An Introduction: Roger McDermott

Hi Everyone! Since Amber asked that this first post should be an introduction, I thought I would let you know something about me, my background and what I would hope to contribute in this blog.

My name is Roger McDermott and I am a faculty member in the School of Computing Science and Digital Media, at the Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen, Scotland. This is a relatively new (i.e. post 1992) British university of the type that grew out of the older regional UK Polytechnics and these type of institutions generally see themselves as having a more vocational or “professional” focus in their degree courses than the older universities.

I have to confess that I approach submitting to this blog with a little trepidation since, as I constantly remind my colleagues, I am not really a Computer Scientist. My academic background is in mathematics, specifically mathematical physics, and when I was originally appointed as a lecturer almost twenty years ago, it was to teach applied mathematics in, what was then, a School of Mathematical Sciences. Since that time, my academic department has responded to the vagaries of undergraduate recruitment by transforming itself first into a “School of Mathematics and Computing”, then to a “School of Computing and Mathematics” (that was a tough change!), then to a “School of Computing”, with an (aptly named) “Division of Mathematics and Statistics”, and now to our current incarnation as a “School of Computing Science and Digital Media”. No doubt an enterprising PhD student will one day carry out a research project on the social history revealed by these name changes, but one obvious fact is that, whatever our background, my colleagues and I live and work in a world where everyone needs to react to a changing educational environment. I still lecture in applied maths but nowadays I spend a lot of my time teaching various aspects of programming, as well as modules on collaborative and professional skills.

My students too have changed. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the introduction of tuition fees appears to many to be changing fundamentally the relationship between student and university. Even in Scotland, where the government still pays this cost, almost all students have part-time jobs and many are working long hours to pay for their living expenses, despite being registered as studying full-time. This is a complete change from when I was an undergraduate and the issues associated with it have a direct impact on my teaching.

What do I hope to contribute to the blog? Firstly, I hope to be able to provide a reasonably well-informed commentary on the UK approach to the subject. These are both difficult and exciting times for the sector, with new secondary school curricula being developed on both sides of Hadrian’s Wall. The changes aim to reverse the lack of opportunity for pupils to study Computer Science and Information Systems prior to university. The plans are good but the implementation may well prove difficult without the provision of extra resources, and I hope to report on this process.

Secondly, I have my own opinions about computer science education, and my own list of topics that I think are interesting and important. The relationship between different parts of the discipline, maths in the curriculum, teaching programming languages and paradigms, the significance and impact of MOOCs, … these are some of the things that I think raise important issues for the subject and deserve wider discussion.

Finally, I would like to invite conversation on the pedagogical issues with which I am currently involved. While I see myself first and foremost as a teacher, I have in recent years applied myself more to CS education as a research field. My own introduction to this has come through involvement with the UK Higher Education Academy subject centres, and participation in the ITiCSE conferences. Almost without exception, the people I have met there have been both intellectually stimulating and kind to me personally as a newcomer to the field. I have always come away from such interactions with my interest in the subject re-invigorated and I hope that this process can continue with the Inroads blog.

Roger McDermott

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One Response to An Introduction: Roger McDermott

  1. Amber.Settle says:

    I think I must have a biased view of computing, since many of my colleagues in my home school (School of Computing) were trained in something other than computer science. We have applied mathematicians, physicists, and even a philosopher on the faculty! But upon reflection I don’t think it’s unexpected since people attracted to computing need to enjoy reinvention. I personally think that people with broad backgrounds bring a lot to the field, and I’m looking forward to hearing your perspective on computing education in the UK. It’s an especially exciting time for computing there, and I want to know more.

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