Quintin Cutts

Room S141
School of Computing Science
University of Glasgow
Sir Alwyn Williams Building
18, Lilybank Gardens, G12 8RZ

+44 141 330 5619
Quintin.Cutts at glasgow.ac.uk

Full Professor in the School of Computing Science. Leading on a two-year, Scottish Government funded project Professional Learning and Networking in Computing Science (PLAN C) for computing science school teachers throughout Scotland

CS Education in Schools

Teaching and Administrative Duties

Research and Scholarship

Recent Publications

Innovation in Learning and Teaching


Prospective PhD Students  


Computing Science Education in Schools

I am or have been involved in a wide range of initiatives to develop computing science as a rigorous academic discipline in schools in the UK and abroad.

Professional Learning and Networking in Computing
I am project officer on the Professional Learning and Networking in Computing (PLAN C) project, funded by Scottish Government and administered by BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT.  The goal is to develop a network connecting CS teachers throughout Scotland, thus enabling effective development and sharing of best practice, in line with the Donaldson report.  We have trained around 50 lead teachers initially, who are now running  teacher communities in their local areas, acting as mentors to promote effective sharing of materials and teaching experience as well as introducing new best practice CS pedagogies developed from research from around the world.
Scottish Qualifications Authority
I have worked with the SQA since 2010 on the Qualification Design Team for the new National, Higher and Advanced Higher qualifications, feeding in results from my and others' recent research on curriculum and assessment techniques.  In particular, more emphasis has been placed on the core philosophy that pupils need to be able to understand and reason about programs.  The Haggis reference language has been developed by me jointly with Professor Greg Michaelson at Heriot Watt University specifically to enable program code to appear in exam papers. Professor Richard Connor at the University of Strathclyde has developed a parser and run-time system for Haggis, found here. Haggis has been adopted by the SQA for use in all Computing Science qualifications for the presentation of code.
Education Scotland and Skills Development Scotland
I am involved in Education Scotland's evolutionary approach to the development of the Computing Science Broad General Education phase of the Curriculum for Excellence.  This is collaborative work with Professor Richard Connor at Strathclyde University.  Key to this is the incorporation into BGE Levels 1 and 2 of our understanding of how computational thinking skills can be developed in, and be of value to, all pupils. We have funding from the Scottish Government funded Strategic Investment Plan for IT, (administered by Skills Development Scotland) to continue this work.
UK Forum for Computing Education
I am the Scottish representative on UKForCE, the UK Forum for Computing Education.  This forum was set up and is administered by the Royal Academy of Engineering as a result of the recommendation in the Royal Society's Shutdown or Restart? for a single voice for the needs of computing education in the UK.
RSE CS Exemplification Project
I am a member of the advisory board for the Royal Society of Edinburgh's exemplification project for computing science.  The goal of this project has been the production of high quality teaching materials for the Curriculum for Excellence. 
Computing at School Scotland co-Chair
I am co-chair of CAS Scotland, the teacher association for computing science teachers across Scotland.  When the PLAN C project completes its works of developing an effective network of computing teachers in Scotland, CAS Scotland will be the natural coordinating body for the teacher network, further strengthening its position as the voice for teachers in Scotland.
Computing at School
I have been involved in CAS since its creation by Simon Peyton Jones in 2008, acting on the Working Group and delivering workshops and talks at the annual CAS conference.  Though CAS, I was involved in developing recommendations for the new English programme of study for computing.
I am currently leading a CAS working group exploring assessment issues in computer science.
CS Education in the US
I spent a sabbatical year in 2010-11 in the University of California San Diego, working with Beth Simon, concentrating on the development and evaluation of a computational thinking skills course for all, as part of the US CS Principles programme.  The course has now been delivered to thousands of UC San Diego students, as well as numerous high schools in the San Diego area and further afield.  The success of the course is largely ascribed to the use of the Peer Instruction pedagogy.  We are working on the incorporation of this discussion-oriented pedagogy into on-line formats to enable large-scale training of teachers.
CS Inside
This EPSRC funded Partnerships for Public Engagement project, running from 2005-2009, developed a range of lesson-length workshops to be used by computing teachers in their classrooms.  The workshops have been used by hundreds of teachers and experienced by tens of thousands of pupils in Scotland alone, and downloads have been recorded from more than 20 countries worldwide.

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Research and Scholarship

My primary research focus is on the development of effective pedagogy for initial education in computational thinking and computing science.  Furthermore, the PLAN C project offers a significant opportunity to study effective identification and sharing of pedagogical content knowledge in Computing Science.

I am, or have been, a reviewer for the Computer Science Education Journal, ACM SIGCSE Conference, ACM ITiCSE Conference, and the ACM ICER Conference.

I have been / am one of the three rolling chairs for ICER 2013, 2014 and 2015.  I was lead organising chair in 2014, in Glasgow, running from 11-13 August, with a Doctoral Consortium and Critical Research Review immediately before and after the main conference.

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Selected Publications

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Teaching and Administrative Duties

I am running these courses in session 2014-15.
  1. Level 1: CS-1CT.  An introduction to computational thinking and programming for complete beginners using Alice and Python.  This is intended both for intending Honours CS students who have done no programming before and also for those not intending to study CS further, but for whom such skills will be of value in their own discipline.        Moodle course page
  2. Level 4: Computing Science in the Classroom.  Final year students spend time in local schools acting as ambassadors for Computing Science and learning teaching and communication skills.  Moodle course page.
Past courses

Unix, C, C++, Programming Language Design and Implementation, Compilers, Databases, Professional Skills and Issues, Persistent Programming Languages, Advanced Java Programming.


I am currently External Examiner for undergraduate programmes at the University of Dundee and Heriot Watt University.

Past responsibilities

Associate Dean (Learning and Teaching), Faculty of Information and Mathematical Sciences 2006-10.

Senior Adviser of Studies and Adviser of Studies 1999-2013

Convenor of Computing Science Learning and Teaching Committee 2000-2003

Exchange and International Students Coordinator 2000-2006

Convenor of Level 1 and Level 3 programmes at various times

Membership at various times of University committees: Senate, Learning & Teaching, Education Policy and Strategy, Academic Standards, Senate Appeals.

External Assessor for Subject Review, London Southbank University, 2006

STEM-ED Scottish advisory group on STEM education in Scottish schools, 2005-9

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Innovation in Teaching and Learning

Foundational Computational Thinking Skills

It is clear that some students do not have an understanding of computational mechanisms that are so second-nature to educators that they may miss teaching them.  One example of this is that computers are deterministic machines, at least at the level of an introductory course.  This conflicts with a prevalent view that modern technology is magic, and "beyond my understanding".  If a machine is deterministic, then it can be understood - and this realisation is a major breakthrough for some students.

It can take students a significant level of drill and practice to make this breakthrough.  One approach I developed this year, on the basis of seeing students make this breakthrough, of discussions with Richard Connor, and from Sorva's work on the "notional machine", makes use of a "mechanism visualisation" sheet.  The aim is to give as simple an execution model as possible for the students, to aid in the development of their understanding of how programs work.  The sheet is being trialled by teachers in Scotland currently, and a revised version will appear here in due course.

Peer Instruction

As is clear from my papers, I am a devotee of Peer Instruction, originally developed in the 90s by Mazur as a result of his finding that his prized physics students scored poorly on the recently-introduced Force Concept Inventory.  Peer Instruction enables students to reach deeper understandings of the material they are studying and to correct misunderstandings.  It also requires students to articulate their understanding in discussion with other students.  This seems particularly important to me given how much new language computing science introduces... how can you really understand a subject if you don't have a language for it, if you can't talk about it?  Students need to practice talking about the concepts involved in taking problems and implementing them on machines.  A key starting point is the article in the Communications of the ACM.


With others in the University, I ran the first successful study on the application of Carol Dweck's Mindset research to the Computing Science domain.  The study made use of three key interventions:

If you download and make use of these materials, please let me know how you got on.

Electronic Voting Systems

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Prizes and awards

Recent Keynote talks

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Information for Prospective PhD Students

I am keen to supervise students interested in two broad areas.  The first is in the development of computational thinking skills; the second is in the effective sharing of teaching practice focusing on pedagogical content knowledge for computing science.  The PLAN C project offers very significant opportunities to study both of these areas, with access potentially to hundreds of practising CS teachers and thousands of pupils.  If you are interested in these areas, please contact me.

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Quintin Cutts 8/12/2014