Archive for January, 2012

The long tail may not hit a target: High school teachers

I’m attending the NSF CE21 Community meeting this Thursday and Friday.  I have been asked to lead a session on Friday afternoon on distance education in CS for teachers.  I was encouraged to talk about just a couple concrete examples, then leave the session open for discussion.  The question is which examples?

Here’s a more specific question that leads to this blog post: Are the on-line Stanford CS classes a good example to talk about?  Clearly, they are a highly innovative example of distance education for computer science.  But is it relevant for teaching high school teachers for the CS10K effort?

First of all, was the audience for the Stanford CS classes like the audience of potential CS10K teachers?  I’m not convinced.  First, when I read the comments to posts about the the Stanford classes, or Fred Martin’s post, I’m struck by how many people took the courses who already knew the content.  They were curious about the course, or wanted a refresher.  I wonder how many of the students who finished were novices to the content, and how many were old-timers?  My guess is that the average completer in the Stanford classes was a lot more CS-savvy than a business teacher who had never taken a CS class.

Second, was the method of teaching right for reaching in-service high school teachers?  I don’t think that the medium of the Stanford CS classes would work, at least as-is.  I read the comments to my post about the effort required in classes like these, and I think about Klara Benda’s study.  The people who dropped the course aren’t saying it was too hard.  They’re saying it took too much time, the pace was too demanding.  I can’t imagine that the technology behind the Stanford classes demands a rapid pace, but it’s clear that the pace was an issue for some of those who dropped out.  High school teachers don’t have the spare cycles for that rapid pace — Klara’s study has us realizing that we get small chunks of an in-service teacher’s time in which we can provide learning opportunities.

What I’ve come to realize is that the Stanford classes were successful as a long tail effect.  They enrolled a couple hundred thousand students, and some 20% finished. When you look at the big number of finishers, which is way more than probably all other students in all other AI classes in the world combined, it’s really quite remarkable.

On the other hand, 80% didn’t finish, and it may be that the students we most need to succeed for CS10K were in that 80%.  A long tail effect can get you large numbers, but perhaps, none of the numbers that you might be targeting.  A long tail covers a wide swath of the distribution of people, but those that you hit (who complete the course) are not necessarily randomly distributed.  More likely, the course acts as a filter on the long tail and filters everyone who doesn’t meet a particular set of criteria.  It may be possible to use a long tail approach and hit the target population you want to reach.  But it’s not a sure thing.

I am not claiming that the Stanford AI classes were trying to reach teachers for CS10K.  I am looking at that innovative work with a different filter.  I’m exploring the question of how well that innovation meets the CS10K goals.  As part of my talk preparation, I’m revisiting John Daniel’s book Mega-Universities and Knowledge Media.  It’s an older book now (1999), but they report that the UK Open University with its reliance on printed books had over a 50% completion rate on average across their classes.  I hope that advanced Internet technologies would lead to even better completion rates.

January 31, 2012 at 9:28 am 12 comments

Openness is influenced by cognitive abilities: Self-efficacy too?

Interesting finding that supporting older adults learning better problem-solving skills seems to lead to a change in a personality trait called “openness.”  I find this interesting for two reasons.  First, it’s wonderful to see continuing evidence about the plasticity of the human mind.  Surprisingly little is “fixed” or “innate.”  Second, I wonder how “openness” relates to “self-efficacy.”  We heard at ICER 2011 how self-efficacy plays a significant role in student ability to succeed in introductory computing.  Is there an implication here that if we could improve students’ understanding of computer science, before programming, that we could enhance their openness or self-efficacy, possibly leading to more success?  That’s a related hypothesis to what we aim for in CSLearning4U (that studying programming in the small, worksheet-style, will make programming sessions more effective — more learning, less time, less pain), and I’d love to see more evidence for this.

Personality psychologists describe openness as one of five major personality traits. Studies suggest that the other four traits (agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and extraversion) operate independently of a person’s cognitive abilities. But openness — being flexible and creative, embracing new ideas and taking on challenging intellectual or cultural pursuits — does appear to be correlated with cognitive abilities.

via Enhancing cognition in older adults also changes personality.

January 30, 2012 at 9:20 am 3 comments

A Festival of (Musical) Algorithms

I’ve heard of computing conferences, and music festivals, and even computer music conferences.  I love the idea of a music festival where there are “Live Algorithms Concerts.”  This is what “Computing for Everyone” is about for me — when computing becomes part of what you do. Not necessarily invisibly–I like the idea that these musicians use algorithms, recognize that, and call them that.

This April will see musicians, artists and coders come to London for a festival of what can be done with the SuperCollider audio programming environment.

Tickets are available from £70 <> for a whole week of sonic inspiration featuring:


– LIVE ALGORITHMS CONCERT – three specially-commissioned musicians

will be improvising live on stage, collaborating with

responsive musical algorithms for the first time.


– LIVECODE EVENING – codefaced people hacking music in front of your eyes:

– ELECTROACOUSTIC CONCERT of new multi-channel works

for electronics and featuring musicians from the Plusminus


– CLUB NIGHT EXTRAVAGANZA, rounding off the festival in style

with a panoply of audiovisual acts,



Sonic art exhibition held in the Mile End Park,

with works both indoors in the Art Pavilion and outdoors in the park:


For new and intermediate users to learn audio hackery and interactivity with SuperCollider:


Three days of talks from an international range of musicians, artists, researchers and coders:

* Tickets for the whole week are available from £70 *

(Early-bird tickets until the end of February

– so get them quickly)

Please forward to your networks!

All details are on the website, and you can also follow @scsymposium

The Open University is incorporated by Royal Charter (RC 000391), an exempt charity in England & Wales and a charity registered in Scotland (SC 038302).

January 27, 2012 at 11:21 am Leave a comment

Online CS courses: What does it mean, “willing to put in the effort”?

Sebastian Thrun, who taught the massive on-line AI class with Peter Norvig at Stanford, has left Stanford to join a startup to offer more online courses.  Their first course will teach complete novices how to build their own search engine, in seven weeks.

Can you do that?  Do we know how to take people from zero to Bing/Google in seven weeks?  The phrase that David Evans uses to describe this process is, “anyone who is willing to put in the effort will be able.”  I’ve heard phrases like that a lot about CS1’s, and I wonder what it really means.  “That student failed because he didn’t put in the effort.”  I tend to believe that most CS1’s expect a huge amount of background knowledge, or expect a huge amount of reading and practice by students — that the teacher’s expectation of “reasonable” effort is not the same as the students. If Evans’ class is like the other online classes, with only 20% or so completing the course, maybe it’s aimed at students who probably could have taught themselves the content with a book, but weren’t motivated enough to do it — so only 20% could make the “effort,” because only they had enough prior knowledge to make the required effort “reasonable.”

How do you measure effort?  I’m seriously wondering — what does it mean to put in “enough” effort?  Are we measuring cognition, or time, or somehow “mental pain”? If you don’t have the prior knowledge, and have to go read lots of background literature, is that part of “enough” effort?  Is effort measured in terms of time-on-task?  If we don’t know how to measure “effort,” how do we know if our class is demanding too much “effort”?

Evans’s “Build Your Own Search Engine” course, however, will be “targeted to students with no background” in computer science, the Virginia professor says. (Evans is taking a year from his tenured post at Virginia to serve as Know Labs’ vice president for education.)

“The goal is to have a course that anyone who is willing to put in the effort will be able to take,” says Evans.

via Stanford open course instructors spin off for-profit company | Inside Higher Ed.

January 26, 2012 at 7:55 am 22 comments

New CE21 Solicitation: Research, CS10K, & BPC

There is a new CE21 solicitation from NSF, and it’s pretty exciting.  Types of proposals are no longer determined by amount of money or objectives.  Now, the three tracks are about different focus areas for the research:

CE21 thus supports efforts in three tracks:

Computing Education Research (CER) proposals will aim to develop a research base for computing education. Projects may conduct basic research on the teaching and learning of computational competencies; they may design, develop, test, validate, and refine materials, measurement tools, and methods for teaching in specific contexts; and/or they may implement promising small-scale interventions in order to study their efficacy with particular groups. Efforts can focus on computational thinking as taught in computing courses or infused across the curriculum, they can target students or their teachers in informal or formal educational settings, or they can address any level within the K-16 pipeline, from elementary school through high school and college.

CS 10K proposals will aim to develop the knowledge base and partnerships needed to catalyze the CS 10K Project. The CS 10K Project aims to have rigorous, academic curricula incorporated into computing courses in 10,000 high schools, taught by 10,000 well-trained teachers. CS 10K proposals can address a wide range of needed activities, including the development of course materials, pedagogy, and methods courses, as well as professional development and ongoing support for teachers, approaches to scaling, best practices for increasing the participation of students from underrepresented groups, and strategies for building K-12, university, and community partnerships.

Broadening Participation (BP) proposals will aim to develop and assess novel interventions that contribute to our knowledge base on the effective teaching and learning of computing for students from the underrepresented groups: women, persons with disabilities, African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and indigenous peoples. Proposed interventions should be designed to engage and retain students from these groups and, at the same time, to increase their knowledge of computational thinking concepts and skills. Proposers are encouraged to leverage the resources provided by the existing BPC-A Alliances and to develop interventions that, if proven successful, could be implemented within a BPC-A Alliance. For additional information on the Alliances, see

In aggregate, CE21 projects will contribute to our understanding of how diverse student populations are engaged and retained in computing, learn its fundamental concepts, and develop computational competencies that position them to contribute to an increasingly computationally empowered workforce.

via Computing Education for the 21st Century (CE21) (nsf12527).

January 25, 2012 at 9:55 am Leave a comment

Claim: Average Taxpayers Are Heavily Supporting Elite Colleges

I don’t understand the claim of this study, which makes it hard for me to believe it.  I can sort of see how it’s possible that average taxpayers are providing subsidies to elite public schools.  While the state contribution to elite state universities are decreasing, because the elites are so much more expensive, they probably still take a larger part of state taxpayer dollars than other institutions in the state.  But elite private schools?  How?  Through Pell Grants and other federal programs?  How can that be more than the non-profits and middles?

An October study by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) entitled “Cheap for Whom?” showed one way that  the university system is rigged in favor of the rich. It said:  “Average taxpayers provide more in subsidies to elite public and private schools than to the less competitive schools where their own children are likely being educated…. Among not-for-profit institutions, the amount of taxpayer subsidies hovers between $1,000 and $2,000 per student per year until we turn to the most selective institutions . . . Among these already well-endowed institutions, the taxpayer subsidy jumps substantially to more than $13,000 per student per year.”

via Average Taxpayers Are Heavily Supporting Elite Colleges.

January 24, 2012 at 10:22 am 4 comments

Making iBooks vs. Making iBooks for Learning CS

The announcement about Apple’s new iBooks Author application was pretty exciting for me last week.  As readers may recall, we just started a new NSF project in October to create book-like electronic media to support high school teachers learning CS.  Here’s a new authoring tool just for building electronic books for learning!  Just what we were hoping for!

From what I have learned about it (I need to get a newer Mac to run it), it does sound exciting.  I love a lot of the features, like the variety of multi-touch widgets provided and the support for general HTML5 drop-ins.  I am eager to play with it.

Here are my four biggest concerns about it right now:

(1) It’s made for a narrow definition of learning.  We know that students learn based on what they do and think, not what the lecturer or the book does.  Below is the quote for what iBooks Author provides for students to do, in what they currently call “Chapter Review” questions.  You can answer multiple choice questions, or you can label images, or you can identify the right image for the term.  Huh?  So, I can learn a variety of simple propositional statements, some with images.  Is that it?  That’s all that we might want students to learn from iBooks?

Chapter Reviews

Let readers test their knowledge using a variety of question types: multiple choice, choose the correct image, label the image, or a mix of all three. Authors can include six possible answers to each question.

via Apple – iBooks Author – Gallery.

(2) There is no support for complexity.  I gave a panel talk at the C5 Conference on Friday about needing an infrastructure for building complex electronic books.  Given a choice between Word and LaTeX for writing a book (meaning you know both), I know of no one who prefers Word for writing books.  Word just doesn’t support building large and complex documents like what LaTeX provides.  Books are big, complicated things, with lots of referencing between them.  You want to be able to name things, so that you can easily reference it elsewhere, and build tools to track the names.  You want to be able to change things, and names (for regions, and for details) make that easier.  A tool can be WYSIWYG and still support symbols and naming, and even have a programming language underneath (as LaTeX does).

iBooks Author, at least in its current version, supports even less complexity than Word.  Apple has bragged about their terrific support for glossaries and accessibility, both of which are great. There is no support for references or footnotes. I can’t reference figures, pages, or sections as a symbol or name.

(3) I don’t think I can teach CS with it.  That’s what I am most interested in doing. Much of what I want to do with eBooks, I can’t do with iBooks Author.  Can I build an interpreter or simulation in that HTML5 generic segment?  Can I have code visualizations?  Or connect to a course/cohort-only social space where students can talk about what they’re reading and doing, and see that they’re really doing fine in the class (because we know that self-efficacy is a significant factor in CS1 success)?  The current iBooks Author only goes so far, and that’s not far enough to meet what I believe are the unique needs of computing education.

(4) Apple’s EULA is “greedy and evil.”  The end user licensing agreement for iBooks Author requires authors to only sell iBooks through Apple.

As ZDNet reports:

The nightmare scenario under this agreement? You create a great work of staggering literary genius that you think you can sell for 5 or 10 bucks per copy. You craft it carefully in iBooks Author. You submit it to Apple. They reject it.

Under this license agreement, you are out of luck. They won’t sell it, and you can’t legally sell it elsewhere. You can give it away, but you can’t sell it.

That’s almost like Microsoft saying that they have all rights to sell whatever you create with Office.  (“Almost” because it is the case that iBooks Author produces…iBooks, that only run on Apple devices.)  It’s a pretty frightening document.  I am not sure that I would want to go to the effort of creating a book under these terms.

Bottomline: iBooks Author looks like an advance from what tools we have now for eBooks, and it’s really exciting. There are still some pretty big concerns that will keep me from using it, particularly for computing education.

January 23, 2012 at 8:16 am 10 comments

Do badges get in the way of learning to code?

Badges are the hot idea in open learning these days.  The goal is to provide some kind of certification, different than a degree.  MITx is providing an actual certificate.  The critique of the Codecademy in the below piece is that interest in programming should be intrinsic, and learning should not be motivated by an extrinsic reward like a badge.  At my most idealistic, I agree — intrinsic motivation clearly leads to the best learning.  However, almost every student in higher education today is there for a future job, or for a degree, or for some other kind of extrinsic reward.  I don’t see badges as being more or less extrinsic than a job or degree.

The pursuit of knowledge about programming shouldn’t be conflated with the pursuit of badges. That’s the beauty of this sort of DIY learning tool too — the people who want to learn to code want to learn to code and the reward should be that knowledge, not some virtual item.

via Codecademy and the Future of (Not) Learning to Code.

January 20, 2012 at 10:10 am 5 comments

A conference on primary and secondary computing education research

Interesting — a computing education research conference in Germany, explicitly focused on pre-college computing education.

CFP: The 7th Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education
WiPSCE 2012
November 8-9, 2012, Hamburg, Germany

We invite you to submit a paper for the 7th Workshop in Primary and
Secondary Computing Education (WiPSCE) and join us in Hamburg, Germany,
in November 2012.
Research in primary and secondary computing education is a young field
with strong ties to national educational systems. Nevertheless, its
theories, methods, and results are internationally applicable and of
interest to both researchers and practitioners in this field. WiPSCE has
its roots in a long-running workshop of the German computing education
community and now – based on this ten year tradition – aims at improving
the exchange of research and practice relevant to teaching and learning
in primary and secondary computing education, teacher training, and
related research.
The 2012 workshop will be located in the exciting city of Hamburg –
Germany’s so-called “Gateway to the World”. It is organized by the
University of Hamburg in collaboration with the University of Potsdam.

WiPSCE is the workshop of the special interest group in Secondary
Computing Education of the German Association of Informatics (GI) and
originates from the German “Workshop der GI-Fachgruppe Didaktik der
Informatik”. WiPSCE aims to publish high quality research that is
theoretically and empirically anchored and involves innovative teaching
and learning approaches in primary and secondary computing education.
WiPSCE is a single track workshop with research, practice, and systems
presentations as well as keynote speeches. The workshop language is
English. The workshop is known for its moderate size and lively
discussions, consequently a limited number of submissions will be accepted.

Original submissions in all areas related to primary and secondary
computing education are invited. Topics of interest include, but are not
limited to:
* Learning: attitudes, beliefs, motivation, misconceptions, learning
difficulties, student engagement with educational technology (e.g.
visualization), conceptualization of computing
* Teaching: teaching approaches, teaching methods, teaching with
educational technology
* Content: curricular aspects, learning standards, tools, didactical
approaches, context relevant teaching, assessment
* Institutional aspects: establishing and enhancing computing education,
professional development

“Grand Challenges in Primary and Secondary Computing Education”

What are the grand challenges in primary and secondary education within
the next decade? Which issues will unfold, persist or dominate in the
near future? Which research questions need to be addressed? Which
obstacles need to be overcome?
Well explained analyses, theories, and opinions are highly welcome for
this special session at WiPSCE 2012.

Submissions are invited for the following categories:
Full Paper (6-12 pages)
Full papers are expected to meet one of the two categories:
* Empirical Research Paper: Unpublished, original, theoretically
anchored research relevant to the topics of the workshop. Empirical
research papers are expected to be of high quality and present novel
arguments, syntheses, results, methods or tools.
* Theoretical and Philosophical Research Paper: Unpublished, original,
theoretically anchored research which includes dissemination and
discussion of new ideas, theoretical analyses, or the proposition of an
original theory relevant to the topics of the workshop.

Short Paper (3-4 pages)
Short papers are expected to present unpublished, original work in
progress related to empirical or theoretical research relevant to the
topics of the workshop.

Practical or Working Group Report (6-12 pages)
Reports are expected to present unpublished, original on-going work
undertaken by larger groups as part of long-term, cooperative research

Demo/Poster Abstract (2 pages)
Demo/Poster abstracts should present emerging ideas for future research,
teaching practice, or tools.
Submissions are required to follow the standard ACM two-column format
with a 9-point font. The review process will be double-blind, so authors
are requested not to include their names and affiliations when
submitting and to cite their prior work appropriately. Detailed
submission information is available at

To ensure selection of high quality contributions, submissions for Full
Papers are reviewed by at least three members of the international
Program Committee. Short Paper submissions and Demo/Poster Abstracts are
reviewed by at least two members of the Program Committee. The WiPSCE
Program Committee takes pride in considering submissions thoroughly and
providing constructive feedback.
All accepted contributions will be available as electronic
pre-proceedings prior to the workshop. The papers from the workshop will
be indexed and are planned to be available through the ACM Digital
Library (approval pending). A printed volume of the proceedings can be
ordered after the workshop.
At least one author must register and present accepted papers in order
for the paper to be included in the workshop proceedings.

Submission deadline: June 11, 2012
Re-submission deadline (*): June 24, 2012
Notification of acceptance: August 30, 2012

Submission of revised manuscripts: October 1, 2012
Early Registration deadline: October 15, 2012

Registration and Welcome reception:
Evening of November 7, 2012
Workshop: November 8-9, 2012

(*) We offer a re-submission slack. This means that title and abstract
of papers must be submitted by the June 11 deadline, but it will be
possible to upload the full versions of papers until June 24. Paper
abstracts that are not submitted by the June 11 deadline will not be

Maria Knobelsdorf (University of Potsdam, Germany)
Ralf Romeike (University of Potsdam, Germany)

Michal Armoni (Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel)
Tim Bell (University of Canterbury, New Zealand)
Roger Boyle (University of Leeds, UK)
Torsten Brinda (University of Erlangen-Nürnberg, Germany)
Michael E. Caspersen (University of Aarhus, Denmark)
Paul Curzon (Queen Mary University of London, UK)
Ira Diethelm (University of Oldenburg, Germany)
Judith Gal-Ezer (The Open University of Israel, Israel)
Mark Guzdial (Georgia Institute of Technology, USA)
Peter Hubwieser (University of Technology, Munich, Germany)
Michael Kölling (University of Kent, UK)
Yifat Ben-David Kolikant (The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel)
Johannes Magenheim (University of Paderborn, Germany)
Ulrik Schroeder (RWTH Aachen University, Germany)
Carsten Schulte (Freie Universität Berlin, Germany)
Peer Stechert (RBZ Technik Kiel, Germany)
Chris Stephenson (CSTA, USA)
Jan Vahrenhold (Technical University Dortmund, Germany)

Detlef Rick (University of Hamburg, Germany)
Axel Schmolitzky (University of Hamburg, Germany)

For more information please visit the WiPSCE website
or contact
Maria Knobelsdorf (,
Ralf Romeike (, or
Detlef Rick (

January 19, 2012 at 8:56 am 1 comment

Thoughts on Code Year, Codecademy, and Learning to Code (with C5 Side Note)

The blog piece below is the most biting criticism I’ve read of Codecademy.  (And of course, I’m always glad to read someone else pushing context as important for computing education!)  The author has a very good point quote below.  I’m not sure that we know how to achieve the goals of Code Year.  It’s amazing that Codecademy has raised $2.5M to support Code Year, but I do wonder if there’s a better use for that money–one that moves us closer to the goal of ubiquitous computing literacy.

Learning anything without context is hardly learning. I wish that Code Year was 2013 and 2012 was “some smart people with good ideas and a lot of money built took the time to build great pedagogically-driven tool to really solve an existing problem for folks who want and need training in this area.”

via Thoughts on Code Year, Codecademy, and Learning to Code |

Side note: I should be visiting with Alan Kay in 4 or 5 hours.  He’s introducing my keynote at the C5 Conference (, which I’m excited about.  Two of the C’s of C5 is “creating” and “computing,” and my talk is going to be about the challenges of supporting everyone in creating (for me, including “programming”) with computing.  I’m going to tell the MediaComp story, talk about Brian Dorn’s work with graphics designers, and with Klara Benda’s and Lijun Ni’s work that tells us about teachers’ needs to learn computer science.

January 18, 2012 at 7:06 am 8 comments

Response to Joanne–Wanted: Less Excuses And More Competitive Women

Interesting and challenging response to Joanne’s USNews blog piece in Forbes.  The author argues that women aren’t good at raising women who can compete with me.  I don’t agree, but it’s fascinating that this kind of debate is occurring in well-read mass media.

Ladies, we’re good at raising someone else’s self-esteem, helping them feel good. It is a byproduct of how we nurture, creating connection through listening, kind words and gentle touch. We suck at building self-confidence. It isn’t what we are wired to do.

Believe it or not, the guys are good at building self-confidence in others. Male aggression nurturance (Gurian & Annis: Leadership and the Sexes) builds self-confidence by expecting an individual to perform. Think of it as throwing someone into the deep end and expecting them to swim (while you’re standing on the shore with a floatie to throw if they need assistance). When they dog paddle to the shore, their self-confidence rises measurably. They did it and they know they can do it again.

via Wanted: Less Excuses And More Competitive Women – Forbes.

January 17, 2012 at 7:53 am 2 comments

Debating the ‘Flipped Classroom’ at Stanford

A blog from a Stanford student who took the online CS classes is raising some attention.  Who loses in online, “flipped” classrooms?  Maybe it’s the students who are there face-to-face.  Wouldn’t it be ironic if the efforts to expand the audience for the university, by putting classes on-line, ends up driving away the students who come to the brick-and-mortar university?

“Online lectures suck. Sure, they’re great for rainy days or people learning at a distance or people that don’t go to Stanford. However, these new classes are getting rid of in-person lectures completely. I met barely anyone in my CS229a class. Everything was done alone in my room, which is kind of crappy especially when there is such a nice campus right outside.”

“The initiative that Stanford has taken to open up education is great. However, God help me if all my classes become 2 hour weekly online lectures with review questions and auto-graded programming exercises. Stanford can expect a letter from me asking to get a cut in my tuition if the classes begin to go the way of CS229a.”

via Debating the ‘Flipped Classroom’ at Stanford – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

January 16, 2012 at 8:22 am 9 comments

The Royal Society wants every UK Child to learn Computing

The Royal Society’s report on “Computing in Schools” was released yesterday, and it makes broad and significant recommendations.  Much of the report is focused on preparing teachers for a rigorous computer science curriculum, and on creating an infrastructure in schools where computing is available and maintained. The report is frank and honest about the challenges of implementing a rigorous computer science curriculum in schools.

I am most excited for what the report recommends about the curriculum.  The overall goal is “Every child should have the opportunity to learn Computing at school.”  The specifics include:

  • Every child should be expected to be ‘digitally literate’ by the end of compulsory education, in the same way that every child is expected to be able to read and write.
  • Every child should have the opportunity to learn concepts and principles from Computing (including Computer Science and Information Technology) from the beginning of primary education onwards, and by age 14 should be able to choose to study towards a recognised qualification in these areas.

Given the lack of specialist teachers, we recommend that only the teaching of digital literacy is made statutory at this point. However, the long-term aim should be to move to a
situation where there are sufficient specialist teachers to enable all young people to study
Information Technology and Computer Science at school. Accordingly, the Government should put in place an action plan to achieve this.

“Statutory” courses (and the report goes into some detail about what “statutory” means and why they make that recommendation)! Computing for everyone!  Think about what you could do in science, mathematics, and business classes if you could assume that everyone knew something about computer science from age 14.  Maybe Seymour Papert’s vision of computing being used to create a “Mathland” could finally be realized in the UK.  Think about how higher education computer science would change if you could assume several years of introductory computer science already.  Here in the US? Well, we’ll always have drills and drafting tables.

January 13, 2012 at 8:15 am 8 comments

This is CS in K-12: Career & Technical Education

Computer science in most states in K-12 is classified as “Career and Technical Education” (according to the Running on Empty report).  “Maybe that’s okay. Computing is important for many careers,” say some who hear this tidbit.  Maybe they don’t realize what “Career and Technical Education” is.

I’m now on a mailing list for career and technical education.  (CS in Georgia is in Career, Technical, and Agricultural Education.)  Yesterday, I got a catalog from a company that specializes in career and technical education.  Here’s what it looks like.  The people who pick the drills for your local high school may also be the ones who pick what programming languages are taught (if any). Computer science is in shop class.  There’s nothing wrong with shop class.  I’m not convinced that the preparation that makes you great at picking drills also makes you great at picking attributes of CS classes.

January 13, 2012 at 7:24 am 4 comments

Joanne Cohoon in US News on women in CS

Joanne does wonderful work in understanding the factors that influence women’s participation in CS and STEM more generally.  Great to see her work getting some visibility at the US News website.

Especially at a time when unemployment is high and our economy is weak, we cannot afford to lose anyone with the technical skills to create a sustainable future, improve health, build our cyber and physical infrastructure, and enhance personal and societal security.

A diverse set of minds needs to tackle those problems. But we are largely missing out on women’s intelligence, creativity, and values in solving the problems we all face.

Why is this so?

Evidence continues to mount that capable women in technical fields have less confidence than men that they will be successful. Researchers at Stanford University recently published new findings that women engineering students perform as well as men, but are more likely than men to switch to a different major. These women switch because they don’t believe that their skills are good enough and they don’t feel like they “fit” in engineering.

via Wanted: Technical Women – STEM Education (

January 12, 2012 at 9:43 am 6 comments

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