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Why Your Computing Department Needs A Library

Every computing department should have a library, says Terry Freedman – and here’s how to make it happen...

  • Why Your Computing Department Needs A Library

Like all educators, computing specialists should read more than just material directly related to what they’re teaching. It’s about being, and being seen to be, an expert in the subject. For example, how does what you’re teaching manifest itself in terms of real problems?

Also, why does what you’re doing work (or not)? What is the theory behind it, or the research backing it up?

These questions suggest that you should make time to read the news, and to keep up with research. You’re probably doing the former anyway. As for the research, reading magazines like Teach Secondary (and my own newsletter, Digital Education) are good ways of keeping informed. But what about the students?

Knowledge is power

As well as instructional material, students should read about how what they’re learning applies in the real world. Also, about developments – not only in technology itself, but also in the way computer scientists think.

Why? Well, I like to believe that we’re training students to think like computer scientists, not simply tutoring them in the best way to pass an examination. When it comes to applying for jobs, apprenticeships or university, the well-rounded student – the one who can talk about the subject – stands a much greater chance of success than the one who can only answer exam type questions.

Sometimes, universities ask applicants to show why they should be offered a place. Many students fall into the trap of talking about how ‘passionate’ they are. It is better to be able to show that dedication and enthusiasm for the subject, rather than just talk about it; well-read students are able to do that with the turns of phrase they use, as well as through their wider knowledge.

Give them a reason

Sadly, many students take a very utilitarian view of reading. They say, if a topic isn’t going to be on the exam paper, then why waste time reading about it? So you need to take steps to encourage them to read more widely.

First, if your school still has a library, talk to the librarian about magazine subscriptions to popular computer-related titles. If there is no budget for this, ask if the school library could be part of the Zinio scheme (see ‘further ideas’, right). This is a scheme whereby library members can obtain digital versions of magazines free of charge. If the school library is not eligible, then find out whether your local library – if you have one – has such a scheme.

Second, check the shelves for computing books. If the only two there are about programming mini-computers or Pascal, published circa 1970, then ask the librarian if there is a budget for more – and offer to recommend some suitable titles.

Third, even if you have a thriving and well-funded school library, build up your own departmental one. It could be as unprepossessing as a table or two in a computer lab – the important thing is that a range of books is available for interested students, and a culture of reading around the subject is developed.

On the shelf

Your departmental library should include books, newspapers and magazines. But where will they come from? Newspapers are easy: bring in yours from home. It’s not ideal to have papers that are a day or two old, but it’s better than nothing. If everyone in the department were to bring in their daily broadsheet (or tabloid!), with a bit of luck your library would always have two or more different titles. And if not, at least there would be multiple copies to go around. Magazines can be supplied in the same way, if you or your colleagues subscribe to any – and they don’t need to be specifically focused on computing, either (see ‘further ideas’).

As for books, it would be good to spend a bit of money if you have a budget; sometimes you can get an educational price. If you have the space, also think about including leaflets; advertisements; official publications such as curriculum guidance, exam specifications, and government policies; and posters. Leaflets and advertisements, if well-chosen, can easily show the contemporary, everyday relevance of what is being studied, as can posters. The official stuff is for you and students to consult when necessary.

Maximum appeal If your department has self-published anything, then include copies of such works. For example, if your departmental handbook or schemes of work have been attractively presented, then they should be there for students, teachers, or visiting parents to peruse. Obviously, if you have self-published any of the students’ work, copies of those books should be there too. There are several ways of ensuring the library is used. Most obviously, set work that entails the students’ having to consult the resources. And make sure the facilities are attractive; so, no scrappy newspapers or dog-eared thirty-year-old books. Lead by example. Make sure you and your colleagues refer to the books and other resources in lessons, and encourage students to read – not least because it’s a pleasurable thing to do.

Further ideas

Details of the Zinio scheme may be found at recordedbooks.com/ourproducts/ digital-magazines.

If you have a school or local library, ask them if they work with schools on projects; they may be able to lend you class sets of resources like reading material and posters, and even physical artifacts, for a term.

Don’t limit yourself to computer related titles when it comes to magazines. For example, the weekend supplements often have a section about useful apps, while New Scientist and The Economist often have articles about digital technology. The latter also has a regular supplement called Technology Quarterly.

The same applies to books. I’m currently reading a work called What’s yours is mine. Although it doesn’t sound like it has anything to do with technology, it’s about the so-called sharing economy, eg Airbnb, which is made possible through digital technology.

About the author

Terry Freedman is an independent educational ICT and computing consultant, and publishes the ICT & Computing in Education website and the Digital Education newsletter at www.ictineducation.org

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