Archive for January, 2014

Big Data vs. Ed Psychology: Work harder vs. work smarter

I met with a prospective PhD student recently, who told me that she’s interested in using big data to inform her design of computing education.  She said that she disliked designing something, just crossing her fingers hoping it would work.  She and the faculty she’s working with are trying to use big data to inform their design decisions.

That’s a fine approach, but it’s pretty work-intensive.  You gather all this data, then you have to figure out what’s relevant, and what it means, and how it influences practice.  It’s a very computer science-y way of solving the problem, but it’s rather brute force.

There is a richer data source with much more easily applicable design guidelines: educational psychology literature.  Educational psychologists have been thinking about these issues for a long time.  They know a lot of things.

We’re finding that we can inform a lot of our design decisions by simply reading the relevant education literature:

I was recently reading a computer science paper in which the author said that we don’t know much about mathematics education, and that’s because we’ve never had enough data to come up with findings.  But there were no references to mathematics education literature.  We actually know a lot about mathematics education literature.  Too often, I fear that we computer scientists want to invent it all ourselves, as if that was a better approach.  Why not just talk to and read the work of really smart people who have devoted their lives to figuring out how to teach better?


January 31, 2014 at 1:35 am 6 comments

Call for Papers for ICER 2014

Quintin Cutts, Beth Simon and Brian Dorn, chairs for this year’s ACM International Computing Education Research Conference, ICER 2014, invite you to submit a research paper or lightning talk.  The Conference, the 10th in the series, will be held in Glasgow, Scotland on August 11-13th.Submission Deadlines:
— April 14, 2014 — Research paper submissions (8 pages) with a one week re-submission allowance.
— June 16, 2014 — Lightning talk abstract submissions.Just prior to the Conference, there will be a Doctoral Consortium (DC), with support to attend available from SIGCSE; and just afterwards, there’ll be a Critical Research Review (CRR).  Both activities will enable researchers to gain high-quality critical feedback on their research plans, providing an excellent springboard for a successful and productive research year in 2014/15.

Why submit to/attend ICER 2014?

– Authors have in the past explicitly noted how the quality of ICER reviews significantly improved their work.
– Our single-track, discussion-oriented, paper sessions result in significant additional feedback being provided on every paper.
– The format enables you to meet new researchers and initiate valuable new research activities.
– If you are new to empirical computer science education research, you will be immersed in a practising community for three days.
– Either before or after the conference, you have an opportunity to significantly enhance your research agenda, via the DC or the CRR.
– You can include a holiday in Scotland, including the Edinburgh Festival, the Commonwealth Games (in Glasgow!),
and more historic and pre-historic castles, lochs, glens, islands and mountains than you’ve ever dreamed of…

Full details, including the full CFP, available at

We’re looking forward to receiving your papers,

best regards,

Quintin, Beth and Brian.

Brian Dorn, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Computer Science
Union Pacific Community Chair of Computer Science Education
University of Nebraska at Omaha |

January 30, 2014 at 1:40 pm 2 comments

Powerful visualization of gender-skew in AP CS from USA Today

The chart below (above, here in the blog) shows the ratio of boy to girl test-takers across AP exam subjects. In subjects whose bars do not reach the orange line, girls outnumber boys. In subjects where the bar extends past the orange line, boys outnumber girls.

via AP Test Shows Wide Gender Gap in Computer Science, Physics – Data Mine

January 30, 2014 at 1:01 am 10 comments

Thoughts from Toronto on teaching code to librarians

The blog post linked below felt close to home, though I measure it differently than lines of code.  The base point is that we tend to start introductory programming courses assuming way more knowledge than is already there.  My experience this semester is that we tend to expect students to gain more knowledge more quickly than they do (and maybe, than they can).

I’m teaching Python Media Computation this semester, on campus (for the first time in 7 years).  As readers know, I’ve become fascinated with worked examples as a way of learning programming, so I’m using a lot of those in this class.  In Ray Lister terms, I’m teaching program reading more than program writing.  In Bloom’s taxonomy terms, I’m teaching comprehension before synthesis.

As is common in our large courses at Georgia Tech (I’m teaching in a lecture of 155 students, and there’s another parallel section of just over 100), the course is run by a group of undergraduate TA’s.  Our head TA took the course, and has been TA-ing it for six semesters.  The TA’s create all homeworks and quizzes.  I get to critique (which I do), and they do respond reasonably.  I realize that all the TA’s expect that the first thing to measure in programming is writing code.  All the homeworks are programming from a blank sheet of paper.  Even the first quiz is “Write a function to…”.  The TA’s aren’t trying to be difficult.  They’re doing as they were taught.

One of the big focal research areas in the new NSF STEM-C solicitation is “learning progressions.”  Where can we reasonably expect students to start in learning computer science?  How fast can we reasonably expect them to learn?  What is a reasonable order of topics and events?  We clearly need to learn a lot more about these to construct effective CS education.

I’m not going to articulate the next few orders of magnitude, both because they are not relevant to beginner or intermediate programmers, and because I’m climbing the 1K → 10K transition myself, so I’m not able to articulate it well. But they have to do with elegance, abstraction, performance, scalability, collaboration, best practices, code as craft.

The 3am realization is that many, many “introduction” to programming materials start at the 1 → 10 transition. But learners start at the 0 → 1 transition — and a 10-line program has the approachability of Everest at that point.

via thoughts from Toronto on teaching code to librarians.

January 29, 2014 at 1:49 am 26 comments

New CSTA Administrator Impact Award

CSTA 2014 Administrator Impact Award
The Computer Science Teachers’ Association, in partnership with, has established an award to recognize an administrator who has made an outstanding contribution in K-12 computer science. The purpose of this award is to identify and promote administrators who have made a significant impact to improve access to and the quality of computer science education.
Any public or private school administrator who is a CSTA member in good standing may be nominated for the CSTA Administrator Impact Award. Both the nominated administrator and the nominee must be able to attend (at CSTA’s expense) the 2014 CSTA Annual Conference scheduled for July 14th and 15th in St. Charles, Illinois. The winner and the person who submitted the nomination will be encouraged, although not required, to present at a dedicated session at the conference.
The Award
The Computer Science Teachers Association will award the winner and the nominating educator an all expense paid trip to the 2014 CSTA Annual Conference to be held in St. Charles, Illinois. The winner will be recognized during an awards ceremony at the conference and will be featured in an article in the CSTA Voice.
Application Deadline
The application must be submitted online no later than March 3, 2014.  See below for the Application Process.
Notification of Winners
The winning nominator and awardee will be contacted by April 11, 2014. The winner will be posted on the CSTA website by April 18, 2014.  The winner will be announced to all CSTA members via email by May 1, 2014. 
Application Process
To complete the online application, go to:
You will need to enter the following information:
* Nominator Information (name, school name, school city and state, email address, phone number)
* Nominee Information (name, title, school district, email, phone number)
* Description of how the person nominated has influenced or improved K-12 computer science education
* Description of the scope and impact this person has had on the school, district, state, or national level
* Description of the special qualities the person nominated demonstrates as an educator and leader.
Evaluation Criteria:
Proposals will be evaluated on the basis of how the administrator influenced or improved  K-12 computer science education. The scope and the impact of the nominee’s contribution may extend to school, district, state and/or national levels. The nominee should possess outstanding educator and leadership qualities as documented by the nominator.  Significant impact of the contribution should be broad enough to be replicated by other school districts and must be sustainable over time. Leadership qualities may be demonstrated through a variety ways including innovative approaches to local or national computer science challenges, mentoring of teachers, and visionary thinking.
Recommendations for Preparing the Application
* The online application must be completed in its entirety in one sitting.  It cannot be saved and/or continued at a later time
* Keep the narratives simple, unformatted, and concise
* Descriptions may be completed in a word processor then copied and pasted on the application; however, formatting may not be copied.
To complete an online application for the CSTA Administrator Award, please go to:

Contact Chris Stephenson at


January 28, 2014 at 4:34 pm 1 comment

Participation in AP CS in high school is a matter of individual, exceptional teachers

All the press coverage of Barbara Ericson’s AP CS 2013 exam results analysis has led to a lot of discussion among my Facebook friends.  The results are even more telling than the raw numbers.

  • Rebecca Dovi and Ria Galanos, both exceptional AP CS high school teachers and both in Virgina, started comparing notes on the Hispanic students who took the AP CS exam from that state.  They could name half of them.  Looks like those two teachers were responsible for half of the Hispanic exam takers from Virginia.
  • Why is that Tennessee has ranked so well for female AP CS exam takers among all the states?  It is due to one exceptional AP CS teacher, Jill Pala, who teaches at an all-girls school.  Barb verified this claim.  Jill’s class generated 30 of the 71 female exam-takers in Tennessee. Without Jill, Tennessee would be in the middle of the pack. With Jill, they have the highest percentage of female AP CS exam-takers among all the states.

On the one hand, what a wonderful statement about the impact that a single exceptional teacher can make!  Hey, states that want to raise their exam taker numbers — go hire yourselves a Rebecca, Ria, or Jill!  Or provide the professional development to grow your own!

On the other hand — our numbers are SO small that a single teacher can make the difference for a whole state.  There were 2103 schools that passed the AP CS audit in 2012.  That’s probably exactly the number of AP CS teachers, too.  There were 11,694 schools that passed the audit for AP Calculus!  Great teachers matter in Calculus, too.  But there are so many teachers, an individual teacher probably can’t make or break a whole state’s ranking.  Wouldn’t it be nice for AP CS to be in that position?

January 28, 2014 at 1:09 am 4 comments

Want More Women in Tech? Tell them what it is. Give them the choice.

Shuchi Grover nails the problem in her EdSurge article linked below.  If you read the Slashdot responses to Barbara Ericson’s AP CS statistics (not on a full stomach, of course), you will see a lot of comments along the lines of “The PC BS has to stop at some point. There are some professions and things that men prefer more than women and others that women prefer more than men.”  But all the evidence that we have suggests that there is a false hidden assumption in that statement: most students (male and female) don’t pick computer science simply because they have no idea what it is.  If students never have access to computer science, never see computer science, never see programming or a programmer or any code, then it’s not a choice.

Here’s news for all: Even today, most children between the ages of 11 and 18 either have no idea about CS or overwhelmingly associate a computer scientist with “building,” “fixing,” “improving” or “studying” computers. While some add ‘programming’ to this list, most don’t see even that within the ambit of computer science.

Research also reports that students finishing high school have a difficult time seeing themselves as computer scientists since they do not have a clear understanding of what computer science is and what a computer scientist does. This is rather unfortunate in light Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius’ powerful study on the idea of “possible selves,” the type of self-knowledge that pertains to how individuals think about their potential and their future.

via Want More Women in Tech? Fix Misperceptions of Computer Science | EdSurge News.

January 27, 2014 at 1:08 am 3 comments

Why aren’t more girls interested in CS? Barbara on


Part of the continuing media response to her AP CS 2013 analysis, Barb was on HLN Weekend Express yesterday talking about the gender gap in AP CS.  The video is linked below. My favorite part was where she told the national audience that Georgia Tech considers CS fundamental and requires it for everyone.

Barbara Ericson, director of computing outreach at Georgia Tech, has made a startling claim. She said not one female student in three states – Mississippi, Montana and Wyoming — took the Advanced Placement exam in computer science last year.

Ericson appeared on Weekend Express to discuss the gender gap and explains why more women aren’t interested in computer science.

via Why aren’t more girls interested in computer science? |

January 26, 2014 at 1:03 pm 1 comment

Chicago Announces Comprehensive K-12 CS Program

The scope of the Chicago plan is impressive.  In case you thought that the idea of offering foreign language credit for CS was a joke, it’s being considered as part of the Chicago plan.  The rationale for the plan is interesting: Arguing that it’s about national competitiveness, and about democratization.

On the first day of Computer Science Education Week, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett announced the most comprehensive K-12 computer science education plan in a major school district. This plan includes creating a pipeline for foundational computer science skills in elementary schools, offering at least one computer science class at every high school, and elevating computer science to a core subject.

“This plan will help us compete with countries like China and the UK, where children take coding classes in elementary school, and create an environment where we can help support the next Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Marissa Mayer,” said Mayor Emanuel. “By democratizing computer science, we are leveling the playing field for all children to have the same skills, appetite to learn, and access to technology to excel in this growing field.”

The K-12 program will expand student access to computer science literacy over the next five years. The program will include:

  • In the next three years, every high school will offer a foundational “Exploring Computer Science” course.
  • In the next five years, at least half of all high schools will also offer an AP Computer Science course.
  • Chicago will also be the first US urban district to offer a K-8 computer science pathway, reaching one in four elementary schools in the next five years.
  • Within five years, CPS will allow computer science to count as a graduation requirement (e.g. possibly as a math, science, or foreign language credit). Only thirteen other states have elevated computer science to a core subject instead of an elective.

via City of Chicago :: Mayor Emanuel And CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett Announce Comprehensive K-12 Computer Science Program For CPS Students.

January 26, 2014 at 1:19 am 2 comments

Maureen Biggers leads IU’s Center of Excellence for Women in Technology

Congratulations to Maureen!

The Center of Excellence for Women in Technology (CEWiT) at Indiana University officially launched this month. TechTober, the month-long launch of CEWiT during October, culminates on Monday, October 28, with a keynote address by NPR’s Moira Gunn, followed by a special reception at the IU Auditorium.

CEWiT falls under the Office of the Provost umbrella and is dedicated to promoting success, retention, increased engagement, and promotion of IU women faculty, staff and students from multiple disciplines and career intentions who engage with computation and technology. Alliances have formed for each of these three advocacy groups. The focus hits very close to home for the School of Informatics and Computing (SoIC), given that the School has been named a Pacesetter by the National Center for Women in Information & Technology, which works to increase women’s participation in IT.

The connection between SoIC and the program is strengthened by SoIC’s Assistant Dean for Diversity and Education Maureen Bigger’s role as director of CEWiT. She has made a career out of promoting student retention, leadership, teams, diversity, and broadening participation in computing. Biggers came to the School in 2008 from Georgia Tech. During her tenure, undergraduate female enrollment has more than doubled.

via SoIC’s Biggers leads IU’s Center of Excellence for Women in Technology: News: What’s Going On?: Discover: School of Informatics and Computing: Indiana University Bloomington.

January 25, 2014 at 1:13 am Leave a comment

Hiring Lecturers (face-to-face and online) at Georgia Tech

The College of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, Georgia invites applications for full-time, non-tenure-track faculty positions at the rank of Instructor or Lecturer (based on experience) to start in May 2014.  Primary responsibilities are to provide high quality classroom teaching and service to the department.  In addition, the College is specifically looking for candidates interested in performing as Instructor of Record for large online master’s degree courses with prerecorded video lecture content.  Applicants must have a minimum of a Master’s Degree in Computer Science or a related field. This position is renewable annually based on funding and the needs of the College.  This is a 9 month contract although summer teaching is typically available.

Applications should include a cover letter, curriculum vitae, teaching statement, material relevant to evaluating the applicant’s teaching abilities, and the names of at least three references.    These documents should be emailed to with “Lecturer Vacancy” in the subject line.  Also, candidates are requested to ask references to send their letters directly to the search committee via electronic mail to and ask them to put your name in the subject line.  For full consideration, interested individuals are asked to apply by April 15, 2014.  However, posting will remain open until position(s) are filled.

Duties, Responsibilities and Assignments

The overall responsibility of the lecturers and instructors at the College of Computing is to teach such Computer Science classes as are assigned to them, usually the large first and second year classes.  The specific duties involved in teaching such a class are:

1.     Preparing and maintaining a class syllabus and schedule.

2.     Preparing and delivering materials for each of the scheduled meeting times of the class. For Online courses monitor course progress and activity and respond appropriately to any problems.

3.     Holding regularly scheduled office hours to assist students who are having any difficulty with course materials.

4.     If Teaching Assistants (TAs) are required for the class,

  • a.      Making the selection of TAs to hire for the class
  • b.     Ensuring that each TA is trained with respect to their legal obligations to the students and to the technical content of the class.
  • c.      Ensuring appropriate conduct of the TAs.

5.     Supervising the development of, and approving the content of, all assignments given to the students in the class.

6.     Supervising the development of, and approving the content of, all evaluation materials given to the students in the class.

7.     Supervising and ensuring the correctness and fairness of all grading activities in the class.

8.     Computing and delivering to the Registrar’s Office mid-term and final grades for the class.

9.     Assisting in reviews of their fellow lecturers on a regular basis.

10.  Participating in committees and other administrative activities as required by the administration.

January 24, 2014 at 9:23 am 2 comments

Computer Manpower in Higher Education — Is There a Crisis? Worse than you might think

A slightly different pattern for me: Check out the quote first, and I’ll add comments after.

Let us consider the conundrum facing the computer field in higher education first. It is experiencing an exponentially increasing demand for its product with an inelastic labor supply. How has it reacted? NSF has made a survey of the responses of engineering departments, including computer science departments in schools of engineering, to the increasing demand for undergraduate education in engineering. There is a consistent pattern in their responses and the results can be applied without exception to the computer field whether the departments are located in engineering schools or elsewhere. 80% of the universities are responding by increasing teaching loads, 50% by decreasing course offerings and concentrating their available faculty on larger but fewer courses, and 66% are using more graduate-student teaching assistants or part-time faculty. 35% report reduced research opportunities for faculty as a result. In brief, they are using a combination of rational management measures to adjust as well as they can to the severe manpower constraints under which they must operate. However, these measures make the universities’ environments less attractive for employment and are exactly counterproductive to their need to maintain and expand their labor supply. They are also counterproductive to producing more new faculty since the image graduate students get of academic careers is one of harassment, frustration, and too few rewards. The universities are truly being choked by demand for their own product and have a formidable people-flow problem, analogous to but much more difficult to address than the cash-flow problem which often afflicts rapidly growing businesses. There are no manpower banks which can provide credit.

via Computer Manpower — Is There a Crisis?.

This quote was presented by Eric Roberts in his keynote earlier this month at the NSF-sponsored Future Computing Education Research Summit (well organized by Steve Cooper).  The highlight is my addition, because I was struck by the specificity of the description.  I find the description  believable, and it captures the problems of CS higher-education today, especially in the face of rising enrollments in CS classes (discussed by Eric Roberts here and by Ed Lazowka and Dave Patterson here).

What makes this analysis scarier is that the paper quoted was published in 1982.  Back in the 1980’s, the state Universities had the mandate and the budget to grow to meet the demand.  They didn’t always have the CS PhD graduates that they needed, so some Math and EE PhDs became CS faculty.  Today, though, the state Universities are under severe budget constraints.  How will we meet the demand in enrollment?  In the 1980’s, some CS programs met the demand by raising the bar for entering the CS major, which ended up make CS more white and male (because only the more privileged students were able to stay above the bar).  Will our solutions lead to less diversity in CS?  Will we lose more faculty to industry, and replace them with MOOCs?

January 24, 2014 at 1:44 am 7 comments

NSF Dear Colleague Letter on new Idea Labs in STEM Education

Sent from Jeff Forbes — notice a very short fuse on this! Due Feb 4! I think they mean for us computing education folks to be classified under “Engineering.”


Preparing Applications to Participate in Phase I Ideas Labs on Undergraduate STEM Education

NSF 14-033

The Directorate for Education and Human Resources has implemented a new program for “Improving Undergraduate STEM Education” (IUSE) through its Division of Undergraduate Education (EHR/DUE).  The IUSE program description [PD 14-7513] [1] outlines a broad funding opportunity to support projects that address immediate challenges and opportunities facing undergraduate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, as well as those that anticipate new structures and function of the undergraduate STEM learning and teaching enterprise.  The IUSE program description creates an opportunity to submit unsolicited proposals across all topics and fields affecting undergraduate STEM education.  It also includes an opportunity to participate in the first phase of three different Ideas Labs aimed at incubating innovative approaches for advancing undergraduate STEM education in three disciplines (biology, engineering, and the geosciences).  These “IUSE Phase I Ideas Labs” will bring together relevant disciplinary and education research expertise to produce research agendas that address discipline-specific workforce development needs.  The purpose of this Dear Colleague Letter is to provide additional information regarding the focus of the three Phase I Ideas Labs and guidance on preparing applications for community members seeking to participate in them.

What is a Phase I Ideas Lab?

An “Ideas Lab” is a new merit review strategy being used at the National Science Foundation to address grand challenges in STEM research and education. The Ideas Lab process is modeled on the “IDEAS Factory” program [2] developed by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) of the United Kingdom.  The Ideas Lab process starts with submission of a brief application to participate in the Ideas Lab, indicating a Principal Investigator’s interest in and preliminary ideas regarding the specific Ideas Lab topic.  A diverse sub-set of participants from a range of disciplines and backgrounds will be selected from the submitted applications by NSF and will be brought together in an intensive, interactive and free-thinking environment, where participants immerse themselves in a collaborative dialog in order to construct bold and innovative approaches.  In the IDEAS Factory model, the five-day Ideas Lab culminates with the development of multidisciplinary collaborative concepts by teams of participants; a sub-set of these teams are then invited to submit full proposals.  This Dear Colleague Letter only invites applications to participate in Phase I of the IUSE Ideas Labs (i.e., the 5-day immersive activity).  Full proposals will not be invited at the end of the three IUSE Phase I Ideas Labs.

Each Phase I Ideas Lab will be led by an Ideas Lab Director whose role will be to assist in defining the topics and to aid facilitated discussions at the event. This Director will be joined by a small number of Mentors who will help to facilitate the interactive discussions. The Mentors will be selected by NSF, based on their intellectual standing, their impartiality and objectivity, and their broad understanding of, and enthusiasm for, the subject area. Although the Director and Mentors will take full part in the Phase I Ideas Lab, they are not eligible to receive research funding for ideas generated under this collaborative activity. They will therefore act as impartial peer reviewers in the process, providing a function analogous to that of an NSF review panel.  Interactions among the participants will also be assisted by a team of professional facilitators.

Each Phase I Ideas Lab will run over five days, starting mid-morning on day one and finishing mid-afternoon on day five. At the outset, participants will work collaboratively to identify and define the scope of the research challenges relating to the specific workforce topic of their Ideas Lab (see below). An important early step in the process is to develop common languages and terminologies amongst people from a diverse range of backgrounds and disciplines, as well as a shared understanding of the challenges.  As the discussion progresses, participants will build up thoughts about how the identified challenges may be addressed and develop their innovative ideas and activities into worthwhile collaborative research projects, which should contain genuinely novel and potentially risk-taking investigations.  “Real-time” peer review from the Mentors will help to further refine project concepts.

The nature of the Ideas Lab process requires a high degree of trust between participants in order to make the required breakthroughs in thinking about the role of undergraduate education in STEM workforce development. This trust extends to allowing the free and frank exchange of ideas, some being in the very early stages of development. The aim of an Ideas Lab is not to discuss ideas that are already well-developed but not yet published. Rather, the goal is to bring individuals from different disciplines together to interact and engage in free thinking on first principles, to learn from one another and create an integrated vision for future research projects. It is expected that the sharing of these ideas would be encouraged within the Ideas Lab; but, their confidentiality would be respected outside the Ideas Lab.

Who Should Apply to Participate? 

Having the right mix of participants will help to influence the success or failure of such an activity. Applications are encouraged from individuals representing diverse research areas across a range of disciplines, as well as representatives of stakeholder communities, including prospective employers and scientific and professional societies serving the relevant disciplines. Contributions to the challenges identified below could be made by researchers working in a variety of disciplines or research areas that are relevant to the specific topic of the Phase I Ideas Lab.  The disciplines that should be represented at these Ideas Labs are not being identified; instead, potential participants are asked to indicate how their expertise can address the challenges of the specific Ideas Lab to which they are applying. While it would be beneficial for applicants to have some prior knowledge of the challenges associated with undergraduate STEM education and workforce development for biology, engineering, or the geosciences, it is more important that applicants demonstrate an enthusiasm for cross-disciplinary research, as the future of this research area will require input from many disciplines.

The ability to develop and pursue a new approach will also be crucial. Expertise is required from a very broad range of disciplines, and applicants should not feel limited by conventional perceptions: the Ideas Lab approach is about bringing people together who would not normally interact. People who are experts in their own research areas but have not yet applied it to this challenge are encouraged to apply. This is an opportunity to share ideas and develop future collaborations. Participants are welcomed at any stage of their research career; however, they must be eligible to apply for funding from NSF[1].

Specific Themes of the IUSE Phase I Ideas Labs

As noted in the IUSE program description, a well-prepared, innovative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce is crucial to the Nation’s health and economy.  Achieving NSF priorities of educating students to be leaders and innovators in emerging and rapidly changing STEM fields as well as educating a scientifically literate populace depends on the nature and quality of the undergraduate education experience.  NSF invests in research-based and research-generating approaches to understand STEM learning and develop and disseminate best practices for STEM instruction, with the goals of increasing student retention in STEM, broadening participation in STEM of underrepresented populations, preparing students well to participate in the science of tomorrow, and improving students’ STEM learning outcomes. Recognizing disciplinary differences and priorities, NSF’s investment in research and development in undergraduate STEM education encompasses a range of approaches. These approaches include: experiential learning, assessment/metrics of learning and practice, scholarships, foundational education research, professional development/institutional change, formal and informal learning environments, and undergraduate disciplinary research.

The IUSE program description has invited participation in Ideas Labs for three different disciplines, each of which has unique priorities and needs regarding workforce development.  Together, they define a portfolio of issues that have broader relevance among all NSF-supported disciplines, suggesting there is potential that many of the strategies derived through the Ideas Lab process may have broader application.  The specific topics to be addressed by the IUSE Ideas Labs are described here:


The biological sciences workforce for the future, including graduates of two-year schools, four-year institutions, and graduate programs, will need mathematical and computational skills beyond those of its predecessors. These tools also are required across the wide spectrum of biological sub-disciplines. Such universal need for enhanced quantitative and computational expertise is reflected in the prominence of these proficiencies among the set of core competencies identified by the community of biological scientists in the Vision and Change in Undergraduate Biology Education: A Call to Action ([3] Specifically, these are “the ability to use quantitative reasoning” and “the ability to use modeling and simulation”, to gain a deeper understanding of the dynamics and complexity of biological systems. In addition, many areas of biology, from molecular, organismal through ecosystems studies, are reliant on large databases. Biologists of the future will require the mathematical and theoretical foundations necessary to abstract systems-level knowledge from complex data sets.  These skills will be important also for proper database management, preservation of the data collected, and effective use of the information they contain.

The Biology Phase I Ideas Lab will consider strategies to integrate these critical competencies in quantitative literacy into a biology core curriculum and to study their effectiveness and/or impact to generate knowledge that will inform their broader implementation. Strategies to foster the success of a diverse student population and to optimize the future workforce opportunities for all students are strongly encouraged.


Social inequality in engineering education and practice is a durable problem, one that has resisted perennial efforts to “broaden participation,” “increase diversity,” or “improve recruitment and retention of women, minorities, and people with disabilities.” While a great deal of previous and ongoing work has focused on fostering the ability of individuals to access and persist in the engineering education system, this Ideas Lab will focus on changing the system itself.

Ending inequality in engineering is crucial because it represents a direct and effective way to meet workforce needs; because members of marginalized groups should not be on the sidelines in shaping our infrastructure and technological future; because workforce diversity strengthens work product; and because increased participation in high paying, prestigious workforce sectors like engineering is itself a strategy for achieving greater equity.

Many prior efforts for inclusion have been hampered by a presumption that certain parameters can’t be changed (for example, eligibility criteria, narrow definitions of what counts in or as engineering, limited roles for 2-year institutions, or a four year degree model). This ends in disappointment and frustration when change is not achieved. A radical rethinking is needed to move forward.

In the Engineering Phase I Ideas Lab, engineers and social scientists will face head on the systems and structures that reproduce social inequality in engineering education and in the engineering workforce. A complete and direct discussion is not afraid to examine manifestations of racism, sexism, and ableism in engineering, and to also consider classism, heteronormativity, ageism, and obstacles faced by Veterans and other non-traditional groups. The Engineering Phase I Ideas Lab will generate new framings and new strategies to move the nation toward greater inclusion of marginalized groups in engineering.


A major obstacle to preparing the future geoscience workforce is lack of access to relevant undergraduate courses, degree programs, and research opportunities at community colleges and minority-serving institutions.  Such institutions have limited capacity to establish sustainable, stand-alone undergraduate programs in the geosciences, thereby limiting student awareness of career opportunities in, and pathways into, the geosciences.  Smaller institutions often cannot offer students opportunities to experience sophisticated instrumentation or data used in the geosciences. As many of these institutions serve traditionally underrepresented students pursuing STEM careers, these limitations pose barriers to increasing diversity in the geosciences workforce.  The small size of the academic geoscience workforce compounds the situation by making it difficult to scale-up important geoscience education activities, and especially field- and facilities-based experiences, in order to reach a larger student population.

The rapidly evolving landscape of higher education offers new opportunities to develop innovative strategies for overcoming these obstacles.  More widespread access to web-based content and coursework, as well as innovative pedagogical approaches, are improving access for students who might otherwise be excluded.  Competency-based certificate programs that transcend the boundaries of “bricks and mortar” institutions illustrate some of the transformations underway that may foster development of highly customized, student-centered degree programs “without borders”.  These changes raise important questions about how to ensure the quality of undergraduate education and integrate a panoply of experiences so that students leave with the necessary competencies and skills, whether as a member of the geoscience workforce or as a citizen confronting geoscience-relevant decisions.

The Geosciences Phase I Ideas Lab is expected to bring together multi-disciplinary expertise representing all geoscience disciplines (including polar science), STEM education practice, cyber-learning, virtual organizations, diversity, and higher education administration, among others, to consider novel approaches to undergraduate geoscience education that develop essential competencies and skills for the workforce and increase access for diverse student populations.

Locations and Dates of the IUSE Phase I Ideas Labs

The Ideas Labs will be held during the dates of March 3-7, 2014, March 17-21, 2014, and March 31-April 4, 2014.  Specific disciplines are not yet assigned to specific dates.  The locations of the Ideas Labs have not been finalized, but all are expected to be held within a 75 mile radius of the Washington, DC metro region.  Information on the assigned dates, site, travel information, and other logistics will be provided to all selected participants prior to the event.

Travel and subsistence costs to attend one of the Phase I Ideas Labs will be reimbursed by NSF; all incidental costs incurred while at the event must be met by the participant.

Applying to Participate in an IUSE Phase I Ideas Labs

Submission of an application to participate in an IUSE Phase I Ideas Lab is required and will be considered an indication of availability to attend and participate through the full course of the five-day Ideas Lab.  Applicants are strongly encouraged to submit their application to participate by the IUSE program target date of February 4, 2014.  Please note, the application to participate must come from one individual and cannot include co-PIs or collaborators. Participants in each Ideas Lab will be selected by NSF on the basis of information submitted in the application. The applications are limited to two pages of “Project Description,” that should be submitted using only the NSF FastLane system [4], not through

In FastLane, select the “Prepare Proposal” option, followed by the “Create Blank Proposal” option.  When preparing the Cover Sheet, select the IUSE program description [PD 14-7513] from the pull-down menu.  “DUE-TUES-Type 1 Project” will be shown as the NSF Unit of Consideration; this is correct.  Be sure to select the IUSE: Ideas Labs option from the drop-down menu on the Project Data Form associated with the NSF Cover Page.

The Title should begin with either “BIO IUSE Ideas Lab:”, “ENG IUSE Ideas Lab:”, or “GEO IUSE Ideas Lab:” to indicate the applicant’s discipline of choice.

The Project Description section of the application to participate should conform to the following guidelines:

Page One:

  • Provide a brief summary of your professional background (100 words maximum). Please note that if you are selected as a participant, information provided in answer to this question will be made available to the other participants, to facilitate networking at the Ideas Lab.
  • Describe your experience and interest in working across disciplines (100 words maximum).
  • Describe your key contribution(s) to addressing the specific STEM workforce development theme of this Ideas Lab (see above) through novel and potentially transformative approaches (no more than half a page).
  • Indicate your ability or inability to participate during any of the scheduled Ideas Lab dates (March 3-7; March 17-21; March 31-April 4).

Page Two:

Please spend some time considering your answers to the following questions. Your responses should demonstrate that you have suitable skills and aptitude to participate in the Ideas Lab (unrelated to your research track record).

  • What is your approach to working in teams? (100 words maximum)
  • How would you describe your ability to engage non-experts or people with a different perspective to yours on this topic? (100 words maximum)
  • The Ideas Lab encourages a free exchange of ideas: enjoying the sharing, shaping and building ideas over an intensive 5-day setting, working as an equal with individuals you may not know.  How do you see yourself suited for this type of interaction?  If possible, describe any comparable experience you have had.  (150 words maximum).

Applications to participate in one of the IUSE Phase I Ideas Labs must include a Biographical Sketch [5] and a Current and Pending Support [6] document prepared in accordance with standard NSF formatting guidelines.  All other elements of a “full NSF proposal” are waived (Project Summary, References Cited, Budget, Budget Justification, Facilities, Equipment and Other Resources). Please avoid listing publications or web links in the Project Description.

No appendices or supplementary documents may be submitted.

NSF program staff from EHR/DUE and the relevant research directorate will select the final list of participants from the submitted applications to participate.  Ideas Lab participants will be selected on the basis of their interest in and preliminary ideas about the topic area, their expertise, and other characteristics described in their submitted applications. Given the iterative and progressive nature of the Ideas Lab format, participants should be willing to engage in frank disclosure and assessment of ideas in a collegial and professional fashion. The Ideas Lab is an arena of equals.  Applicants will be assessed on how well they fit the need to be innovative, constructive and collaborative in an intensive 5-day setting and their potential to perform well with the demands of a team project that might result from the event.

The Ideas Lab approach is designed to support the development and implementation of creative and innovative project ideas that have the potential to transform research paradigms and/or solve intractable problems. It is anticipated that concepts developed through the three IUSE Phase I Ideas Labs will lead eventually to new proposals to NSF to engage in activities that will be high-risk/high-impact, as they represent new and unproven ideas, approaches and/or technologies.

Joan Ferrini-Mundy

Roger Wakimoto

Assistant Director

Assistant Director

Directorate for Education and Human Resources

Directorate for Geological Sciences

Pramod Khargonekar

John Wingfield

Assistant Director

Assistant Director

Directorate for Engineering

Directorate for Biological Sciences


[1] Eligibility information is available in Chapter I, Section E of the NSF Grant Proposal Guide [NSF 13-001], available at

January 23, 2014 at 6:57 pm 2 comments

The new Wolfram Language: Now available on Raspberry Pi

The new Wolfram Language sounds pretty interesting.  I was struck by the announcement that it’s going to run on the $25 Raspberry Pi (thanks to Guy Haas for that).  And I liked Wolfram’s cute blog post where he makes his holiday cards with his new language (see below), which features the ability to have pictures as data elements.  I haven’t learned much about the language yet — it looks like mostly like the existing Mathematica language.  I’m curious about what they put in to meet the design goal of having it work as an end-user programming language.

Here are the elements of the actual card we’re trying to assemble:

Now we create a version of the card with the right amount of “internal padding” to have space to insert the particular message:

via “Happy Holidays”, the Wolfram Language Way—Stephen Wolfram Blog.

January 23, 2014 at 1:25 am 1 comment

The 15% of Americans that are not online

Interesting data about who’s online, and who’s not, and how income plays a role in that.  85% of Americans are online.  The biggest reasons that the last 15% don’t participate is because of a sense of irrelevance of the Internet and because of perceived complexity, i.e., poor usability.

The link below is about the interaction between Internet access and age. These results speak to the promise of and limitations of MOOCs, as was also seen in some of the San Jose State reports.  Low-income users often access the Internet via the library or cellphone, which changes the expectation for using MOOCs.

Aaron Smith, Senior Researcher at the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project, discusses the Project’s latest research about internet usage, broadband adoption, and the impact of mobile connectivity among lower-income populations.

via Technology Adoption by Lower Income Populations | Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project.

January 22, 2014 at 1:31 am Leave a comment

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