Archive for February, 2012

Implications of CS-as-Business in High School for one Georgia county

As the Running on Empty report says, most US states classify Computer Science as a “Business” (career and vocational) rather than a “Science” or “Math.”  Barb saw a sad implication of that last Saturday, when she taught a teacher workshop.

She had several new teachers from one Atlanta-area county.  They told her that they were Business teachers who now have to learn some CS.  As a budget cutting move, the county has decided to reduce the number of non-core (by definition of the No Child Left Behind Act) teachers, and each high school gets exactly one Business teacher.  One teacher for Accounting, Web Design, Typing, Office Applications, all other Business classes, AND Computer Science.

Bravo for those teachers who are seeking out professional development to learn CS!  Teacher professional development is no longer a necessity in Georgia, so these teachers are doing it on their own.  (In Georgia, teachers no longer need continuing education credits to maintain their certification — budgets are too tight, so that requirement has been dropped.)  Despite the calls for more CS, CS is getting short shrift in this deal.

February 29, 2012 at 7:47 am 5 comments

Desperate need for more expertise in computing, across sectors

The argument below for more computing education is a bit different from the most common one.  Yes, industry needs more computer scientists and engineers, so we need to draw more people into those fields.  Starting in high school (and earlier) is important because students are getting turned off to computing careers as early as middle school (see Yardi & Bruckman, ICER 2007), so we need to give them a chance to see real computing earlier so that they can give it a fair consideration.

But this piece in Education Week (thanks to John Pane for pointing it out to me!) is also arguing that “all sectors” are “demanding more and more expertise in computing.”  Even if you’re not going to become a professional software developer, your field is going to need you to know more about computing. We should do this in K-12, then.  This is really an argument for computing for everyone.  Yes!

“The demand by industry is far greater than supply. Its not just Google and Microsoft. Its all sectors: health care, transportation, manufacturing. Every sector is demanding more and more expertise in computing.” Private companies say they are developing programs to mentor students and sustain interest in computer science and engineering.

via Education Week: Educators, Innovators Call for Earlier Introduction to Computer Science.

February 29, 2012 at 7:18 am 8 comments

SIGCSE 2012 is this week in Raleigh!

About 1200 of us will be gathering in Raleigh this week for the ACM SIGCSE 2012 Symposium, March 1-3.  (All day SIGCSE Board meeting is Feb 29, so I leave Tuesday night.)  Some of the highlights of this week’s conference include:

  • The opening keynote on Thursday will be Fred Books (“Mythical Man Month” which I had to read for more than one class at U.Michigan) on “The teacher’s job is to design learning experiences, not primarily to impart information.”
  • Jane Prey will accept the 2012 Lifetime Service award and will speak at the First Timer’s lunch on Wednesday.
  • Friday’s keynote will come from the 2012 ACM SIGCSE Outstanding Contributions awardee, Hal Abelson (think about SICP, MIT Open Courseware, “Blown to Bits,” and App Inventor).
  • UPE will present their annual award to Alan Kay at a noontime meeting on Friday.  (I hope they booked a large enough room — this is going to be a popular meeting!)
  • Saturday lunch will include a talk from Google’s “Big Picture” visualization group.

It’s going to be a fun week — I do hope you can join us!

SIGCSE 2012 continues our long tradition of bringing together colleagues from around the world to present papers, panels, posters, special sessions, and workshops, and to discuss computer science education in birds-of-a-feather sessions and informal settings. The SIGCSE Technical Symposium addresses problems common among educators working to develop, implement and/or evaluate computing programs, curricula, and courses. The symposium provides a forum for sharing new ideas for syllabi, laboratories, and other elements of teaching and pedagogy, at all levels of instruction.

Our three-sided conference theme, “Teaching, Learning, and Collaborating,” commemorates North Carolina’s renowned “Research Triangle” where SIGCSE 2012 will be held. Teaching, learning, and collaborating occur inside and outside of the classroom, among various combinations of students, academics, industry professionals, and others.

via SIGCSE 2012 – Home.

February 28, 2012 at 7:55 am 3 comments

The Scientific Method is wrong: Scientists don’t test hypotheses, but build models

I really enjoyed this interview with my colleague, Nancy Nersessian.  (Yes, she’s a Professor in the College of Computing.) It helped me understand better why her perspective is revolutionary, and why she’s been racking up awards for the importance of her work.

One of her arguments is that they way we think about the scientific method is wrong, that our “received” notion of the scientific method is not how scientists really work.  Rather than test hypotheses, scientists do experiments to influence their models of how the world works.  The hypotheses they test come out of those models, and a “failed” experiment doesn’t disprove the hypotheses as much as it feeds more information into developing a more correct model.  That’s another reason why failed experiments are so important — they lead to better models.

Georgia Tech’s Nancy Nersessian talked about a project that’s been running at her university since 2001 to investigate how bioengineering scientists think and work, and how to pass their skills on to students. Nersessian said that there is a “received view” of the scientific method — you formulate a hypothesis and then test it to either validate or invalidate it — and then there is the way scientists actually go about their day-to-day work.

In the real world of scientific investigation, she said, scientists usually rely on a model-based process rather than a hypothesis-driven one. They formulate models based on what they know from previous research and then derive testable hypotheses from those models. Data from experiments don’t validate or invalidate hypotheses as much as they feed back into the models to generate better research questions.

via Why Science Needs Applied Philosophy – Science Careers Blog.

February 27, 2012 at 10:38 am 10 comments

Doubts of my students: Expert teaching is no better than good-enough teaching

Teaching is a great job.  I particularly appreciate how teaching keeps me thinking and questioning, which is particularly important for an education researcher.  I’m teaching two classes this semester.  I’ve mentioned recently how my data structures class has me thinking about new kinds of practice activities.

I am also teaching a course on educational technology, where we’re reading How People Learn.  Chapter 7 is a fascinating read with three detailed accounts of high-quality learning environments with expert teachers, one each in history, mathematics, and science.  The chapter includes some strong claims about teaching:

The interplay between content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge illustrated in this chapter contradicts a commonly held misconception about teaching–that effective teaching consists of a set of general teaching strategies that apply to all content areas. This notion is erroneous….These examples provide glimpses of outstanding teaching in the disci- pline of history. The examples do not come from “gifted teachers” who know how to teach anything: they demonstrate, instead, that expert teachers have a deep understanding of the structure and epistemologies of their disciplines, combined with knowledge of the kinds of teaching activities that will help students come to understand the discipline for themselves. As we previously noted, this point sharply contradicts one of the popular—and dangerous—myths about teaching: teaching is a generic skill and a good teacher can teach any subject.

We had a great discussion in class about this last night.  HPL is claiming that an expert teacher has (1) discipline knowledge, (2) understanding about teaching and learning, (3) understanding of conceptual barriers that students face in the discipline, and (4) a set of effective strategies for addressing those conceptual barriers.  (3) and (4) on that list is what we call pedagogical content knowledge, discipline-specific knowledge for how to teach that discipline.  My students don’t argue that CS PCK (pedagogical content knowledge about teaching CS) doesn’t exist.  They just argue that it’s not necessary to be “effective.”

It may be a “dangerous myth” but my students cling to it pretty stubbornly.  “If you know the content, and you know about how people learn, then you can teach that content.  You may not be as good as a teacher with years of experience, but you’re good enough.”  That’s almost an exact quote from one of the students in my class last night.  I tried to argue that, not only is it better to have CS PCK, but we can also teach CS PCK, so that a first year teacher can be much more effective than a brand new teacher who doesn’t know anything about student problems or teaching strategies.  They pushed back.  “How much more does PCK contribute to being a good teacher, beyond just knowledge of the discipline and knowledge of learning sciences?”  Since I don’t know how to measure knowledge of CS well, nor how to measure CS PCK, I have two unknowns, so I can’t really answer the question.

One way of interpreting my students’ comments is sheer hubris.  These are young, smart Georgia Tech undergrads (and a smattering of grad students).  In their minds, they are intellectually invulnerable, able to tackle any academic challenge, and certainly better than any teacher from a school of education.  Several of them mentioned Teach for America in their comments, an organization whose existence encourages them to think that teaching is not so hard.  Maybe their comments also are the thoughts of expert learners — these students have had to teach themselves often, so they don’t see expert teaching as a necessity.

Another way of interpreting my students’ comments which is much more intellectually challenging is that the difference between an effective and expert teacher is hard to see.  A recent NYTimes article speaks to the enormous value of expert teachers — over a student’s lifetime.  Barbara has pointed out that, in her experience, the first year that a teacher teaches AP CS, none of his or her students will pass the AP CS (with a score of 3 or better).  Even some veteran teachers have few test-passers, but all the teachers who get many test-passers are veterans with real teaching expertise.  But how do you make those successes visible?  As we’ve talked about here before: How do we measure good teaching?

As a teacher of education research, I wasn’t so successful yesterday.  I failed at convincing my class (at least, a vocal group of students in my class) that there is some value in expert teaching, that it’s something to be developed and valued.  What I worry is that these are not just the thoughts of a few undergraduates.  How many more people think that it’s easy to learn to be a teacher?  How many other adults, voting citizens, even members of school boards agree with my students — that expert teaching is not that much better than effective teaching, so hiring a bunch of young, smart kids to teach is good enough?

February 24, 2012 at 10:27 am 23 comments

“Which College Majors Screw Over Women the Least?” Yay for IT!

A rather provocative title from the Jezebel site leads to some interesting statistics.  If you follow the link to the NYTimes site, you find that CS still has men paid 2% more than women.  IT is the winner, where women make more than men. What I find it interesting that few women choose IT for a career, despite the obvious economic advantages: Lots of jobs, high-paying jobs, and jobs where women get paid better than men.  That suggests that decision away from IT is not an economic one — there are other factors at play.

According to the Times’ Catherine Rampell, it looks like a woman’s choice of college major may determine her future income equality. Rampell analyzed information provided by salary data-collecting company PayScale and found that a surprising number of majors actually eliminate much of the discrepancy between male and female pay. Women who majored in Mechanical Engineering or Management Information Systems, for example, earn identical salaries to their male counterparts, even when controlled for demographic differences. Women who studied Electrical Engineering, Civil Engineering, Communications, English, Sociology, Graphic Design, or Psychology earn only 1% less than men doing the same job. And women who studied Information Technology in undergrad and didn’t go to grad school actually outearn similarly educated men by 1%.

via Which College Majors Screw Over Women the Least?.

February 23, 2012 at 9:59 am 3 comments

New US Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey now out

The latest predictions cover through 2020, and software is still a big story.  Interesting that the industry is expected to grow faster than employment.  I guess software workers’ productivity is just so high?

The software publishers industry is projected to grow from $156.9 billion to $368.2 billion in real output, an increase of $211.3 billion, making it one of the largest growing industries in real output. (See table 6.) The pro- jected 8.9-percent real output growth rate also makes the software publishers industry the second-fastest-growing industry in real output. (See table 5.) Over the 2010–2020 period, employment is projected to increase 91,800, to reach 351,600, an annual growth rate of 3.1 percent, mak- ing this industry one of the fastest growing in employment. (See table 3.) With increasing technology, output will grow faster than employment. As more software services, such as cloud computing, word processing, and entering data into spreadsheets, become available through the In- ternet and the need grows for a more secure network, so will the demand for services of software publishers. 

via Table of Contents, Monthly Labor Review Online, January 2012.

February 22, 2012 at 9:35 am 1 comment

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