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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.