Archive for June, 2012

Informatics in Schools: Situation, Evolution, and Perspectives 2013 in Oldenburg, Germany

Another conference on secondary school education in computing, also in Germany: 6th Conference on Informatics in Schools: Situation, Evolution and Perspectives. This one has been running since 2005, which is as long as ICER.  This one is for researchers and practitioners.

Information technology surrounds us and from very early ages onwards, children are using it regularly. But in many countries Informatics Education featuring educational aspects provided by informatics is not part of compulsory curricula at schools, yet.

The International Conference on Informatics in Schools: Situation, Evolution and Perspectives – ISSEP – is a forum for researchers and practitioners in the area of Informatics education, both in primary and secondary schools. It provides an opportunity for educators to reflect upon the goals and objectives of this subject, its curricula and various teaching/learning paradigms and topics, possible connections to everyday life and various ways of establishing Informatics Education in schools. This conference also cares about teaching/learning materials, various forms of assessment, traditional and innovative educational research designs, Informatics’ contribution to the preparation of children for the 21st century, motivating competitions, projects and activities supporting informatics education in school.

via ISSEP 2013 in Oldenburg, Germany.

June 29, 2012 at 10:07 am Leave a comment

Online courses: It’s not about value, it’s about revenue

Thanks to Valerie Summet for pointing me to this article! I found the argument insightful. Blogs didn’t reduce the value of journalism — they eliminated the revenue streams (which is part of what John Mitchell and Dave Patterson were saying). People still value professional journalism more than citizen journalists, but it’s not still not clear how to pay for it. In higher education, we have a revenue stream problem. Online education doesn’t fix that.

Let’s take the newspapers as an example. Blogs haven’t undermined the newspapers. NYTimes.com and CNN.com get more traffic than any single blog. More people are reading the Times than ever before, in fact. Direct competition from citizen journalists hasn’t been a problem for the news industry. It turns out that most of us prefer our news from journalists. Newspapers don’t have a readership problem, they have a revenue problem. The plague on the newspaper business has come from Craigslist and Google AdWords. Craigslist fundamentally changed the classified advertising business, while Google revolutionized the rest of the advertising market. And once revenues collapsed, news conglomerates could no longer pay off the debts they accrued through a decade of leveraged buyouts and consolidations. Hence, we’re left with newspaper disruption. The same is true with books and even (as my own research shows) with political advocacy organizations. It isn’t direct competition that undermines market leaders. It’s the decline of revenue streams, making it impossible to pay for your old infrastructure.

Revenue problems for public universities are not originating in competition from online learning programs. They’re coming through systematic defunding by state legislatures. Higher education in America faces its share of problems, to be sure. Tuition soars and students are racking up mountains of debt. But the underlying revenue model faces no direct threat. A modern-day Good Will Hunting might gain his education through MIT’s online lectures rather than a Boston public library card, but the great mass of privileged 18-year-olds will keep heading off to college. Neither the University of Phoenix nor MIT’s online courses offer a replacement for the college experience that students are currently paying for. And competition does not equal disruption.

via David Karpf: UVA Board’s Lazy Business Sense.

June 29, 2012 at 2:41 am 3 comments

The changes the University of Virginia must make: Support for Board of Visitors

Interesting op-ed in The Washington Postsupporting the Board of Visitors.  It’s useful to read and get a broader perspective on the debate on President Sullivan’s ouster.  The argument seems to be that Universities must change, and the trustees have the responsibility to force that change.  Forcing a resignation in closed meetings is not a good first step towards these changes.  We need imaginative problem-solving to figure a path from where we’re at today in US Universities.

Now, the Board of Visitors has now reversed itself and reinstated Sullivan.  Reportedly, Rector Dragas and President Sullivan met to resolve their differences.  I’d like to hear what decisions they arrived at (or, the decision was simply forced by higher authorities).  The tension between their perspectives is one felt throughout higher education, and it would be useful to others to hear a plan for moving forward.

Given the university’s failure to address urgent issues such as greater faculty teaching loads, new technologies, using buildings more effectively and eliminating unproductive or outdated courses, it’s no wonder that a board concerned with spiraling costs could not continue working with a president who approached business as usual, hoping for change later.

If institutions want to remain strong, their trustees must demand innovative and imaginative changes and be aware of the urgency of their task. If a university president is not moving in the same direction, then difficult decisions must be made and trustees are going to have to bear the inevitable pushback. This is not the first time that trustees have come under fire for trying to do their job: Last fall, trustees at the University of Texas and Texas A&M found themselves under attack when they started to examine faculty teaching loads and the balance of research and teaching.

via The changes the University of Virginia must make – The Washington Post.

June 28, 2012 at 2:12 am 2 comments

Inventing a Worked Examples and Self-Explanation Method for CS Courses

I sent this idea to the mediacomp-teach mailing list, and got a positive response.  I thought I’d share it here, too.

I’m trying a worked examples + self-explanations approach in my Media Computation Python class that started Monday (first time I’ve taught it in seven years!) and in my “Computational Freakonomics” class (first time I’ve taught it in six years).  Whether you’re interested in this method or not, you might like to use the resource that I’ve created.

As I mentioned here, I’m fascinated by the research on worked examples and on self-explanations. The idea behind worked examples is that we ought to have students see more fully worked out examples, with some motivation to actually study them. The idea behind self-explanations is that learning and retention is improved when students explain something to themselves (or others), in their own words.  Pete Pirolli did studies where he had students use worked examples to study computer science (explicitly, recursion), and with Mimi Recker, prompted CS students to self-explain then studied the effect.  In their paper, Pirolli and Recker found:

“Improvement in skill acquisition is also strongly related to the generation of explanations connecting the example material to the abstract terms introduced in the text, the generation of explanations that focus on the novel concepts, and spending more time in planning solutions to novel task components. We also found that self-explanation has diminishing returns. “

Here’s the critical idea: Students (especially novices) need to see more examples, and they need to try to explain them.  This what I’m doing at key points in the class:

  • Each team of two students gets one worked example in class. They have to type it in (to make sure that they notice all the details) and explain it to themselves – what does it do? how does it work?
  • Each team then explains it to the teams on either side of them.
  • At the end of the class, each individual takes one worked example, and does the process themselves: Types it in, pastes it into a Word document (with an example of the output), and explains what the program does.  I very explicitly encourage them to do with this others, and talk about their programs with one another.  I want students to see many examples, and talk about them.

Sure, our book has many examples in it, but how many students actually look at all those examples? How many type them in and try them?  Explain to themselves?

I’m doing this at four points in the MediaComp class: for images with getPixels, images with coordinates, sounds, and text and lists. For my CompFreak class, students are supposed to have had some CS1, and most of them have seen Python at least once, so I’m only doing this at the beginning of the class, and only on text and lists.  There are 22 students in my MediaComp class, so I needed 11 examples in class, then 22 examples one-for-each-person. Round it off to 35 examples. That’s 140 working examples. A lot of them vary in small ways — that’s on purpose. I wanted two teams to say, “I think our program is doing about the same thing as yours — what’s different?”

I did discover some effects that surprised me. For example, try this:

def changesound(sound):
   for sample in getSamples(sound):
     value = getSampleValue(sample)
     if value > 0:
       setSampleValue(sample, 4 * value)
     if value <= 0:
       setSampleValue(sample,0)

Turns out if you zero out all the negative samples, you can still hear the sound pretty clearly.  I wouldn’t have guessed this.

Whether you want to try this example-heavy approach or not, you might find useful all these examples.  I’ve put all 140 examples on the teacher MediaComp sharing site (http://home.cc.gatech.edu/mediacomp/9 — email me if you want the key phrase and don’t have it). I started creating these in Word, but that was tedious to format well. I switched to LaTeX, because that nicely formatted the Python without much effort on my part. I’ve uploaded both the PDF and the LaTeX, since the LaTeX provides easy copy-paste text.

My CompFreak students are doing their assignment now (due tonight), and we just did it for the first time in the MediaComp class today (the take-home portion due in two days).  I was pleased with the feedback.  I got lots of questions about details that students don’t normally ask about at the second lecture (e.g., “makeColor is doing something different than setRed, setGreen, and setBlue differently? What’s the difference between colors and pixels?”).  My hope is that, when they start writing their own code next week, they won’t be stymied by stupid syntax errors, because they will have struggled with many of the obvious ones while working with complete code.  I’m also hoping that they’ll be more capable in understanding (and thus, debugging) their own code.  Most fun: I had to throw the students out of class today.  Class ended at 4:10, and we had a faculty meeting at 4:30.  Students stayed on, typing in their code, looking at each others’ effects.  At 4:25, I shooed them off.

I am offering extra credit for making some significant change (e.g., not just changing variable names) to the example program, and turning that in, too (with explanation and example).  What I didn’t expect is that they’re relating the changes to code we’ve talked about, like in this comment from a student that just got turned in:

“I realized I made an error in my earlier picture so I went back and fixed it. I also added in another extra credit picture. I made a negative of the photo. It looks pretty cool!”

It’s interesting to me that she explicitly decided to “make a negative” (and integrated the code to do it) rather than simply adding/changing a constant somewhere to get the extra credit cheaply.

All my MediaComp students are Business and Liberal Arts students (and is 75% female — while CompFreak is 1 female and 9 males).  I got a message from one of the MediaComp students yesterday, asking about some detail of the class, where she added: “We all were pleasantly surprised to have enjoyed class yesterday!”  I take the phrase “pleasantly surprised” to mean that the expectations are set pretty low.

June 27, 2012 at 1:56 am 16 comments

Yay, College Board! 857 Desks Call Attention to Dropout Problem

How cool that the College Board is being active on this significant problem (that isn’t made better with online education)!  I do understand that increasing the pass rate without maintaining quality is an empty achievement, but the economic cost of the high dropout rate is enormous.

Each desk represents one of the 857 students who drop out of high school in the United States every single hour, every single school day, according to the College Board, which arranged the display to underline its effort to urge presidential candidates to put education at the top of their to-do lists.

The board had nearly a dozen people, iPads in hand, gathering signatures in nearly 100-degree weather for an online petition that said: “If you want my support, I need to hear more from you about how you plan to fix the problems with education. And not just the same old platitudes. I want to know that you have real, tangible solutions, and that once in office, you’re ready to take serious action. I’ll be watching your acceptance speech at your party’s convention.”

via 857 Desks Call Attention to Dropout Problem – NYTimes.com.

June 26, 2012 at 5:02 am 3 comments

Ben Chun asks, “What is the CS Education ask?”

Ben Chun posts an interesting article critiquing the NSF CS10K project, which is worth reading. (Thanks to “Gas stations without pumps” through which I first heard about Ben’s post.) i don’t agree with all of it — I’m not sure that it’s such a significant concern that the papers describing the CS10K project are “behind a paywall.” — most of the information is readily available at the CS:Principles site (and I believe that the articles from the recent InRoads will be made available soon).

But his main point is a valid one: This is a huge project, and it’s not obvious that it’s even possible, let alone whether it’ll be successful. He asks what specific policy changes are necessary. I don’t think anybody knows, because it’s not knowable in a general sense. Policy changes that impact high schools have to be made on a state-by-state basis. I know what we have done and would like to do in Georgia, and I know what’s going in Massachusetts, South Carolina, and California, but all four of those are completely different. Ben calls the desired policy changes “a unicorn,” but I think it’s closer to “that animal I can hear in the other room, thumping around, but can’t tell what it is yet.” I also agree that we need to figure out how to engage the whole community. I believe that that is happening, through CSTA Chapters and efforts like the AP attestation. I don’t know how to make it happen faster or more broadly, but I do believe that NSF is bringing together a team of people who do.

I say that because if you’re actually putting together a “large-scale, collaborative project bringing together stakeholders from wide-ranging constituencies”, you don’t bury all the information about it behind a paywall. I happen to be teaching at UC Berkeley this summer, but otherwise I wouldn’t even have access to the paper that describes the CS10K project. And I think I’m the kind of person that might be able to help. I actually teach high school computer science! I want more colleagues! I believe CS education is vitally important for young people! The fact that the first result for “cs10k” in Google takes you nowhere is a problem. The lack of open, public discussion of the issues and plans is a problem. The lack of savvy about engaging the whole community — including high school teachers and administrators — is a problem.

But dire as it is, that’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that we don’t agree on what we’re asking for. It’s not that we disagree. We just have no idea. But at least the goal has been made clear, even if not effectively publicized: A new AP course in 10,000 high schools by 2015. (Or maybe 2016 or 2017, I now hear.) In 2011, there were only 2,667 high schools in the world with students taking the AP Computer Science A exam. Today, I think there are about 2,100 high schools authorized to offer the course in the US (not that all of them actually do). There are about 40k total public and private high schools in the US.

via What is the CS Education ask? « And Yet It Moves.

P.S. I’m in Oxford now, and start my classes this afternoon (early this morning for East-coasters, VERY early for West).

June 25, 2012 at 1:06 am 7 comments

Detroit firms, colleges create program to promote IT careers (The Detroit News)

As a native Detroiter, I’m pleased to see a push (including my alma-mater, Wayne State) to increase the number of IT professionals in the Detroit area.  The comments to the news item are more of what we’ve seen elsewhere: “I don’t have a job, so I don’t think that there really are jobs available” and “All IT jobs are outsourced.  They’re not really going to hire anyone.”  IEEE just posted a webcast and transcript explaining why good IT professionals are not getting jobs, in a market with a labor shortage.

A group of Detroit companies and three colleges in the region have teamed up to tackle the shortage of information technology workers in the area, the companies said Tuesday.

Online home lender Quicken Loans Inc., Compuware Corp.’s venture capital firm, software and IT business support provider GalaxE.Solutions, licensed entertainment and sports graphic firm Fathead LLC and Marketing Associates are working with Wayne State University, Wayne County Community College District and Washtenaw Community College on “IT in the D,” a two-month program to give students and IT professionals more experience to advance their technology careers.

via Detroit firms, colleges create program to promote IT careers | The Detroit News | detroitnews.com.

June 22, 2012 at 8:17 am 1 comment

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