SICSA supports the new Teach Computing Science Handbook for Primary Teachers

by Professor Judy Robertson, University of Edinburgh
24 April 2019

SICSA Education has recently sponsored the production of a handbook to help primary teachers to teach the new computing strand of the Curriculum for Excellence in Scotland. For the first time, children aged 3 years upwards will learn about key computing concepts as part of the Technologies curriculum. This is a great step forwards, because it will lay the foundations for understanding the fundamentals of process and information which young people can build on if they elect to study computing in the senior phase of high school. To help primary teachers and early years practitioners get to grips with the new curriculum, and give them lesson ideas, a group of volunteers got together to write a handbook – Kate Farrell (Computing at Schools Scotland, Judy Robertson (University of Edinburgh), Quintin Cutts (University of Glasgow) and Richard Connor (University of Stirling).

The guide has already proved popular with schools – for example, a parent wrote to tell us “I’ve been working with my daughter’s primary school and using the guide to help introduce CS throughout the school. The guide has been instrumental in rolling out a curriculum for P4 upwards”. It has also been adapted for use with West Dunbarton Council. We are currently working on a similar guide for the early stages of high school.

We have posted a paper copy of the guide to all the primary schools in Scotland. Why not check with your local school to see if they received it, or if you can give them a hand to teach some programming lessons? You can download a free copy of the guide at www.teachcs.scot.

 

SICSA PEER award helps to further our own work in Europe

by Dr Stefano De Paoli
4 February 2019

It is quite impossible to talk about European Research without mentioning the current political context as this has clearly created a shadow of uncertainty over UK based organisations’ role in future consortia. I must admit that my trip to the ICT2018 in Vienna (https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/events/ict-2018-imagine-digital-connect-europe) did not start under the best auspices. The week before my trip, I learned that a group of colleagues with whom I have been working with for several years and with whom I am currently involved in an H2020 project, were planning to write a new project. During a chat over Skype they told me that they were not likely to include our organisation in the new consortium because they perceived some risks for their project with our participation….. this more or less gives an idea about the kind of challenges we are up against at this moment in time.

Thanks to the excellent support of the SICSA PEER scheme, I travelled to Vienna to the ICT2018 event from 4-6 December 2018.  For those who may be less familiar with the process, every year in fall there is a main ICT event for European Research, which is organised in the country hosting the presidency of the Union. Often these events are called the Proposers’ Day as they are organised for people who propose projects and there are opportunities for networking and creation of partnerships. This year the event was an “ICT” event, meaning that there was also a showcase of current ICT funded projects. I have been attending these events for a few years now (the first time in 2012) and have always found them very fruitful in terms of networking and scouting for project opportunities and collaborations, especially for early careers and young researchers, who have limited international networking opportunties these events can be an entry door into the ICT European research. In particular, there is the opportunity to book in advance of the event a number of bilateral meetings (called Face2Face, or Brokerage event https://ict2018.b2match.io/ )which is essentially a sort of speed dating mechanisms with perspective partners. Meetings are booked via an online system in advance of the event and then ahead of the meeting once the schedule of the appointments and the times is received. Prior to commencing my travel I had secured 20 meetings. As I do not coordinate projects, I always try to book a number of appointments with organisations that I know may be coordinators, in the expectations that they could see our research offering as a potential contribution for their future projects. It must also be said that several of these meetings are often just speculative and do not lead to results, but it is also often possible to leave the event with opportunities to participate in multiple project submissions. I also use the F2F to enlarge my UK based network and always tend to book some appointments with UK based organisation in order to explore also national avenues for research (this year for example I met a consultant for the NHS and researchers from Manchester and Cardiff).

This event is an opportunity to meet people with whom one may be already be planning to write joint projects. This, in particular is something that helps refreshing existing trust relations, leading to increased commitments for projects. While I cannot reveal who I met and what are the details of the discussions that I had, I can say that I already have a few Skype meetings planned for the beginning of 2019 to explore potential collaborations, with organisations from Austria and Spain. Moreover, I received confirmation that planned project writing is likely to go ahead for March.

From many of the discussions that I had, I am confident that European organisations continue to want to collaborate with organisations in the UK and in Scotland especially and I felt very encouraged that very few people mentioned Brexit to me. I hope that this kind of enthusiasm toward our work remains intact and that collaborations can continue to prosper in the future. However, I think the best intelligence that I can share is to tell how much the PEER support from SICSA is important for furthering our own work in Europe. Knowing that we can rely financial on support for attending events like the ICT2018, makes an important difference. It certainly made an important difference for me.

Another successful exchange with the SICSA PECE Award

by Dr Milan Markovic, University of Aberdeen
10 January 2018

The PECE Travel Bursary

Recently, I had the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be awarded the PECE Travel Bursary by SICSA, which can be used to fund visits to academic institutions in the USA, EU, India, and China. This grant is aimed at early career researchers like myself, who will gladly take the opportunity to hone their grant writing skills and broaden their professional networks.

And the interesting part?

This is not the kind of funding that would fund your travel to a conference where you have limited time for networking and always have to compete with other people eagerly trying to promote their ideas. No, this one is different. This is the opportunity to spend weeks at foreign institutions and really experience the culture and different approaches to research.

The Plan

My visits were designed to align closely with my work on the TrustLens project (http://trustlens.org) at the University of Aberdeen. TrustLens is an interdisciplinary project that adopts a socio-technical approach to explore what it means to realise Internet of Things (IoT) solutions that are transparent, accountable, and which empower end-users.

Our ambition is to create a means by which a user can review the characteristics of an IoT device in terms of its impact on their personal data, answering questions such as: What type of data is it capturing? For what purpose? Who sees it? What are the (potential) benefits and risks? They also should be able to exert a degree of control over their data, and be guided to assess its reliability and accuracy.

The overall aim for the visits was to leverage the expertise of overseas researchers and to establish a mutually beneficial forum for discussions around issues related to transparency and privacy in IoT that may lead to future collaboration.

ISI (USC), Los Angeles, USA

First stop was the famous city of angels. I am not sure if there is much to add to all the information about LA that can already be found online. However, I can confirm that LA is a unique city with its special atmosphere and sunny weather.

People at the USC Information Sciences Institute (ISI) that I had the pleasure to work with are great. Highly motivated and ready to dedicate long hours of work split across multiple projects (as you would expect from a US institution). They also have access to excellent resources for research which can range from high profile seminar speakers to a real quantum computer (D-Wave) occupying half of a room somewhere in the building.

Although the name and reputation of the institute could seem a little bit intimidating to some, there is no need to worry. The atmosphere is quite relaxed yet still very productive. After being allowed to attend a few of their internal project meetings I was also happy to see that the research project culture is very similar. We had some great discussions about our work on transparency in IoT and how this might also overlap with their interests. As it turns out, finding the overlaps was easier than I thought. During the visit, we identified a number of extension requirements for a model that both of our groups use to describe plans captured in a provenance record. The extension focuses on enhancing the current version of the model with additional concepts such as constraints, agents and communication channels used to exchange data. As one would expect, whiteboards were filled with ideas, and plans for future publications were made.

Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou, China

I have never visited China before and I must say, I was impressed. After arriving in Shanghai you have an immediate opportunity to experience a very futuristic way of travel – magnetic train. Maglev is an impressive piece of technology and when you are travelling at 430 km/h you can’t help but to wonder why the train from Aberdeen to Edinburgh has to take 2.5 hours!

Suzhou is a major city some 70 miles from Shanghai. The Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University (XJTLU) is based in its newly developed industrial area (SIP), which continues to impress with its modern buildings and good infrastructure. XJTLU is a young university founded in 2006. It has experienced a rapid expansion in recent years and the student population is rising rapidly. Its close ties with UK institutions are immediately noticeable during the first discussions with the faculty staff. Most of them spent years working in UK institutions and therefore there is hardly anything foreign about the internal system at this university which is thousands of miles away from the UK.

This visit was also very successful in terms of generating new ideas for future work. I guess, the change of environment really helps when it comes to being creative…

During this visit, discussions were more diverse and covered a range of different topics. I had a great time and learned a lot about the research environment in which Chinese institutions operate. We had some really good discussions on the potential use of machine learning to identify personal data in IoT deployments. The work will focus on designing models for capturing information about people, animals, and objects that can be observed by sensors. Inspired by the recently introduced General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), we intend to capture information that can be used to train a machine learning classifier capable of deciding whether the observations produced by an IoT system are personal or not.

I was very pleased with the plans that were put in place during the visit and although ambitious, this should be a very interesting piece of work. I have also encountered an unexpected demand for my knowledge on crowdsourcing systems gained during my PhD, which might also lead to future collaboration.

Final thoughts

Overall, both visits were a great experience that enabled me to widen my perspectives on the international research community. The interaction with researchers outside of my home institution and opportunities to engage with different types of audiences was a great experience. Change of environments also triggered new thinking processes from which fresh and novel ideas have emerged.

I would recommend this kind of experience to any early career researcher.

Students attend Multi Drone Summer School thanks to SICSA funding

by Siobhan Duncan, Heriot Watt University
6 December 2018

In August of this year the Multi Drone project hosted a summer school in Thessaloniki, Greece. Three PhD students from the Edinburgh Centre for Robotics, Hugo Sardinha, Helmi Fraser and myself, attended the summer school funded by the SICSA Summer/Winter School Bursary along with 90 participants from Scotland, Greece, Hungary, Germany, Belgium, France and Turkey.

The school was joint organised by the ICARUS.auth R&D team and the Artificial Intelligence and Information Analysis (AIIA) Lab, the School of Computer Science, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. The main focus of the summer school was deep learning and its application to multi-drone cinematography, which is the key area of research involved in the multidrone project.

Luckily there was only a single track so we were able to attend every lecture and workshop at the summer school. The lectures were all located in Aristotle University’s beautiful, and well air conditioned, Kedea building and a demo of a drone audiovisual shooting was held just outside in the greek summer sun by Deutsche Welle.

On the first day we learnt about mapping and localisation, machine learning, computer vision, and an introduction to multiple drone imaging. These lectures were delivered by key members of the multidrone project, Prof. A. Tefas, Prof. N. Nikolaidis and Prof. I. Pitas of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Dr B. Guerreiro of IST Portugal, and Prof. J. R. Martínez-de Dios of University of Seville.

That evening the workshop had organised a welcome party for the attendees in the Treehouse in the city centre, which is a large outdoor venue with music. This gave us the opportunity to meet the other attendees on a more informal basis, many of who were also planning to use deep learning or computer vision within the scope of their PhD research.

Day two’s focus centred on target detection/tracking, drone mission planning and control, drone safety, drone cinematography, human-robot/drone-interaction. In addition to this there were two keynote speeches Civil Drone Operations (Current & Future): Regulatory Matters – Challenges & Opportunities by Peter van Blyjenburgh who is the President of UVS International and Privacy protection, ethics, safety and regulatory issues by Prof. N. Heise from Deutsche Welle.

We were then treated to a traditional meal at the Kivotos Ton Gefseon bar and taverna which is a 5 minute walk from the seafront in Thessaloniki. The restaurant was laid out with long wooden tables and food was brought out in large sharing platters throughout the night. In addition to sampling greek cuisine our hosts had organised for traditional greek music to be played along side out meal. However once the meal was over our new greek friends taught us their traditional dance which we continued until the venue closed.

The final day involved a hand-on deep learning workshop where we were shown how to use OpenCv and TensorFlow, applied to face and object detection. Our tutor was a final year PhD student who has been working closely with these technologies and who’s expertise guided us through our first deep learning experiments.

We really enjoyed our time there, not just because of the amazing city, great food and lovely hosts, but because we had the opportunity to learn a crash course in deep learning, cinematography for drones and multi drone systems which directly feeds back into each of our PhD projects in different ways. In addition we have made some great contacts within the multidrone project, which includes AI/Robotics departments in Spain, Portugal and Greece.

This opportunity wouldn’t have been possible without funding from the SICSA Summer/Winter School Bursary and we are very grateful for the experience!

SICSA Education funding helps PWSAfrica’s goal to empower scientists in Africa with the basic computer programming skills.

by PWSAfrica Team
13 November 2018

PWSAfrica’s goal is to empower scientists in Africa with the basic computer programming skills, which they would need to enhance their research. In August 2018, five computer scientists from the University of Glasgow set foot in Nigeria to run the first edition of this initiative. The workshop was certainly successful in training over 100 participants (a mix of postgraduates and undergraduates from the STEM departments) on the basics of Python programming. The day before the workshop started, we ran an “installation party” where students could bring their laptops and get help following installation instructions for Anaconda on their systems.

The two-week course was split into a few sections: Python fundamentals for the first half of the course (based initially on Dr. John Williamson’s materials for teaching Python at the University of Glasgow). Following this, a few days were spent on packages specifically useful for use in a scientific context, such as Numpy, Pandas and Matplotlib. Finally, participants completed group work where, for two days, they worked together to complete challenging tasks that would test their Python abilities. These were genuinely complex, and included producing animations of fireworks, writing language interpreters, solving mathematical modelling challenges and constructing matching algorithms.

An exciting part of the workshop — from our perspective — was how quickly we had to think to accommodate new information as we received it. Within the first day of teaching it quickly became apparent that the method of teaching we had assumed — providing content in Jupyter notebooks that could be worked through and assisted with by tutors in the room — did not work well with a room of students with mostly mathematical background! Their preference was to begin with a lecturing style, meaning we were constructing our content usually the night before it was delivered.

However, when we did teach with a lecturing style, we were hit with another surprise: students also enjoyed seeing code being run on a projector, and much preferred the tight feedback loop of writing code and seeing it execute to code written on a board, almost as mathematics. This wasn’t what we expected at all, and we found ourselves fitting a blend of the computing science teaching we were used to and the mathematics-style teaching that they were familiar with. This quick turnaround, where we would have to quickly find and implement solutions to problems, kept us on our toes in a satisfying and exciting way.

An aspect of the workshop that also stood out was the way our participants responded to being a part of the workshop. Their enthusiasm for the course was tremendous. Students were eager to ask questions and engage with the materials; the excited students would stay for their morning session, and after their lesson was finished, sit through the repeated lesson in the afternoon session so they could ask further questions. We had to put them in a separate room!

Events like PWSAfrica are only as successful as the people who attend, because ultimately, our “product” is their learning. For all our careful planning, the students’ willingness to engage determined whether our efforts were worth it! So, considering this, the students we happened to train were an absolute gift.

The workshop took place at the Department of Mathematics, University of Ibadan, in Nigeria. Our hosts were very kind and hospitable, and went to every effort imaginable to make sure our experience of Nigeria was the best it could possibly be. It was! We all have our own stories and memories that were taken from the trip. Personally, I still crave “Mr. Dennis’ Very Good Eggs”, have flashbacks every time I have to restart a Jupyter kernel, and reminisce on the heavy Nigerian rain cutting through muggy warm air. I loved the way it would kick up dust, and then angst from our students, who managed to spend most of their year free of precipitation altogether.

Which is to say: between our own incredible experiences, students with a voracious academic appetite, exciting technological challenges, and the eventual success of seeing students solve genuinely complex problems, we all consider PWSAfrica to be a roaring success: for the students’ experience; for the knowledge we impacted; and for our own incredible journey.

Needless to say, we’re excited for 2019!

SICSA’s Continued Support for Cyber Events

by Dr Naghmeh Moradpoor Sheykhkanloo
15 October 2018

At Edinburgh Napier University we have received SICSA funding on numerous occasions to assist our cybersecurity events. These events have included but are not limited to:

  • Post Graduate Cyber Security (PGCS) symposium – 2016: https://thecyberacademy.org/event/pgcs-symposium
    The PGCS is an annual gathering of postgraduate research students working in cybersecurity areas. It is a forum for early researchers to present and discuss their research alongside guest speakers from academia and industry. The PGCS symposium was held in parallel with the International Conference of Big Data in Cyber Security which is hosted by The Cyber Academy in collaboration with HP and ISACA. We hope that having the PGCS symposium, held in parallel with the above event, assisted the young researchers in understanding the real and up-to-date demands for cybersecurity in different organisations.
  • The Truth About Cybersecurity in 7 Words – 2017 (Poster Competition for Women in Cybersecurity – PCWiC): https://thecyberacademy.org/event/pcwics-2017
    Females are hugely under-represented at all levels within the cybersecurity industry. The lack of women in cybersecurity is something that the UK government, industry and universities are keen to address. Therefore, this event aimed to inspire women into cybersecurity roles by bringing together cyber women from across the UK in the form of a poster competition. The event was held in collaboration with Edinburgh Napier University and The Cyber Academy and in parallel with the International Conference of Big Data in Cyber Security.
  • The Truth about Cybersecurity in 7 words – 2018 (Poster Competition in Cybersecurity – PCiC): https://thecyberacademy.org/event/pcics-2018
    This event aims to inspire more people, particularly more women, into cybersecurity roles by bringing together cyber men and cyber women from across the UK in the form of a poster competition. The event was held in collaboration with Edinburgh Napier University and The Cyber Academy and in parallel with International Conference of Big Data in Cyber Security. We hope that the delegates will engage with industrial contacts for future partnerships and research-based industrial collaborations. The free cost of the event makes it an affordable home-based conference in Scotland.

Without the help of SICSA these event, and others, would not nearly have been as successful.

The application process is very clear and straight forward with no complications.  To apply for SICSA funding for research events, two forms need to be completed during the entire process:

  1. Proposal for a SICSA Research Theme Event at the beginning to secure funding.  This is forwarded to the SICSA Research Theme Leaders for their consideration.
  2. SICSA Research Theme Activity Report at the end to report the event’s outcome to SICSA which is used to allow the SICSA Directors to provide detailed information about the progress of the SICSA Research Themes to the Pool funders, Scottish Funding Council.

The application process is also quick with a decision being made in no more than four weeks of the submitted proposal, normally sooner.

I would personally like to extend my gratitude to Ms Aileen Orr for her immediate response to any queries and her priceless support and care. Thank you Aileen!

In Scotland, we continue to count on SICSA’s support for the funding of Cybersecurity Research Theme Events!

A decade of SICSA PhD Conferences

by Dr Jeremy Singer, SGA Director
17 July 2018

Last month, I attended the tenth SICSA PhD conference at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen. This is the northern-most location for our annual conference so far, and I was impressed by the beautiful setting and ideal facilities at this modern university campus.

Paul Hagan from RGU opened the conference; in his speech he complimented SICSA as a ‘great model for Scotland-wide subject-specific collaboration.’ Since he was one of the architects of the SFC research pooling initiative, this is high praise indeed.

Many of the 150 student delegates brought a poster along with them, describing their research projects. As I wandered round the poster display, I encountered an amazing breadth of topics. Highlights include apps to help people with Autism, using comic strips to understand complex data, and simulating the structure of stars with parallel computing.

At an evening banquet in the Trinity Hall, we did a ‘back of the napkin challenge’ where everyone had to depict their research by scribbling on a paper napkin. There were plenty of intriguing drawings – check out #sicsanapkinchallenge on twitter for some examples.

Throughout the two days of the conference, there was a great selection of talks and workshops. Since they happened in parallel, I wasn’t able to attend everything. However, I particularly enjoyed Diane R. Pennington’s deeply personal and highly motivational workshop on student wellbeing and mental health. I appreciate that a significant proportion of PhD students experience mental health difficulties during their studies, and it’s good to see this is being addressed by institutions at last.

I also attended Michael Smyth’s cinematographically inspired presentation on how to complete your thesis. He gave us plenty of pragmatic tips on writing up, while introducing us to tenuously related films from the 1950s.

As I near the end of my term as director of the SICSA Graduate Academy, I reflect that the SICSA PhD conference encapsulates what makes SICSA so uniquely compelling. We have a vibrant, friendly community clustered around a diverse range of world-leading research teams.

Here’s to the next decade of adventure, discovery and collaboration at SICSA PhD conferences!

SICSA DVF Garbriel Murray

by Gabriel Murray
9 July 2018

Gabriel Murray is visiting Scotland on a SICSA Distinguished Visiting Fellowship, and will be giving talks at Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Heriot-Watt Universities. The talk abstract, schedule, and Dr. Murray’s biography are below.

Talk Abstract:

The dynamics of small group interactions are an area of study for many disciplines ranging from social psychology to organizational behaviour and communication. There has been a surprisingly small amount of research on using natural language processing for understanding and predicting small group phenomena. This talk will present a variety of tasks and experimental results demonstrating that NLP can be useful for predicting aspects of group interaction, such as predicting group performance on a task, detecting hidden sentiment of group participants, and learning about unobserved group behaviours through meeting artifacts. It will also be argued that language-based predictive models are very valuable when we need to provide interpretable models or actionable feedback to a group — two scenarios where nonverbal models on their own may be insufficient.

Schedule:
University of Edinburgh, July 6, 11 AM
University of Glasgow, July 9, 12:30 PM
Heriot-Watt University, July 11, 2:00 PM

Bio:

Gabriel Murray is an Associate Professor in Computer Information Systems at University of the Fraser Valley, and an Affiliate Professor in Computer Science at University of British Columbia (Canada). His research primarily focuses on the intersection of speech and language processing and small group interaction. He teaches a variety of courses related to artificial intelligence, including machine learning and natural language processing. He received his PhD in Informatics from the University of Edinburgh, under the supervision of Drs. Steve Renals and Johanna Moore.

Manycore Summer School

by Dr Jeremy Singer, SGA Director
22 May 2018

Glasgow in summer … what a great experience! If you are enthusiastic about manycore processors, systems and parallel applications, please sign up for the Manycore summer school, running 16-20 July at the School of Computing Science, University of Glasgow.

The manycore revolution is fundamentally changing multiple levels of the execution stack from processor architecture, through systems software, to end-user applications. Moore’s law is now tracking the number of cores in a chip – such as the latest Intel Core i9 and AMD Epyc processors.

Thanks to generous sponsorship from SICSA and EPSRC, registration and one week en-suite accommodation at the Manycore summer school are provided for free to PhD students and postdocs based at UK universities.

Highlights of the Manycore summer school programme include:

  • seven world-leading academics presenting latest research topics
  • hands-on labs with FPGAs and cluster programming exercises
  • poster competition with expert feedback and prize awards
  • social events including a cruise on Loch Lomond and a traditional Ceilidh night

Check out the website for full details, including the summer school registration form.

Welcome to our new SICSA Director of Education

by Dr Rachel Menzies, SICSA Education Director
5 March 2018

In February, I took over as the SICSA Director of Education, a post which had been vacant since Dr Karen Petrie stepped down last year. Already I’ve been really busy, sitting on a number of advisory boards so far, and I’m only two weeks in! I’m currently a lecturer at the University of Dundee and have been a member of SICSA since 2008 in both Education and HCI. Most recently, I was the SICSA PhD Conference Academic Chair for 2017 in Dundee. This was a brilliant event sharing the future of SICSA and Computing Science in Scotland.  This year the conference will be held at RGU – make sure you are signed up, it’s shaping up to be a great few days!

Personally, I have an interest in how social media can be used in education and how we can support our students to take part in group work. However, this is just a very small part of the excellent work being done within SICSA, including links with the SQA on curriculum development, flipped classroom methodologies, early-years computational thinking and involvement in outreach events such as The First Lego League. We have a great base of knowledge, enthusiasm and resources in Scotland to make sure that we are creating technologists of the future, and I’m so excited to be a part of it.

Like many of us, I have been supported by SICSA in many ways over my career, through funding for workshops, away days, all-hands meetings and travel costs. Now I can continue this support for others. I’m planning a great programme that will help us gather momentum as a community to share our ideas and experiences and collectively influence national policies on computing education. This includes a new lecturer induction, a call for workshops, schools engagement and an all-hands education event to showcase what we can do.

If you have any ideas of things that can be done to build the education community, then let me know. I am particularly keen to reach out to universities who may not have been able to engage with SICSA Education in the past, for whatever reasons. Contact me on r.menzies@dundee.ac.uk to get the ball rolling in your ideas. A call for workshop funding will follow in the next few weeks.