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Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Final chance to complete the satisfaction survey

So far we've had 44 responses to the satisfaction survey, which is lower than a year ago (when we got 55 responses). I plan to close the survey soon so please take a few minutes to complete it if you haven't done so already.

We use the results to review our performance and identify things that we can improve so it's important we get a good response or the results can be skewed. You can complete the survey here. It will take you no longer than five minutes. Thanks in anticipation.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Review of NC Digital Media Computing and PC Passport

I recently posted a message to let you know that we were planning to review the NC in Digital Media Computing and PC Passport. Both of these awards are due their "quinquennial" reviews.

We recently asked for volunteers for the Qualification Development Teams (QDTs), and we got a good response. Hilary and me met this afternoon to select members.

We try to be as fair as possible when selecting people to work with us. We use a combination of criteria such as experience (we try to mix experience with "new blood"), gender (we try to get the right mix of men and women), sector (college or school), location (a good geographical spread) and age (we try to mix the young and not-so-young), among other considerations. It's always difficult to decide not to use someone, especially someone who we know and respect, but we have to try to be fair and inclusive, and that sometimes means turning down an offer from an experienced, dedicated professional.

I think that we finished up with two teams with a good mix of experience, age, expertise, gender and location, representing both the college and school sectors. One thing we are short of is industry/employer representation so it would be great to get some volunteers from that area.

We keep the membership of QDTs under constant review so it's never too late to get involved. Please contact Hilary for more information about this project.

We hope to have the updated awards available to centres from August 2014.

Revisions to Graded Units

I have posted a couple of messages about our plans to revise a few Graded Units (GUs) to improve the consistency between them. Me and Caroline met with David Drennan, the Senior EV, this morning to take this forward.

We agreed to revise the following GUs:

  • FP25 35 Interactive Media: Graded Unit 2
  • F8VG 34 Computer Games: Graded Unit 1
  • F8VH 35 Computer Games: Graded Unit 2.

We hope to have the revised versions available to centres from March.

David will also check that the new GUs, coming as part of the HN Review, are consistent with the existing units. Once the revised units are available, we will also produce assessment exemplars, which we hope will be available from August 2013.

Contact David for more information about this project. Or contact Caroline for more information about Graded Units and the associated ASPs.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Heads of Computing event

This year's Heads of Computing event took place on Friday at Caledonian University in Glasgow. This annual conference is an important date in the team's calendar since it's part of the way we work with colleges, and provides an opportunity to meet with teachers and lecturers.

The event was fully booked and there was an excellent turnout on the day. Most of the attendees were promoted staff from colleges, although some school teachers also attended.



The reason for having the event at this time of the year is to help centres with their planning for next year. I've been advised that this is the time of the year when colleges think about the courses they will offer next year, and a lot of the time at the event is spent discussing new qualifications that centres may want to offer. In fact, the agenda covered a wide range of topics including the Curriculum for Excellence, the new awards in Mobile Technology, and the on-going HN Review. This year, for the first time, we opened the event with a keynote speaker. Polly Purvis, from ScotlandIS, spoke about trends in computing, which seemed to be very well received. So much so that I plan to include a keynote every year.



The event has evolved from what it used to be, and the title ("Heads of Computing event") probably does not represent the people who actually attend so I will be thinking about a better title for next year's event. Perhaps "Vocational Computer Education Conference" is better (if longer). Feel free to use the comment facility if you have any ideas for a title.

The event seemed to go well but I'll let you be the judge of that since everyone who attended will be asked to complete a short questionnaire about the event. But you get a sense for how things go and this seemed to go very well.

The Heads of Computing event is part of the overall engagement strategy with colleges and schools, along with the Sector Panel, QSTs, QDTs and other committees and working groups. Please contact me if you want to know more about working with SQA.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Getting ready for the Heads of Computing event

I've posted a few times about the forthcoming Heads of Computing event, which takes place this Friday. The responsibility for organising these events falls on Caroline's shoulders, and it has kept her very busy for the last few weeks (along with other tasks).

We've had a fantastic response, and all of the available places (75) are now taken. This year's agenda looks particularly interesting, and includes updates on Curriculum for Excellence, the HN Review, and the new mobile technology awards, among other interesting subjects. This year, for the first time, we will have a keynote talk to kick-off the event, which will hopefully become a regular part of the conference. Polly Purvis, of ScotlandIS, is giving this year's keynote.

If you have a place and can't attend, please de-register so that your place can be re-assigned to someone on the waiting list. You can join the waiting list by contacting Caroline.

ITPCS event

I've been out of the office a lot recently, so this is the first chance I've had to write about an event I attended last Friday.

Iain Shand invited me to Cardonald College to attend the annual IT Providers Consortium Scotland (ITPCS) meeting. The ITPCS provides support to centres that offer vendor qualifications, including a centralised system for ordering teaching materials and providing exams. A number of Scottish colleges are members.



There were several presentations from organisations that support the delivery of vendor awards in colleges, such as publishers. Many of these resources are free to members. Iain spoke about the new NPA in Professional Computer Fundamentals that is linked to Microsoft's Technology Associate qualification, which has recently been validated.

The inclusion of vendor awards inside SQA's vocational qualifications is a real enhancement, which make the qualifications more relevant and more valued by employers. The inclusion of this Microsoft award inside this new NPA is an excellent introduction to vendor qualifications for non-advanced students.

Contact Iain if you want to know more about the ITPCS. Contact Hilary if you want to know more about the NPA in Professional Computer Fundamentals.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

CfE Subject Implementation Event

I attended the first Subject Implementation Event for the new CfE courses yesterday, which was held at the Stirling Management Centre. The purpose of the event was the kick-start the delivery of the new CfE courses in Scottish schools. Around 100 teachers from central Scotland attended.


Derek Middleton, the Development Manager for CfE, introduced the event, and described the contents of the new courses in Computing Science available at SCQF Levels 4, 5 and 6 (called "National 4", "National 5" and "Higher" respectively). The courses at Levels 4, 5 and 6 have identical structures, consisting of two mandatory units:

  1. Software Design & Development
  2. Information System Design  & Development

There is also a Level 3 ("National 3") course with a similar, but not identical, structure (consisting of Building Digital Solutions and Information Solutions). The contents of the corresponding Advanced Higher course are currently out for discussion.

The assessment at Levels 3 and 4 is internal, with external assessment at Levels 5 and 6, including an examination. Assessment Support Packages (ASPs) will be available for all of these courses. We had the first opportunity to look at a sample ASP at yesterday's event.

The new courses will be offered in schools from August 2013, with the first examinations in 2014.

These new courses are important to colleges and universities, since students will be coming to college/university with some of these awards. The focus on computer science, rather than IT, is particularly significant for colleges that offer HNC/D Computing. For me and my team, we need to ensure our awards build on or compliment these school qualifications.

You can find out more about the new courses here or contact Derek if you have a specific question. Derek will be speaking at the forthcoming Heads of Computing event.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Internet Safety qualification

We recently revised the Internet Safety unit to bring it more up-to-date and to focus more on online threats (such as cyberbullying) and less on the technical aspects of online safety. The revised unit [PDF] has been available to centres since May. There is also a comprehensive set of e-learning material to support the updated unit, which can delivered via a smartphone. The assessment support pack is almost ready, and will be published in the next few weeks. Online assessment via SOLAR is available now.

We are also writing a delivery guide, which will give centres practical advice about how best to deliver the new unit. This will be published in January.

Contact Caroline for more information about this qualification. The updated website contains lots of useful information too.

Social networks

The team have been using social media, such as this blog, for a long time. It's been a great help to us for communicating and sharing  information with you.

We've tried to use social networks once or twice but this has never really worked. For example, we recently created an SQA Facebook account (using our SQA address) but this caused some confusion with our personal accounts, and hasn't worked as I hoped.

I would like to try Google Plus (G+). This service feels less like a walled garden than Facebook so it might get around some of the problems that we have ran into with that service.

The team already has a G+ account using our "sqa.computing@gmail.com" account. Each of us also has G+ accounts under our sqa.org.uk domain names (for example, my own one is "bobby.elliott@sqa.org.uk").

If you want to join this experiment, all you need is a Google account. You can use your standard e-mail address for this. Once you activate Google+ you can add us to your circles. You will want to add the general account (sqa.computing@gmail.com) plus our individual accounts (bobby.elliott@sqa.org.uk, caroline.douglas@sqa.org.uk and hilary.weir@sqa.org.uk). In return we will add you to our circles. I have created circles for "teachers", "lecturers", "writers", "consultants", "External Verifiers", etc.

Creating a Google Plus account is straight forward and begins with you visiting http://plus.google.com.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Computing At School

I've been on annual leave for the past week, but on the Saturday after I stopped I attended the first meeting of the Computing At School (CAS) group, held in the Microsoft offices in Edinburgh. This new group is designed to promote the subject of Computing within Scottish schools. There was a fantastic turn-out at the event, with a long waiting list of people who could not be given a place.

The keynote was given by Muffy Calder, the Chief Scientific Officer for Scotland, who gave an interesting talk on the importance of computer science to Scotland and specifically about the concept of "computational thinking". The second keynote was given by Quintin Cutts, of Glasgow University, who spoke about "programming pedagogy", which explored the best way to teach programming skills. He argued, convincingly in my view, that we ask too much of students too soon and need to build their programming knowledge and skills more slowly.

The rest of the day was divided into a number of workshops and seminars, one of which was my own seminar about the vocational Computing awards available to schools. I was up against some stiff competition in my time slot so I was delighted that a large number of teachers chose to attend.

My talk promoted the range of vocational Computing qualifications available to Scottish schools, such as the awards in computer games, mobile technology and Internet safety.



It seemed to be well received. There appeared to be genuine interest in using these awards to broaden and enrich the school curriculum, alongside "traditional" qualifications.

It was a good day. There seems to be a lot of interest and support for this new group, including sponsorship from the likes of Google and Microsoft.

Contact Kate Farrell if you want to know more about Computing At School. Contact Hilary if you want to know more about vocational awards in schools.