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. and 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:

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 ( — 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 –

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 |

June 22, 2012 at 8:17 am 1 comment

Tell Achieve that the Next Generation Science Standards Should Include CS

There are draft letters available on the website.

On May 11, the Washington, DC-based group Achieve released its first public draft of the “Next Generation Science Standards” — or NGSS. These standards, coupled with the “Common Core” standards for mathematics are meant to define how states should think about K-12 science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Since these standards will ultimately drive what gets taught in science classrooms across the country, the stakes are high.

Computing in the Core (CinC), which runs CSEdWeek, is deeply disappointed that both the math and science standards leave computer science by the wayside. While the math standards are well on their way to being implemented and assessed, Achieve’s new effort on the science standards is still in development, and they need to hear from you about the importance of having real, engaging computer science in these standards.

via Newsroom |

June 22, 2012 at 8:15 am 2 comments

E-mails show UVa board wanted a big online push: McLuhan rolls over in grave

Released emails suggest that one of the reasons that the University of Virginia’s Board of Visitors ousted President Teresa Sullivan was that she was resistant to online education:

Various theories have been traded among UVa-watchers in the last 10 days about the source of conflict between Sullivan and the board, and the e-mail records suggest that online education may have been among them. In her statement on the day the board announced Sullivan’s departure, Dragas used language similar to some of the columns that were being shared among board members, saying “We also believe that higher education is on the brink of a transformation now that online delivery has been legitimized by some of the elite institutions.”

Sullivan is not quoted at length in the e-mail files that were released, but one from an alumnus/donor to Kington says that Sullivan provided a “pedestrian” answer to a question about how UVa was embracing the online education revolution. Sullivan is not responding to press inquiries at this time, but sources familiar with discussions she has had on distance education said that she viewed it as an important trend, but had expressed skepticism about the idea that it was a quick fix to solving financial problems, and that she viewed distance education as having the potential to cost a lot of money without delivering financial gains. Sources also said she viewed distance education as an issue on which faculty input was crucial.

via E-mails show U.Va. board wanted a big online push | Inside Higher Ed.

I’m just back from the ACM Education Council meeting, where Mehran Sahami put together a stellar panel on the topic of on-line education (also covered in LisaK’s blog):

  • Woodie Flowers (MIT) who supports on-line training but believes that real education likely requires some “presence.” I mentioned previously that he’s been critical of MIT’s edX initiative.  He emphasized the need to have higher quality educational software, using Avatar as his exemplar.
  • Candice Thille (Carnegie Mellon University) who heads OLI and had the best research support for the forms of online education that they’re developing.  She started with a great quote from Herb Simon, “Improvement in post-secondary education will require converting teaching from a solo sport to a community-based research activity.”  She emphasized the team approach they use to build their software.
  • John Mitchell (Stanford) who leads the online education effort there.  He led the charge in implying enormous changes for higher education.  “Will community colleges survive? How? Will college teaching follow the path of journalism?”
  • Peter Norvig (head of research at Google) who co-taught the 100K student on-line AI course was honest and pragmatic.  He started on this because he wanted to do more than a book.  He felt that the students really felt a “personal connection” with him, but when pressed, agreed that we don’t actually have much evidence of that.  He sees the biggest role of these online courses is for updating skills and re-training.  He says that the technology just isn’t good enough yet.  For example, the current tools don’t really respond to feedback — they’re linear experiences with no remediation or mechanisms for providing missing background knowledge.
  • Dave Patterson (Berkeley) who taught a MOOC (Massive Open On-line Course) on programming Web services. He was honest about the limitations of MOOCs, but still convinced that this is the beginning of the end for existing higher education.  He pointed out that he also had a 90% dropout rate.  He was the first MOOC teacher I’ve heard admit to “unbounded, worldwide cheating.”  They were going to use plagiarism detection software, just to see how much cheating was going on, but they didn’t need to.  Large numbers of answers were “bit identical.”

One of the most important points for me was when Eric Roberts of Stanford pushed back against the flood of support for MOOCs, pointing out the costs of on-line education in terms of their impact on small schools, on general (especially legislators’) perception of the role of higher-education, and on what we teach (e.g., the media might encourage us to teach what we can easily do in these on-line forms, as opposed to what we think is important).  “Does ‘free’ wipe-out other things with demonstrable value?”  Dave Patterson responded saying, “It doesn’t matter.  It’s going to happen.”

I thought I heard McLuhan rolling over in his grave.  “Media choices don’t matter?!?”

But as I thought about it some more, it was less obvious to me which side McLuhan would fall on.  On the one hand, McLuhan (in Understanding Media) argued that we should be aware of the implications of our media, of how our media change us.  That view of McLuhan suggests that he would side with Eric, in thinking through the costs of the media, and he would be furious that Dave was unwilling to consider those implications.  On the other hand, McLuhan would agree with Dave that media do obsolete some things (even things we value) while enhancing other things, and these media effects do just “happen.”  Are we as a society powerless to choose media, to avoid those with effects that we dislike?

I see what happened at UVa to be about this question exactly.  It’s not obvious to me that the MOOC efforts are better than existing higher education, in terms of reach into society, in terms of effectiveness for learning, and in terms of constructing the society we want.  They serve a need, but they don’t replace colleges (as of yet).  Teresa Sullivan’s concerns expressed above are well-founded, and she was wise to be hesitant.  On the other hand, as Dave Patterson said, “It’s going to happen.”  The UVa President may have been run-over because she didn’t hop on the train fast enough for her Board of Visitors.  Can we consider and choose our media, based on the implications we want, or must we accept the new media as inevitable and get pushed out of the way if we don’t embrace those media — even though those media could possibly destroy the institutions we believe serve an important need?

June 21, 2012 at 8:05 am 22 comments

25 years of HyperCard—the missing link to the Web | Ars Technica

An interesting argument: That Web browsers were designed based on HyperCard, and that HyperCard’s major flaw was a lack of hypertext links across computers.

How did creator Bill Atkinson define HyperCard? “Simply put, HyperCard is a software erector set that lets non-programmers put together interactive information,” he told the Computer Chronicles in 1987.

When Tim Berners-Lee’s innovation finally became popular in the mid-1990s, HyperCard had already prepared a generation of developers who knew what Netscape was for. That’s why the most apt historical analogy for HyperCard is best adapted not from some failed and forgotten innovation, but from a famous observation about Elvis Presley. Before anyone on the World Wide Web did anything, HyperCard did everything.

via 25 years of HyperCard—the missing link to the Web | Ars Technica.

June 20, 2012 at 8:07 am 4 comments

How do we encourage retention of knowledge in computing?

The scenario described in the experiment below has been repeated many times in the education literature: Students are asked to read some material (or listen to a lecture), and are then asked to do something with that material (e.g., take a quiz, write down everything they can remember, do a mind-mapping exercise), and some time later, they take a test to measure retention. In the experiment described below, simple writing beat out creating a mental map. Interesting, but it’s an instance of a case that I wanted to raise.

This pattern of information+activity+retention is common, and really does work. Doing something with the knowledge improves retention over time.

So how do we do this in computer science? What do we ask our students to do after lecture, or after reading, or after programming, to make it more likely that they retain what they learned? If our only answer is, “Write more programs,” then we missed the point. What if we just had our students write down what they learned? Even if it was facts about the program (e.g., “The test for the sentinel value is at the top of the loop when using a WHILE”), it would help to retain that knowledge later. What this particular instance points out is that the retention activity can be very simple and still be effective. Not doing anything to encourage retention is unlikely to be effective.

But two experiments, carried out by Dr Jeffrey Karpicke at Purdue University, Indiana, concluded that this was less effective than constant informal testing and reciting.Dr Karpicke asked around 100 college students to recall in writing, in no particular order, as much as they could from what they had just read from science material.Although most students expected to learn more from the mapping approach, the retrieval exercise actually worked much better to strengthen both short-term and long-term memory.The results support the idea that retrieval is not merely scouring for and spilling out the knowledge stored in one’s mind — the act of reconstructing knowledge itself is a powerful tool that enhances learning about science.

via Old school teaching better for retaining knowledge – Telegraph.

June 19, 2012 at 8:30 am 18 comments

Good academic leadership as a model for good teaching

There’s a Facebook meme making the rounds:

Bosses and Leaders

I am no expert on management or leadership.  A management expert may look at the above chart and shake her head sadly about the misconceptions of the commonsense view of management.  Nonetheless, the chart sets up an interesting dichotomy that is worth exploring, in relation to academia and then to teaching.

The abrupt firing of President Teresa Sullivan from the University of Virginia raises questions about academic leadership and its goals. The below quote from a Slate article on her ouster suggests that she fit under the “Leader” column above:

The first year of Sullivan’s tenure involved hiring her own staff, provost, and administrative vice president. In her second year she had her team and set about reforming and streamlining the budget system, a process that promised to save money and clarify how money flows from one part of the university to another. This was her top priority. It was also the Board of Visitor’s top priority—at least at the time she was hired. Sullivan was rare among university presidents in that she managed to get every segment of the diverse community and varied stakeholders to buy in to her vision and plan. Everyone bought in, that is, except for a handful of very, very rich people, some of whom happen to be political appointees to the Board of Visitors. (emphasis added)

via Teresa Sullivan fired from UVA: What happens when universities are run by robber barons. – Slate Magazine.

I have known academic leaders like this.  Jim Foley is famous at Georgia Tech for generating consensus on issues.  My current school chair (ending his term this month) does a good job of engaging faculty in conversations and listening — he doesn’t always agree, but faculty opinions have swayed his choices.  Eugene Wallingford has written a good bit about how to live on the right side of the chart.

I am sure that all of us in academics have also met one or more academic bullies who land more often in the left column:

The self-righteous bully is a person who cannot accept that they could possibly be in the wrong. They are totally devoid of self-awareness and neither know nor care about the impact of their behaviour on other people. They are always right and others are always wrong. R. Namie and G. Namie (2009) described bullies as individuals who falsely believed they had more power than others did…They tend to have little empathy for the problems of the other person in the victim/bully relationship.

The bosses vs. leaders chart at the top of this post is about leadership, but it’s also about teaching.  The common view of the undergraduate teacher veers toward the “boss” and “bully” characterizations above.  We are “authorities.”  The education jobs in academia are often called “Lecturers” or “Professors.”  We lecture or profess to students — we tell them, we don’t ask them.  We “command” students to complete assignments. We strive to make our lectures “always right.”

The best teachers look more like the right side of the chart at the top.   From what we know about learning and teaching, a good teacher does “build consensus.”  We don’t want to just talk at students — we want students to believe us and buy into a new understanding.  One of my favorite education papers is “Cognitive Apprenticeship” which explicitly talks about how an effective teacher “models/shows” a skill, and “develops” and “coaches” students.  The biggest distinction between a “boss/bully” teacher and a “leader” teacher is listening to students. A good teacher “asks” them for students’ goals and interpretations. How People Learn emphasizes that we have to engage students’ prior understanding for effective learning. A good teacher sympathizes with the students’ perspectives, then responds not with a canned speech, but with a thoughtful response (perhaps in the form of an activity, not just a lecture) that develops student understanding.

I saw Eric Roberts receive the IEEE Computer Society Taylor L. Booth Education Award last week.  I told him that I was eager to try a teleprompter for the first time.  Eric said that he wouldn’t.  He said that he would respond to the moment, the audience, and the speeches of the previous recipients.  He would use the adrenalin of the moment to compose his talk on the fly.  (Eric’s a terrific speaker, so he can pull that off better than me.)  He told me that it was the same as in class — he listens and responds to the students.

At the end of this week, I’m heading off to Oxford where I’ll teach in our study abroad program there.  It will be Georgia Tech students and Georgia Tech faculty, but physically, in Oxford.  I’ll be teaching two classes: Introduction to Media Computation in Python (for my first time in seven years!) and Computational Freakonomics.  I’ve taught at Oxford Study Abroad twice before, and loved it.  Sure, Oxford is fabulous, but what I most enjoyed my past times (and what I most look forward to this time) is the teaching experience.  I have 22 students registered in MediaComp (typically 150-300/semester at Georgia Tech, depending on the size of the lecture halls available), and 10 students in CompFreak.  We will meet for 90 minutes a day (each class, so 3 hours a day for me), four days a week.  It’s an immersive experience.  We will have meals together.  Last times, I had “office hours” at my kitchen table, and in impromptu meetings at a lab after dinner.

In enormous lecture halls with literally hundreds of students, it’s not always easy to be a “leader.”  It’s easier in those settings to be the “boss” (even the “bully”), professing what’s right and ordering students to do their work.  In a setting like Oxford with smaller classes and more contact, I will have more opportunity to listen to my students, and the opportunity to develop my skills as a leader/teacher.

June 18, 2012 at 9:53 am 9 comments

Draft Standards Neglect Computer Science, Computing in the Core Coalition Says

Like I mentioned earlier, the new draft science standards don’t say much about computing, and “Computing in the Core” is pushing back.

“While the draft science standards include elements of computer science and computing concepts in the Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science topics, the attention paid to the discipline of computer science does not match its importance in terms of workforce demand and the opportunities it presents young people in the 21st century,” the coalition says.

via Draft Standards Neglect Computer Science, Coalition Says – Curriculum Matters – Education Week.

June 17, 2012 at 10:48 pm Leave a comment

google-blockly – A visual programming language that generates JavaScript code

Intriguing new web-based visual programming language from Google that generates JavaScript or Python.

Blockly is a web-based, graphical programming language. Users can drag blocks together to build an application. No typing required.

Check out the demos:

Maze – Use Blockly to solve a maze.

Code – Export a Blockly program into JavaScript, Dart, Python or XML.

RTL – See what Blockly looks like in right-to-left mode (for Arabic and Hebrew).

Blockly is currently a technology preview. We want developers to be able to play with Blockly, give feedback, and think of novel uses for it. All the code is free and open source. Join the mailing list and let us know what you think.

via google-blockly – A visual programming language – Google Project Hosting.

June 15, 2012 at 9:27 am 2 comments

Carl Wieman on Effective Teaching

This is a really nice piece on a lecture by Carl Wieman, whom I have mentioned previously.  In one page, the summary hits most of the key ideas in How People Learn.

“Memory is not talked about much in education, but it is critically important,” Wieman said, and the limited discussion that does occur focuses primarily on long-term memory while short-term working memory is ignored.

He compared the latter to a personal computer with limited RAM. “The more it is called upon to do, to remember, the harder it is to process. The average human brain [working memory] has a limit of five to six new items, it can’t handle anything more.”

A new item is anything that is not in the learner’s long-term memory, he continued. “Anything you can do to reduce unnecessary demands on working memory will improve learning.”

Among them is elimination of unnecessary jargon. Wieman asked: “That new jargon term that is so convenient to you, is it really worth using up 20% of the mental processing capacity of the students for that class period?” Demands of working memory can also be reduced by shifting some learning tasks, particularly transfer of simple information from the classroom to pre-reading assignments and homework.

via AAAS – AAAS News Release – “Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman: Effective Teaching Should Create Students Who Think Like Scientists”.

June 15, 2012 at 9:25 am 11 comments

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