Despite a shortage of subject specialist teachers, computing was added to the national curriculum in 2014 and is now taught to every child at every level from primary onwards.
But teachers haven’t had many resources to draw upon or as much experience of delivering or assessing the subject as in other areas.
Now, a new resource that promises to cut teacher workload while simultaneously raising the quality of teaching and learning in computing lessons has reached a major milestone.
Project Quantum gives teachers and students access to almost 8,000 multiple-choice questions that can be used not only to assess pupil learning but also to assist teacher training.
Its co-creator, computer scientist Professor Simon Peyton Jones, of Microsoft Research in Cambridge, said: “If a teacher has six students, you can figure out roughly how well each is doing and where they are stuck, but if you have 600 you need a more systematic way of tracking which students are understanding things and which are not.
“And indeed it’s useful to the students themselves – the act of answering a question is an incredibly helpful way for students to figure out whether they understand something or not.”
Professor Peyton Jones said the majority of questions in the bank are geared towards secondary education, with fewer questions for primary school teachers and their students – but the hope is that that will change as more teachers get to know about the service and donate questions to the database.
The project's other creator, teacher trainer Miles Berry, said multiple choice questions were easier to mark and analyse for busy teachers. He said: “In fact, they’re so easy, a machine can do those things. Just ask your class to hold up a whiteboard with the answer and you as a teacher can tell at a glance what they have understood.”
He also explained that the databank had a further use in teacher development: “For me, working in initial teacher training we think there’s a huge gain here…not only coming to understand the idea of how to assess better, but just dealing with the subject matter better – you understand the subject really well when it comes to having to write a good question. Moreover, doing this in a group of teachers is really effective."
Professor Peyton Jones came up with the idea after a discussion with Tim Oates, of exam group Cambridge Assessment, who led the last government review of the national curriculum in England, part of which was the inclusion of computing. It was Mr Oates who suggested that formative assessment could help.
Questions are also available in other subject areas. To access questions visit diagnosticquestions.com/Quantum
View Professor Peyton Jones' presentation about Project Quantum at https://bit.ly/2GcYbxC