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Articles on Education

This page provides links to some articles I’ve written on education-related themes. Some articles have been published and some have been written for this website.

This page also has links to some questions and sample exam papers.

ARMs for the poor is an article that was presented at a Frontiers in Engineering Education Conference and describes why the ARM is an excellent vehicle for teaching computer architecture. Incidentally, no one appears to have recognized the pun in the title.

ARMs for the poor

The next article asks the question, “Why do we teach computer architecture?” The short answer to this is to keep professors in gainful employment. The longer answer given in this article explains why computer architecture is of relevance to the modern computer science curriculum.

Why do we teach computer architecture?

Professional accrediting bodies and societies like the IEEE Computer Society require that courses in computer science include a component on professional issues and ethics. All too often these guidelines are neglected and professional issues ignored. I wrote Embedding ethics in teaching computer science for a conference and suggested some of the way in which professional issues can be incorporated in teaching.

Embedding ethics in teaching computer science

Years ago when collecting material for an article on computer history, I found a comment in the literature that suggested that the transistor was invented in the 1920s. I was shocked by this because everyone knows that the transistor was invented at Bell Labs in 1947. Google “transistor invention” and you will find many articles (some in the highest level and highest quality academic journals) reassure you of this fact. Look closely and you will find other articles that Julius Edgar Lilienfeld filed a patent for a filed effect transistor in Canada in 1925. Although Lilienfeld never built his device, the operating principles he described were valid. I looked into some major inventions a little more closely and found out that popular history is often wrong in this area. This matters because we often parrot this history in our own classes without giving it a second thought. I wrote Honesty in history to try and make professors aware of the pitfalls in including a potted history.

Honesty in history

One of the challenges in teaching a technical subject is finding explanations for students that don’t have a natural facility in the area; for example, you can illustrate some of the concepts in multitasking by comparing it to a game of simultaneous chess. I wrote Using analogies to teach computer architecture to discuss this notion and to examine how analogies can enhance or even harm the discussion. Although the abstract of this article was accepted for publication, the final version was rejected. And I’m still sulking.

Using analogies to teach computer architecture

I originally intended to include an extensive chapter on computer history in Computer Organization and Architecture but they wouldn’t let me. There was a limit to the number of trees that they were prepared to kill to print my book. Several large forests gave a sigh of relief when the material was removed from the draft manuscript and provided on this web site.

Computer history (PDF version)

Computer history (web version)

Science Fiction and Computers

General Education Issues

The UK has a  rather complex means of ensuring comparability between universities. Several external examiners (academics from other universities) are assigned to courses. The role of the external examiner to to oversea and monitor the examination process fro paper setting to paper marking to consequent student progression. The article below was written for a Frontiers in Education Conference  several years ago and is intended to give non-UK academics an insight into the British higher-education system.

The UK External Examiner System


Accreditation is a form of external reviewing of colleges that is performed to ensure that the standard of degree provision is  of an acceptable level.  Accreditation bodies are sometimes professional bodies (like the British Computer Society)  or special-purpose organizations like ABET in the USA. The following link provide a general introduction to accreditation in higher education for US universities.

Accredited Colleges Page

Another US organization, The Simple Dollar, provides information about affordable online collages at the following address. Such articles are useful because they provide background information that can help prospective students make an informed decison. However, all students should be aware that the best college for student A may not be the best college for student B. There are often considerable variations within colleges and two students could have very different experiences at the same school. Some colleges may be better for students who wish to pursue a career in research, whereas others may be better for a student who requires perhaps more personal contact.  

Affordable online colleges link

Exam Papers

The following  exam paper with solution provides a set of worked examples that demonstrate the coverage of the curriculum and provide a sample paper.

Exam Paper 1

This exam paper provides questions but no solutions.

Exam Paper 2