Archive for July, 2011

How do we fix Google? Correcting a private information source

Google my name, “Mark Guzdial.”  You’ll get back a page that looks something like this.

I’m not an Associate Professor.  I was promoted to “full” Professor six years ago.  Check out the page that Google references — it says I’m a professor.  Check the cached version at Google — it says I’m a professor.  Why does Google tell people I’m an Associate Professor?

It’s slightly more than a minor annoyance.  I have given several talks in the last six years where I have been introduced as “Associate Professor.”  I have a collection of posters advertising my talks on which I’m listed as an “Associate Professor.”  Most people don’t go further than the Google search page when trying to figure out my title.

It’s actually an interesting example of a larger problem.  We have all become reliant on an information source,, which is out of our control and is used pervasively.  If Google says something is true, many people will simply believe it — and there’s virtually no way to call it into question, as I’m trying to do here.  Google is a private company, a private information source, but not a news medium that one can cite and critique.  How do we “fix” Google’s errors?  What about “Don’t be evil“?  Seems fairly “evil” to me to tell lies, spread them widely, and don’t allow for correction.

By the way, Bing gets it right.


July 8, 2011 at 2:32 pm 21 comments

NCWIT database of CS jobs vs graduates per Congressional district

Joanne Cohoon presented this really interesting database at TTU Tapestry this week. NCWIT has gathered data from a variety of sources to let you see the predicted number of jobs requiring a CS/IT degree vs the predicted number of CS/IT graduates per state and per Congressional district.  There are some hiccups in the data, because this stuff is hard to measure.  One hiccup in the data is apparent if you look up at Arizona — it’s the only state in the US where the supply of graduates far exceeds the number of jobs.  That’s because all the University of Phoenix graduates nationwide get counted as Arizona graduates.  When I look up my Congressional district, I find very few graduates — but I wonder if that’s because there are no CS programs in my Congressional district.  As a ballpark measure, it really brings home the huge demand for IT/CS College graduates.

On this page you’ll find data about IT jobs and computer science education, disaggregated by state and congressional district. We encourage you to use these data to influence educators, legislators, administrators, parents, and other decision-makers where you live or work. Please keep in mind that these are the best available computing education and workforce indicators to date; however, they do have limitations. They should serve as a starting point for advocating for CS education and NOT as a way to rank or evaluate specific states and districts. To get the full picture, we suggest you start with the national graphic and then move to state- and district-level data.

via NCWIT : Our Work : Campaigns : Improving Computer Science Education.

July 8, 2011 at 10:08 am 3 comments

Workshop on Peer Instruction Concept Tests in CS Ed

Peer Instruction ConceptTests: Developing Community Resources to Support Scientific Study of Teaching
Leaders: Beth Simon and Quintin Cutts
Wednesday Aug 10: 8:30-2:30
No Cost, Application Required (July 22)

As we’ll hear in the keynote, through the development of accepted assessment items (e.g. the Force Concept Inventory), physics faculty are enabled to take a scientific approach to the study of teaching and learning in their classrooms.  Peer Instruction is a pedagogical technique which was developed when one physics professor used the FCI to study his own class, and found himself dissatisfied.  Should computing instructors be similarly dissatisfied?  How would we know?*

Using Peer Instruction’s focus on conceptual understanding, we seek to bring together a group of researchers interested in developing and studying assessment items getting at the conceptual heart of a range of computing courses.

This is NOT a workshop JUST for people interested in adopting Peer Instruction in their courses.  Interest in adopting Peer Instruction is NOT required.

If you are interested in:

  • Developing, vetting, and/or trialing core conceptual questions in specific areas (e.g., data structures, networks).
  • Exploring instructor beliefs about student conceptual challenges in computing and/or the effectiveness of current instructional practices

then this is a workshop for you.

To register for the workshop, before July 22, complete this survey, which asks you to create one “concepTest” for an important concept in one of the courses that you teach.  ConcepTest questions should

a) be expressible on a single PPT slide, with between 3-5 multiple choice solution options, with distractors based on common student misunderstandings
b) require deep understanding to answer, not merely recall or simple application of a principle
c) inspire interesting discussion

Register at:

*Though the McCracken and Leeds ITiCSE Working Groups shed some light here…

July 7, 2011 at 4:05 pm Leave a comment

Trip report on ITICSE 2011: Robots for girls, WeScheme, and student bugs in Scratch.

ITICSE 2011 was a fun, interesting event in Darmstadt, Germany last week.  Here’s a brief report on my experience of ITICSE, completely biased and centered on the events that I attended, and only highlighting a handful of papers.

Ulrik Schroeder’s opening keynote (slides available) focused on the outreach activities from his group at Aachen University, with some high-quality evaluation.  The most interesting insight for me was on their work with Lego Robotics.  I raised the issue that, in our GaComputes work, we find that girls get more excited about computing and change their attitudes with other robots (like Pico Crickets or Pleo Dinosaurs) more than Lego Robotics.  Ulrik agreed and said that they found the same thing.  But boys still like and value being good at Lego Robotics, and that’s important for their goals.  He wants to find and encourage the girls who do well at the same robots that the boys like.  He wants the girls to recognize that they are good at the same CS that the boys do.  It’s a different goal than ours — we’re more about changing girls’ view of CS, and they’re more about finding and encouraging girls who will succeed at the existing definition of CS.

I went to a paper session on A Tool to Support the Web Accessibility Evaluation Process for Novices.  They had a checklist and rubric, including role playing (what would an older user do with this site? A sight-impaired user? Someone whose native language isn’t English?) to use in evaluating the accessibility of a website.  I liked the tool and was wondering where the same model could be used elsewhere.  I got to thinking during this talk: Could we do a similar tool to support the design of curriculum that encourages diversity?  Could we provide checklists, rubrics, and role plays (How would a female CS student respond to this homework write-up?) to help faculty be more sensitized to diversity issues?

The coolest technology I saw was WeScheme — they’ve built a Scheme-to-JavaScript compiler into a Web page, so that students can hack Scheme live from within the browser.  I was less impressed by the paper presentation.  They’re using WeScheme in a middle school, where the kids are doing code reviews (“which most undergraduate programs in the US don’t do”) and presenting their work to “programmers from Facebook and Google.”  Somebody asked during Q&A, “How do you know that most undergraduate programs don’t do code reviews?”  They had no evidence, just an informed opinion.  I’m worried that the paper as a model for outreach.  Are Facebook and Google programmers willing to visit all middle schools in the US?  If not, this doesn’t scale.  Nonetheless, the technology is amazing, and I expect that this is the future of programming in US schools.

Probably the paper that most influenced my thinking was Orni Meerbaum-Salant’s paper on Habits of Programming in Scratch (same session).  They studied a bunch of students’ work in Scratch, and identified a number of common misconceptions and errors.  What was fascinating was that the bugs looked (to me) a lot like the ones that Elliot Soloway found with the Rainfall Problem, and the issues with concurrency were like the ones that Mitchel Resnick found with Multilogo and that John Pane found with HANDS.  That suggests that changing the environment doesn’t change the kinds of errors students are making.  And since all student programming misconceptions come from our instruction (i.e., students don’t know much about programming before we teach them programming), it means that we’ve been teaching programming in basically (from a cognitive perspective) the same way since Pascal.

The paper reporting on a multi-year professional development effort in Alice was really interesting.  They had lots of great stories and lessons learned.  The most amazing story for me was the school district where, not only were the CD/DVD players disabled, but the IT staff had used glue guns to fill in the USB ports on the school computers.  The IT administration wanted there to be no way for teachers to load new software onto those computers.  How depressing and frustrating!

All the papers in the session on Facilitating Programming Instruction were thought provoking.  Paul Denny’s project measures how much thrash and confusion that students face in figuring out Java — and there’s a lot of it.  Shuhaida Mohamed Shuhidan (“Dina”)’s dissertation work is yet another example of how little students understand about even programs as simple as “Hello, World!”  I really liked that Matt Bower is exploring how learning a second language can influence/interfere with the first language learned, but I was disappointed that they only used self-report to measure the influence/interference.  Without any kind of prompt (e.g., an example program in the first language), can you really tell what you’ve forgotten about a first language?

My keynote went well, I thought (slides available).  I talked about CS for non-majors, for professionals who discover CS late in life, and for high school students and teachers.  After lunch the third day, I headed off to Aachen University to visit with Ulrik’s group, so I didn’t get to see more.  IITICSE was a lot of fun and gave me lots of good ideas to think about.

July 7, 2011 at 9:18 am 6 comments

Systematic Cheating Is Found in Atlanta Public Schools

How very sad.  The Atlanta Journal Constitution has been covering the Governor’s report over the last two days with front page articles that cover nearly the whole page.  Colleagues who work with Atlanta Public Schools (APS) had suggested to me that the obsessive focus on test scores might be behind the general unwillingness of APS to work with us on Georgia Computes! and Operation:Reboot.  I didn’t really understand that — why would concern over test scores prevent a district from accepting free professional development for teachers and even free former-IT workers as computing teachers?  It’s more understandable in light of the report.  The concerns over test scores changed the whole culture of the school district.  So sad for Beverly Hall, former superintendent of APS, who is being blamed for much of the culture change.

A culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation existed in the district, which led to a conspiracy of silence, he said in a prepared statement. “There will be consequences,” Mr. Deal said.That will certainly include dismissals, according to school board members and the interim superintendent, Erroll B. Davis Jr., and could possibly result in criminal charges.

via Systematic Cheating Is Found in Atlanta’s School System –

July 6, 2011 at 12:25 pm 3 comments

Is the U.S. doing teacher reform all wrong? Prepare teachers vs. Test students

Really interesting piece that argues against the US approach of getting smart teachers into the classrooms quickly, then checking them with standardized tests and credentialing.  Instead, most of the rest of the world (and in particular, countries that get better results than the US) makes it hard to get credentials to teach, then gives the teachers significant autonomy.  The results there are smart, prepared teachers who don’t worry about standardized tests — and who succeed.

You can see how these international examples cut against the grain of U.S. education reform. Our approach has largely borrowed the Teach for America model. First, we attempt to bring more elite college graduates into the teaching profession by decreasing the credentialing necessary to become a teacher: no student-teaching year or education degree required, just a few weeks of summertime training are supposed to suffice. Then we expect teachers to spend much of their time preparing children for standardized tests, whose results, in turn, will be used to judge teachers’ competency.

The NCEE report makes a persuasive case that the Obama administration and its allies in the standards-and-accountability school reform movement have teaching policy exactly backward. The way to increase the prestige of the teaching profession is not to make it easier for elite people to do the job for a few years and then burn out, but to make it more challenging to earn a teaching credential so that smart young people are attracted to the rigor of education programs. Within such a system, alternative credentialing programs for career changers could still play an important role. But it’s important to realize that alternative pathways will never have the capacity to provide the entire teacher corps.

via Is the U.S. doing teacher reform all wrong? – Ezra Klein – The Washington Post.

July 5, 2011 at 9:22 am 2 comments

CS students need to learn to use Powerpoint effectively

Rich DeMillo has a great story about visiting alumni (with our current Dean, Zvi Galil) and being told that they wished that they had learned how to use Powerpoint better. It’s a story about communications, but in particular, about visual communications and making a point simply.

Zvi ask someone at the end of the table, “What’s the one thing you wish we had taught you?”

The answer came back immediately: “I wish I had learned how to make an effective PowerPoint™ presentation!” If the answer had been “more math” or “better writing skills” I would have filed it away in my mental catalog of ways to tweak our degree programs. It’s a constant struggle in a requirement-laden technical curriculum — even one as flexible as our Threads program — to get enough liberal arts, basic science, and business credits into a four year program, so I was prepared to hear that these young engineers wanted to know more about American history, geology, or accounting. After all, I am a former dean. I had heard it all before.

But PowerPoint? Everything came to a stop. Zvi said, “PowerPoint!” It was an exclamation, not a question. Here’s how the rest of the conversation unfolded” “Look, the first thing I had to do was start making budget presentations. I had no idea how to make a winning argument.” From the across the table: ” Yeah, we learned how to make technical presentations, but nobody warned us that we’d have to make our point to a boss who didn’t care about the technology.” “It’s even worse where I work,” said a young woman. “Everybody in the room has a great technology to push. I needed to know how to say why mine should be the winner.” And so it went. This was not a PowerPoint discussion. We were talking about Big Animal Pictures. If you understand Big Animal Pictures, you understand how to survive when worlds collide.

via Big Animal Pictures « WWC.

July 1, 2011 at 12:41 am 11 comments

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