Computing at schools? What about the teachers?

As a workshop developer for a Welsh project called Technocamps, I spend my  working life trying to encourage young people and teachers into computing nad computing careers. So imagine my utter joy when I hear that ICT in schools will be replaced by computer science. My initial reaction: YIPEEEEEEEE.

Then FEAR. Who is going to teach this? A high majority of our future computer science teachers do not come from a computing background, let alone an ICT background.  According to the general teaching council of the 28,000 who became teachers in 2010, only THREE had a computing related degree.

Before I started work on the Technocamps project I did my PhD looking at why there aren’t enough women in computing and then did my postdoc looking at something similar. I published papers, researched and was seen as some sort of expert in the area of getting kids into computing. However, I had only been seeing things from one aspect. I did not realize the amount of support and encouragement that schools will need to teach a computer science curriculum. Schools which I had observed, have issues with the current ICT Curriculum.

In order for this reform to work we need to upskill teachers, not a one day training course or a light evening session, they need consistent support. It takes computer science graduates three years to be experts in the subject computer science, teachers need a similar type of training. We need to remember that computing is not as easy as ICT and therefore need to make sure we do not put young people of by having unskilled teachers.

When computers were first introduced into secondary schools, teachers did not know what to do with them and a lot of money was pumped into teacher training and equipment. This training was a session on computers, however this was not enough to increase their confidence in teaching computers. Young people know more about computers than teachers and are able to tell if the teacher is not confident in teaching a subject, which is why its important the right training and support is given.

I am really glad that we are looking up and taking an interest in IT education, however I hope it isn’t a one off speech and I hope that thought has been given about the consequences in terms of the quality of education out young people receive.


[updated 11th January 2013, 16:07 - minor grammar issues!]

Lego, Geeks & Girls: Can pink Lego get girls creative?

What is it with Lego and Geeks? They are fascinated with Lego – I guess it takes them back to their ‘childhood’! Its very sweet when the most loveliest geeks I know wanted the same Christmas present as my bosses teenage son… or maybe a bit worrying!

When I say geek do I mean boy or girl? When I say geek in this context, I mean either girls or boys who love computers. There are many definitions of the word, but for this post, this is what I will mean!

Lego have currently created a range of Lego products specifically aimed at girls. The range is called ‘Friends’. It includes being able to make things like beauty salons or girly convertibles. This is all very lovely, but I did not see the need to create a ‘special’ range. What worries me is that by doing this, it reinforces that their other Lego products is aimed at boys only. It reinforces that things like Star Trek is for boys only. By doing this, Lego has turned itself into a boys only product.

If the girly Lego acts as a bridge to getting children into creative toys such as Lego and play-doh and then those skills are transferred onto other things like Engineering or drawing its fabulous, however I really don’t want girls to think they have to restrict themselves to Lego girl products only. Making something pink doesn’t make it for girls! These are some initial thoughts that I hope to be expanding on in the next few days, but I kind of just needed to get this online! Feel free to give me an opinion!

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