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Masters of machines

"Just shut up and listen, and find out how these things work." This is advice issued by Napier University first-year computing tutor Andrew Cumming - to staff.

First-years are such experts in some areas of computing - notably in use of social websites such as Bebo and MySpace - that Mr Cumming encourages staff to glean knowledge from students when in tutor groups.

The overall ability of school-leavers has improved to such an extent that Mr Cumming no longer goes over basics that were once an integral part of first-year computing. He said there had been rapid growth over the last three to five years in the number of students with broadband internet connections and their own PCs. "That is reflected in the confidence in using machines and the ability to use search engines effectively to find the information they need."

Such is the reliance on the internet that students go home en masse when technical problems make it unavailable on university computers.

The only significant weakness pinpointed by Mr Cumming was in the basics of algebra, but he stressed that this had always been an issue in his 13 years as a computing tutor.

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