The Centre will lead curriculum development and research at the University of Oslo in the integration of computing into science education. It will leverage innovative curriculum renewal in the sciences, integrating computing throughout from the first year in order to prepare students more effectively for the contemporary interdisciplinary workplace. Building on the demonstrable success of curriculum re-design that has already been undertaken in parts of the science curriculum at the University, it will engage students in science learning through the application of computing techniques to authentic, research-near problems in science. In partnership with students, the Centre will embed computing throughout the whole curriculum, develop professional educational material to support adoption at other institutions, underpin development activity with research, and extend methods and practices to other institutions nationally and internationally.
Strengths and weaknesses
The site visit confirmed to the panel that the proposal for CCSE has many strengths. The panel received an excellent presentation by the proposed Centre Manager and Dean. The significance of the project’s goals to the Faculty, the University and the wider field of science education was convincingly articulated, as was the project’s very clear conceptual framework arising from several years of prior development work.
The case made in the proposal documentation for existing educational excellence based on inputs, process factors and outcomes was confirmed throughout the panel’s discussions during the site visit, not least at the meeting with students who demonstrated very strong engagement with the goals of the Centre and with their own learning. They emphasised the value, including intellectual stimulation and deep learning, which being exposed to an integrated approach to computational methods from the very start of their undergraduate science education had brought them. They described this as a powerful enabler for science learning, giving examples of active approaches to learning and flexible assignments, well supported by staff. They loved the authentic, real-world tasks that they had undertaken using computing in science, explaining benefits including fostering of self-confidence in learning and making transition to university-level study easier. The students were eager for all their courses to be elevated to same level of quality as the best. They also expressed a very strong sense of staff-student community, with genuine attention paid to the student voice.
The stakeholder group provided key perspectives from research and industry. Stakeholders were strongly supportive of the vision for the Centre and demonstrated active engagement as champions and partners in the achievement of its goals. They emphasised the importance of breaking down silos between disciplines, and the importance of computational capabilities in science graduates for graduate employment in industry and research sectors. They confirmed the high value placed on graduates from the faculty’s programs in which computational methods already are embedded.
The strong engagement of teaching staff in the Centre’s vision was another strength, with the proposal having solid foundations in the collective buy-in of teachers. The panel was especially impressed and encouraged that this engagement was evident across a range of disciplines. The impression was given of a coherent, cohesive and shared basis for future collaboration across disciplines in the work of the Centre. Teaching staff expressed strong commitment to the ‘no silos’ ambition of the Centre, emphasising working across the disciplines to develop collective practice. The project leader demonstrated excellent participatory leadership style in action during the discussion, which was reflective and focused. More widely, a supportive institutional infrastructure for teaching was evidenced. While it is clear that the faculty has already demonstrated commitment to listening and responding to the student voice, the panel felt that there would be a need to take this to the next level of genuine partnership working with students in the enhancement and innovation activity of the Centre. The panel was reassured that the plans for embedding educational research expertise into the project, by drawing in required external expertise, are well thought-through.
There is very strong championing of the goals of the Centre by institutional leaders and managers, as demonstrated by the allocation of resources to the prior developmental work, including pilots, and by the consistency of the message both from top leadership and leadership at other levels. The panel would have welcomed a clearer response to questions relating to anticipated challenges to be overcome in achieving the Centre’s goals, especially as regards work package 3, but overall the project leadership demonstrated impressive experience, pragmatism and credibility, combined with support from a critical mass of innovators. It was very positive to note that the Centre leaders envisaged that CCSE would gain benefit from interaction with another, previously funded, Centre. The panel also noted that while stakeholder involvement in governance and management had not yet been fully scoped, the proposals made during the site visit were convincing.
The panel commends the ‘learning’ approach to dissemination strategy. Further development of the evaluation plan, while it demonstrates a good foundation, is required; the research/evaluation focus on measurement of students’ ‘computational thinking’ was identified by the panel as an important element of the work.
In summary, with the exception of limited existing excellence in science education research, CCSE is very strong on all excellence indicators. There is a very persuasive rationale for the SFU, and strong evidence of the fruits of ten years of patient and committed development in computing in science education, resulting in a conceptual framework and pedagogical foundation with real depth. The educational philosophy and prior implementations are convincing. Students and stakeholders are highly motivated and there is strong collective teacher commitment. Management and leadership are very solid with clear strategic leadership and commitment, and a well-planned management structure combined with a strong and clear focus for the first five years of work. There is strong buy-in across disciplines/departments in the Faculty, promising well for the sustainability of the project. Some work package leaders may benefit from particular support for taking on the new responsibilities of their role.
Overall, the panel considers that the Centre offers strong potential for genuinely transformative impact, leading a breakthrough in science education not only involving step-change locally at the University but also offering a cutting-edge exemplar nationally and internationally. The potential for powerful research development is strong, as long as research expertise is brought in from a collaborating partner as planned.