Tell Sally Your Stories: Monthly, For a Year

August 26, 2010 at 6:35 am 4 comments

In her keynote as the ACM SIGCSE 2010 Outstanding Contributions to CS Education awardee, Sally Fincher talked about the “useless truths” that education researchers publish.  While they’re true, the published lessons are often too hard to take from their abstract, general form into the concrete, daily practice of the teaching practitioner.  She believes that stories help teachers to communicate their practice and to understand someone else’s practice.

I just listened to Janet Finlay (of Leeds Metropolitan University) and Sally talk about their projects on Sharing Practice for (and among) Computing Educators. It’s fascinating work, which is based on the belief that researchers don’t necessarily know best.  Teachers have enormous knowledge about how to teach and how to solve teaching problems. Sharing that knowledge requires flexibility of representation and inclusion of adequate detail — too much abstraction leads to confusion (e.g., “Is this really a problem we have? Does our context match their’s?”) and difficulty adopting the practice.  Janet has a really interesting project on Active Learning in Computing (ALiC) which is hosted by this AMAZING group based here at Durham (but also including Leeds and Newcastle), “England’s only Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) in Computer Science.” (Dang! How come we don’t have something like that in the States?!?)

Sally has just launched a website that she asked us all both to use and to promote: http://www.sharingpractice.ac.uk/

Sally wants to get teachers to keep a diary on her website for one year, writing an entry once a month (on the 15th of each month) from September 2010 to August 2011.  She wants to gather lots and LOTS of stories from teachers.  She wants more than just computing educators — she’ll take any post-secondary teacher in any subject at any institution from anywhere in the world.

There’s going to be more to the project later on. (You can see the “Tell Us a Story” link on the page now, but it doesn’t really go anywhere yet).  Sally showed me some of the in-development pieces that she’s working on. She also showed me some intriguing, powerful new tools for analyzing the stories that she’s collecting.  Using these tools, more is really more — she can see patterns in the stories, but only if she gets lots of them.

I just entered into my ToDo tool a monthly reminder, starting September 15th, to visit Sally’s site and enter a story.  Please do consider doing it yourself, and pass this around to your colleagues.

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Your Brain on Computers – Overuse of Digital Devices May Lead to Brain Fatigue – NYTimes.com A journal on innovation in ICS teaching

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