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

What are the cognitive skills needed for model-building?

Mylène is describing in the below blog post about how she’s helping her students develop a set of cognitive skills (including a growth mindset) to help them build models.  What I found fascinating in her post were the implicit points, obvious to her, about what the students didn’t know.  One student said, “I wish someone had told me this a long time ago.”  What are the cognitive skills necessary to enable people to build models, or program?  Causal thinking is absolutely critical, of course. What else is necessary that we haven’t identified?  We need to check if students have those skills, or if we need to teach them explicitly.

Last year I found out in February that my students couldn’t consistently distinguish between a cause and a definition, and trying to promote that distinction while they were overloaded with circuit theory was just too much.  So this year I created a unit called “Thinking Like a Technician,” in which I introduced the thinking skills we would use in the context of everyday examples.

via Growth-Mindset Resource Could Support Model-Building « Shifting Phases.

January 25, 2013 at 1:18 am Leave a comment

Linking CSTA Standards to other National Standards

CSTA has just published a useful set of documents, mapping their CS standards to other standards, including the Common Core. This is important for helping computer science teachers argue for how computer science helps achieve the goals of a variety of learning objectives.

When designing state and district standards and school courses and curricula, it is often helpful to know how the CSTA K-12 Computer Science Standards correspond with other common national standards. To help with these efforts, we have created a series of downloadable documents that match the CSTA standards to the following standards documents:

  • Common Core State Standards
  • STEM Cluster Topics
  • Partnership for the 21st Century Essential Skills

via CSTA – CSTA K-12 Standards.

January 24, 2013 at 1:14 am Leave a comment

Here’s the Real Reason There Are Not More Women in Technology – Forbes

Interesting piece from Forbes, an interview with several female technical leaders about why there are too few women in technology.

In the past, technology jobs were viewed by women as populated by men in basements, working alone, as an organ of the computer. Harvey Mudd’s President, Maria Klawe compiled her own research and offered a more substantive explanation, “We’ve done lots of research on why young women don’t choose tech careers and number one is they think it’s not interesting. Number two, they think they wouldn’t be good at it. Number three, they think they will be working with a number of people that they just wouldn’t feel comfortable or happy working alongside.”

But, in today’s world, those views are officially over. Technology careers are interesting, women are great at it, and they get to work alongside extraordinary men and women. Being technology illiterate just doesn’t cut it anymore. It can’t when so many more job functions require so much more technical know-how.

That’s my point. It’s not just that we have to encourage more women into technology related jobs; it’s that we need to show all women as Intel’s CIO Kim Stevenson put it to me, “the impact a technical background can have on a woman’s career, and the economic potential that accompanies it.” Stevenson, agreeing with Bates adds, “Often women don’t understand what options are available in tech fields – and that stops them.”

via Here’s the Real Reason There Are Not More Women in Technology – Forbes.

January 23, 2013 at 1:21 am Leave a comment

Where did CS PhD’s get their undergraduate degrees?

The latest issue of Computing Research News has a report from CRA-E (their Education subcommittee) on where CS PhD’s come from.  Research universities, institutions that stop at Masters degrees, four year colleges, or top liberal arts institutions?  Turns out the answer is that the vast majority of CS PhD’s get their undergraduate degrees from research universities, but the sum of the PhD’s who get their undergraduate degrees from the top 25 liberal arts institutions is greater than any single research institution.  There’s also evidence that the research universities produce better graduate students, using NSF fellowships as the quality metric.  That was quite unexpected — I would have guessed that the four years and the liberal arts institutions would have played a much greater role.

In 2010, 1665 Ph.D.’s were awarded in computer science of which 714 went to domestic students.   Approximately 71% of the domestic Ph.D.’s received their undergraduate degrees from research universities, 15% from master’s institutions, 11% from four-year colleges, and 4% from other colleges.  These proportions have remained essentially unchanged since 2000 with all four types seeing similar increases since 2005.

via Computing Research News – Online – Computing Research Association.

January 22, 2013 at 1:04 am 15 comments

First, Do No Harm: Inequality in American Education Will Not Be Solved Online

Ian raises a really important issue that I don’t think is being discussed enough.  I predict that computer science MOOC completers are even more white and male than in existing computing education.  Replacing more face-to-face CS courses with MOOCs may be reversing the hard-fought gains we’ve made through NCWIT and NSF BPC efforts.  I’ve asked both Udacity and Coursera about the demographics of their completers.  Coursera said that they don’t know yet because they simply haven’t looked.  Udacity said that it’s “about the same” as in existing face-to-face CS classes.

To address issues of inequality, we will have to do something different than what we are doing now, but we want to do something different that has better results.  We need to be careful that we don’t make choices that lead us to a worse place than we are now.

Here’s a concrete proposal: Any institution that belongs to NCWIT (or more significantly, the NCWIT Pacesetters program) that runs a MOOC for computer science and does not check demographics should have its membership revoked. (See Note.)  We should not be promoting computer science education that is even more exclusive.  We need new forms of computer science education that broaden participation.  At the very least, we ought to be checking — are we doing no harm? Are we advancing our agenda of broadening participation, or making it more exclusionary?

I wonder if the responsibility to check is even greater for public institutions.  Public institutions have a responsibility to the citizens of their state to be inclusive. Readers of this blog have argued that Title IX does not apply to academic programs, suggesting that there is no legal requirement for CS departments to try to draw in more women and minorities.  We in public universities still have a moral responsibility to make our courses and programs accessible.  If we choose to offer instruction via MOOCs, particularly as a replacement for face-to-face courses, don’t we have a responsibility to make sure that we are not driving away women and minorities?

The SJSU test will be run on “remedial” courses at one of the country’s most ethnically diverse universities, of which only 25 percent of the student population is white, and which is primarily comprised of minorities, first-generation college students, and commuting students. This is a population that has more likely been subject to underfunded primary and secondary schools and, generally speaking, a whole regime of distress, neglect, and bias compared to California residents who would attend Berkeley or UCLA. Put differently, the conditions that produced the situation that the Udacity deal is meant to solve, at least in part, was first caused by a lack of sufficient investment in and attention to early- and mid-childhood education.

In response, California could reinvest in public schools and the profession of secondary teaching. But instead, the state has decided to go the private paved surface and illumination services route — siphoning California taxpayer receipts and student tuition directly into a for-profit startup created, like all startups, with the purpose of producing rapid financial value for its investors. Just how much of those proceeds Udacity will hold onto is unclear. While the company has reportedly paid instructors in the past, it’s unclear if its new institutional relationships will support paid teaching or not. Coursera, Udacity’s primary competitor in the private MOOC marketplace, has managed to get faculty from prestigious institutions to provide courses for free, in exchange for the glory of a large audience and the marketing benefit of the host institution.

via Inequality in American Education Will Not Be Solved Online – Ian Bogost – The Atlantic.

Note: While I sit on the NCWIT Leadership Team, the opinions in this blog are my own.  They do not represent NCWIT’s policy. I shared this blog post with Lucy Sanders, CEO of NCWIT, and she made an interesting suggestion.  Some NCWIT Pacesetters are departments who may have little control over what their college, school, or university does.  If they must use MOOCs, because of decisions made higher in the administrative chain, then perhaps measuring the demographics of the completers might be a way of being a Pacesetter.

January 21, 2013 at 1:44 am 31 comments

Teaching Programming To A Highly Motivated Beginner: The Difference between Anecdote and Data

Phillip Guo has a piece in Blog@CACM on how he tutored a single adult to learn to program. He contrasts it with the MOOC approach of teaching thousands. There’s another important contrast–between anecdote and data.

Phillip’s story is interesting and compelling. He raises some key insights, like the value of motivation to drive someone to come to a new understanding. But some of his claims are just too broad, like the one he boldfaced below in his original, “I don’t think there is any better way to internalize knowledge than first spending hours upon hours growing emotionally distraught over such struggles and only then being helped by a mentor.”

Phillip could be right. (I don’t think that he is.) But to suggest that there isn’t a better way based on the study of one learner is over-generalizing. There is a research methods for produce case studies, which is the closest research method to what Phillip did. There’s only so much you can claim from a single case study, though.

Brian usually did 10-15 hours of programming on his own before each 1-2 hour Skype call with me, so he always had plenty of urgent questions and newly-written code that he wanted me to help him debug or improve. If I had just given him lectures without any context, he would not have internalized the lessons as thoroughly. He would have probably nodded his head and been like, “uh huh, ok that makes sense … cool. what’s next?” Instead, because he was usually struggling with concrete, code-related problems before our tutoring sessions — often to the point of frustration and discouragement — he would respond more like, “OHHH, WOW! Now I totally get it!”, whenever I guided him over some problem that seemed insurmountable to him at the time. His joy and relief were always unmistakable. I don’t think there is any better way to internalize knowledge than first spending hours upon hours growing emotionally distraught over such struggles and only then being helped by a mentor.

via Teaching Programming To A Highly Motivated Beginner | blog@CACM | Communications of the ACM.

January 18, 2013 at 1:40 am 5 comments

Meet Kyla McMullen: The 1st Black Woman to Graduate With a PhD In CS at U-Michigan

I just learned this fact at the NSF BPC/CE21 meeting from Jane Margolis’s talk. This last Fall 2012, the first female African-American CS PhD graduated from the University of Michigan. Michigan is 14% African-American. University of Michigan is a state institution. Really? 2012? I guess it’s not too surprising, when we know from the AP CS data that I talked about last year that few African-Americans get access to computer science in Michigan.

Dr. Kyla McMullen is the first African American woman to graduate with a PhD in computer science at the University of Michigan. When asked how she feels about her new title, the scholar replied “Bittersweet.” She explained that it’s gratifying to have the distinction of being the university’s first African American female to acquire a PhD in computer science, it reminds her of a sad reality: There aren’t enough men and women of color pursuing advanced degrees in computer science.

via Meet Kyla McMullen: The 1st Black Woman to Graduate With a PhD In Computer Science at Univ of Michigan | Your Black World.

January 17, 2013 at 10:57 am 1 comment

First endowed chair CS Ed professor, Ben Shapiro at Tufts

While Ben Shapiro’s chair says “Engineering Education,” his PhD in Education and CS and the kinds of projects he works on says to me that we can claim him as a CS Ed guy.  Which makes this the first (as far as I know) Endowed Chair for CS Ed.  Ben will be part of CEEO at Tufts — they have a new MAT for teaching engineering that I wrote about earlier, and I visited them last month and wrote about here.  A win for Ben, Tufts, and the CS Ed community!

The James S. McDonnell Family Foundation has donated $3 million to Tufts University in Medford, Mass., to fund an endowed chair at its school of engineering, university officials announced.

The gift will also support the Center for Engineering Education and Outreach (CEEO) to expand research into educational technologies to help children in grades K-12 learn engineering and technology concepts.

R. Ben Shapiro will be the inaugural holder of the McDonnell Family Foundation professorship in engineering education (pending university provost and trustee approval), and he will be a faculty member of CEEO.

via McDonnell Foundation gifts $3 million to Tufts University – St. Louis Business Journal.

January 17, 2013 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

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