Thursday, 16 April 2015

Goodbye world

This blog has been going since 2004 and, over time, I think, it has proven to be a success, with around 100 unique readers per day. It's become an important source of regular information to centres about vocational Computing qualifications.

SQA wants to make greater use of social media, and we think subject-based blogs, like this one, are a good way of doing that. So, we are extending the blogs to 10 subject areas (including Computing). We're going to use WordPress for this so I will be migrating from Blogger to this new platform (Wordpress). Starting Monday (20 April) all new posts will be done on this new service. You might want to update your bookmarks and news feeds accordingly.

The new blog will cover all sectors (not just vocational Computing). The contributors will include my team, the school team and the CfE team. So there will be posts about all Computing qualifications.

Thanks for taking the time to read this blog over the years, and I hope you join me on the new service, which can be found here:

Monday, 13 April 2015

Computational thinking guidance

I recently mentioned that I planned to put together some advice about how computational thinking could be included within vocational Computing awards. I've now done that.

The advice has been given to Qualification Development Teams so that it can be considered when they are devising awards.

Good practical skills require good under-pinning knowledge, and computational thinking ensures that skills can be transferred from one technology to another, which is vitally important in the computing sector.

Social network for Computing

Some time ago, I tried to set up a page on Facebook for SQA Computing. It didn't work. The main problem was that it tried to link my social (real) profile with this (work) page. And, as you know, Facebook doesn't like people to have more than one account (on the basis that there is only one "real" you).

I attended a Microsoft event last week, part of which focussed on "corporate social networks". Microsoft's offering is Yammer. Facebook is piloting Facebook at Work. I suspect we are witnessing the start of something significant.

I have created an SQA Computing network on Yammer. This network will cover all (vocational) Computing qualifications offered by SQA. At present, it is invitation only. I'll be sending invitations to some people (including the Lead Person Network) in the near future. If you receive one, I would appreciate if you would accept it and check the service out. If you would like an invitation, please contact Helen.

This blog has passed the test of time but never achieved much interaction (very few comments were ever posted). Maybe a social network would address that problem. The blog will continue, of course, but the social network might improve interaction.

Friday, 10 April 2015

PC Passport and Office 365

The QDT for PC Passport visited the Microsoft offices in Edinburgh yesterday. Microsoft had kindly invited the team to look at the latest version of Microsoft Office (Office 365) and I was pleased to accept the invitation.

PC Passport aims to cover the same territory as Office 365 -- word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and databases. I was keen that the revised award is fully compatible with the latest version of the suite. It was an interesting afternoon. Office 365 has lots of new features compared to previous versions, particularly relating to collaboration and social.

The event was timeous. The QDT is currently writing the component units. We will ensure that these new features can be delivered within the revised version of PC Passport. SQA awards are product and vendor neutral but we try to ensure that they are as relevant and vocational as possible by ensuring that the encompass industry standards. So, no one will have to use Office 365 to deliver PC Passport but, if you choose to use it, you will find the revised award is fully compatible.

You can download the revised qualification FAQ here. Or contact Helen for more information about the current or revised awards. The revised award will be available to centres from January.

Office 365 is free to every school pupil, school teacher, college student and college lecturer in Scotland. Contact Alan Wood for more information.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Qualification Support Team for vocational Computing awards

The Qualification Support Team (QST) for vocational Computing qualifications met on 19th March in the SQA Glasgow Office. This was a combined meeting to cover both Advanced (HN/PDA) and Non-advanced (NPA/NC/NU) qualifications.

The QST discussed the proposals from the SQA centres and the following changes to the existing qualifications have been approved:  
  1. Add F3GB11 Communication and F3GF 11 Numeracy to GC8R 45 NC Computer Games Development as optional units
  2. Add H17W 34 Software Development: Developing Small Scale Standalone Applications as an optional unit to G9NX 15 HNC Computer Games Development
  3. Add D85F 34 Using Software Applications Packages as an optional unit to GF3E 15 HNC Computing, GG7D 16 HND Computer Science, GG7C 16 HND Computing; Software Development and GG7F 16 HND Computing: Technical Support
  4. Add D75X 34 Information Technology: Applications Software 1 as an optional unit to GF3E 15 HNC Computing, GG7D 16 HND Computer Science, GG7C 16 HND Computing; Software Development and GG7F 16 HND Computing: Technical Support
  5. Add H173 34 Developing Software: Introduction as an optional unit to G8CX 16 HND Information Technology
  6. Add DH35 34 Computing: Planning as an optional to HNC/D Computing awards
The QST also approved the production of a new Assessment Support Pack (ASP) for D75X 34 Information Technology: Applications Software 1.
The QST emphasized the importance of including a Testing unit into HNC/D Computing award to teach learners how to read codes and design patterns. SQA will look into the options of developing a new unit or using an existing one.
SQA updated the QST with the recent qualification development. The QST was very keen on the development for NPAs in Cyber Security at SCQF levels 4, 5 and 6 and suggested HNC/D Cyber Security to be developed to provide a natural progression route.
Caroline and I will take forward these action. Contact me about the non-advanced changes and contact Caroline about the advanced changes.

Tuesday, 7 April 2015

NPA Digital Literacy

The Qualification Development Team (QDT) for the NPA in Digital Literacy met for the second time last Thursday. We had already agreed the structure of the award so the purpose of this meeting was the discuss the contents of the component units.

We've made a lot of changes to the old award, which focussed on IT, numeracy and communications. The updated award has more of a focus on computing skills, and includes social media and online safety.

We made considerable progress with the Purpose, Outcomes and Core Skills in each unit. We're now at the stage of looking for volunteers (from the QDT) to write the units and support materials.

I updated the FAQ for this award after the meeting. You should find most of your questions answered in this document.

This revised award will be available to centres from January 2016. Please contact Helen for more information.

Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Monday, 30 March 2015

Launch events for NPAs

I attended a meeting on Friday to discuss our plans to launch three important new or revised awards. These are:
  1. NPA Digital Passport
  2. NPA PC Passport
  3. NPA Cyber Security.
We plan to launch Cyber Security around September time, perhaps to coincide with the Scottish Learning Festival. This award will be available to centres from August. We plan to have a combined event for Digital Passport and PC Passport since these awards are "cousins". Digital Passport will be available to all centres from July (it is currently being piloted) and PC Passport (revised) will be available from January next year. The launch event for these awards will be held later this year.

Please contact Helen for more information about any of these awards.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

HNC/D Computer Games Development

Some time ago, we asked Gillian Flockart, of Dundee & Angus College, to scope the changes needed to the current HNC/D Computer Games Development award. Me and Caroline met with Gillian this morning to discuss her findings.

Gillian reported that centres are pretty happy with the existing qualification, and that most of the changes should be small, such as the addition of some new units and minor changes to some existing units. We discussed, at some length, the role of maths within the award.

We are now going to move onto the development phase. Gillian is going to lead the development. So we're looking for QDT members. Please contact Caroline if you are interested in participating in this development. I am hoping for one face-to-face meeting (most likely in May) when we would discuss the changes and assign people to the tasks.

The new award will be available to centres from August 2016. Contact Caroline for further information about this development.

Resource lists

We've made two recent changes to the way that we develop new qualifications. We now produce FAQs for all new awards, which evolve as the qualification itself develops. And we also produce resource lists for new awards.

A resource list is a list of online and offline resources that can be used to deliver the new qualification. There is normally one resource list per unit. Each list will contain: YouTube videos, websites, Wikipedia articles, podcasts, online quizes, e-books and other online resources, as well as some offline resources such as text books and articles. The key thing is that these are linked to specific outcomes and performance criteria so that teachers know precisely where (and how) they can be used.

I normally ask the QDT to populate these lists (voluntarily) but, occasionally, the lead developer (or another member of the QDT) takes a more pro-active role.

Although we've only done a few, they have proven to be popular with teachers and lecturers. The Digital Passport lists were well liked by the pilot centres. Here is the one we created for Social Media Literacy (SCQF 4).

So, look out for resource lists in the future.

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Computational thinking

"Computational thinking" is an important part of the new Computing Science qualifications with the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE). But it's not something that is (overtly) prominent in vocational awards. So I am researching the various definitions of the term to come up with something that can be used by my Qualification Development Teams (QDTs) when they are designing new qualifications. There are lots of similar, but different, definitions around. One of the best is the one from the Royal Society/BCS [PDF]. But there are other good ones too. The aim is to come up with guidance on how best to ensure that this vital concept is embedded within vocational awards.

Friday, 20 March 2015

New unit on cyber security

As you may know, we're currently developing a suite of awards in cyber security. We recently received a request from Police Scotland to develop an introductory unit to cover the fundamentals of the subject, suitable for everyone.

Unsurprisingly, we're calling the new National Unit: Cyber Security Fundamentals. It will be a single credit unit at SCQF Level 4, covering the basic knowledge and skills that everyone should know about the subject area. The contents will include: online safety, data security, hacking, digital forensics and cyber threats.

I hope to have the new unit available to centres from August. It will be added to appropriate group awards (such as the NC Computing with Digital Media) and available stand-alone. But the representative of Police Scotland made it clear that he felt the unit should be taught to everyone.

In the meantime, you can see the current version of the unit hereContact Helen for more information about this unit.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Qualifications Support Team

The Qualifications Support Team (QST) for vocational Computing awards met this morning. The QST is responsible for ensuring that centres are supported when they deliver SQA awards. The remit includes:
  1. delivery issues
  2. assessment issues
  3. revisions to awards
  4. support materials
  5. monitoring uptake
  6. monitoring quality issues.
It was a good meeting, with over 10 people in attendance.

One of the most important jobs it carries out is to consider requests for changes to qualifications structures. This usually comes from suggestions from colleges about possible additions to qualification frameworks.

The QST is not a talk shop. It makes important decisions about a range of things. We're always looking for more members so please contact Helen if you want to find out more about joining the team. We are particularly looking for representatives from schools and training centres.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015

NPA Cyber Security

The Qualification Development Team (QDT) for the new National Progression Award (NPA) in Cyber Security met yesterday for an all-day event to discuss the contents of the new awards.

There was a good attendance (over 10 people attended), which allowed us to break into teams to look at each "strand" in the awards (data security, ethical hacking and digital forensics). We focussed on the purpose and outcomes in each unit, and made a lot of progress. We have already decided on the structure of the awards (see the qualification FAQ) so the next stage is to get down to writing the units. I asked for volunteers (to write the units) at yesterday's event. In total, there will be nine new units (see the FAQ for details).

We're making good progress. We're aiming to have the award validated in July and available to centres by August. We've already had a lot of interest in this development and expect several centres to offer it next session.

Contact Scott Hunter (the lead developer) for information about the contents of the award or contact Helen Zhang (Qualifications Officer) for information about the development or to find out how to get involved.

Thursday, 12 March 2015

New Senior External Verifier for Computing

I am pleased to let you know that Gillian Leitch of Clyde College has been appointed Senior External Verifier (SEV) for Computing. Many of you will know Gillian who has been teaching Computing, and serving as an EV, for many years. Gillian will replace David Drennan as SEV. I will be sorry to lose David who has done a great job over a long period of time. The SEV role is changing too, becoming more of a leadership role than a hands-on role. Gillian commences her new role on 1 August.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

NPA Computer Refurbishment

Some time ago, we received a request to develop a new National Progression Award based on refurbishing and recycling computers. It was an interesting idea so we decided to take it forward. Me and Helen had our first meeting with the lead developer this morning. Many of you will know June McCamlie from her teaching days (she is currently an External Verifier). I've asked June to lead this work.

The NPA will consist of two (new) single credit National Units at SCQF Level 4. The Unit will be:
  1. Refurbishing & Recycling a Computer
  2. Setting up a Computer.
The Units will be based on an existing syllabus, currently in use in some international centres. We hope to have the NPA available to centres (including Scottish centres) from June.

Please contact Helen for more information.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

HNC/HND Interactive Media - Consultation Survey

As you are aware, we are in the process of reviewing HNC/D Interactive Media and we are now at the stage to consult with the sector on the proposed changes to the awards.

I would be grateful if you could take a few minutes to complete the questionnaire by clicking here

You can find out more information relating to the development from a previous blog posting here

If you would like to discuss any aspect of the proposed revised awards, please contact Fiona Murnin who is the Lead Developer for this review.

Thanks in anticipation.

New HN Digital Skills unit

I have recently had a number of requests from other subject areas about a good, general purpose Higher National Unit in the area of digital skills. This reflects the growing importance of digital skills across all sectors. There are some general purpose IT units in my portfolio (such as IT Applications) but they a little long in the tooth and don't cover areas such as social media and information literacy.

As a result of those requests, I commissioned a new HN Unit entitled Digital Skills at SCQF Level 7. This Unit will be suitable for inclusion in a wide range of HN awards. The aim is that the unit covers essential computing/IT skills.

A draft version of the Unit has been written.

I am currently consulting with colleagues to get their feedback on the Unit but please let me know if you have any comments.

Monday, 9 March 2015

PC Passport review

The QDT for PC Passport met for the second time on Saturday in the SQA offices in Glasgow. We got down to discussing the contents of the new award and managed to (mostly) compose the outcomes for all of the units.

I've updated the FAQ in the light of the meeting.

We've now decided on the qualification title, structure and outcomes. The next stage is to write the Group Award Specification and the component units.

As you'll see (from the FAQ) we've went back to basics -- simple structure and dedicated units for word processing, spreadsheets, presentations and databases. But don't think that it's old fashioned since we aim to make the qualification reflect the latest productivity software such as Office 365 with a heavy cloud/collaborative focus.

We're ahead of schedule with this development, which I hope to have available to centres by January 2016. Contact Helen for more information.

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Lead developers

One of the strengths of the way SQA develops awards is the involvement of practitioners in the qualification development process. We use practising teachers and lecturers to contribute to the contents of the new or revised qualifications. A key role in this process is that of lead developer. This person is responsible for, effectively, devising the qualification (in consultation with other QDT members). We usually select a teacher or lecturer for this role.

Right now, we have David McDade (Kelvin College) leading the NPA Digital Literacy review, Frank Frame (retired teacher) leading the PC Passport review, Scott Hunter (Kyle Academy) leading the Cyber Security development, and Fiona Murnin (New College Lanarkshire) leading the HNC/D Interative Media review. We hope that this not only ensures that the qualifications are fit for purpose but also gives centres a sense of ownership of the awards.

Contact me if you want to know more about the role of lead developer.