Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Proposed HNC/D Computing Frameworks

Information posted on the HN Review Blog on the latest versions of frameworks.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Software Development in Scotland

The Chairmain of Google, Eric Schmidt, delivered the MacTaggart Lecture in Edinburgh on Friday. He criticised British education in general but specifically the teaching of Computing: "Your IT curriculum focuses on teaching how to use software, but gives no insight into how it's made."

Scotland has avoided that. Software development has always been a key part of the Scottish curriculum. At a time when computer science and programming was being reduced in the UK, the Higher Still programme protected "pure" computing, while reacting to pressure (which existed at the time) to introduce a "softer" course by creating a new suite of courses in Information Systems. The Curriculum for Excellence continues that tradition through the proposed Computing & Information Science courses, which also feature software development as a key part of the curriculum.

Software development has been a key part of vocational qualifications in Scotland. We recently developed a suite of NPAs in Computer Games Development, perhaps the first national qualification of their kind in the world. And there is a dedicated HND qualification (HND Software Development [PDF]) that focuses on programming. The current HN Review consolidates the place of programming by making it a mandatory part of the new HNC award, and every one of the new HNDs.

All of that might explain why Scotland punches above its weight when it comes to software production, with 25% of the UK's jobs in the video games sector being located here. The country has established an international reputation in computer games production and SQA has supported this through an extensive range of qualifications in this area.

Contact Hilary for more information about NC/NPA Computer Games Development or contact Caroline for more information about HND Software Development or HNC/D Computer Games Development. Contact Derek if you want to know more about the role of programming in the Curriculum for Excellence.

Friday, 26 August 2011

E-Assessment Scotland Conference 2011

I attended the E-Assessment Scotland Conference 2011 today at the University of Dundee. It was my first time at this event. I really enjoyed it. Although most attendees came from the university sector, the college sector was well represented, with 13 Scottish colleges in attendance. I didn't see any school representatives on the list of attendees.

It followed the usual conference template of keynote speakers and seminars and workshops. The keynotes were uniformly good. The first keynote - from Steve Wheeler of Plymouth University - focussed on the potential of ICT to provide feedback to students. His key message was that UK education focusses on surface learning -- learning that is easy to measure rather than learning that people need to survive and prosper in the 21st Century. He criticised the lack of feedback given to learners: "I got more positive feedback from E-Bay than in 14 years of education."

A recurring theme during the conference was people's preference for Web 2.0 tools and services rather than VLEs and e-assessment systems. Several presenters pointed out that teachers and students preferred to use the same tools for learning that they use as part of the "normal" lives, and found VLEs to be alien.

The afternoon keynote, delivered by Donald Clark, was particularly challenging. Donald argued that assessment is not keeping up with external changes. He criticised the "obsession with factual knowledge" rather than "real learning", and emphasised to importance of learning by doing. He, too, was unimpressed with VLEs and e-portfolio systems. Donald argued for "less assessment, more use of formative assessment, more peer assessment, and greater use of simulations and games-based assessment". He was particularly critical of the lecture system in Higher Education, which, he argued, was only good for knowledge transfer, and ineffective for deep learning.

I was invited to participate in the panel session at the end of the conference, which I enjoyed. One of the questions asked was about trends in e-assessment. I expressed my view that we are in the middle of a technological revolution in society but only at the start of the corresponding educational revolution. Education is conservative and moves slowly, but radical change is coming.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Qualifications Development Forum

The team work within the Qualifications Development directorate within SQA, and every year the whole directorate attend a forum event. There was an event yesterday afternoon, held in Glasgow.

These events are a collection of workshops, from which each person chooses to attend three. I attended one about the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), another about research in assessment, and one on the design of qualifications.

It was particularly interesting to catch up with what's happening with CfE. This is an important national initiative that will effect all of education, not just schools. I noted that draft course rationals, structures and unit specifications will be published later this month, and final arrangements this time next year (apart from Advanced Higher).

My favourite workshop was the one about research in assessment. We spent most of the time discussing the need to modernise education in general, and assessment in particular, but recognised the barriers to change. One particularly interesting piece of research related to giving adults credit (within HNC/Ds) for their previous work experience -- but most respondents (learners and employers) emphasised the academic value of HN qualifications and didn't want to "miss out" on any part of these programmes.

The workshop of "product architecture" (that's qualification design to you and me) was also interesting because SQA is looking at ways of changing the way we design and define awards.

It's great to get away from e-mail and telephone for an afternoon and catch up with the bigger issues facing SQA.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Follow us on Twitter

I mentioned in a post last week that I would write something about our use of Twitter. The team has been using Twitter for a year, and around 250 people now follow us. That's not bad, but we would like it to be much higher.

Twitter is a "micro-blog", which means that it's used for small messages. We use it for updates and other bits of information that we think you want to know. Not everything in this blog is "tweeted" and not everything we tweet is blogged. For example, the blog permits us to write longer posts and explain things more fully than Twitter. Twitter permits us to share "tit-bits" of information -- such as one of the team being unavailable or a link to an educational website. The blog is a diary of what the team is doing; our tweets are little messages. It's best to follow both - the blog and our tweets.

Twitter has evolved into a powerful educational tool. Most organisations now have a Twitter feed. You can follow national organisations and nearly every educationalist of note has a Twitter account. For example, we follow large organisations such as E-Skills UK, individual centres such as the Computing Department in Lasswade High School, and individuals such as Alex Salmond. Many teachers use Twitter for teaching.

So, I hope you chose to follow the SQA Computing team. It's a simple, convenient way to find out what's happening within the team and what we're working on. Simply click the "Follow" button on the right.

Friday, 19 August 2011

Using the right unit specification

I spent most of this afternoon proof reading the annual reports from the Senior Verifiers for my subject areas. I'll post something about these reports later, but one comment seems particularly appropriate at this time of the year.

The Senior Verifier for Computing commented that "there were several instances of centres not using the latest versions of unit specifications". It's pretty fundamental that you are using the latest unit spec. You should  download the current version of unit specifications from the SQA website. You can search for HN units here or NC units here. We also maintain a list of changes to HN units here. Please check you're teaching the right unit!

The EV reports are published later in the year.

Following this blog

This blog has been around a long time, since 2004 to be precise. It has gradually built-up a pretty good readership, with around 100 visitors each day. The recent survey showed that it was the second most popular communication channel, after the SQA website.

There are various ways to follow this blog. You can, of course, simply visit this web page from time to time. You can bookmark the URL ( and add it to your favourites. But that means that you have to remember to come back regularly to check if anything new has been posted.

A better way is to be alerted when there is something new. You can do this via e-mail or via an RSS feed. If you add your e-mail address to the box on the right, you will receive a copy of every message via your inbox. Alternatively, you can add the feed to your favourite newsreader. Google Reader is an excellent, and easy to use, newsreading service.

The blog is mobile-enabled, which means that it renders nicely on most mobile phones or tablets, so you can check the blog "on the move". If you set up an RSS feed, your mobile phone will also be able to access it via that route since there are lots of nice newsreaders for smartphones. I use Feedr.

You can also follow us on Twitter but not every message on this blog is tweeted so you might miss something if that's all you use. I'll say more about Twitter in a future post.

While this blog has been successful in terms of the number of readers, it hasn't been successful as a way of getting feedback from you. Every post has a comment facility and it would be good to see more feedback this year.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Communicating with centres

The recent satisfaction survey exposed two criticisms of the service we provide: (1) the way we recruit people to help us; and (2) the way we communicate with centres. I'll say more about recruiment another day, but I would like to discuss communications today.

The specific criticism about communications was that we use too many different ways of communicating with you, such as our website and Blogger and Twitter. A frequent comment was: "Why don't you put everything in one place?".

Well, we do. We put everything on the SQA website. But there are controls about the sort of thing that can be shared on the website. It's fine for documentation (such as Arrangements) but it's not designed to keep you up-to-date with daily developments. The Computing pages are as complete as the pages for any other subject area -- but we also use social media to communicate with you.

For example, this blog is ideal for recording day-to-day developments. It's what blogs are for. You don't have to follow the blog but, if you do, you will know exactly what we're doing and, more importantly, what's coming. It also provides an opportunity for you to feedback to the team using the comment facility. Similarly, Twitter has a unique purpose. It's great for short, frequent, specific messages. For example, we use it when one of the team is unavailable (perhaps on holiday), which might be important if you are waiting for a reply. These services can be accessed from various devices, such as PCs, smartphones and TVs, meaning that you can always keep up-to-date.

So we plan to continue to use the full range of communication tools that we have been using. You won't miss anything important if you stick with update letters and the website, but we will also continue to use Blogger and Twitter and, perhaps, new social media tools when we think they will improve communications.

SQA has a long tradition of working with centres in a transparent, consultative and collaborative way. Social media is a great way of continuing that tradition.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Welcome back

Many lecturers and teachers return to school and college today to commence academic session 2011/12. Welcome back! We hope you have a good year.

If you scroll through this blog, you'll see what the team has been doing over the summer months. The main development has been the HN Review, which is reviewing five popular Higher National Qualifications. There was a little slippage in assigning unit writers but we are now pushing ahead. Internet Safety has went into a review phase. And we took the opportunity, during the relative quiet of the summer months, to update a number of units. There was a particularly good meeting with Scotland's Colleges, when we agreed a number of actions that should improve the service that we provide to you. In fact, it was so successful that we plan to hold similar meetings, between SQA and Scotland's Colleges, every summer.

It's that time of the year when I remind you who we are and what we do. Please download and print the team organisation chart and keep it handy. You will get a much faster response if you contact the right person.

Just before you left for holiday, we carried out a satisfaction survey and although the results were very positive, there are a couple of areas we plan to concentrate on during the coming year. One of these areas is communications. We've been using social media to keep you up-to-date for some time, and we plan to work on this during the coming year. I'll post something about this later this week.

The results of the survey were good, but the most pleasing aspect, for me, was that you consider the team friendly, visible and approachable.

We're living through a revolution in teaching and learning, caused by the Internet, mobile technology, and social media. It's a great time to be involved with education.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Internet Safety review commences

I wrote in this blog in April that we were would review the Internet Safety qualification at some point in the coming financial year. Well, that review commenced this morning with the first meeting of the Qualification Development Team.

The review is being led by Ted Hastings, who created the original award, which has been very well received by thousands of learners in schools and colleges since its introduction in 2006. SQA was the first awarding body in the UK, and perhaps Europe, to develop a national qualification in this area and it has subsequently been adopted by the E-Skills Sector Skills Council as the basis of their own E-Safety qualification.

We have already carried out some research into the changes that will be required, so we're pretty clear about what needs to be done to update the qualification and harmonise it with the E-Skills version.

We will also be updating the support materials for the qualification, including the "smartphone" materials that can be used to undertake the award using a mobile phone. Our research revealed that the existing teaching and learning materials were a little dry so we will be endevouring to make them more engaging this time around.

We hope to have the new unit, and the associated support materials, available to centres from January 2012. The launch event will take place on Safer Internet Day 2012.

Contact Caroline if you want to know more about this project.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Changes to HN Unit Specifications/Materials

The following changes have been made to HN materials over the summer break so please make sure that you have downloaded the most up-to-date versions before delivery (please refer to the History of Change section within the documents for more information on the reason for change):

F1W0 34 Project Management for IT (update to HN Unit Specification)
F1VV 34 User Interface Design (update to HN Unit Specification)
F1VY 34 Manage Database Systems (update to HN Unit Specification and HN Exemplar)

There have also been some significant changes to HN Unit Specifications which have resulted in new unit codes being allocated.  The following Units have been revised and as a result added to the relevant group award frameworks as 'either/or' alongside the previous version. Finish dates have been placed on the Units marked 'Old' below - if you have any candidates registered for these Units, please ensure that they are completed by the finish date below to ensure certification:

F6C1 35 Self Describing Data (XML) - Old (Finish date 31st July 2013)
FM97 35 Self Describing Data (XML) - New

F6V6 35 Interactive Media: Graded Unit 2 - Old (Finish date 31st July 2013)
FP25 35 Interactive Media: Graded Unit 2 - New

DF9Y 35 Routing Technology - Old (Finish date 31st July 2012)
FR22 35  Routing Technology - New

DG09 35 Switching Technology - Old (Finish date 31st July 2012)
FR23 35  Switching Technology - New

DF9X 35 Networking Technology - Old (Finish date 31st July 2012)
FR24 35  Networking Technology - New

DG0A 35 Internetworking Technology - Old (Finish date 31st July 2012)
FR25 35  Internetworking Technology - New

In addition to the changes to the above Units, there have also been updates made to the group award frameworks within the following Arrangements Documents:

HNC Computing (G7GL 15)
HND Computing: Software Development (G7TT 16)
HND Computing: Technical Support (G7TR 16)
HND Interactive Media (G9AY 16)
HNC Computer Networking (G7DX 15)
HND Computer Networking and Internet Technology (G7DY 16)
HNC Information Technology (G857 15)
HND Information Technology (G8CX 16)

These documents can be accessed directly through the SQA website or by clicking the document links above.

Monday, 8 August 2011

Using social media for teaching and learning

I came across 85 Resources: Educator Guide for Integrating Social Media today, which looks like an excellent resource for teachers who want to use social media. The site includes lots of useful links and resources for teachers.