Archive for February 9, 2011

Using Worked Examples to improve learning on Loops

Leigh Ann Sudol-DeLyser is doing some interesting work using worked examples to improve CS learning.

I employed a worked example strategy where students were given one example and the loops were broken into three parts (init, update, comparison) and students learned how to write each part separately. I’m preparing a journal paper on the subject, however a small preview of the results – the students were much better at it than I expected!

I believe that the combination of worked examples with specific line-level feedback helped these non-programmers understand not only that they were “wrong” when something didnt work, but why and therefore how to fix it in order to make it right. We need better intelligent tools in order to help scaffold student’s learning rather than relying on them to have the expertise and metacognitive abilities to figure it out for themselves. My current research focuses on developing an understanding of how students think and learn computing by supporting their learning individually and as they have trouble. Stay tuned as I am working on some data analysis that should be very interesting!

via In need of a Base Case.

February 9, 2011 at 1:47 pm 1 comment

How Not to Succeed in Science

Barbara Boucher Owens shared this article on Facebook, and it’s really been haunting me ever since.  I discussed it with my Barb yesterday, and decided I should blog about it.

Kathy Weston was a tenured biology professor in the UK who decided to “jump” before she was “pushed” out of academia.  She had great opportunities in her career, including working closely with a (later) Nobel prize winner.  Yet, she decided she was unsuccessful, and left academia to become a science writer.  I think it haunts because I’m at a similar stage in my career: Almost 20 years in, wondering about what comes next.  I can say this for her science writing — I found it compelling and thought-provoking, but left me with questions.

  • How would she be “pushed”?  She’s tenured.  One way I could imagine her being pushed is not being fired but simply starved. I just had a meeting with my School Chair yesterday where he expressed disappointment in my funding record — I get 95% of my funding from NSF, which has a variety of limitations on it.  There have been discussions around the College about limiting graduate student acceptances for faculty who only have NSF funding.  Grad students take 5-7 years to finish, and NSF funding is uncertain and only for 2-3 years at a time.  I could find myself in the next 1-3 years with NSF money in hand, work promised to do, and no graduate students.  I wouldn’t be fired, but I wouldn’t be able to accomplish much, including keeping my grant promises.  That would be a form of “push.”  Maybe that’s the kind of thing Kathy foresaw — a lack of resources to keep making progress.
  • Kathy writes: “My obsession with my work declined as normal life seeped in: I got married, learned to ride horses and play the cello, looked after aging parents, and nixed all hope of redemption by having two children in my late 30s and realizing they were far more interesting than what I was doing at work. By the time I carted my boxes and fish out of the building, I was working a standard 37.5-hour week, which simply does not suffice if you want to stay competitive as a scientist. And I was bored, terribly bored.”  She talks about these distractions leading to her “descent into mediocrity.”

    What haunts me is that maybe she’s right and that’s the way that the world should work.  Maybe the truly great scientists, the Nobel prize-winners, do give up a lot of “normal life” in order to succeed so tremendously.  Maybe that’s a fair trade-off.  To be the top of the field in anything, you do have to give up other opportunities.  Maybe having a family and engaging in pursuits like cello and theater does mean that you have to lower your goals below the stellar.  I don’t believe that that means that you have to be bored. It does mean that you have to accept a change in goals and expectations.  A mediocre academic career is still a contribution, and does not mean a mediocre life.

  • I’m not seeing her story as being about female.  Finding a mentor (or several — I feel fortunate to have had several senior people that I turn to for advice and who help promote my career), dealing with “real life” (e.g., marriage and family), networking, and figuring out your goals are common issues for everyone.  Maybe it’s harder for women to find mentors and to schmooze.

Kathy describes her story as “not succeeding.”  Maybe.  Maybe it’s about choosing a different Second Act.  Kathy chose science writing as her second act.  Maybe she could have stayed in academia, but become a different kind of professor — maybe not one headed for a Nobel prize, but I’ll bet that she could still have avoided boredom.

One Friday evening in the winter of 2009, I ended a 20-year affiliation with a college of the University of London, lugging three boxes of personal possessions and a bucket containing 12 tropical fish from my emptied office. In the face of looming redundancy, brought on by my failure to contribute adequately to my department’s last Research Assessment Exercise submission, I jumped before I was pushed. I left with a compromise agreement and a lot of thoughts about how my career, initially as a reasonably successful scientist, had come to such a sticky end. My story has useful lessons in it, some of which are exclusive to scientific research but some of which reflect, I think, the experience of women in academia.

via In Person: Falling Off the Ladder: How Not to Succeed in Academia – Science Careers – Biotech, Pharmaceutical, Faculty, Postdoc jobs on Science Careers.

February 9, 2011 at 9:52 am 7 comments

Launching ARPA-ED

Thanks to Matthew Glickman for pointing out this exciting news.  Maybe this is the place to figure out how to teach CS at a distance, beating the book?

The Obama Administration has proposed a new agency within the Department of Education that will fund the development of new education technologies and promote their use in the classroom.In an updated version of its 2009 Strategy for American Innovation, the White House announced today that the presidents 2012 budget request will call for the creation of Advanced Research Projects Agency-Education ARPA-ED. The name is a deliberate takeoff on the Sputnik-era DARPA within the Department of Defense that funded what became the Internet and the much newer Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy ARPA-E that hopes to lead the country into a clean-energy future.ARPA-ED will seek to correct what an Administration official calls the countrys massive “underinvestment” in educational technologies that could improve student learning. “We know that information and communications technologies are having a transformative impact on other sectors. But thats not the case in K-12 education.” The official cited studies showing that less than 0.1% of the $600 billion spent each year on elementary and secondary school education goes for research on how students learn. “There are a number of good ideas and promising early results about the use of education technology that have led the Administration to be interested in doing more in this area,” the official noted.

via Obama Proposes Education Technology Agency Modeled After DARPA – ScienceInsider.

February 9, 2011 at 9:21 am 6 comments


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