Waikato Code Camp supports new ICT education emphasis

Export potential seen in interactive courses

The University of Waikato has attracted 40 or more Year 9 and10 students to a three-day Code Camp, to be held from January 21 to 23, aimed at teaching the basics of computer programming and HTML/CSS for web development.

With the growing need for skilled developers in the workforce, the course is aimed at inculcating an enthusiasm as well as some of the skills for code development.

It is based on the online interactive courses at (www.codeavengers.com) developed by Waikato PhD student Michael Walmsley. The material is presented in a gaming style to “keep the attention of teenagers who struggle to find time for homework, but always make time for computer games”, Walmsley says.

As a result of a curriculum reform effort spearheaded over the past few years by the then Computer Society (now the Institute of IT Professionals) new NCEA achievement standards in “digital technologies” have been put in place. The courses Walmsley has developed are “aligned” with the skills required for these achievement standards, he says.

The Code Camp will not give students an NCEA achievement tick; that would take a longer course of at least five days plus an assessment test currently conducted in a conventional classroom environment and marked by teachers.

Walmsley is working on adding the assessment stage to his longer courses over the next six months. Much of the marking should then be able to be done automatically, he says, so the student’s achievement only needs to be briefly vetted by a teaching professional. “We should even be able to indicate to the teacher what grade the student deserves – achieved, merit or excellence,” Walmsley says – though the ultimate decision will remain with the human marker.

The rejigging of the New Zealand NCEA curriculum goes some way to tackling the criticisms of current courses that they merely teach the use of a computer – for such applications as word-processing, spreadsheet and creation of presentation material – rather than inculcating development skills.

Now NCEA standards are available that set the student up for a potential career in development. However, “at the moment about only 20 percent of high school teachers are comfortable teaching the new programming standards” and a support resource is needed, says Walmsley. “That’s where Code Avengers comes in.”

Walmsley has been running professional development classes to help teachers prepare to teach the new NCEA standards, and learn how to get the most out of the Code Avengers courses. He has built teacher tools into the program that provide live feedback of class progress.

So far Walmsley has developed Level 1 (Year 10) courses in programming and HTML/CSS, which have been available since last year through the Code Avengers site. He has completed the Level 2 programming course and half-completed that for Level 2 HTML/CSS. He hopes to finish Level 2 and 3 courses for both by about August this year, but this will depend on the demands of his PhD study, he says.

Australian, British and US education authorities are reforming their curricula along similar lines and there is clear export potential in online courses suitably adjusted to meet the demand there once the curricula are finalised, Walmsley says. Last year more than 90 percent of the custom for his Level 1 material came from overseas as does about 70 percent of the interest in the so-far completed Level 2 material.

The Level 1 courses are offered free of charge and Level 2 courses carry a charge of $5 per student.

This month’s Code Camp is seen as a trial exercise, Walmsley says. “If all goes well we will begin accepting registrations for a second edition to be run April 22-24, during the term-one school holidays.”

Sponsors of the camp include IITP, Google and New Zealand’s largest software exporter, Orion Health.

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