report on the teaching of Computing in the college sector. Walter Patterson summarised the report's findings, and Ron Dillin led a workshop on the report's recommendations.

But it wasn't just the Aspect report. My own presentation outlined the current and forthcoming developments in Computing, including the new NPAs in Computer Games, to assist the Heads with the development plans for next year. Nigel Kennington gave a presentation on HNC/D Computer Games Development. Colin Buchanan did a demonstration of a new online forum. And, of course, I reminded everyone about the SQA Groupsite (now thi 108 members) and our new Twitter feed.

I'll upload and share the presentations once I have collated them. Thanks to everyone who took the time out of their busy schedules to attend.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

External Verifier meeting

I went along to the bi-annual meeting of External Verifiers on Saturday. The EVs meet twice per year to discuss field issues -- issues that arise when they go about their verification duties. The lead verifier (David Drennan) led the event and a key part of the day was his annual report.

I get a great deal out of the event since I can find out about the issues facing the verifiers when they visit centres. Many of the problems that they face relate to unit specifications or assessment exemplars or other support materials. It also gives me an opportunity to let the EVs know about forthcoming changes to courses and support materials, and to let them know what is in my development plan for next year.

Being an external verifier is fantastic CPD for a teacher or lecturer. You can find out more about becoming an EV from Allison Paterson.