Category Archives: Education

Come and work with me: SL in Computer Games Development

Come and work with me in the Department of Computing & Information Systems at Cardiff Metropolitan University!

We are currently advertising for a Senior Lecturer in Computer Games Development; this full-time permanent post will contribute to research and enterprise activities within the department, as well as a leading role in undergraduate learning and teaching on our new BSc (Hons) Computer Games Design & Development degree programme starting in September 2017.

For informal enquiries, please contact our Head of Department Dr Jason Williams; further information on the application process can be found here. The closing date for applications is 9 December 2016, with interviews expected in late December.

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Commons Education Select Committee inquiry: The impact of exiting the European Union on HE

hocedubrexit

The Commons Education Committee has today launched an inquiry into the impact of Brexit on higher education. This inquiry follows the expansion of the Committee’s remit to include higher education, further education and skills in response to changes at the Department for Education.

The inquiry will explore the implications of UK’s exit from the European Union for EU students and staff in the UK, as well as the ramifications for Britons who want to work and study at higher education institutions in the EU. The Committee also aims to examine the effect of Brexit on the reputation of England’s universities and ask how they can remain competitive; the future of the Erasmus+ student exchange programme is also be examined as part of the inquiry.

The impact of Brexit on university research and funding is not covered by the inquiry as these policy areas are the responsibility of the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy; the Commons Science and Technology Committee is currently conducting an inquiry into the implications and opportunities stemming from the UK’s exit from the EU on science and research.

The Committee thus invites submissions on the following issues:

  • The likely impact of the UK exiting the EU on EU students studying in England
  • What protections should be in place for existing EU students and staff
  • The future of the Erasmus+ programme following the withdrawal of the UK from the EU
  • Risks and opportunities for UK students
  • How changes to freedom of movement rules may affect students and academics in English higher education institutions
  • How to ensure UK universities remain competitive after the withdrawal of the UK from the EU
  • What the Government’s priorities should be during negotiations for the UK to exit the EU with regard to students and staff at higher education institutions
  • What steps the Government should take to mitigate any possible risks and take advantage of any opportunities

The deadline for written submissions is Friday 11 November 2016.

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CPHC Statement on UK withdrawal from the EU

Today, the Council for Professors and Heads of Computing have issued a statement (which I have supported) on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union:

Before last week’s referendum, commentators expressed serious concerns about the impact of the UK withdrawal from the EU, and the inevitable uncertainty leading up to it, on the UK’s academic and industrial computer science sectors. CPHC believes it is vital that withdrawal negotiations are based on the best possible information about the current state of the various sectors and what is at stake under various options. The withdrawal of the UK from the Union could have a potentially profound impact on UK Computer Science education, research and industry. CPHC recognises that the referendum was the first step in a potential withdrawal from the EU, and that many discussions, decisions and negotiations are required before any exit is complete, indeed before Article 50 is even invoked. We aim to contribute to the information that will form the basis of any discussions and below we provide an overview of the potential impact of UK withdrawal, issues to be considered in any post-exit plan, and issues to consider in withdrawal negotiations.

 
Please see the full CPHC statement, which includes an overview of the potential impact and issues to consider for computer science and the wider UK technology sector.

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Public consultation on the Digital Competence Framework

Further to last year’s announcements on the creation of a Digital Competence Framework for all schools in Wales, we have seen marked progress in the development of the Framework. An update shared in April detailed the progress made so far, including how the main components of the Framework have been developed, as well as how the Digital Pioneers have been iterating drafts with the QA Group that I chair. We have been through a number of iterations since the end of last year, identifying and structuring the main themes and content, as well as looking at exemplification across the curriculum, progression and consistency of terminology.

As part of the stakeholder engagement and quality assurance process, the Welsh Government have published the latest draft and have opened up a public consultation to allow wider scrutiny of the Framework and its structure and contents, as well as collect feedback outside of the Digital Pioneer network and curriculum stakeholder groups.

The survey is now open until the end of June; we very much welcome any comments or feedback regarding any aspect of the DCF, as well as potential issues with its implementation going forward from September 2016.

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Come and work with me: L/SL in Information Systems

Another position: come and work with me in the Department of Computing & Information Systems at Cardiff Metropolitan University!

We are also advertising for a Lecturer/Senior Lecturer in Information Systems; this full-time permanent post will contribute to undergraduate and postgraduate learning and teaching, as well as wider scholarship and research activities in the department.

For informal enquiries, please contact our Head of Department Dr Jason Williams; further information on the application process can be found here. The closing date for applications is 27 May 2016 (with interviews expected in early June).

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Come and work with me: Senior Lecturer in Data Science

Come and work with me in the Department of Computing & Information Systems at Cardiff Metropolitan University!

We are advertising for a Senior Lecturer in Data Science; this full-time permanent post will contribute to research and enterprise activities within the department, as well as undergraduate and postgraduate learning and teaching (especially on our new MSc Data Science programme starting in September 2016).

For informal enquiries, please contact me or our Head of Department Dr Jason Williams; further information on the application process can be found here. The closing date for applications is 25 April 2016 (with interviews expected in early May).

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Digital Competencies in the new Curriculum for Wales

Further to the Ministerial Statement at the start of June announcing the development of a Digital Competence Framework as part of the new Curriculum for Wales, I have been invited by the Minister to chair the overall development of this new Framework. Alongside the Digital Pioneer schools and practitioners (who will be selected shortly), I will chair a panel of national and international experts to provide the research, evidence base, quality assurance and overall alignment of the Framework. The development of the DCF has been the first fast-tracked recommendation from Successful Futures, with it being made available to all schools in Wales from September 2016

This announcement adopts one of the key recommendations of the ICT Steering Group report from 2013 by separating cross-curricular digital competencies from what used to be known as ICT, as well as creating a new computing theme in the proposed Science & Technology Area of Learning and Experience. More information regarding the Digital Competence Framework will follow shortly; I look forward to working with the Welsh Government, the QA Group and practitioners across Wales.

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A set of books to read in 2015

2015books

Having been shamed by Stephen Curry’s excellent posts on the books he has read the previous year for the second year on the bounce, I have decided to pick twelve books to read in 2015 that have been sitting unread in piles around my house.

Continue reading

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Simon Jenkins on computer science

In a polemic in The Guardian today, Simon Jenkins argues for a(nother) shake up of the UK’s education system, with less focus on STEM and computer science in particular.

This kind of misinformed ranting on the utilitarian view of STEM and why the UK should focus on being a service industry appears to be his CiF modus operandi — see a similar post from February on mathematics education. In particular, he displays a profound misunderstanding of the difference between digital skills/competencies and the rigorous academic discipline of computer science, as well as a lack of awareness of the profound changes to computing education in England from September for all pupils from age five onwards. He also doesn’t appear to be aware of the increasing demands from pretty much every industrial sector for high-value digital skills (both user and creator skills); see the recently published interim report from the UK Digital Skills Taskforce: Digital Skills for Tomorrow’s World. As for the perceived high unemployment rates for computer science graduates? Well, this isn’t the full picture and is also discussed in detail in the Taskforce report.

While it is tempting to deconstruct and refute his article line by line, I will just link to an excellent response from Chris Mairs, Chief Scientists at Metaswitch Networks and Chair of the UK Forum for Computing Education.

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Today’s “University View” column in the Western Mail

This is the short article I wrote for the University View column in today’s Western Mail:

Technology is arguably the biggest lever on our lives, affecting everything from the way we communicate, do business, shop, travel, access information and are entertained. Our dependence on digital infrastructure is increasing all the time; from the demand for high-bandwidth Internet connectivity through to the devices we carry in our pockets. We truly live in a computational world, glued together by software.

But the real question is: do we direct technology, or do we let ourselves be directed by it and those who have mastered it? “Choose the former,” writes author Douglas Rushkoff, “and you gain access to the control panel of civilisation. Choose the latter, and it could be the last real choice you get to make”; in essence: program or be programmed.

So why do we have an seemingly antiquated perspective of technology education, primarily focusing on developing increasingly transient IT user skills, rather than equipping young people with a deeper understanding of how technology works, on how to solve problems with technology, on programming and computational thinking skills? Why are we not developing a generation of digital creators, empowered to make, break and manipulate their digital world, rather than a generation who are becoming consumers of technology?

This is a question I have been asking repeatedly over the past couple of years. Last year I co-chaired the Welsh Government’s review of the ICT curriculum, in light of significant reform across the rest of the UK. From September, there will be a new compulsory subject called Computing replacing ICT in England from aged five onwards, focusing on computer science, programming and computational thinking: “A high-quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world.” Precisely so.

We are currently in the midst of a significant review of education in Wales, asking fundamental questions about what education should achieve for young people. Alongside this we have long term policy evolving around skills, identifying the types of skills we require to create a healthy and prosperous society that is economically secure but also agile and adaptable to changing industries and sectors. While I recognise it is important that we take stock of where we are in Wales and identify the most appropriate solutions to some of our educational problems, it seems bizarre that we are delaying on what appears to be a no-brainer: making digital skills and computing education a core part of our curriculum. It is not a question of rushing into solutions, or copying other countries — this is about creating aspirations for our young people, developing future-proof skills and global competitiveness. I am baffled that we still have to justify why they should be core for all. We should turn the question around: can anyone justify why we shouldn’t make computing a core part of the curriculum?

Ultimately it comes down to what we want a future Wales to look like. Do we want to be a knowledge economy, leveraging our culture and being innovative and creative with technology? The Welsh Government have identified a number of priority sectors for economic renewal, alongside significant investment in our science and engineering research base, as well as recognising the broader societal and economic importance of e-infrastructure, connectivity and digital inclusion. All of these are predicated on having a country and citizenry with high-value digital and computational skills. It currently remains to be seen if we can deliver a digital Wales.

 
(N.B. text published in the print copy of the paper may differ slightly due to copy-editing)

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Paper in ACM TOCE: “Restart: The Resurgence of Computer Science in UK Schools”

Further to the previous CAS papers, Neil Brown (University of Kent), Sue Sentance (formerly Anglia Ruskin University, now CAS), Simon Humphreys (CAS/BCS) and I have had a paper accepted into ACM Transactions on Computing Education: Restart: The Resurgence of Computer Science in UK Schools, part of a Special Issue on Computing Education in (K-12) Schools.

The paper will soon be available to download for free via the ACM Author-ize service (or you can download our pre-print); the abstract is as follows:

Computer science in UK schools is undergoing a remarkable transformation. While the changes are not consistent across each of the four devolved nations of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), there are developments in each that are moving the subject to become mandatory for all pupils from age 5 onwards. In this article, we detail how computer science declined in the UK, and the developments that led to its revitalisation: a mixture of industry and interest group lobbying, with a particular focus on the value of the subject to all school pupils, not just those who would study it at degree level. This rapid growth in the subject is not without issues, however: there remain significant forthcoming challenges with its delivery, especially surrounding the issue of training sufficient numbers of teachers. We describe a national network of teaching excellence which is being set up to combat this problem, and look at the other challenges that lie ahead.

 
(see Publications)

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Guardian University Guide 2015: Computer Science and Information Systems

I’ve been blogging about the various university league tables for computer science for over two years now…and I’m not entirely sure whether this is actually useful beyond collecting them in one place. There are a multitude of UK and international university rankings, each of which have varying methodologies and weightings. It remains to be seen what they each contribute or how they differ, or what analysis you could make that could not be done by looking at raw HEFCE/UCAS data. From here onwards I will most likely continue to publish the three main UK league tables top 10 for computer science, as well as the rankings for Welsh institutions, but with minimal commentary.

So, today saw the publication of the Guardian University Guide 2015; check out the top 10 of the (renamed) Computer Science and Information Systems category (see all 2014 tables):

Ranking 2014
1. University of St Andrews (24th)
2. Imperial College London (3rd)
3. University of Oxford (-)
4. University of Bristol (5th)
5. University of Cambridge (8th)
6. University of Edinburgh (22nd)
7. UCL (9th)
8. University of Southampton (5th)
9. University of Surrey (17th)
10. University of Bristol (4th)
(full table,methodology)

And the rankings for Welsh institutions:

Ranking 2014
27. Cardiff University (28th)
54. Swansea University (29th)
74. Aberystwyth University (58th)
84. Glyndŵr University (99th)
89. University of South Wales (-)
92. Cardiff Metropolitan University (88th)
94. Bangor University (73rd)

 
(N.B. no data was available for the University of Wales Trinity Saint David)

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Review of Assessment and the National Curriculum in Wales

On 12 March 2014, Huw Lewis, the Welsh Government’s Minister for Education and Skills, announced the appointment of Professor Graham Donaldson to lead a wide ranging review of assessment and curriculum arrangements in Wales. Since his appointment in March, he has been engaged in initial, one-to-one discussions with stakeholders (including me as one of the chairs of the ICT Steering Group) and has visited a wide range of schools across Wales.

On 16 May 2014, Professor Donaldson launched a call for evidence through which he seeks to generate debate and gather information that will form a key part of the evidence base for his review’s recommendations:

We all understand the importance of education for the future of our children and young people, and for Wales both socially and economically. Schools provide the fundamental building blocks of that future and it is therefore essential that the education they provide is as relevant, challenging and rewarding as possible. There is much to be proud of in Welsh education and we must build on these strengths. At the same time, we must also identify and address areas which can and should be improved. That is why the Minister for Education and Skills, Huw Lewis, has asked me to carry out a fundamental review of the national curriculum and assessment arrangements in Wales.

It is vital that I’m informed by the views of as many people in Wales as possible: teachers, academics, parents/carers, businesses, the wider community and, vitally, young people themselves. Everyone has a stake in the future and I want to be sure that all of your views are taken into account as I form my recommendations.

I therefore urge you to share your views with me and to encourage as many others as possible to do the same.

 
This is an crucial opportunity to shape the future of education in Wales; while government consultations often receive a paltry number of responses, a review of this magnitude deserves a significant response from all stakeholders. This is also an opportunity to reaffirm the recommendations of last September’s ICT review.

I thus urge all interested parties in Wales to submit a response to this consultation; the deadline for responses to the call for evidence is 30 June 16 July 2014.

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The personal cost of applying for research grants

For many academics, this article is a no-brainer. Research grant proposals take huge amounts of time to put together, with low success rates (e.g. EPSRC). It’s a huge cost:

The pressure to win high-status funding means that researchers go to extraordinary lengths to prepare their proposals, often sacrificing family time and personal relationships. During our research into the stressful process of applying for research grants, one researcher, typical of many, said, “My family hates my profession. Not just my partner and children, but my parents and siblings. The insecurity despite the crushing hours is a soul-destroying combination that is not sustainable.”

 

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The Complete University Guide 2015: Computer Science

Today saw the publication of The Complete University Guide 2015, signalling the start of the UK university ranking season.

Comparing against the 2014 university league tables — especially last year’s Guide — there has been some movement, with two new entrants in the top 10 UK institutions for Computer Science:

Ranking 2014
1. University of Cambridge (1st)
2. Imperial College London (2nd)
3. University of Oxford (3rd)
4. University of St Andrews (15th)
5. Durham University (14th)
6. University College London (8th)
7. University of Birmingham (16th)
8. University of Bristol (5th)
9. University of Exeter (6th)
10. University of Glasgow (4th)
(full table)

 

As always, the rankings for Welsh institutions in Computer Science were of particular interest to me; Cardiff University retained the top spot, with a broadly similar performance to last year (albeit with some movement down the table for the top three):

Ranking 2014
31. Cardiff University (27th)
39. Swansea University (32nd)
46. Aberystwyth University (35th)
64. Glyndŵr University (93rd)
67. University of South Wales (-)
70. Bangor University (58th)
89. Cardiff Metropolitan University (89th)

 
N.B. no data was available for the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

The Complete University Guide’s methodology for the subject league tables are based on four measures: Student Satisfaction, Research Assessment, Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects. To qualify for inclusion in a subject table, a university has to have data for at least two of the four measures; a blank in the Entry Standards and Graduate Prospects columns is not a zero score but rather denotes that no valid data were available.

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Simon Peyton Jones on Teaching Creative Computer Science

An excellent TEDx talk by Simon Peyton Jones, Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research Cambridge and Chair of Computing At School, on why we should teach computer science at school.

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New A Levels in Computer Science from 2015

Today, the Department for Education published guidance for schools on GCE AS/A Level subject content, setting out the knowledge, understanding and skills common to all AS and A level specifications for teaching from 2015. This was in response to the consultation on A Level reform that concluded in December 2013, with a series of changes in the coming years, notably linear A Levels and standalone AS qualifications in certain subjects, including computer science.

Having been involved in this process over the past year, it is great to see these changes to the A Level computer science specification; in particular, the following aspirational aims and objectives:

AS and A Level specifications in computer science must encourage students to develop:

  • an understanding of, and the ability to apply, the fundamental principles and concepts of computer science, including abstraction, decomposition, logic, algorithms and data representation;
  • the ability to analyse problems in computational terms through practical experience of solving such problems, including writing programs to do so;
  • the capacity for thinking creatively, innovatively, analytically, logically and critically;
  • the capacity to see relationships between different aspects of computer science;
  • mathematical skills;
  • the ability to articulate the individual (moral), social (ethical), legal and cultural opportunities and risks of digital technology.

 
Note, it clearly expresses the importance of mathematics (“Computer science uses mathematics to express its computational laws and processes”): any accredited specification in computer science must contain a minimum of 10% mathematics. It will be interesting to see the offerings from the different awarding bodies as they appear in the autumn; check out the full computer science subject content specification.

Much of this new specification builds on the knowledge, understanding and skills
established at Key Stage 4 in the exciting new computing programme of study starting in England from September 2014 (purpose of study: “A high-quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world.”). It remains to be seen how this will stimulate reform in Wales after an underwhelming response from the Welsh Government to last September’s review of the ICT curriculum (blog post to follow shortly).

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Inquiry into STEM skills in Wales

The National Assembly for Wales’ Enterprise and Business Committee is undertaking a follow-up Inquiry into STEM skills, after the publication of a report on the STEM agenda in Wales in January 2011. The terms of reference for this consultation are as follows:

  • What impact has the Welsh Government’s strategy Science for Wales and Delivery Plan had on STEM skills in Wales?
  • What progress has been made in addressing the issues identified in the Enterprise and Learning Committee’s 2011 inquiry into the STEM agenda, including:
    • The adequacy of provision of STEM skills in schools, further education colleges, higher education and work-based learning (including apprenticeships);
    • Value for money from the additional funding to support and promote STEM skills and whether the current supply of STEM skills is meeting the needs of the Welsh labour market;
    • The supply of education professionals able to teach STEM subjects and the impact of Initial Teacher Training Grants and the Graduate Teacher Programme on recruiting STEM teachers and education professionals;
    • The effectiveness of education and business links between education institutions and STEM employers.
  • Whether any progress has been made on addressing negative perceptions and gender stereotypes of STEM and promoting good practice to encourage women to acquire STEM skills and to follow STEM related careers.
  • What progress has been made on learning STEM skills through Welsh medium education and training?

See the full consultation; the Committee welcomes responses from both individuals and organisations, with a deadline of Friday 25 April 2014.

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2014 IET South Wales Annual Lecture

On Thursday 20th March I will be giving the 2014 IET South Wales Annual Lecture at Swansea University:

Computing: Enabling a Digital Wales

Digital technology (and thus computation) is an indispensable and crucial component of our lives, society and environment. In a world increasingly dominated by technology, we now need to be more than just digitally literate. Across science and engineering, computing has moved on from assisting researchers in doing science, to transforming both how science is done and what science is done. In the context of (Welsh and UK) Government science, technology and innovation policy, computer scientists (of all flavours) have a significant role to play. Tom will ground this hypothesis by describing his research interests at the hardware/software interface, his broader work in education and science policy, and then finishing by presenting a vision for a “Digital Wales” underpinned by science and technology innovation.

 
This talk is free, with registration online.

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Simon Jenkins on mathematics education

There has been much discussion online of yesterday’s CiF article by Simon Jenkins (For Britain’s pupils, maths is even more pointless than Latin). Click-bait aside, he has been here before; ignoring the derivation of the now-pervasive “x is the new Latin” meme, as well as overlooking the majority of the straw men and other logic fallacies, the main thrust of the article presents a false dichotomy. It appears to reiterate an antiquated Two Cultures-type of divide between mathematics and “creativity and social and emotional capacities” (which also frequently crops up in discussions on programming and computer science education). Furthermore, it implies the drive to reform mathematics education in the UK is ultimately misguided, with few jobs requiring advanced mathematical skills (STEM agenda? No thank you!), and we would be better served by focusing on numeracy as well as encouraging “key industries”:

If British schools are to be slaves to Gove’s economic dogma, they should be turning out accountants, lawyers, administrators and salespeople. That is where the money is. Britain needs literate and presentable young people, sensitive to culture and the world around them, skilled in health, entertainment, finance, the law and citizenship. The truth is that Gove, like most of Cameron’s ministers, is an old socialist planner at heart.

 
Now, this is not to say that there are no issues with mathematics education in the UK; ACME has been arguing for a mathematics curriculum fit for the 21st century, supported by Ofsted and reports highlighting the importance of mathematics in the other sciences. Conrad Wolfram has long maintained we have the wrong focus in how we teach mathematics — in a similar way for computer science, contexts and problems must come first. I have long maintained it is socially acceptable to be bad at mathematics — it is rare for people to publicly admit they are unable to read or write, but happily proclaim a lifelong inability to perform basic calculations.

Jenkins has thus thrown together a ragbag of prejudices (a love of the arts, a dislike of international education markers, a sympathy for progressive education) with personal anecdote and concocted an argument completely detached from reality. As epitomised by this quote:

I learned maths. I found it tough and enjoyable. Algebra, trigonometry, differential calculus, logarithms and primes held no mystery, but they were even more pointless than Latin and Greek. Only a handful of my contemporaries went on to use maths afterwards.

 
…which reminds me of this xkcd comic:

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