Archive for January, 2013

Documentary Aims to Make Programming Cool is aimed at making programming cool, and they’re going to do it with a documentary:’s initial effort will be a short film, currently being edited, that will feature various luminaries from the technology industry talking about how exciting and accessible programming is. Two of the most famous programmers and entrepreneurs in history — Mark Zuckerberg, the chief executive of Facebook, and Bill Gates, the chairman and co-founder of Microsoft – were among the people interviewed for the film, according to a person with knowledge of the project who wasn’t authorized to discuss details about it.

Lesley Chilcott, a producer of the documentaries “Waiting for ‘Superman’” and “An Inconvenient Truth,” is making the film.

via A New Group Aims to Make Programming Cool –

January 31, 2013 at 1:12 am 2 comments

Grades are in for a pioneering free Johns Hopkins online class: Adding more to the public good

Some more statistics from another Coursera course.  The final comments are interesting: Through MOOCs, “everyone can get at least some fraction of what we believe is fundamental knowledge.”  That’s true.  The interesting question is whether MOOCs get more students a fraction that they didn’t have previously (see the edX data about 80% repeating the course) than a similar face-to-face course.  It’s not obvious to me either way — there are certainly results that have us questioning the effectiveness of our face-to-face classes.  While MOOCs lead to few finishing, maybe those that do finish learn more than in a face-to-face class, and maybe overall (amount of learning across number of students), MOOCs contribute more to the public good?

Read on for the final metrics on Caffo’s class and a few thoughts from the associate professor at the university’s school of public health.

Number of students who signed up for Caffo’s class: 15,930.

Number who ordinarily sign up for the class when it is taught solely on campus in Baltimore: a few dozen.

Active users in the final week of the class: 2,778

Total unique visitors who watched Caffo’s video lectures: 8,380

Total who submitted a quiz: 2,882

Total who submitted homework: 2,492

Total who passed the course (averaging 70 percent or better on quizzes): 748

Total who passed with distinction (averaging 90 percent or better): 447

And here is Caffo’s take:

“Regardless of how MOOCs wind up, it is awesome to be a professor in a time where teaching is the hottest topic in higher education at research-driven universities. I also have a lot of sympathy for democratizing education and information. Very few people will have the privilege of a Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health education. But, with these efforts [including free online initiatives such as Open Courseware, iTunes U, Coursera] everyone can get at least some fraction of what we believe is fundamental knowledge for attacking the world’s public health problems.”

via Grades are in for a pioneering free Johns Hopkins online class – College, Inc. – The Washington Post.

January 31, 2013 at 1:00 am 7 comments

How Can We Get More Boys Into Ballet? Response to an argument against getting more women into computing

Do we have a desperate need for more ballet dancers?  Has ballet dancing become the lifeblood of our society?  If so, then we really should try to get more boys into ballet. Or maybe ballet dancers made much more than average.  Then getting more boys into ballet (or figuring out, at least, why they weren’t there) would be about being fair, giving everyone a chance at the high-paying jobs by making sure that there weren’t any accidental barriers or implicit bias.

Fortunately, we’re talking computing, not ballet, and we know the answers to many of those questions for computing.  Computing is ubiquitous in our society and is critical to our economy.  We face a labor shortage of skilled computing professionals.  Computing professionals are rarely female. There are forms of bias that prevent many women from engaging and persisting in computing. Finally, when there are more diverse teams, design gets better.  For all these reasons, we need more women in computing.  There are answers beyond a “positive discrimination policy.”  Changing what we do can making computing education more attractive and engaging for women, and make it better for men, too.  Curb cuts help everyone.

I have a great amount of respect for the efforts of others in doing what they can to try to redress these outmoded stereotypes. I’m just not sure that I agree completely that a positive discrimination policy is an effective solution. This issue is not confined to just this sector of tech and computing but applies in many others. In our school there is one boy in the GCSE Textiles class and 3 boys in the GCSE Food class. I wonder if as a society we should question whether we celebrate the differences between male and female or seek to remove and reduce them. When I stand up on the bus to offer my seat to a lady or hold the door open for a female colleague, am I being courteous, chivalrous or disrespectful to men?

via How Can We Get More Boys Into Ballet? « Teach Computing.

January 30, 2013 at 2:00 am 9 comments

Demographics on GT’s first Coursera MOOC: Computational Investing by Tucker Balch

My colleague Tucker Balch posted on his blog the detailed demographics of his Coursera MOOC (the first at Georgia Tech), “Computational Investing.” He got 41% of the completers to respond to his survey, but only 2.6% of those who enrolled but did not complete. That’s a remarkable response rate, so it’s a great snapshot into who completes a course like this.

A big caveat up-front: This is “Computational Investing.” It’s clearly an elective subject, so we would expect demographics to shift from what we might hope to see in a required course (like CS1 or data structures) or a common upper-level course (like AI).

Some of the results that I found intriguing:

January 29, 2013 at 1:04 am 8 comments

Visiting Indiana University this week

I’m visiting Indiana University this week, and giving two talks.  If any readers are in the Bloomington area, I hope you can stop by!

9:30 am Jan 29
Education 2140

Title: Improving Success in Learning Computer Science Using Lessons from Learning Sciences

Abstract: Learning computer science is difficult, with multiple international studies demonstrating little progress. We still understand too little about the cognitive difficulties of learning programming, but we do know that we can improve success by drawing on lessons from across learning sciences. In this talk, I will describe three examples, where we improve success in learning computer science through application of lessons and models from the learning sciences. We increased the retention of non-CS majors in a required CS course by increasing the relevance of the course (informed by Eccles’ model of achievement-related choices), though we are limited in how far we can go because legitimate peripheral participation is less relevant. We improved opportunities to learn in a collaborative forum by drawing on lessons from anchored instruction, but were eventually defeated by student perceptions of culture. We have improved learning and transfer of knowledge about programming by using subgoal labeling to promote self-explanations.

9 am Thursday Jan 31
SoIC Colloquium Series
IMU State Room East

Title: Three Lessons in Teaching Computing to Everyone

Abstract:  My colleagues and I have been studying how to teach computer science, to CS majors, to non-CS undergraduates, and to adult professionals.  In this talk, I’ll talk about some of what we’ve learned, organized around three lessons.  Lesson #1: We typically teach computer science too abstractly, and by teaching it in a context (e.g., media, robots, Nintendo GameBoys, Photoshop), we can dramatically improve success (retention and learning) for both traditional and non-traditional CS learners. Lesson #2: Collaboration can create opportunities for learning, but classroom culture (e.g., competition) trumps technology (Wikis).  Lesson #3: Our greatest challenge in computer science education is improving teaching, and that will require changes in high schools, in public policy, and in universities.

January 28, 2013 at 11:55 am 3 comments

Kids should learn programming as well as reading and writing – Mitch Resnick

A recommended video from Mitch Resnick, who leads the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, the home of Scratch.

Most people view computer coding as a narrow technical skill. Not Mitch Resnick. He argues that the ability to code, like the ability to read and write, is becoming essential for full participation in today’s society. And he demonstrates how Scratch programming software from the MIT Media Lab makes coding accessible and appealing to everyone — from elementary-school children to his 83-year-old mom.

As director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, Mitch Resnick designs new technologies that, in the spirit of the blocks and finger paint of kindergarten, engage people of all ages in creative learning experiences.

via Kids should learn programming as well as reading and writing – Boing Boing.

January 28, 2013 at 2:00 am 10 comments

The future of the university with MOOCs: It’s all about the individual

Interesting piece in Inside HigherEd which argues that the real impact of MOOCs on the University is to get the University out of the business of engaging students and working to improve completion, retention, and graduation rates.  Nobody gets into the University until proven by MOOC.  And since so few people complete the MOOCs, the percentage of the population with degrees may plummet.

Constructing this future will take some time, but not much time.  It only requires the adaptation of various existing mechanisms for providing proctored exams worldwide and a revenue and expense model that allows all the providers (university and faculty content providers, MOOC middleware providers, and quality control providers) to establish profitable fee structures.  In this model, the risk and cost of student engagement is borne by the students alone.  The university assumes no responsibility for student success other than identifying quality courses.  The MOOC middleware companies create and offer the content through sophisticated Internet platforms available to everyone but make no representations about the likelihood of student achievement.  Indeed, many student participants may seek only participation not completion. The quality control enterprise operates on a fee-for-service basis that operates without much concern for the number of students that pass or fail the various proctored tests of content acquisition, and many participants in MOOC activities may not want to engage the quality control system.

via MOOCs and the Future of the University | Inside Higher Ed.

January 28, 2013 at 1:18 am 6 comments

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