Archive for April 12, 2010

CHI Preview: Brian Dorn and Graphics Designers as Programmers

Tomorrow morning, Brian Dorn is presenting a paper at the Computer-Human Interaction (CHI2010) conference on one of the studies for his dissertation.  Brian is studying graphics designers who have taught themselves to program, whether to automate Photoshop or to work with the Web.  In his past studies, he’s explored who these designers-turned-programmers are and what kinds of programming they do — and what kind of computer science they don’t know but could use.

In this paper, he’s trying to characterize how they go about learning programming.  What do they know, and how do they get it?  What is it that they find hard about computing? The answer is related to the issue of identity that’s come up a few times in the last week.  These graphics designers don’t define themselves as computer scientists.  Some of them have tried computer science classes, but mostly reject them.  They use Internet resources that fit with their model of themselves, as application users on the periphery of computer science.

Brian is building on these results in his next and final study.  (He’s already accepted a position at the University of Hartford for the fall.)  He’s designed a case library that provides the kind of computing knowledge that they could use (but might not recognize), in the form of Internet resources that they use and trust now.  Can he draw these end users into learning more about computer science (the stuff that he now knows they find hard but might find valuable) by carefully designing around the things they already use?

If you’re here in Atlanta for CHI2010 (and lucky if you are — we’re having fabulous weather this week!), do go check out Brian’s talk and paper!

April 12, 2010 at 9:41 pm 5 comments

Using Incentives to Improve Education: TIME is paying kids to do better in school

I found this article in TIME fascinating.  I’m surprised that they didn’t have the Nudge or Freakonomics authors comment on the story — it’s directly libertarian paternalism.

If you haven’t read it, it’s a randomized clinical study of paying kids to do better in school, across four different settings with different criteria for pay-outs.  The results (so-far — the study is on-going to get data on long-term effects and drop-out rates) are pretty much what the libertarian paternalists would predict.  Paying kids for higher grades or better test scores doesn’t work.  Kids don’t necessarily know how to achieve those goals, and the feedback may arrive too late to influence performance (e.g., test scores that arrive in the summer).  But paying kids to attend class, to read more books, to avoid fights, to not get pregnant — these things result in measurable benefits.  Kids know how to do these things, and the feedback arrives quickly. It works most of the time.  The results are still complicated, and there are additional variables that influence the results. Key is that it’s really important work to do, and someone is doing it.

But should students work for intrinsic motivation rather than extrinsic motivations?  As the study’s author says: If it doesn’t work for adults, why should it work for kids?

In principle, Fryer agrees. “Kids should learn for the love of learning,” he says. “But they’re not. So what shall we do?” Most teenagers do not look at their math homework the way toddlers look at a blank piece of paper. It would be wonderful if they did. Maybe one day we will all approach our jobs that way. But until then, most adults work primarily for money, and in a curious way, we seem to be holding kids to a higher standard than we hold ourselves.

via Should Kids Be Bribed to Do Well in School? — Printout — TIME.

Jan Cuny has talked about trying something similar for AP CS.  Turns out that paying AP teachers $50 for each student score of 5, and $25 to each student who gets a 3 or better, works for driving up students taking AP exams and for raising scores.  Why not try it for AP CS, too?

April 12, 2010 at 9:06 pm 7 comments

Tennessee making their student data accessible

I know that it’s been a huge issue for both CAITE and “Georgia Computes!” — getting access to data to find out just how well (or badly) we’re doing in computing education.  It sounds like Tennessee has been collecting that data, and due to Race to the Top, it will now make it accessible. (Doesn’t this sound like a great place for a big data mining project, to figure out what works in TN education?)  I do understand the privacy challenge here.  On the one hand, to figure out what works, we don’t need to know any student identities.  On the other hand, if you also want to use the data to reward excellent or punish poor-performing teachers or schools, then identities must be in there.  Tough balancing act.

Tennessee has kept detailed measurements of student achievement for nearly two decades but the data was off-limits to teachers, who still don’t know exactly how to use it to improve instruction, according to reviews of the state’s Race to the Top application.

via Untapped resource: State unlocks data storehouse for teachers.

April 12, 2010 at 10:42 am 1 comment

Georgia Regents to college presidents: Improve graduation rates |

Georgia has an odd higher-education system.  There is one chancellor and one Board of Regents for the whole state.  There are unusual “efficiencies” built into the system, like only one medical school and only one engineering college, publicly funded in the whole state.  But this is someplace where I appreciate the power of the unusual structure — the Board of Regents pushing the whole state to get graduation rates up.

Two of every five high school seniors receiving acceptance letters this spring will drop out of the Georgia public colleges they enroll in next fall rather than graduating some time in the next six years, according to state figures.That 59 percent graduation rate prompted the Board of Regents, which governs the state’s public schools through the University System of Georgia, to create a task force. Not willing to delegate the issue to staff, regents Willis Potts, Larry Ellis and Felton Jenkins are meeting individually with every college president by the end of August.

via Regents to college presidents: Improve graduation rates |

April 12, 2010 at 10:24 am 2 comments

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