Saturday, October 01, 2011

Capacity Focus, 13: "O Level" Computer Studies in the Caribbean and foundational educational capacity for a high tech world

Just over a week ago, Sept 24, the KF blog looked at O Level Physics as a gateway, foundational education issue for our region's survival in a high tech age. Just before that, Sept 11, we looked at a way to upgrade our educators ("training the trainers") through an in-Service Dip Ed leading to a Master's Degree in Education.

Machakos Girls School, Kenya, Africa:
some ideas for what is possible -- note
the design of the workstations

We need to extend this today, by looking at education in Computer Science and related Information, Communication and Multimedia Technologies; with some remarks on the relevance of the Open Source --"free" and with source code available -- Software movement. 

Courtesy Wikipedia (which tends to be reasonably reliable and helpful on these non-ideological topics) we may define:
Open-source software (OSS) is computer software that is available in source code form: the source code and certain other rights normally reserved for copyright holders are provided under a software license that permits users to study, change, improve and at times also to distribute the software.

Open source software is very often developed in a public, collaborative manner. Open-source software is the most prominent example of open-source development and often compared to (technically defined) user-generated content or (legally defined) open content movements.[1]

A report by the Standish Group states that adoption of open-source software models has resulted in savings of about $60 billion per year to consumers.[2][3]
Such software is often of comparable quality to commercial packages, and is in some key cases so reliable that for instance Apache Server software and Linux Operating software are key backbone technologies for the Internet. 

The Android Mobile OS logo
The Android phones and tablets that are increasingly common are based on Linux and extensions by Google for the phone and/or tablet device. Open Office and/or its Libre Office fork are excellent office productivity programs. Gimp and derivatives like GimPhoto are quite comparable to commercial image manipulation software. Inkscape is an excellent drawing package. Blender* is competitive as a movie and three dimensional animation package. Audacity is a great sound manipulation package. Moodle is a very impressive education content management package. The blogosphere sits on freely available technologies, such as WordPress; and of course this blog lives in the longstanding Blogger site now owned by Google. Content Management systems such as Joomla and Drupal are quite effective. Wiki creation software is mostly open source. And so forth.

Now, it is obvious that we live in a high tech, digital age; one that has in it a major component of open source software as a digital commons, with value added services as a key business model. 

But, we of our region primarily participate as consumers, not producers. 

And yet, the August 10, 2011 news on Apple being capitalised in the markets to the tune of about US$ 350 - 360 bn (and thereby overtaking Exxon, the energy company known in our region as Esso or perhaps Mobil), tells us how the global economy has changed, has become de-materialised. In the case of Apple, digital services and related gadgets and devices have overtaken the traditional energy giants as the most potentially lucrative businesses in the world. As, markets essentially value companies on anticipated earnings across future time. 

That immediately means that knowledge and skill that can drive creation of digital services and devices, can be a huge value-added driver of economic development, here in the Caribbean and across the world. 

So, the issue is not just the consumption of software, devices and content produced by others, but that we too need to engage the global market for digitally based services and devices, a market of essentially unlimited potential.

Educationally, that means we need to shift focus from "Information Technology" to Computer Science, to Authoring, and to the productive use of key software [preferably Open Source, in an Educational context] to create valuable content. Indeed, a key model is to piggyback on open source materials by using such to create valuable content.

As a gateway, we need to look at secondary education, again. For that, the new Cambridge GCE Computer Studies Syllabus provides a useful reference model; especially for the second chance secondary and bridging education market that we have in mind. The associated 7010 Syllabus and Examination (for 2013) are organised as follows:

1: Applications of computers, with social and economic consequences

2: The Systems Life Cycle [for Info and Communication Technology (ICT) systems]

3:Problem solution including algorithm design, programming techniques and logic gates, emphasis on pseudocode with no particular language emphasised [I strongly favour Java as a powerful, largely open source language in the C family and with capacity to address web, multimedia, communications, data processing and traditional computer programming requisites. As Alice evolves, it may become a very useful introductory and bridging language. For multimedia production, I am looking very seriously at Blender and Audacity. Inkscape is a powerful drawing package. GimPhoto is a very good image processing package. (cf. here.) Dassault Systemes has developed DraftSight as a free for registration 2-D educational CAD package that is well worth a look.]

4: Generic software [-- notice the studious avoidance of lock-in to the Microsoft etc empires --] and the organisation of data [i.e. data structures and data bases] [I suggest that we should look at Open Office and/or the Libre Office fork (my current main Office Suite) as a good open source office productivity suite using ISO standard file formats, and also compatible with MS Office. For working with PDFs I currently strongly recommend PDF-XChange Viewer, especially for its markup features]

5: Hardware [foci: laptops, Desktop PCs, embedded micro-controller/-processor systems], systems and communications

6: For Alt to Coursework: system development project stages, incl: investigation of current system, action plans, hard/software selection, flowcharts and pseudocode, test data and algorithm testing, implementing alternatives with pros and cons, testing, documentation, evaluation, advantages and limitations of going to a new system

Paper 1: Theory, structured short answer

Paper 2: School Based Assessment through creation of a single major work involving use of the computer to solve a specific problem

Paper 3: Alternative to coursework

(Option 1: P1 + P2, Option 2: P1 + P3)
Again, we can see a good overall survey of a substantial body of reasonable content, enhanced by the flexibility of options regarding school based assessment. 

My own preference for this course -- since PCs are now ubiquitous, would be to go for SBAs if possible; or, if the admin headaches wold be just too much, to use the local school to actually do an SBA-like exercise as a capstone and integrative project for the course; for local certification of capacity. The alternative to practical paper can then be done by way of gaining the recognised international certification to complement the local, portfolio of achievement and profile based certification of achieved competence.

For laying out a microcampus, computer centre computer based seminar room suitable for use with a computer studies programme, I suggest a U-based layout similar to one I developed 10 years ago for a Centre in a regional university -- this can work in a room that is 15 feet wide and "long enough," depending on the number of stations desired; where tower PCs should be mounted TRANSVERSELY on a lower shelf along the U. (One advantage of this unusual mounting, is that it enhances control of "going below" to do things with the PC.)  Diagram:

A suggestion for a computer-based educational seminar room
(The central, modular table should be suitable for modest lab work)
The U-shelf should be at 29 inches, and a flat screen -- big advantage over the CRTs I had to work with c. 2000 -- will sit on it or even be fastened to the wall. A keyboard and mouse tray should be mounted on drawer slides at t he 26 inch level for the top surface and should be about 27 inches wide as well, to hold both mouse and keyboard at a reasonable level; optical mice, please. Secretary-style roller chairs will allow students to pivot from working at their own stations to a common focus around the conference table. Since that is modular, it can be re-organised for group work. And, since students face outwards when working at their local stations, the tutor can easily oversee what is going on on the student screens.

A typical Document Camera: EV-408
(white paper)
For teleconferencing, some Pan-Tilt-Zoom [PTZ] cameras mounted high would be helpful, and a camera on an overhead projection mount would also be helpful for teachers who wish to project materials on the screen.  (If you have a nice, calligraphic script -- use a square knib pen, handwritten notes and sketches etc, as well as small objects could be projected in this way.)

It should be noted that if a series of local or teleconferenced lessons are suitably captured by microphones and camcorders, with some augmentation, they can be turned into a course DVD or series of DVDs.  Such a course DVD or DVD set, with ebooks etc, would possibly be marketable in itself.

The sort of  facility just described is quite easily within the reach of a typical community centre, school or church facility, and would be adaptable to the educational needs of many levels of students, for many subjects.

By the way, I am also advocating that we need to reconceptualise our regional high school system:
a: seeing 1 - 3 forms as a foundational "Junior High" component that incorporates a bridge from primary [we should not hesitate to use a bridging "lower first" form for those who need it, as high school level education is now the real necessary foundational level for the global workforce; as once 7th standard or 9th grade or 8th grade were . . . ], and 

b: with 4 & 5 forms (with room for an upper 5th for those who need it, as was done in the late 1970's  by the well-known Foundation School in Christ Church, Barbados that my brother attended) as an intermediate level of qualification. On that baseline, 

c: 6th form can then be reworked as an upper level secondary and tertiary level bridging programme, with possibilities for integration into an Associate Degree. 

d: Opening up of a technical and paraprofessional track for sixth form or community college studies, would be a major breakthrough.

e: I suggest that at the 3rd form standard, a foundational Secondary certificate should be awarded.

f: at 5th form level, an intermediate High School Diploma should be issued, 

g: both of these being built on a portfolio based profiling of student achievement, of which external exam certification should be simply one component.

h: At 6th form/community college level, certificates should build bridging and technical/academic units towards an Associate Degree. 6th form graduates should have an upper level High School Diploma, with again a portfolio based profile. 

i: Throughout the system, external examination results should be just one component.
Of course, all of this brings us back to the AA CCS proposal that I have been developing, for a regional cybercollege with microcampus local presence:

The proposed, 64 credit regional Associate in Arts, Concentration in Caribbean Christian Service
Such a programme, with integrated second chance secondary education and bridging studies, should be well suited for educational renewal.

In this whole construct, the introduction of a computer studies curriculum, as proposed above, would then serve as a key technical capacity building component.
So, with this Capacity Focus blog post, we have put down a third plank in the platform for targetted educational transformation for the Caribbean. In future posts, DV [let's try for one a week for now], we will look at other strategic action points.  END

*F/N: Blender seems to have a problem, by which some video cards apparently have incompatibilities. This manifests as a white rectangle instead of a video preview for video strips with the Video Sequence Editor. As a workaround, if the render is set to a power of two, e.g. 512 x 512 or 1024 x 1024, the editor preview will work, though of course the image as seen there may be distorted somewhat.

No comments: