ComputeTY Celebrates 10 Years of Introducing Computer Science to Secondary Schools.
Ten years ago who would have realised a practicum project as part of the celebrated M.Sc. in Electronic Commerce in DCU would have grown to become one of the most successful outreach programmes in Ireland. Throughout Ireland, there is a real need to introduce ICT skills to students at an early age and there is a particular shortage of women in this sector. To date, DCU’s School of Computing has taken in over 4,000 transition year students introducing them to computer programming and encouraging them to study computer science at third level. It is also encouraging to see that, over the last 3 years, over 40% of the total intake of these students are female.
The programme began in 2005 with students learning how to develop their own live website over a week. However, the programme has developed further over the last four years to include two additional streams, Introduction to Java Programming, which uses innovative content from the BSc. in Computer Applications course to provide students with a gentle introduction to an industry-standard programming language, and the AppInventor stream which allows students to develop and publish their own Android Apps on the Google Play store after just a week of tuition. Both courses allow students to learn the concepts of programming in a fun and engaging atmosphere.
A group consisting of Barbara McConalogue, Nimalka Senaratne and Amanda Matthews put forward the original idea and Prof. Alan Smeaton was assigned to supervise the project. The concept was to investigate how to utilise the laboratories in the School of Computing during the month of January when they would have been otherwise empty due to DCU students studying or taking exams. According to Prof. Smeaton “The team investigated various options, visited and discussed the idea with transition year coordinators in local schools, and developed the business model for the idea, which was christened ComputeTY. The group submitted their practicum which described the idea, the business model underpinning the idea, the level of positivity among the transition year coordinators and the potential benefits for DCU. The group were awarded high marks for the work they had undertaken, and everyone was happy. Then we thought about it and said, why not actually do it!, so we did, so in 2005, we kicked off ComputeTY for the first time, and the rest is history.” Dr. Rory O’Connor, Head of the School of Computing, added “Each year with the commitment of our staff and continued support from both the HEA and ADAPT (http://www.adaptcentre.ie/), this programme has grown bigger and better year on year. It brings the world of computing into the lives of young students and allows them the opportunity to get a good understanding of technology and computing before they leave school. We hope to continue and progress ComputeTY into the future so secondary students can make informed decisions about their future”.
As ComputeTY matures, we are not only seeing some of the students that attended ComputeTY here in DCU, but some of them are also back assisting on the programme! One of those students who attended ComputeTY back in 2007 was Paul Carroll from St. Aidan’s Secondary School, next door to DCU. Paul not only chose to study in DCU after secondary school, but this year he also became a teaching assistant on the ComputeTY programme. According to Paul “When I was a student doing web design was a completely alien experience, but very exciting. Back then my family home had limited internet access, so for me ComputeTY was a huge turning point. When I was filling in my CAO, DCU made the list every time, following my Undergraduate degree, I started a Masters in Multimedia in DCU, which led me back to ComputeTY as a teaching assistant, so I was incredibly excited about coming to ComputeTY on the other side. The programme has changed a lot and moved on over time, looking back at it now, it was way ahead of its time”.
ComputeTY Course/Stream Description
In this course, students will develop their own mobile apps using AppInventer, a programming environment developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Students learn the basics of app development using the graphical programming language of Scratch. The apps they develop can then be easily installed on any Android device or ran on the Android Emulator on the PC. This course is suitable for any student who is interested in learning the basics of programming.
Introduction to Programming
In this course, students learn how to program in Java, the most popular programming language in the world. Students are introduced to basic programming concepts using a Pac-Man like learning environment developed at DCU and by working in groups to program fun quizzes based on their interests. No knowledge of programming is required for this course. However, it is slightly more difficult than the AppInventer course and would therefore be particularly suited to students who have already been exposed to some programming, e.g. students who have already worked with a graphical programming language like Scratch and are ready to move on to new challenges.
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