Monday, 30 January 2012

Free online course for teachers of Computer Games

Scotland's Colleges and SQA Academy are working together to support teachers who deliver the NPAs in Computer Games Development.

A short course is available to teachers from 14-28 February. The course is designed to provide support for the delivery and assessment of the NPAs, and is open to any teacher in Scotland (college or school). It's mostly an online course, but one day attendance (on 28 February) is required. The course is free.

The programme begins on 14 February via SQA Academy, when you will have an opportunity to look at a range of online learning materials to support you when teaching these awards. The course tutor is the same person who created the materials, so you will hear it from the horse's mouth. The course concludes with a one day face-to-face event at Scotland's Colleges, in Stirling, on 28 February when you will have an opportunity to meet other participants and undertake a number of interactive activities to help you deliver the qualifications.

You don't have to attend the face-to-face event, if you are unable to get release from your centre, but the course was designed to include online and offline components to make the most from it.

Since the NPAs are component parts of the new National Certificates in Computer Games Development, this course is also suitable for anyone who teaches on those awards.

This course is separate from the support materials for these NPAs being developed as part of the TRANSET project, which are still under development.

If you are interested in attending, you can download the programme and book a place here, or contact Fiona Saxby for more information about the programme. Contact Hilary if you want to know more about the NPA awards.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Royal Society report on Computing in schools

Readers of this blog will be aware of the on-going discussions about Computing in schools. Co-incidentally to the Minister's announcement about the subject, the Royal Society recently produced a report about the issue.

Shut Down or Restart? [PDF] makes 11 recommendations about Computing in schools. Although the report focuses on England, most of the recommendations relate to the entire UK.

It makes interesting reading. Of particular interest is the criticism of "ICT" as a description of the subject, and a recommendation that it is divided into three distinct subject areas: "digital literacy", "Information Technology", and "Computer Science".

The report has potentialy important implications for awarding organisations (such as SQA). For example, one of the recommendations is that every awarding organisation in the UK reviews its portfolio of awards and clearly distinguishes each one using this classification.

SQA is actively considering the recommendations in the report. Look out for more reaction to this report in future blog posts.

Friday, 20 January 2012

NC Computer Games Development

The fourth meeting of the QDT for the new National Certificate (NC) in Computer Games Development was held yesterday afternoon in the SQA offices in Glasgow.

The lead developer, Frank Duffy of Motherwell College, presented a draft framework to the meeting. In fact, Frank presented two frameworks: one for a "technical" NC and one for a "creative" NC. He has spent a lot of time since the last QDT meeting in discussion with various individuals and organisations, such as representatives of universities, and came to the conclusion that a single framework would not meet their needs. He proposed two NC awards at SCQF Level 6:
  1. NC Computer Games: Software Development
  2. NC Computer Games: Animation.
We liked this, and plan to proceed on this basis. Seperating the areas means that each award can focus on specific skills. For example, the proposed Software Development award will have programming and mathematics as mandatory units.

We also had an interesting discussion about the optional topics in each award, which could include topics such as enterprise, AI, UI design and games theory. We plan to include Highers in the optional sections of each award. For example, the Animation award will include Art at Higher Level; the Software Development award will include Computing and Mathematics at Higher Level.

We also had good discussions around STEM, core skills and Curriculum for Excellence.

We now need to finalise the frameworks and get down to unit writing, before organising a validation event, which I hope will be held sometime in April or May. We will carry out a public consultation on the draft frameworks once they are firmed-up. Watch this space.

Both of these new qualifications will be available to centres from August. Contact Hilary if you want more information about this development or contact Frank if you want to know more about how the qualifications are shaping up.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Sector Panel and Support Teams

We engage with stakeholders in a number of ways, such as the annual Heads of Computing event. But we run two committees that are particularly important in this regard.

The Sector Panel for Computing & IT seeks to get feedback from you in a direct way -- through bi-annual face-to-face meetings. The Sector Panel includes representatives from colleges, schools and industry, including E-Skills UK. The Qualifications Support Teams (there are two - one for non-advanced and one for advanced qualifications) are another channel of communication. The QSTs are responsible for helping us to support centres, and keeping the qualifications up-to-date. They meet once per year and use online communications in-between meetings. The members are drawn from colleges and schools.

The Sector Panel and QSTs are not talk-shops. They make decisions that have a real impact on what we do. For example, in the recent past, the Sector Panel has suggested new qualifications that we have subsequently created. The QSTs suggest support materials to help teachers deliver our qualification, which we then [usually] commission.

Me and my team met yesterday afternoon to discuss the membership of these groups. As a result, we are looking for new members of the Sector Panel and the QSTs. We are particularly interested in representatives of industry to serve on the Sector Panel, and representatives of schools to serve on the QST for non-advanced awards. But we'd be interested to hear from anyone who is willing to give up some of their time to carry out these important roles. I think it's fair to say that the current members all find their membership rewarding. It's not only a great opportunity to have your say but it's also a great way of keeping up-to-date with developments and networking with people with similar interests.

Please contact Caroline for more information about the Sector Panel or the QST for advanced (HN/PDA) awards, or contact Hilary for information about the QST for non-advanced (NC/NPA) awards. Or contact me if you want a more general discussion.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

New Internet Safety qualification is coming

I mentioned the review of the Internet Safety unit previously. We've fallen a litte behind our original schedule. I met with the lead developer yesterday (thanks to the wonders of Skype) to get a progress report.

The new unit will be validated in mid-February and available to centres from the end of that month. We will also have online learning materials available from the middle of February, including mobile phone materials that will permit learners to undertake the course via their smartphones. The new unit will be assessed via SOLAR and using a blog.

We plan to launch the new qualification on Safer Internet Day, which will be held on 7 February this year.

It will be safe to assume that all materials (teaching, learning and assessment material) will be available well before the start of the new academic year. So, if you currently deliver the Internet Safety award, you should consider updating to the new version for next session.

Contact Caroline for more information about Internet Safety.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Computing curriculum in Scotland

You may have noticed the on-going debate in England about the ICT curriculum. There have been criticisms about what is taught in English schools, with complaints that it is boring and only focuses on using software rather than creating it.

This morning the Minister for Education, Michael Gove, spoke about the problem at the BETT conference in London. He described the current offerings as "harmful and dull" and pledged to change the curriculum in England.

Some people have claimed that Scotland does it better. While we also have a number of ICT awards that focus on using the technology, we have maintained a strong focus on the technical side of the subject. The National Courses in Computing have retained their technical emphasis, with computer programming an essential component. More recently, we have introduced new awards in computer games [PDF] that combine programming with engaging content, which have been well received.

There are also new courses in the pipeline. The changes to Computing that will come about as a result of the Curriculum for Excellence will emphasise computer (and information) science, the new HNC Computing makes software development a mandatory component (it was previously optional), and there are new awards in mobile technology, which involve the creation of smartphone apps, about to become available to schools and colleges.

I don't mean to sound complacent. There is always room for improvement, and there are challenges facing Scotland too. But, I think, the Scottish curriculum has something for everyone.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Industrial Advisory Board

I was invited to serve on the Industrial Advisory Board (IAB) for the School of Computing at the University of the West of Scotland (UWS). I attended my first meeting yesterday afternoon, held on the Paisley campus.

The Board serves a similar purpose to the SQA Sector Panel in that it seeks feedback and advice from external people. But the IAB is huge. There are 44 members, representing 40 external bodies (now including SQA). There was a good turnout at yesterday's meeting, with around 30-35 people attending.

The agenda was varied, including an update on the HE Academy and the use of e-portfolios in Higher Education. The discussion included a debate about students' use of social media and it was interesting how many of the employers stated that they expected CVs to be presented digitally (LinkedIn was particularly popular) and how they routinely used social networks (such as Facebook) for background checks on candidates. One of the items on the agenda related to BCS accreditation of their degree courses, and that reminded me that I need to pursue BCS accreditation for the new HN awards.

I had planned to review the membership of the SQA Sector Panel but yesterday's meeting brought this into sharp focus because of the high turnout at the Board meeting compared to the much lower attendance at Sector Panel meetings. The University's Board and SQA's Panel operate similarly so that's not the problem, but I need to increase membership and representation, and improve attendance at Sector Panel meetings. That will be one of my resolutions for 2012.

Contact Caroline if you want to know more about the Sector Panel.

Friday, 6 January 2012

SQA , Oracle and a UK First

Oracle Academy and
                                            ThinkQuest logo

We are delighted that for the first time an  International Oracle Academy event for school teachers and trainers will be held in Scotland.

We have a strong working partnership with Oracle and it will be great to welcome teachers from across the UK and beyond to Scotland. There are well established links to the Oracle Curriculum from  Higher , Advanced Higher and through to  HNC/D  and vocational qualifications SCQF 6-8

The Oracle Academy provides teachers and lecturers with the skills required to successfully deliver the Oracle Academy curriculum in schools and further education establishments, the EMEA Institute is being held in the UK / Scotland for the first time, it has  previously run in Belgium, Vienna, The Netherlands and the Czech Republic.  

Teachers / lecturers who participate from Scotland will work face-to-face with  people from a variety of teaching  backgrounds from across Europe, and will have access to personal support and tuition.
The Oracle Academy in Edinburgh will focus on two classes as part of our Introduction To Computer Science course:

Database and Programming with SQL
Students analyze business requirements; create entity relationship diagrams and data models while building collaboration and problem solving skills. Later, students learn SQL using the Oracle Application Express tool; they investigate careers, gain interviewing skills and earn Oracle Professional certification opportunities.

Database Programming with PL/SQL
Students develop PL/SQL programming, project management, and application development skills. In addition, students have the opportunity to gain certification as an "Oracle PL/SQL Developer Certified Associate."

 Virtual training Available  (approx. 2 months) April 9 - June 15, 2012
In-class training (5 days) - The Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland - July 23 - July 27, 2012    
·         Attend daily training - 5 days    
·         Complete Exit Exam
·         Pass Exit Exam within 60 days of the conclusion of the in-class training.
The course is free but candidates must provide their own accommodation and subsistence
To view course curriculum please visit
To view the Institute schedule online visit

If you want to know more about what is involved please contact  You are also  invited to attend a free event in the Teacher Building, Glasgow on Thursday 2nd February, 10am - 12pm to hear more details of the program from existing Oracle Academy members in Scotland at college and Secondary school level.   To confirm your place at this event click here .

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Happy New Year

The team returned to work today. We all had a nice, if wet and windy, holiday.

Last year was a good year for the team. The main development was the HN Review, which culminated in the validation event for HNC Computing in December. We worked hard to develop and promote qualifications for markets outside of Scotland, and we hope that this will bear fruit during the coming year. The annual Heads of Computing event, held in early December, was also a success.

We have a lot planned for 2012. We have to complete the HN Review, which will involve the development of five revised or new awards, and a number of existing awards are due to be reviewed this coming year, including PC Passport. Last year we introduced a satisfaction survey, to find out what we were doing right and wrong, and we plan to continue with this again in 2012.

We also intend to continue with our use of social meda to engage with the sector. This blog has established itself as an important commmunication channel, and our Twitter feed is becoming popular (we currently have 330 followers). The final piece in the jigsaw would be a social network, and we plan to look at services  such as Google Plus to see if this can add to our existing communication tools.

We live in interesting times. The vocational education sector in Scotland, and beyond, is going through a period of rapid change. We appreciate that you need up-to-date qualifications for your learners and we are here to provide them -- so let us know if we can help you in any way.

We hope you have a good 2012, and appreciate you reading this blog.