Bold new project from the UK’s Computing at School project aims to create high-quality assessments for their entire computing curriculum, across grade levels. The goal is to generate crowd-sourced problems with quality control checks to produce a large online resource of free assessments. It’s a remarkable idea — I’ve not heard of anything this scale before. If it works, it’ll be a significant education outcome, as well as an enormous resource for computing educators.
I’m a bit concerned whether it can work. Let’s use open-source software as a comparison. While there are many great open-source projects, most of them die off. There simply aren’t enough programmers in open-source to contribute to all the great ideas and keep them all going. There are fewer people who can write high-quality assessment questions in computing, and fewer still who will do it for free. Can we get enough assessments made for this to be useful?
Project Quantum will help computing teachers check their students’ understanding, and support their progress, by providing free access to an online assessment system. The assessments will be formative, automatically marked, of high quality, and will support teaching by guiding content, measuring progress, and identifying misconceptions.Teachers will be able to direct pupils to specific quizzes and their pupils’ responses can be analysed to inform future teaching. Teachers can write questions themselves, and can create quizzes using their own questions or questions drawn from the question bank. A significant outcome is the crowd-sourced quality-checked question bank itself, and the subsequent anonymised analysis of the pupils’ responses to identify common misconceptions.
My Blog@CACM post this month is on the AAAS symposium I attended on undergraduate STEM education (see post here). The symposium set up for me a contrast between computing education and other STEM education. In math and science education, faculty are more likely to get continuing professional development and to value education more than CS faculty.
Why is it different in CS? In the blog post, I suggest that part of the issue is maturation of the field. But I have another hypothesis — I suggest that most CS teachers, especially at the undergraduate level, don’t think of themselves as teachers.
In my book Learner-Centered Design of Computing Education, I use Lave & Wenger’s situated learning theory as a lens for understanding motivations to pursue computing education. Lave & Wenger say every learner aims to join a community of practice. Learners start out on the periphery of the community, and work their way towards the center, adopting the skills, values, and knowledge that those in the center hold. They might need to take classes because that’s what the community values, or maybe they do an apprenticeship. The community of practice provides the learner and the practitioners a sense of identity: “I belong with this group. I do this practice. This is who I am.”
Lijun Ni taught me the value of teacher identity. Someone who says “I’m a math teacher” (for example) will join math teacher organizations, will seek out professional development, and will more likely be retained longer as a teacher. That’s their identity.
I believe that many science and math teachers (even at the undergraduate level) feel a sense of identity as teachers. Even at research universities, those teaching the intro courses in mathematics and science are likely teachers-first. They know that they are mostly no preparing future mathematicians, biologists, chemists, and physicists. They are preparing students for their chosen professions, perhaps in engineering, medicine, or computer science. The math and science teachers belong to a community of practice of teachers, e.g., they have a goal to be like the best teachers in their profession. They have an identity as teachers, e.g., they strive to be better math and science teachers.
I suspect that CS teachers feel a sense of identity as software developers. They see themselves as programmers primarily. They see themselves as producing future programmers. They take pride in what they can do with code. They have a sense of guardianship — they want the best and brightest in their field.
There’s a difference between CS teachers as programmers vs CS teachers. Programmers train other programmers. They learn new programming languages, new techniques of programming, the latest tools. Teachers teach everyone, and they learn how to be better at teaching. We need CS teachers to be teachers. It’s less important that they know the latest industry gadgets. It’s more important that they learn how to teach “all” about CS, and how to teach that CS better.
When Grady Booch came to SIGCSE 2007, I was surprised at how excited everyone was — people still talk about that visit (e.g., see the explanation for the BJC approach to computing). I realized that, for most of the people in the room, Grady was a role model. He was at the center of community that they most cared about. Note that Grady is not a teacher. He’s an exceptional software engineer.
There are serious ramifications of a teacher with an identity as a software engineer. I had a discussion a few months ago with one of our instructors, who told me, “I just don’t get why women would even want to be in computer science. Working in a cubicle is not a great place for women to be! They should get a better job.” I was shocked. I didn’t tackle the gender issues first. I started out trying to convince him that computer science doesn’t just lead to a cubicle. You could study computer science to become something other than a software developer, to work somewhere other than a cubicle. He wasn’t buying my argument. I realized that those cubicle jobs are the ones he wants to prepare students for. That’s where he imagines the best programmers working. He doesn’t want to teach computer science for whatever the students need it for. He prepares future programmers. That’s how he defines his job — a master software engineer with apprentice software engineers.
I am calling out undergraduate CS teachers in this post, but I suspect that many high school CS teachers see themselves as software developers (or as trainers of software developers), more than as teachers of computer science. I hear about high school CS teachers who proudly post on the wall the t-shirts of the tech companies who employ their former students. That’s a software developer focus, an apprenticeship focus. That’s not about teaching CS for all.
What would it take to shift the community of practice of CS teachers to value teaching over software development? It’s an important change in perspective, especially if we care about CS for all. Not all of our students are aiming for jobs in software development.
How did other STEM disciplines do it? How did they develop a culture and community of practice around teaching?
Betsy Bizot at Computing Research Association (CRA) dug into the question that I posed about CS PhD’s, and came up with these answers. Thanks, Betsy!
Percentages are computed from those who answered the question about their postdoctoral status, about 90% of all SED respondents. They include those who said they were returning to or continuing with predoctoral employment, or who have a definite commitment for employment or postdoctoral study. Those who were negotiating with one or more possible employers were not counted.
Values in the Engineering column are from Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2014 (for the 2004 and 2009 figures) and Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2013 (for the 2013 figure), Table 42, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, available from the “data” tab at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/srvydoctorates/ These were reported in Mark Guzdial’s Computing Education Blog https://computinged.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/what-really-happens-to-new-cs-phds-starving-the-beast/
Values in the Computer Science column are computed using data from the Survey of Earned Doctorates licensed to the Computing Research Association through the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics at the National Science Foundation. The use of NSF data does not imply NSF endorsement of the research methods or conclusions contained in this report. Licensing of this data was supported by grant B2014-12 from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation
This is a really cool announcement. I believe that computing helps with all kinds of STEM learning, and admire the work at Northwestern on Agent Based Learning in STEM, Project GUTS, and Bootstrap. It’s particularly important for getting CS into schools, since so few schools will have dedicated CS teachers for many years yet (as described here for Georgia). I’m excited to see that Bootstrap will be moving into Physics as well as Algebra.
Bootstrap, one of the nation’s leading computer science literacy programs, co-directed by Brown CS faculty members Shriram Krishnamurthi and Kathi Fisler (adjunct), continues to extend its reach. Bootstrap has just announced a partnership to use its approach to building systems to teach modeling in physics, an important component of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). This project is a collaboration with STEMTeachersNYC, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Modeling Teachers Association.
Architecture and art is often taught in a design studio setting, where students work in a large, open space where everyone can see what everyone else is doing all the time — for collaboration, for inspiration, and for camaraderie. Colleen Kehoe wrote her dissertation on advantages of these pedagogies for learning and how they might be used in CS classes. Colleen was part of establishing the use of design gallery walks (where students work is displayed for the whole class to review and comment on) in some of our HCI classes. The challenge to using design studio pedagogies in most CS classes is that our work lives just on the screen, where the only ones who can see it are those right in front of the screen.
This semester, we built a design studio classroom using augmented reality technology, and taught a recitation section of a Media Computation course using it.
The room was created by Blair MacIntyre with students Ashwin Kacchara and Ryan Jones. They used technology from Microsoft Research called RoomAlive, which uses Kinects to scan the room and develop a model to drive the projectors. Blair and his students defined a set of virtual displays for each student’s work. When students were in the room, they programmed in Pythy from Steve Edwards, a browser-based Python IDE that supports the Media Computation library. Ryan modified Pythy so that the last picture generated from student work was saved to a database, then he and Ashwin used RoomAlive to display those images around the room. The effect was that the wall was covered with the latest of students’ work for all to see.
Betsy DiSalvo is an expert on design pedagogies. She guided the design of the room and me (as the teacher in the room) in figuring out how to use the room. Amber Solomon is a first year PhD student working with me who evaluated the project. Betsy has been working with Amber during the evaluation, since I’m conflicted as the teacher of the class. Amber’s done an amazing job, observing literally hours of the design studio recitation section and a comparison recitation section, then interviewing almost all of the students in the design studio classroom. They’ve written one article already, for the IEEE Virtual Reality 2016 Workshop on K-12 Embodied Learning through Virtual & Augmented Reality (KELVAR) which is available through the workshop website.
I had a great time teaching in the class. I was able to move around the room, pointing to student work as examples of things I wanted to highlight. I knew the room was really working the first time that a student produced a humorous picture (turning Donald Trump into a Shrek-like green). Students started laughing, grabbing one another to get their attention. Then another student pulled our his phone to Snapchat the image. How often do CS students use Snapchat to share other students’ CS work?
I’m writing this now because Amber is now finishing her interviews, and we’re already getting some surprising results. I don’t want to give away too much, because I hope she’s going to publish another fascinating paper on her results.
We were worried about the effect of the technology on the students. Would it frighten students off? Would it be too unusual? Amber says that students didn’t find it unusual or novel.
The biggest surprise for me so-far: It helped students in getting help. In any CS class, you can provide help, but it’s hard to get students to take it. There is a whole literature on help-seeking behavior. For a student to seek help, the student has to first admit that he needs help — and that can trigger imposter syndrome. Students told Amber that they were willing to ask for help because their work (and everyone else’s) was visible, so everyone knew who needed help. One student told Amber, “I liked it alot. It projects like the last image someone produced. You could see who had already, like, fully understood the topic and, like, who had completed the task and then you could ask them for help if you needed too, or people who are struggling you could help them.”
We’re grateful for support for this project from Microsoft Research and from a GVU/IPaT Engagement Seed Grant.
I’ve never been to Koli Calling, but am finding myself doing more work these days that fits the kind of work that’s presented at Koli. I’m going to serve as a reviewer for them this year, and we’re planning to submit a couple of papers there. Finland in November!
Call for papers
16th Koli Calling International Conference on Computing Education Research
Koli, Finland, 24-27 November 2016
Koli Calling (http://www.kolicalling.fi/) is one of the leading international conferences dedicated to the scholarship of teaching and learning and to education research in the computing disciplines. Koli Calling aims to publish high quality papers that combine teaching and learning experiences with solid, theoretically anchored research.
The conference is held annually at the Hotel Koli, about 60km north of Joensuu, Finland. The 2016 conference is organised by the University of Eastern Finland in collaboration with Monash University, Australia.
- Submission deadline (all categories): Monday 5 August at noon Finnish time (GMT +2h)
- Extended submission deadline (see below): Monday 12 August at noon Finnish time (GMT +2h)
- Notification of acceptance: Monday 9 September
- Submission of revised manuscripts: Monday 30 September at noon Finnish time (GMT +2h)
- Early Registration deadline: Monday 7 October
Conference: Thursday November 24 (evening) to Sunday November 27 (lunchtime)
Extended submission deadline: we offer a re-submission slack of exactly one week. If a paper is submitted by the 5 August deadline, it will be possible to submit updated versions of the paper until 12 August. Papers that are not first submitted by 5 August, or that are not reasonably complete at that time, will not be considered.
Koli Calling is a single-track conference with research, practice and systems presentations as well as keynote and invited talks. The conference language is English. The conference is known for its moderate size, intimate atmosphere, and lively discussions. To maintain this reputation, a limited number of submissions will be accepted. In 2015 about 48 participants attended the conference from 14 countries on 4 continents.
Original submissions are invited in all areas related to the conference theme and should have an explicit connection to computing education. Topics of interest include, but are not limited to:
- Computing education research: theoretical aspects, methodologies and results
- Development and use of technology to support education in computing and related sciences, e.g., tools for visualisation or concretisation
- Teaching and assessment approaches, innovations and best practices
- Distance, online, blended learning, and informal learning
- Learning analytics and educational data mining
- Computing education in all educational levels, e.g., K12 context and teacher training
For more information see the conference website http://www.kolicalling.fi/
or contact Judy Sheard and Calkin Suero Montero at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are looking forward to seeing you at Koli.
Judy Sheard and Calkin Suero Montero
Program Chairs, Koli Calling 2016
These are the right sort of questions to be asking, and then using when creating real programs. How would we get more undergraduate computing majors to consider teaching? We can’t do much about salary. Free tuition and student loan forgiveness are feasible and could result in many more teachers (and are being explored by ECEP states).
CERP asked undergraduate computing majors what would increase their interest in becoming a middle or high school computing teacher. As seen in the above graphic, financial incentive in the form of a higher teaching salary, free tuition for teacher training, and forgiven student loans were the top factors increasing students’ interest in becoming a middle or high school computing teacher. These findings provide insights into how to generate more computing educators for the K-12 school system, which is becoming increasingly important, given recent efforts to promote widespread K-12 computing education.