Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Sector Panel meeting

The Sector Panel for Computing & IT is one of two surviving panels from the days (around 10 years ago) when every subject area had one. The purpose of these bodies is to advise SQA about what's happening in the respective sectors and the membership reflects the external stakeholders who SQA deals with, such as colleges, universities, employers and Sector Skills Councils.

The Computing Panel meets twice per year and met today for its first meeting of 2010. It's a great opportunity for me to get feedback from the field. We had a particularly interesting discussion about the future of HNC/D Computing and HNC/D Networking, both of which will be reviewed in 2010/11. We agreed to consult before deciding about what to do with these awards since there are various options to consider (such as combining them into a single family of awards). I agreed to convene an open door event to discuss the options in the Spring.

We operate a a "three strikes and you are out" policy regarding membership (if you miss three consecutive meetings -- 1½ years in real time -- then we ask you to stand down) and there will be vacancies on the Panel, which we will seek to fill in the near future. Look out for invitations to become involved, via this blog, in the near future.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

SQA and Microsoft links

I met with Iain Shand of Cardonald College this afternoon to discuss his new role as the ITPCS Manager. Cardonald is the lead centre for the Microsoft IT Academy programme and Iain supports 15 centres across Scotland.

Microsoft is one of several vendors whose curriculum we try to incorporate inside of SQA awards. There are presently three PDAs linked to Microsoft certification. We recently commissioned Deryck Nutley to develop a number of new HN units to map onto Microsoft's new Windows 7 curriculum. We're hoping to have these units added to the HNC/D Computing and Networking awards before the end of this year.

It is a real strength of computing qualifications that they cover the same ground as many vendor awards. This means that students can leave college with national qualifications (such as an HNC) and internationally recognised vendor qualifications (such as Microsoft's Desktop Support) simply by doing a single SQA qualification.

Contact Iain if you want to know more about Microsoft certification or contact Caroline about SQA's links with IT vendors.

Monday, 15 March 2010

HNC/D Computer Games validation event

The validation event for the new HNC/D Computer Games Development was held on Friday.

The purpose of a validation event is for a group of peers, who have not been involved in the development of the qualification, to comment on the proposed award. So it's a nerve-racking day for the development team since the panel can ask for major changes if it doesn't like what is being proposed.

Nigel Kennington, of Edinburgh Telford College, led the development team and Ron Dillon, of Stow College, led the validation panel. Ron is hugely experienced and scrupulously impartial. Stow College developed the original HNC Computer Games Development (in 2006?), which was the basis of this development, so it seemed right to ask Ron to evaluate this proposal.

The outcome was good. The awards (the HNC and the HND) were validated subject to three conditions. The main condition was that the development team should include a maths unit in the mandatory section of the HNC. Nigel was proposing that only the HND had maths as a compulsory unit. We had debated this issue many times during the development of the awards so we recognised the arguments for including maths in both awards but decided that, for some students, it would be a barrier to achievement and that worthwhile skills, at HNC level, could be gained without it.

We think that we can address the conditions very quickly and I hope to have the conditions lifted by the end of this month (March) and the award available to centres from May. Scotland has a uniquely collaborative way of developing national qualifications, one that involves ordinary teachers in the development and evaluation of qualifications. I think it's a system that we can be proud of.

Contact Caroline if you want more information about these qualifications.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Help us improve

Ideascale is a Web 2.0 service designed to get ideas about how organisations can improve. I've set up one for vocational Computing qualifications so let us know if you have any ideas about how we can improve.

Awarding Body Forum

I attended one of the quarterly meetings in London today when all of the qualification organisations involved in delivering qualifications linked to the Sector Skills Council (E-Skills) meet to discuss issues relating to those qualifications.

E-Skills used to be only responsible for NVQs and SVQs but over the years has got involved in a large number of IT initiatives. So today's meeting covered a wide range of issues. SQA's main involvement with E-Skills is through SVQs but we also work with E-Skills on a number of other projects and involve them in most of the validation events.

Although most of the agenda is dominated by English matters (such as funding and accreditation), it's a good opportunity to get up-to-date with national initiatives such as Google's Get British Business Online. SQA plans to support this initiative in Scotland.

Contact Hilary if you want to know more about SVQs.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Child Internet Safety conference

I attended the Child Internet Safety conference today, organised by Holyrood Events. The theme of the conference was online child protection and representatives of various child protection and education agencies were present.

The keynote speaker was the Minister for Children and Early Years, who opened the event with a talk about the Scottish Government's views on child protection.

His message was clear: the Internet is a vital part of contemporary culture and will not go away but we need to protect children from its potential dangers.

The Minister was followed by a man in the news right now; Jim Gamble, the Chief Executive of CEOP.

Jim outlined the efforts CEOP were making to track down offenders. He emphasised that every picture of child pornography was, in fact, a crime scene depicting child sexual abuse. In fact, he argued against the use of the term "child pornography" (preferring "child sexual abuse") on the grounds that it could be seen as normalising the behaviour.

My own talk was about SQA's child protection qualifications: specifically, the current Internet Safety National Unit and the forthcoming PDA in Child Online Protection.
Child Internet Safety (Sqa)
View more presentations from bobbyelliott

I was delighted by the interest shown in the PDA, with several people waiting behind to ask how they could get involved. SQA was the only awarding body at the event, which probably confirms our UK leadership in this area (a search on Google, implies a world leadership too).

I was pleased to note that no-one was suggesting that the Internet was a bad thing -- quite the opposite. It was (some) people who were the problem; not the technology. Just about everyone recognised the educational, social and professional benefits of the technology.

Contact Caroline for more information about SQA's child protection awards.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

LTS support for computer games

I met with Charlie Love, of LTS, this morning. Charlie has been seconded from Cults Academy until December 2010 to develop games-related support materials for the school curriculum. He will be exploring how various technologies (such as OpenSim, the iPhone SDK, and the Unreal engine) can be used within schools to deliver National Courses and contribute towards the goals of the Curriculum for Excellence (site is down or I would link).

Charlie was particularly interested in the forthcoming NPAs in Computer Games Development. So I took the opportunity to invite him to serve on the validation panel for these new awards (due to take place in May).

Contact Charlie if you want to know more about his role in LTS or contact Hilary if you want to know more about the new NPAs.

Silverlight Version 3

With the release of version 3, Silverlight has hit the maturity sweet spot with more clients realising the benefits of a runtime specifically designed for RIA and media based application.
To help Universities, Media Academies and Colleges understanding the technology and teaching it to their students, and in collaboration with Skillset and the Ravensbourne College of Design and Communication, Microsoft developed a ready to teach module that covers all the main aspects of the technology and the associated tools.

We are delighted to launch this module in the UK with two events in which we will talk about the content, the technology and provide you with some more information on how we believe learning it will be beneficial for your students.

During the day, you will have the opportunity to understand the course content and get an overview of the technology and especially understand the benefit of integrated developer/designer workflow, Deep Zoom & Smooth Streaming HD video. You will also experience working with the latest Expression Blend 3 tools – supporting you from sketch through to delivery.
Here’s an overview of the topics covered in the course
1.     Introduction Silverlight
2.     Prototyping your Silverlight Project in SketchFlow
3.     Building asserts for your Silverlight project
4.     Naming and arranging elements in Expression Blend
5.     Creating animation & Basic interactivity in Expression Blend
6.     Working with the Visual State Manager
7.     Adding Video in Expression Blend
8.     A C# Primer
9.     Practical Application
10.  Working with Data
11.  A Look at creating Deep Zoom’s
The events will take place in Birmingham on March 15th 2010 and in Edinburgh on March 19th 2010.
If you are interested and want to join please follow the instructions below. If you know someone who may be interested, please feel free to extend this invitation.
How to reserve your place

Please contact me ( with full name, title, institution, email address and telephone number of the attendee/s you want to register plus any special requirements (e.g. dietary requirements).
These sessions are reserved to teaching and research staff in Universities, Media Academies and Colleges in the United Kingdom.

We look forward to seeing you!
Best regards,
Paolo Barone | Academic Evangelist | Microsoft UK

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Communicating changes to units and assessments to centres

There was an interesting discussion at Friday's QST meeting about how SQA communicates changes to unit specs or assessment exemplars to centres.

The problem is that we can change units or assessments at any time. When people inform us about errors or improvements we try to action these changes as quickly as we can -- resulting in revised units and assessment being published throughout the year. This means that staff in centres can accidentally use an out of date unit spec or assessment exemplar.

The QST's solution is simple: always print the current unit spec and assessment exemplar before you begin to teach a new class. Don't file a paper copy of these materials in a unit pack since this can often be the cause of the problem.

We discussed batching changes (perhaps one or two updates per year) but this incurred unnecessary delays on (sometimes) important changes; we discussed writing to centres whenever a change was made but this would result in dozens of letters every year, with no guarantee that ordinary teachers would ever see the letters. So we kept coming back to: print the latest unit spec and assessment exemplar before you start teaching.

I'd be interested in your comments on this.

Monday, 1 March 2010

CompTIA Strata - Glasgow Workshop

CompTIA in association with Scotland's Colleges are holding a workshop based around the new CompTIA Strata Certificates on Monday 29th March 2010 at the Glasgow Metropolitan College from 10.00am until 1.00pm.

If you would like to register for the event, please do by clicking here