Archive for July 12, 2013

Automatically grading programming homework: Echoes of Proust

I’d love to see this new system from MIT compared to Lewis Johnson’s Proust.  Proust also found semantic bugs in students’ code.  Lewis (and Elliot Soloway and Jim Spohrer) collected hundreds of bugs when students were working on the Rainfall Problem, then looked for those bugs in students’ programs.  Proust caught about 85% of students’ semantic errors.  That last 15% covered so many different bugs that it wasn’t worthwhile to encode the semantic check rules — each rule would only fire once, ever.  My guess is that Proust, which knew what problem that the students were working on, would do better than the MIT homework checker, because it can only encode general mistakes.

The new system does depend on a catalogue of the types of errors that student programmers tend to make. One such error is to begin counting from zero on one pass through a series of data items and from one in another; another is to forget to add the condition of equality to a comparison — as in, “If a is greater than or equal to b, do x.”

The first step for the researchers’ automated-grading algorithm is to identify all the spots in a student’s program where any of the common errors might have occurred. At each of those spots, the possible error establishes a range of variations in the program’s output: one output if counting begins at zero, for instance, another if it begins at one. Every possible combination of variations represents a different candidate for the corrected version of the student’s program.

via Automatically grading programming homework – MIT News Office.

July 12, 2013 at 1:51 am 4 comments

Carl Wieman Finds Colleges Resist Measuring Teaching

I’ve just started my subscription to The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the first print issue I received had a great article about Carl Wieman, whom I have written about previously (here and here and here, for just three).  The story (online here: Crusader for Better Science Teaching Finds Colleges Slow to Change – Government – The Chronicle of Higher Education) was about his efforts to get the White House to measure teaching practices.

At the White House, Mr. Wieman tried to figure out what might actually get colleges and their faculty members to adopt proven teaching practices. His centerpiece idea was that American colleges and universities, in order to remain eligible for the billions of dollars the federal government spends annually on scientific research, should be required to have their faculty members spend a few minutes each year answering a questionnaire that would ask about their usual types of assignments, class materials, student interaction, and lecture and discussion styles.

Mr. Wieman believed that a moment or two of pondering such concepts might lead some instructors to reconsider their approaches. Also, Mr. he says, data from the responses might give parents and prospective students the power to choose colleges that use the most-proven teaching methods. He hoped the survey idea could be realized as either an act of Congress or a presidential executive order.

I hadn’t heard about this survey, but my immediate thought was, “What a great idea!”  We need better ways to measure teaching (like with Sadler’s recent work), and this seems like a great first step.  I was surprised to read the response

College leaders derided it as yet another unnecessary intrusion by government into academic matters.

“Linking federal funding for scientific research to pedagogical decisions of the faculty would have set a terrible precedent for policy makers,” said Princeton University’s Shirley M. Tilghman, one of several presidents of major research institutions who wrote to the White House to complain about Mr. Wieman’s idea. “It is naïve to think that the ‘surveys’ will not have consequences down the line.”

Wouldn’t “consequences” be a good thing?  Shouldn’t we reward schools that are doing more to improve teaching and adopt better practices?  Shouldn’t we incentivize schools to do better at teaching?  I guess I’m the one who is naïve — I was surprised that there was so much resistance.  In the end, Wieman lost the battle.  He’s now left the White House, dealing with multiple myeloma.

Perhaps the saddest line in the piece is this one:

“I’m not sure what I can do beyond what I’ve already done,” Mr. Wieman says.

Is it really impossible to get universities to take teaching seriously?

 

July 12, 2013 at 1:05 am 12 comments


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 9,005 other followers

Feeds

Recent Posts

Blog Stats

  • 1,880,022 hits
July 2013
M T W T F S S
1234567
891011121314
15161718192021
22232425262728
293031  

CS Teaching Tips