SPARCS is a unique group of people from University of Victoria whose aim is to share their love for computer science and educate others in this field. They’ve done it so well, they’re this year’s winners of the ETUG Innovation Award.

The group was founded by Ulrike Stege; Associate Professor in the department of Computer Science. “SPARCS formed when enrollment in computer science went down.,” says Stege. “Being a woman in computer science, it opened my eyes and I wanted to change people’s perception of computer science.”

SPARCS members share their love of computer science with children by educating them, using creative lessons and innovative techniques. “It allows young students to have a chance to have some fun with computer science and programming while also thinking, problem solving and being creative,” says Stege.

“The guidelines for the Innovation Award are quite specific, and SPARCS met all of them,” says Tracy Roberts, chair of the ETUG steering committee and the awards committee. “SPARCS won the award because they meet the key values and priorities of ETUG: excellence in the application of technology for teaching and learning. They use innovative technology for teaching and learning; not just technology for its own sake.” SPARCS uses technologies in innovative ways, allowing students to learn computer science both conceptually and hands-on. Stege explains that there is a way to do computer science on paper and by playing games, which makes it possible to “learn technology with no technology.” Stege notes that this makes computer science fun and accessible, and easier to integrate into the classroom.

SPARCS offers after-school clubs for school children grades 3-8. There are 2 groups based on age, and an advanced option in each age group for children who excel at computer science. Aside from learning about algorithms and concepts, members of this group get to learn how to design video games, operate wii-motes on a computer rather than a wii console, create storyboards, solve difficult puzzles, and work on unique projects that combine creativity and science.

“Students learn to design and play at the same time. This program allows them to learn about computer science even if it’s not offered at school,” says Stege, who also hopes that SPARCS will steer interested students in the direction of computer science early on.

SPARCS keeps a blog to update followers on recent activities: http://sparcsgroup.blogspot.com/

About the Innovation Award:

Each year one ETUG award is granted for excellence in the field of educational technology. The 2010 ETUG award is presented at the annual ETUG workshop, this year held on June 7-8th at the University of Victoria.

Each entry is judged based on how it meets a standard set of criteria. Most importantly, the entry must be submitted by a BC public post-secondary institution with the lead nominee being employed by a post-secondary institution. Among other criteria, the project must also have been in progress for the past 12 months and have some measurable impact. Once the applications meet all of the basic criteria, they are judged and given a numerical value based on measurable guidelines such as innovation, leadership, and impact.

For more information on the eligibility and criteria for either the BC Innovation Awards or People’s Choice Awards, please visit: www.etug.ca or contact Leva Lee.

Leva Lee
Client Services Manager
604-517-6363
llee [at] bccampus [dot] ca

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