Quintin Cutts

Professor of Computer Science Education


Quintin Cutts is professor of computer science education at the University of Glasgow. His PhD is in the area of programming languages and databases and both this and his original BSc degree in Computational Science have given a deep understanding of the core of the subject. His subject specific interests broadened to include computer science (CS) education when he was a young lecturer. His first research question in this area, around 25 years ago, was "Can everyone learn to program?" - and the vast majority of his research since, combined with continual teaching, has focussed on this important question. Many computer scientists think not, believing that the ability to program has innate aspects. Quintin's original hunch was that this was untrue, and both his research and research from the wider CS education community is strongly suggesting the same. But - we are a young subject, and we are learning this slowly. This work and understanding, of over two decades, about how to enable anyone to learn programming, lies at the heart of this Coursera specialisation. More specifically, from 2005, he worked with teachers in Scottish schools, creating active and often kinaesthetic workshops to introduce pupils to the complex CS concepts inside the technology they were surrounded by like their phones and gaming machines. This developed a trust with the CS teaching profession and administration that led to his contributing to national CS qualifications across the UK and leading a major CS teacher professional development programme, from 2010 to 1016. He worked with colleagues in the US, at the University of California, San Diego, in 2010-11, developing one of the first CS Principles pilots for that new AP CS programme, contributing to the CS10K programme to create ten thousand new CS teachers within the decade. The CS Principles programme incorporated research results showing how important it is to get learners to talk about their understanding, something we've emphasised here in the discussions. The teacher PD programme emphasised the importance of understanding code, or code comprehension, and this has been a key factor in developing this specialisation too - how can one write successfully before one can read? Other research led by Quintin has shown how important the attitude of both learner and teacher is, building on Carol Dweck's Mindset research. The key attitude in question is whether someone is able to learn something. Many of us put a mental block in place, in relation to some subjects... how many times have you heard folk say "Oh, I just can't do... math... drawing... music...". It's very unlikely that this is really true - research suggests they simply have a mistaken understanding of their ability and how learning works. Quintin and colleagues were the first to show the importance of paying attention to this in computer science, and his students achieved a whole grade improvement in course outcomes as a result. In 2017, he set up the Centre for Computer Science Education at the University of Glasgow, with many staff and PhD students working in this important area. He leads or sits on national and international committees for computer science education, and has won a number of awards for his education work, both as a teacher and researcher. He was awarded the MBE for services to computer science by the Queen in 2015.