Edexel's new diploma in digital applications (DiDA) has attracted a lot of interest during its pilot. Its flexibility, the opportunity it offers for creativity and its onus on practical applications have been appreciated by many of the teachers involved in the trial.
Dan Sears from Easthampstead Park School, a co-educational county comprehensive in Bracknall, positively radiates enthusiasm for the course.
"It's great because you can mix and match for every kid of every ability so they can do well," he says.
DiDA has four modules: using ICT; multimedia; graphics; and ICT in enterprise. If a student completes only the using ICT module, then they get an award in digital applications (AiDA) which is equivalent to a GCSE. Two modules, one of which must be using ICT, earn a certificate in digital applications (CiDA) which is equivalent to two GCSEs. If all four modules are completed, a diploma in digital applications, which is equivalent to four GCSEs, is awarded.
Each student is expected to work on the skills required for each unit until the teacher thinks they are ready to attempt the summative project brief, so at any one time all the students may be working on a different task.
However, that is something most ICT teachers have long learned to live with. We have really tried in our department to keep pupils level pegging but it never works out, they always end up on different tasks.
Successful completion of the multimedia module may also result in the student obtaining Macromedia accreditation (now on hold due to Adobe's purchase of Macromedia). DiDA also meets the needs of level 2 provision of the national qualifications framework.
Dan Sears is also fired up by the scope for different departments delivering different modules, such as the art department delivering the graphics. He sees DiDA as a new way of working with young people and a trail blazing idea which he is certain will be followed by others.
Sharon Briggs at Walker Technology College in Newcastle is also positive about DiDA. "It is a fabulous new qualification, much more adaptable than any other ICT qualification," she says. "The students are really enjoying working on it, they particularly like the fact that they don't need to print out their work."
The paperless nature of the course is one of the many interesting aspects to this scheme. Another is the use of an e-portfolio which is restricted in size to store the candidate's work and is then sent electronically for the examiners to assess. Setting up an e-portfolio takes a lot of forethought and needs a disciplined approach to file management.
Pat Tilley at Brooklands FE College, Weybridge, is teaching students on the IFP (Increased Flexibility Project) and they have consistently turned up for her classes. She feels the course definitely meets a need. The range of packages she is working with is awesome: Dreamweaver, Flash and Fireworks from Macromedia; mind mapping software; Visio, a package that allows easy production of flowcharts and Gantt diagrams; Microsoft Office with Word, Excel, Powerpoint and Access database; and video editing software.
Having struggled this year to improve my knowledge of several software packages, including spending hours trying to figure out how to do one small thing, which then took less than 10 seconds to show my class, I was thrilled to hear that Edexcel is looking into offering training courses on some of them.
Edexcel envisages having exemplar material of students' work on the website before long so that students and teachers can see exactly what level of work is required, but there is a lot of information already online for those wanting to find out more about the quality of work expected.
DiDA is designed to follow on from key stage 3, but there is talk of a possible AiDA and KS3 link-up. This would work in England, but the Welsh ICT KS3 requirements are different. Here, 90 hours of guided time are recommended for each unit. Now I'm beginning to wonder whether to re-write our KS3 ICT modules with a view to delivering AiDA.
* Helen Yewlett is head of computing at Ysgol Gyfun School, Ystalyfera, Swansea
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