Strathclyde University: Pi-oneering – Innovations in computing education with the Raspberry Pi

  • Duncan Smeed

    I thought you might like to hear of a project proposal that I am putting forward to the Education Strategy team here at the University of Strathckyde.

    The primary aim of the proposal is to harness the obvious enthusiasm that our students have for the potential of the Raspberry Pi in school, further and higher education. The potential outcomes of the project we have identified include:
    – (Re-)Establishing links with teachers and schools to involve them in the Pi-oneering project.
    – Co-production of RPi-related teaching and career development material for schools.
    – Co-production of RPi-related teaching and assessment material for undergraduates.
    – Contributions by students, staff, and teachers (and ultimately pupils) to the open source software and RPi communities.
    – Development of student skills in Linux and open source software development.
    – Potential support and mentoring for Higher and Advanced Higher projects and cross-sector development of Curriculum for Excellence resources at all levels.

    The co-production mentioned above is for staff and students here to develop resources for school and undergraduate computing studies.


    I’d like to gauge the level of interest in this idea since it’s been a while since I acted as a consultant and CPD provider for the (then new) Higher Computing back in the late-80s and early-90s and am now re-enthused by the potential of R-Pi in schools.



    Mark J Tennant

    Hi Duncan,


    I’d be very interested in a project like this.  RPi really has captured the imagination of kids and teachers.  (in fact, I suspect my current S3 class might have single-handedly been responsible for the supplier websites crashing on launch, such was their desperation to get one!)


    Let me know if you need further info/feedback



    Duncan Smeed

    Hi Mark,


    Great to hear from you. Good to hear that there’s such enthusiasm from your students. By this time next week I’ll know if the proposal has been accepted and what level of pump-priming funds I’ll have for some summer student internships. At that time I’ll be able to give some more details.


    In the meantime, I’d be very interested in your feedback/comments on the sorts of things you could see the RPi being used for in your teaching and the sort of CPD that you think teachers would need to fully exploit the potential of the RPi.


    Sean Stratton

    I would be interested as well. The RPi has captured my imagination. It’s hard to get a grip on what the RPi might mean in class till I get one.

    However I plan on setting up some sample projects to get some interest going within the school.


    Before you know parents will be pushed out of the living room and home computers will be linked up to the TVs…. its the 80s all over again 😉



    Duncan Smeed

    Hi Sean,


    Thanks for the feedback/interest. I’ll keep everyone up to date via the forum. At Strathclyde I set up an informal class about the Rpi to solicit ideas and support from my students and my colleagues. Within a week of setting up the class more than 60 students and staff had self-enrolled to participate in getting the proposal off the ground.  That in itself is a measure of the great interest that the RPi has created locally.


    Re: your remark about the 80s – the RPi does seem to resonate with those of use that were involved in personal computing then, I have a particular fondness for the era since I was on the design team for the Dragon 32!


    Ann McVey

    I would be interested in this project, as would colleagues in my school.  Two of my S1 pupils already have them, and we are planning to buy a couple for school to start finding out how we can use them.  At the moment I’m not sure how it would be used in the classroom, and would certainly need some CPD.  Links between University and school are certainly worth developing.




    I would be very keen to get involved in this project. My own pupils are really quite enthused by the raspberry pi. I still haven’t managed to get hold of one but I do want to get a set for the department eventually. So many positives: make pupils aware that there is something other than Windows out there; the thing boots from a memory card so  there is nothing else to corrupt and you can change distributions just by swapping the card. Apparently python will be the supported educational language which is worth noting when a lot of us are finally looking at dumping VB6. Pupils will be able to explore things without the over-zealous security restrictions on school networks.


    Tim Welsh

    Bridge of Don Academy


    Duncan Smeed

    Ann, I’m jealous of your SI pupils if they have a RPi already – I wasn’t aware that any of the first 10,000 had been shipped.


    I’m pleased to hear of your interest and it’s to be fully expected that an evaluation of the RPi’s potential and some relevant  CPD will be required before the full potential of it can be realised.



    Duncan Smeed

    Tim, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. The fact that the RPi uses an SD card as a boot device makes it very easy to configure and administer and this, in turn, allows for experimentation and exploration that’ll help enthuse the students much more so than a locked down PC.


    Duncan Smeed

    The proposal that I  developed with the help of my students was submitted to the Education Strategy team for consideration as a contender for a Dragons’ Den style event next Wednesday. I am pleased to report that our proposal has been short-listed and the team has been invited to make a short presentation to secure the pump-priming funds for a number of student internships in order to develop Raspberry Pi-related resources. Our ‘pitch’ would be enhanced by expressions of interest from teachers. It’s not my intention at this early stage to identify individual collaborators but to just gauge the numbers. Four teachers thus far have declared an interest in the (outcomes of) the proposal so I hope it would be OK to report on this number. Given the short timescale I am very grateful for these early responses. If you know of others that would be interested or, indeed, if your school would like to collaborate more closely with the team at Strathclyde then please don’t hesitate to contact me.


    I have taken the liberty of enclosing below the main sections of  the proposal to give some context to the outcomes that I highlighted in my first post. Thanks for reading.


    Project Outline

    The culmination of six years of effort by Dr Eben Upton and several colleagues from the University of Cambridge Computer Laboratory has resulted in the recent launch of the Raspberry Pi (RPi) – a credit card sized computer that plugs into a TV and keyboard. Whilst this device is not revolutionary in terms of its capabilities the fact that it costs less than £25 and is specifically aimed at getting more schoolchildren interested in computer science seems set to make it a game changer within education, and beyond. The reason for the very low cost of this extremely capable computer is that it has been designed, and licensed for manufacture, by the Raspberry Pi Foundation[1], a registered UK charity. There has been a phenomenal level of interest in RPi[2] and the first 10,000 production units were sold out within minutes of going on sale at the end of February due to demand exceeding supply by at least a factor of 10. The level of enthusiasm for the aims of the Foundation and its concept is unprecedented and educators from all over the world are embracing the RPi to make computing at school more exciting and relevant.

    A major challenge for many of these educators will be the development of their skills to fully exploit the potential of the RPi.  The project will, primarily, develop curriculum material and professional development resources in a collaborative effort with schools. Since the RPi is so inexpensive and so versatile we fully expect that pupils will use this device without the fear that they ‘break it’. This will cultivate an ethos of experimentation and inquiry that is sadly lacking in their current curricula. Furthermore, the highly portable nature of RPi, and the sense of ownership this engenders, will lead to more creativity on the part of students. It is ideally suited to small project work and this will help create a sense of achievement and independence. The team’s positive experience with ‘physical computing’ whereby students design and implement novel, computer-based devices and embedded systems is a testimony to the attractiveness of this approach to teaching and learning. The possibilities are endless.

    Project description and potential outcomes

    The project will develop teaching and professional development resources that enable teachers to effectively incorporate RPi into all levels of the school computing curriculum. This is a similar approach to that taken between 1988 and 1992 when staff from the (then) Department of Computer Science developed resources for the new Higher in Computing and undertook in-service training for more than 100 teachers new to that subject area. Given that the RPi is state-of-the-art in many respects the resources that now need to be developed will, again, draw upon the knowledge and expertise of CIS staff and students. This application of their skills will, in turn, reinforce the foundations of our students’ knowledge and will motivate and engage them. The planning, organisation, development and delivery of these resources as well as the sharing of knowledge and expertise will be enabled by means of a massive open online course (MOOC) approach and by collaborations with other interested parties such as the open source software and RPi developer communities.

    Naturally, the RPi is also highly relevant to many subjects in the current curriculum of our CS-related undergraduate degrees. The most obvious match is with the Computer Systems stream that is a core component in all years. However, the RPi has applicability to many more subjects/streams including, Software Development, Operating Systems, User Interaction, Networking, Distributed Systems, etc., and these subjects would be distilled into versions amenable to delivery in schools. In addition, the ‘chameleon’ nature of the RPi would enable customized versions of the Linux operating system and applications to be developed and easily distributed via SD cards in order to configure it as a standalone assessment device for, say, examinations or as special-purpose computing devices for, say, robotics.

    Myplace facilities will be used to aid the coordination, development and evaluation of the project. In fact, an informal Myplace class was set up on 27th February 2012 and within a week of its ‘launch’ over 60 students and staff had self-enrolled to be kept up to date with, and contribute ideas to, this Pi-oneering proposal. Myplace could also be used to host the resources developed by the project and even, perhaps, some form of accredited Talon courses that would allow teachers and pupils to gain official recognition from the University for their achievements. Workshops would also be organised to bring interested parties together to plan and secure funding for further collaborations and developments.

    The potential outcomes of the project include:

    • (Re-)Establishing links with teachers and schools to involve them in the Pi-oneering project.
    • Co-production of RPi-related teaching and career development material for schools.
    • Co-production of RPi-related teaching and assessment material for undergraduates.
    • Contributions by students, staff, and teachers (and ultimately pupils) to the open source software and RPi communities.
    • Development of student skills in Linux and open source software development.
    • Potential support and mentoring for Higher and Advanced Higher projects and cross-sector development of Curriculum for Excellence resources at all levels.

    jim sutherland

    We have a bunch of Macs, on their last legs running 10.4.11 here in Gairloch.  Maybe it is time for us to get some RPis too?


    Count me in!


    Jim Sutherland


    Gairloch High School

    Martin Gallacher

    I’d be interested in this.  Count me in as well.


    Martin Gallacher

    Paisley Grammar School

    Duncan Smeed

    Hi Jim and Martin,


    Many thanks. I’ll be reporting back regularly so watch this space!



    Hi Jim,


    We have 40 iMacs (intel core2 duo) of the white plastic case variety.

    Recently we were lucky enough to get some funding and upgraded RAM and OSX to Lion.

    A new lease of life! Lets us run chrome and other nice software. Plays much better with Active Directory.

    But I’ve got a personal order in for RPi anyway, and Duncan I’m hoping that RPi will be able to play a key part in the Nationals.



    John Schofield

    yes please, count us in

    john schofield

    st joseph’s college



    christine schofield

    kirkudbright academy

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