Congress complaining about the low cost of faculty development

June 9, 2011 at 1:53 pm 5 comments

I’m still wading through the 300 unread email awaiting my return from vacation.  (Yes, the last week’s worth of blogs were all pre-recorded.)  The family had a great time in California and at the ACM Awards in San Jose.

One of the interesting threads that came up while I was gone were the complaints from Senator Coburn about badly spent funds at NSF.  In particular, his report highlights the “low-budget rodeo and hoedown” that was held at SIGCSE 2011.  If you weren’t at SIGCSE 2011, you may not have heard about the event where teachers programmed 75 robots to dance together.  Senator Coburn seems disappointed that the event was “a source of enjoyment for observers.” (It’s better if educational activities are not enjoyable?)

The organizers of the hoedown put together a reasonable and well-argued response. The event was really about getting a lot of teachers to try out new computing curricula and actually install the robot software (with help) on their computers.  $6,283 is a remarkably low price (which actually led to some corporate matching) for faculty professional development.

Senator Coburn’s report complains about the “low-budget” event.  Would it have been better if it was more expensive?  Just how much should faculty development cost?  I admit that I’ve been part of much more expensive efforts (with six and seven digit budgets) that achieved less than the robot hoedown did.  My sense is that the robot hoedown was a particularly low-cost way of getting some new ideas flowing among the teachers who participated.  But it is scary that folks in Congress might not realize how important faculty professional development is, and how expensive it can be.

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5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. BKM  |  June 9, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    My kids were at the hoedown with me and LOVED it. My oldest is going to take a class this summer on Lego robot programming. so tell the Congressman that actual real children were inspired by the event.

    In general, hauling my 9 and 11 year old to SIGCSE this year was one of the best things I have done. Not only did we have some bonding time, but the kids did Scratch and Alice in the kids camp. My two have been doing Scratch and Alice nonstop since they returned home. It is really interesting to see how differently they approach the environments. My oldest put his Scratch abilities to use for a school project ( a quiz about Siberian tigers) and quickly figured out how to maintain his data in parallel arrays, the fact that he needed to remove questions once used, and some other interesting technical problems. My youngest loves Alice – to create stories. He doesn’t solve problems by programming so much as he tells stories. I know there is a Storytelling Alice project, but he isn’t using that. He just naturally fell into this pattern.

    I digressed a bit. My bigger point was that the hoedown was a great use of a small bit of grant money, and overall, SIGCSE was a good experience not just for us adults but also for kids.

  • 2. Cynthia Lee  |  June 9, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    How very disappointing to hear that this project singled out for uninformed criticism. I thought the hoedown was an incredibly clever and effective way to educate educators about robotics. I would never have guessed that it was that cheap to run. It costs about that much to send one person to a conference. In this case, the audience came to them, and many were educated. Win all around.

  • […] Another post, also from the same "CS education" blog. This one is interesting as the aforementioned senator takes aims at several NSF-funded research projects (see forwarded e-mail below and follow both Senator Coburn’s report and the robotic "hoedown" organizers’ response, or simply go to the blog post via this link.) […]

  • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  July 29, 2011 at 2:19 pm

    The democratic response to this is now available:

  • […] is from Jennie Kay, who was one of the organizers of the SIGCSE Robot Rodeo a few years ago, and is a leader in the use of robotics in CS education in the SIGCSE […]


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