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University of Ulster promotes Computing to Sixth Form pupils

26 May 2011

A pioneering initiative by the School of Computing and Intelligent Systems at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus to encourage a greater uptake in computing and engineering courses has proved a hit with year 13 and 14 pupils.

Fifty five pupils from Thornhill College, Oakgrove College, St Joseph’s Boys’ School, Lisneal College and St Brigid’s College who completed a Java programming course at Magee received certificates.

The course was offered as part of the University’s commitment to widening access. Dr Sonya Coleman, from the School of Computing and Intelligent Systems, who led the widening access and participation project explained: “The ‘Widening Access By Introducing Programming in Schools’ (WABIPS) project was designed to introduce basic programming concepts to Year 13 pupils in a fun and engaging way.

The course addressed fundamental programming concepts such as variable declarations, conditional statements and loops to give pupils a taste of what it would be like to study computing at the University of Ulster.

“The aim was to enable them to make informed decisions before undertaking further study or pursuing a career in computing or engineering disciplines. We also saw the project as a chance to promote STEM subjects to girls who are typically underrepresented. This was a great opportunity for us to work closely with local schools and to give potential students a feel for what computing involves.”

Two tutors from the School of Computing and Intelligent Systems visited the participating schools each week to deliver the programming course and the Intelligent Systems Research Centre (ISRC) provided tablet PCs for the pupils to use for the duration of the project. 

Dr Heather Sayers, Courses’ Co-ordinator and co-investigator in the WABIPS project, commented: “Feedback from the schools, the participating pupils and the tutors has been very encouraging. It was invaluable in assisting pupils to make informed decisions about their choice of university course, and also in promoting computing as a career.”

The project was piloted successfully in Thornhill College last year and two pupils who completed the introductory programming course, Laura McIvor and Natasha Cavanagh, are now studying computing at the Magee Campus.

Natasha said she found the Introduction to Java course very beneficial.

“The course gave me a great foundation which made the transition to studying for a degree in Computer Science so much easier. A lot of the programming concepts introduced in first year at university were already familiar to me. I really enjoyed doing the course and would recommend it to any student considering a degree in

Representatives from each of the schools who successfully completed a Java programming module at the University of Ulster’s Magee campus: Jennifer Gillespie (Thornhill College), Samuel McKittrick (Lisneal College), Matthew Montgomery (Oakgrove Integrated College), Ciaran Halpenny (St. Brigid's College) and Andrew Clifford (St. Joseph's) are photographed with Dr  Bryan Gardiner, Anne Hinds and Rosaleen Hegarty of the School of Computing and Intelligent Systems who delivered the programme.