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Thursday, 31 October 2013

Computer Science review

I commenced the (mini) review of HND Computer Science today, when I visited Napier University in Edinburgh and spoke to a couple of members of staff about this new award and how it articulates with their own degree courses.

The key questions I need to answer are:

  • do you support the existence of this qualification in principle?
  • does the title match the contents?
  • what changes, if any, need to be made?
  • what is essential to include in this award?
  • if Maths needs to be included, what sort of Maths?

It was a very useful meeting and I got clear answers to each of these questions.

I plan to speak to lots of different stakeholders over the coming weeks, after which I will compose a short report to summarise my findings. Once I've done that, we (SQA) will consider the best course of action.

Contact me directly if you want to know more about this review. Contact Caroline if you want to know more about the qualification.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

HN alternative assessments

I've previously mentioned the Qualification Review Team (QRT). The QRT was responsible for devising alternative assessments that could be used in place of the existing assessments to better reflect the assessments faced by students at university. The QRT for Computing met four times, after which SQA finalised the alternative assessments.

I am a member of the Project Board for this development, and the Board had its ninth meeting this morning. The purpose of the meeting was to get an update on how the project is going. We will be looking for pilot centres in the near future. These centres will trial the alternative assessments between August 2014 and June 2016. There will be a launch event (for pilot centres) early next year.

Developing these assessments has been a two stage process. The first part was creating the "assessment designs"; the second part is writing the actual Assessment Support Packs (ASPs). So far, we have produced assessment designs for:
  1. HNC Computing (a project)
  2. HND Computer Science (an exam)
  3. HND Computing: Networking (an exam)
  4. HND Computing: Software Development (an exam).
The alternative assessments combine the assessment for several outcomes. For example, the HND Networking exam covers 13 outcomes from various units in the second year of that programme. We hope that these bigger, more holistic assessments will give students a better idea of the types of assessments that will face them at university.

The next stage is to write the alternative ASPs. That should be relatively straight-forward given the level of specificity in the assessment designs (which, for example, define the duration, size and structure of the exam paper). I am looking for volunteers to do this so please don't hesitate to contact me if you are interested in finding out more.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Computing At School

I attended the second Computing At School (CAS) event on Saturday, which was held at the University of Glasgow. This year, unlike last year, I had the pleasure of not speaking.

It's great to attend events where the sole focus is teaching and learning. In my many conversations with the many educationalists who were there, the sole topic was how best to teach Computing. I attended all of the keynotes and many of the workshops. I particularly enjoyed the workshops about what pupils find difficult about Computing (by Sue Sentance) and the workshop about the flipped classroom (Charlie Love). Sue provided concrete examples of what works (paired progamming, debugging programs, and walkthroughs of code among them) and Charlie explained how the flipped classroom can work for Computing.

It was great to be part of such an enthusiastic group, who are already planning next year's event. You can find out more about CAS Scotland here.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

PC Passport review

As you will know, PC Passport is currently being reviewed. This important development commenced earlier this year and has been progressing well. The Qualification Development Team has been working hard to revise the qualification. The draft qualification is pretty well developed and we are now at the stage of finalising the units.

I met with the core development team earlier this week to look at the draft units to make final changes.


The recent focus on digital literacy has had an impact on the award. We took the decision to try to embed as many digital literacy skills within the revised award as we could. Sometimes this involved changing the title of a unit (for example, we now have a series of units called "Network Literacy" instead of "Online Skills") and sometimes it involved changing the contents of the units -- and sometimes both. That's the nature of qualification development -- it's fluid. But I am sure that we are right to try to embed these new skills.

There is also a big focus in the revised award on social media (there is a series of units called "Social Media") and information skills (there is a series of units called "Information Literacy", which was previously "ICT Skills"). The end result, I hope, is an up-to-date, exciting qualification that delivers essential knowledge and skills.

We plan to have the revised qualification completed by early 2014 (the validation is planned for January) and available to centres from March 2014. I am hoping that you will find the new award as modern and exciting as we think it is.

Contact Hilary if you want to know more about this development.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Support materials for the new HN awards

The new HN awards are the best supported Computing qualifications that SQA has ever produced. In fact, they may be the best supported qualifications of any kind that SQA has ever produced.There are Assessment Support Packs (ASPs), online assessments and e-learning material available to support the new awards.

So far, 58 ASPs have been produced (and available) with another five on the way. These cover all of the mandatory units in all of the awards plus many of the optional units. Twenty-one of the units are supported with e-assessments available via SOLAR, and this figure will increase over time. And there is e-learning material (for teaching and learning) for the mandatory units within the HNC -- again, with more coming in the near future.

The list of support material is growing all of the time. You can download the latest list here.


We'll keep this list up-to-date so don't forget to check it from time to time. Please contact Caroline if you have any queries about support materials or contact SOLAR directly if you have a query about online testing.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Reviewing Computer Science

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I planned to review the new HND Computer Science. It's not really a review. I plan to talk to a few people over the coming weeks about their opinions of the new award.

The recently completed HN Review updated four awards, and created one new one - the HND Computer Science. Some of you will remember that it was originally intended to be a generic HND in Computing but during the development and validation process became what it is now. Some people have commented that the title and the contents don't quite match. So I plan to talk to few people (school teachers, college lecturers and university admissions among them) about this. I will do this over the next couple of months.

If you have any views on this don't hesitate to let me know. I'd welcome e-mails or phone calls (or face to face discussions) about this.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Centre satisfaction survey

I opened this year's centre satisfaction survey a few weeks ago and, so far, there has been a very low response. I use the survey to figure out what we're doing right and what we're doing wrong but a very low response means that I can't really use the data for anything. So, please, if you haven't done so already, can you spend a few minutes completing the online survey?

The team started the survey in 2011 (when there was a large response). Although there was a drop in responses last year, there was still a reasonably large number of respondents -- enough for me to use the results to try to change things. But, as you know, if you don't get a reasonable response rate then the results become no more than the opinions of a few individuals (the current results are good, but so low they become meaningless).

I intend to close the survey soon (irrrespective of response rate) so please take a few minutes to complete it.

Friday, 4 October 2013

Digital Literacy for Life

SQA is a supporting a new initiative from the BCS to promote digital literacy skills. Their Digital Literacy for Life (DLfL) programme aims to encourage schools to deliver digital literacy across the curricula and also to inform employers about the value of the "digitally literate empoyee". A new website to support this initiative was launched this week.

SQA is actively supporting the BCS. I am a member of the Education Committee and will try to ensure that Scottish centres benefit from the programme. I recently commented on the growing importance of digital literacy skills, and how SQA was reviewing its portfolio to ensure that it encompasses the required knowledge and skills.

Digital literacy is about more than basic IT skills (which are an important part of it). It includes a number of literacies and cognitive skills such as critical thinking, information literacy, network literacy and social media literacy. It's becoming so important that it's been referred to as "the fourth literacy" after reading, writing and counting.

I've recently completed an audit of my portfolio to check for digital literacy knowledge and skills -- and some updating is necessary. Watch this space for more information. In the meantime, don't hesitate to contact me if you want to know more about digital literacy qualifications.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Plans for 2014/15

I've been asked to start to think about my plans for next year. Each year me and my team create an operational plan, which defines what it is we are planning to develop during the year. For example, this year's operational plan includes the reviews of PC Passport and NC Digital Media Computing.

SQA carries out "quinquenial" (5 yearly) reviews of all its awards, and these will automatically be added to my plan, but if you have any suggestions for new qualifications please let us know. I've mentioned previously how to do this -- and it's very simple: complete an ideas capture form and we will take it from there.