OCR Computing GCSE

A couple weeks ago I went on a teachers training course about the new OCR Computing GCSE course. It was an interesting day as I had heard a lot about the course but did not know how it was structured. The course covers the following aspects of learning:

  • Computer Systems
  • Computer Hardware
  • Software
  • Data Representation
  • Databases
  • Networks
  • Programming

The course does provide a very thorough and real foundation of what computing is in terms of fundamentals. The examiner said that the aim of the course was to go beyond Scratch and give a foundation to certain aspects of computing. These key fundamentals such as algorithms and computer systems are taught along side programming.

Something which was interesting was the ‘controlled assessment’ part of the course. Controlled assessment is basically coursework but done within the lesson. The advantages of this is that teachers and examiners know that cheating has not taken place. Its very locked down so students cannot use google or any resources that ‘real’ comp scis would have in industry or research. However, I feel this could be detrimental to the GCSE and could put off students from taking it further, especially girls.

Students who can take computing assignments home and do it in the ‘safety’ of the own environment are more likely to explore and feel comfortable to be creative as they will have access to resources.

Girls suffer from computer anxiety – which means they find it intimidating using the computer in front of others as they feel they will be laughed at for making a mistake. Making them do programming in front of people will put them off as this is exactly the issue with computer A-level. This was an issue amongst the teachers also.

By enforcing that students first experience of programming is alone, it reinforces the geek stereotype of working alone.

The type of controlled activities are things like making a calculator or hangman.

What can we do to help? 

Teachers need support to teach this course, without it, it won’t be offered in schools.

There is a lack of resources in terms of books and text books for the course. It would be great if we could contribute resources on different areas of assessment from our own lectures and courses.

I personally felt that the most worrying aspect of the course was the lack of the big picture. There needs to be more of a real world emphasis, things like HCI and interdisciplinary aspects are not covered and its these things that can help contribute to young people being turned on by computing rather than being turned off. Don’t get me wrong, every computer scientist needs to know the fundamentals but they need to know how the fundamentals can contribute to this wonderful world we live in.

Geeks = Chic

In light of the recent news in light of computer science education in UK Schools, I thought I would start this blog to reflect upon this and give my own experience and understanding of this area. The article which spurred me to start this blog was on BBC News and it was ‘Coding – the new Latin’.  I will also be reflecting on the work we are doing in Technocamps.

Almost everyday for the last five years, I have been reading articles, press releases and have attended discussions on the skills shortage in the IT industry. Today is no different. Its the same arguments, same people and the same phrases. Don’t get me wrong, I am REALLY pleased that we are seeing these discussions take place, but I really would love for us not to have to worry about this. My PhD thesis investigated why girls did not enter into computing courses or careers as well as also looking at why people in general were put off by its prospect and had the following results:

1. The type of course in IT or computing previously experienced had an impact on whether female participants decided to continue with further IT and computing courses.

The results of this thesis have shown that the courses taken by participants either at GCSE or at A-level had a direct impact on whether female students decided to continue studying IT or computing at A-level or degree respectively. GCSE level participants generally found their course boring and found it difficult to understand what they would learn from further courses in IT. Those female participants who took A-level IT were far more likely to continue on to study it at degree level because they enjoyed the course and were able to understand how it related to the IT industry. However, female participants who took A- level computing were far less likely to continue to a computing degree because they found the programming module difficult and did not understand how the concepts of the course related to the real world.

2. Female participants were more likely to study maths than computing at A-level and parents influenced them to study computing at university.

Female participants studying computing at degree level did not rely on their previous experiences of computing when they were deciding whether to take computing at university. The majority of female participants did not study A-level computing but entered their degrees with A-level maths, and it was their parents who persuaded them to study computing at university.

3. Classroom atmosphere has an influence on female participant’s opinions on the IT industry as well as their confidence levels.

The atmosphere of the classroom or learning environment has an influence on the opinions of female students on the IT industry, as well as confidence levels. In particular, this related to females on A-level computing, who found the lessons difficult. They felt intimidated by the number of male students in the class and felt they did not receive the right type of support. Participants taking the A/S level course indicated that they would not continue to the A-level course as they felt neglected and isolated.

4. Parents/guardians heavily influenced the views of female participants to continue to study computing or IT at degree level.

The influence of parents/guardians was high, persuading or dissuading female participants to continue or begin to study computing or IT at university. This was done in two ways: first, by introducing their daughter to computers, getting them to help with setting it up and generally encouraging an interest in computing, secondly, through helping their daughters to research computing and IT degrees at university. All female participants studying computing degrees said that they would not do this course if their parents had not supported them. A recent study conducted by the British Computer Society (BCS) found that girls were interested in computers but they would not like to pursue it as a career path (Georgiou 2005). This research extends those findings by demonstrating that if females have support and guidance then they are more likely to follow this through.

5. There is a distinct difference between the way in which male and female participants used the computer at home and this influenced attitudes on IT careers and courses.

Positive experiences involved varied prior experiences of computers; these included game playing, social networking and using the computer with friends. The majority of girls questioned, who did not perceive themselves in the IT industry, said that they only used the computer for homework and social networking. Those that did perceive themselves in the IT industry were exposed to other things such as game playing and information about IT careers. These were the types of experience which were active learning ones and involved the process of reflection, understanding of how what they were doing could apply to the wider world, and the complexity of what they were doing.

6. Views and perceptions of the IT industry and courses changed as female participants became older because they became more realistic and more positive than younger participants.

Views and perceptions of the IT industry changed and developed as female participants became older, and they became more realistic. The older participants had a broader experience of computers at school, whereas younger participants had to rely on skills-based experience from school. As participants became older, they were more likely to want to work in the IT industry.

I look forward to hearing your comments. Feel free to get in touch. xxx