A few months ago, I published a post titled Proposal for a GCSE Computing MOOC in which I described an idea I was considering to support other teachers with the teaching of GCSE Computer Science. Well, the good news is it’s now ready for use at – http://courses.exa.foundation
The problem: I taught GCSE Computing over a five year period and, like many other teachers of the subject, experienced the following challenges when teaching the theory part of the course:
- there was a very wide range of abilities among the students in my classes, some students needed a lot of lesson time to understand some very simple concepts, while others could quickly grasp complex concepts
- some of my students had very short attention spans for learning theory, they were much happier (and better behaved) when they were allowed to work on the practical problem-solving and programming exercises
- some students already had prior knowledge and understanding of the theory and didn’t need me to teach them again what they already understood
- there was a lot of content to fit in to 5 lessons a fortnight as well as teaching students how to problem-solve and program for the very first time
- it was time-consuming to accurately and frequently assess my students’ level of understanding
- I was expected to set meaningful, challenging homework every week, to check that students actually completed homework and report this to parents
If that’s not gloomy enough, I wrote about some of the additional challenges facing Computing teachers in “Challenges of Teaching GCSE Computer Science“.
The solution: After experimenting with a range of teaching strategies approaches, I finally found a solution that seemed to work with every class I taught and also addresses each of the challenges I identified above. After sharing this approach through podcasts, blogposts and webinars – many other teachers have written to me and told me how it’s transformed how they now teach this course. Reflecting back now, I really wish I’d discovered this solution earlier on – as it would have saved me a lot of stress, heartache and hours wasted writing lengthy comments in exercise books that students never read.
The solution that I have developed is a MOOC that supports a flipped-learning approach to learning (watch a short video here). The students follow 3 steps I refer to as U.S.A.:
- Understand – in their own time (ie. homework), students study the resources provided. Books, website and video content are provided to help them understand each topic.
- Summarise – students then summarise what they have learnt and understood using a form of visual notes which requires them to convert the sources into another format.
- Answer – every few lessons in class, the teacher sets their students exam questions. Some of these are Multiple Choice Questions (MCQs) automatically marked by the computer, others are formal written responses that they answer in their exercise books.
The J276 MOOC: MOOCs are online courses; the J276 MOOC I’ve created uses the Moodle e-Learning Platform. The J276 MOOC contains resources to support students to understand each topic for GCSE Computer Science with links to books and online content. It comprises 45 individual topics to suit the rate of about 1 per school week, with the recommendation that the first few are practised in lesson under teacher supervision.
This short video gives an overview of the J276 MOOC:
Every few topics there is a computer marked assessment which records the students’ test score in the teacher’s gradebook. Teachers are recommended to review the students’ topic summaries on a regular basis and award a score for quality (not the same as achievement), you can see an example below. Once the teacher and their students get into the habit of using the MOOC, it pretty much takes care of itself and frees the teacher up to plan for more engaging, practical lessons that reinforce the topics or prepare students for the Non-Examined Assessment components (NEA).
While it’s possible to use the MOOC using only online resources without purchasing any additional materials or resources, I’d still recommend teachers consider purchasing copies of the textbooks that are linked in the MOOC.
The cost: Initially the first term or so (12 topics) are free to all teachers and students, but use after that then requires a £100+vat annual subscription per school. The J276 MOOC is not intended as a commercial for-profit initiative, the subscription fee is to fund the continued development of the MOOC, provide support and recover some of the costs.
If you want to know more: Visit http://courses.exa.foundation where it explains how you can register for the free trial without further obligation or commitment. I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback to enable me to develop this MOOC into an even more useful resource to support the teaching of GCSE Computer Science.
Warning: Now, it’s no quick-fix miracle solution – since it requires some teachers to change the approach in which they’ve become accustomed. Not every one will feel comfortable changing the long-established manner in which they’ve become accustomed to teaching, but if your current approach is not working for you – what’s the risk? It does require some setting up at the beginning, for example, you can’t simply send your students to the MOOC and expect them to use it effectively. I’ll admit that some teachers have tried it without being fully committed to it and have struggled to make it work with their students – this is why I’m happy to offer a free trial period of a term.