Archive for November, 2014

The dark at the end of the funnel: The pipeline in computing education leads to a sewage plant

Recommended blog post from Neil Brown, in response to comments from Mark Zuckerberg that the problem with getting more women into computing is solved by getting computing education earlier.  It’s not.  It used to be that we’d say, “Women aren’t going into computing because they don’t know what it is.”  Now we’d say, “Women aren’t going into computing because they know exactly what it’s like. Smart women.”

However, this is not solely an issue with the education system though that would be a familiar narrative — work force not as we would like it? Must be the fault of schools and universities. The pipeline or funnel doesn’t just need filling by shoving lots of 5 year old girls in one end and waiting for the hordes of female developers to swim out of the other end into an idyllic tech industry pool. Zuckerberg mentions that the lack of women in the industry forms a vicious cycle. This is not a problem at the education end of the funnel.

As this Fortune article describes, the industry is not welcoming to women. The Anita Borg Institute found that women’s quit rates were double those of men. Not to mention issues like maternity leave. The pool at the end of the pipeline is leaking, and for good reason. So the vicious cycle is not simply an accident of history; the women that are in the industry tend to leave. There are several reasons for this, some of which are identity and culture in the industry.

via The dark at the end of the funnel | Academic Computing.

November 29, 2014 at 8:32 am 2 comments

Time spent is about expertise developed: Programmer productivity is an education problem

Joel Spolsky argues that the time spent on an assignment by students is not correlated with the results.  This is part of his argument that there is a 5x to 10x productivity gap between the best and average programmers.

There’s just nothing to see here, and that’s the point. The quality of the work and the amount of time spent are simply uncorrelated. I asked Professor Eisenstat about this, and he pointed out one more thing: because assignments are due at a fixed time usually midnight and the penalties for being late are significant, a lot of students stop before the project is done. In other words, the maximum time spent on these assignments is as low as it is partially because there just aren’t enough hours between the time the assignment is handed out and the time it is due. If students had unlimited time to work on the projects which  would correspond a little better to the working world, the spread could only be higher.

via Hitting the High Notes – Joel on Software.

I did my Blog@CACM post in November on this argument (see the post here).  Joel is measuring the wrong thing in his experiment.  Time spent doesn’t correlate with quality.  Time on task correlates with learning.  More knowledge correlates with greater quality, but you don’t know much about how much is already known by the students in the class that he’s studying.  Therefore, you can’t possibly make an argument about productivity when the critical variable is unknown.

There may be a productivity gap between the best and average programmers.  There’s a productivity gap between the best and average practitioners in any field.  The issue is whether we can generate the performance at the top end.  Can we make someone highly productive?  It’s a design problem.   It’s an education problem.

November 28, 2014 at 8:40 am 8 comments

2014 CSEdWeek, Hour of Code, and (new!) Georgia Day of Code

CSEdWeek is December 8-14 this year, and Code.org is repeating their Hour of Code activity.  The idea of Hour of Code is to get millions of students to try out coding.  See more on CSEdWeek here, and on Hour of Code here.  This year, Andy Stefik’s accessible programming language Quorum is included in an Hour of Code activity: http://quorumlanguage.com/documents/hourofcode/part1.php

Here in Georgia, the Technology Association of Georgia (TAG) in cooperation with other groups in Georgia are promoting a “Day of Code” on December 10.  See here for more on that, including information on prizes available for classes and schools.

November 25, 2014 at 8:10 am 1 comment

#Gamergate as a response to re-engineering: BPC as a conspiracy to change computing

If you don’t know what #Gamergate is, count yourself fortunate.  It gets discussed a lot in the circles I hang out in, especially in computational media. I’ve learned words like doxxing and how it can lead to people leaving their home because of death threats, and how conceal-and-carry laws in Utah can cause a feminism theorist to cancel a talk because of threats of a “massacre.”

The article below (and the comments in response) gave me new insight into the supporters of Gamergate.  The violent and immature behavior makes it hard to see what (I think) is a kind of free speech argument. Gamergate supporters want their culture just the way it is, thank you very much. Even if that culture lacks positive female role models and may overflow with misogyny, it’s their culture.  They see feminists, academics, and journalists as a “conspiracy” to engineer social change (see the quote below). Even the original motivation of Gamergate stance (“It’s about ethics in games journalism”) boils down to resisting forces for change — there wouldn’t be any complaints about the journalism if they agreed with what the journalists were saying. One commenter to the article I’m citing below says, “Many members of this organization, including Ms. Consalvo and Ms. Shaw are on the record discussing how to dismantle what they see as a problematic male dominated gaming culture that is beholden to industrial motives (ergo: economics) rather than artistic aspirations.”  In other words, “Our games make money. Leave us alone.”  They don’t want their world to be re-made or re-engineered.

I don’t approve of the Gamergate message, and I strongly reject how the message is being conveyed.  Modern society values being inclusive.  There is not one kind of gaming culture and gamer – it’s not all theirs to define.  There are enough game developers out there so that they can have their “anti-feminism” (which I didn’t know was a thing before I read the below) while others have their feminism (as Anita Sarkeesian talked about in her interview on the Colbert Report).  Threatening violence because you don’t like how things are changing is an unacceptable way of sending a message.

I can understand why Gamergate supporters want to send a message about “Leave our culture alone.” People strongly resist having culture re-engineered around them, sometimes resisting with violence. If you think about other efforts to engineer culture and the pushback in response, you might recall the Arkansas Governor using the National Guard to keep out nine black students in Little Rock (see Wikipedia article here).

I wonder about the implications for diversifying computing.  Might an anti-diversity backlash happen in computing — not the threats of violence (I hope), but outrage against change?   When looking up papers by Michael Kimmel (whom I wrote about here), I found the National Council for Men, which is decidedly anti-Kimmel (see example here).  Read the comments on the Guardian article describing Mattel’s decision to pull their awful “Barbie: I can be a software engineer” book.  There is clearly a backlash against feminism right now.

We in the Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) community are aiming to achieve a similar kind of social engineering that the Gamergate supporters are complaining about.  I am part of a vast, international (though maybe not particularly well-organized) conspiracy to change computing culture and to invade computing with many women and members of under-represented groups. We are “actively plotting to influence” computing.  The Gamergate supporters argue that the conspiracy is about “artistic aspirations.” In BPC, we say that we’re about social justice, equity, and diversity. From the perspective of the “engineered,” the difference in purpose may not make much difference.  One of the pushbacks on the call I shared to eliminate nerd culture (see here) was, “Can’t we just shape/change nerd culture?”  Do the nerds want to be changed?

What might a response to BPC look like?  Might well-prepared, privileged male and white/asian CS students complain about efforts to give seats in classes to women or under-represented minorities whom they may perceive as less-prepared?  Or might we even see efforts arguing “We like Nerd Culture just way it is!”

I’m not predicting Gamergate-style threats against supporters of BPC, but it’s worth considering what kind of pushback we might receive.  Today, the challenge to broadening participation in computing is less a pushback and more a lack of priority.  There’s a general awareness that there’s a problem, but there’s less conviction that it’s an important problem or that there’s an obvious way forward to fixing it.  We see that in the Microsoft CEO gaffe and the male allies panels at Grace Hopper this year (see discussion here) — they knew there was a problem, but they weren’t really thinking about it deeply or taking steps to address it. But if change really started to happen, there would likely be resistance to that change.  A good strategist is thinking several steps ahead in the game, and it’s worth watching the Gamergate present to glean lessons for the BPC future.

At DiGRA’s annual conference this August, Shaw and Consalvo participated in a roundtable session on “identity and diversity in game culture.” Notes from the roundtable were discovered online, showing how participants discussed the impact of feminist game studies on the video game industry, and whether academics could influence developers.  Some interpreted it as proof that members of DiGRA were actively plotting to influence game development. Sargon of Akkad, a YouTube user who regularly discusses “gaming, anti-feminism, history and fiction” on his channel, has fueled that conspiracy theory. The connections between DiGRA, Shaw, Golding and other journalists, Sargon argues, suggest “DiGRA is the poisoned spring from whence all of this evil flows” — meaning Gamergate and the argument that gamer culture is dying.

via #Gamergate supporters attack Digital Games Research Association @insidehighered.

(Thanks to Shriram Krishnamurthi, Blair MacIntyre, Barbara Ericson, Briana Morrison, and Betsy DiSalvo for helpful edits and advice on drafts of this post.)

November 23, 2014 at 7:34 am 9 comments

Programming with Pseudocode, Keeping Student Interest, the Need for School, and International Curricula: Trip Report on WiPSCE 2014

First week of this month, Barb and I went to Berlin for WiPSCE 2014 conference. See the program here and the proceedings here, and the post on my keynote here. Let me tell you about some of the interesting things I heard there.

We heard about so many international CS curricula efforts. Tim Bell talked about different levels of programming activity going on in different curricula (all the images in this blog post are from me snapping pictures of presentations).

tim-bell-stages-in-curricula

We heard about Austrian efforts, Flemish efforts, and programs I was aware of in the UK, New Zealand, Germany, Israel, and the United States.  I had not previously hear much about Poland in CS Ed, but they’ve been including computing in their curriculum for a long time.

poland-curricula

Quintin Cutts (Code or (not Code) – Separating Formal and Natural Language in CS Education) talked about a problem that they’re having in Scotland that we’re also facing in the US with the CS Principles effort. There are several different programming languages in use in schools. Nobody wants to be the bad guy to say “You have to use X (maybe Scratch? Alice? App Inventor? Python?), because that’s what the national test will be in.” So, national test-developers are creating pseudocode languages that aim to be understandable without getting hung up on syntax. Scotland has one that’s made up of bits and pieces of other languages (which they call “Haggis” — seriously!). The problem is that if a piece of code is never expected to run, it can have assumptions within it that would have to be cleared up to build a runtime system.  Quintin showed how even simple examples of the pseudocode from their national test have all kinds of logical inconsistencies.

It’s a real problem. Allison Elliott Tew’s dissertation (see here for post) showed that weakest performing students had the worst time transferring their knowledge from whatever language they learned to a pseudo-code. That means that your top students are going to be fine with a pseudo-code test, but your bottom students are not going to do well at all — they won’t know all the concepts, and they’re going to trip over the language. A pseudo-code test is going to be another barrier to underprepared students getting into CS.

Now, once you get them in the door, how do you keep them there? One interesting paper (Scratch vs. Karel – Impact on Learning Outcomes and Motivation) compared student interest in using Scratch or Karol the Robot. Scratch is a blocks-based language, and Karol was programmed in a text-based language. Students liked Scratch and performed better with it, but felt that Karol was more “real-life” and thus was more motivating for doing more in CS later. Betsy DiSalvo found similar results with her Glitch students. When comparing Alice and Python, students liked what they could produce with Alice, but felt that Python was more like what real programmers did and was consequently more motivating for some students.  This paper has had me thinking, “Maybe we should bring Logo back?”  It’s text-based like Karol, designed for students, and we have LOTS of books and other materials available for Logo across the curriculum.

Leigh Ann DeLyser talked about her work with CS NYC (Software Engineering Students in the City). It’s a remarkable program: 1900 students applied for 120 slots, and the selection among the qualified students was by lottery. They did pre and post surveys around the first year of the program, with questions like “Would you like to study CS or SE after this semester?” or “Want to be a computer scientist or software engineer one day?” Females lost much more interest in a future computing career then males.

csnyc-girls-losing-interest

Finally, the talk that has most been in my thoughts since the conference was by Debby Fields and Yasmin Kafai on their Scratch study (Programming in the Wild: Patterns of Computational Participation in the Scratch Online Social Networking Forum). They studied 5000 visitors to the Scratch website in the first quarter of 2012. First big finding — most of them don’t do much. 55% visit but don’t do anything. The other 45% engage at a variety of levels, and the levels are pretty much gender-balanced.  The most active participants are about evenly split male-female.

where-5K-users-go

Debbie and Yasmin defined four “classes” of programming activity based on the programs that these users uploaded to the Scratch website. Booleans are a big differentiator, as are variables and random numbers. The below figure describes how much of each kind of programming block appears in each class of programs, and what percentage of programs they saw land in each class.

programming-profiles

Here’s the disappointing part: The highest level of programming activity was almost all boys. Girls don’t go much beyond the simplest programming.

scratch-where-girls-disappear

Now, we don’t know much about ages or where these students are or their ethnic group. As Debby pointed out, age and location are self-reported on the Scratch website, and it’s remarkable how many 100 year old Scratch programmers there are in Antartica. Their data suggest that informal education activities like Scratch (or Kahn Academy or MOOCs) are unlikely to reach a broad range of users. Debby pointed out that what students are building influences what students do. If Scratch programmers can tell stories without booleans, how do you motivate more advanced programming actvities if they’re only story-telling? If we want to reach more diverse students, and we want to encourage more kinds of activities, we need school. We need formal education to reach everyone.

November 21, 2014 at 8:51 am 12 comments

Earn your Human-Centered Computing PhD at Georgia Tech: Applications due Dec 15

Georgia Tech founded the very first HCC degree program in 2004, focusing on the intersection of computing and people – where computing includes not just computers but also different kinds of computational artifacts from games to mobile applications, from robots to bionics and mobile applications; and people includes not only individuals but also teams, organizations, societies and cultures.

Join our 29 faculty in working across the HCC spectrum: learning sciences & technologies, computing education, artificial intelligence, cognitive science, collaboration, design, human-computer interaction, health & wellness, informatics, information visualization & visual analytics, international development, learning sciences & technology, social computing, and ubiquitous & wearable computing.

Join our 39 students, all doing research in one of three broad areas: Cognition, Learning & Creativity, Human-Computer Interaction, and Social Computing. We value diversity in all its dimensions; our students have a broad range of backgrounds, coming from across the world and with a variety of different and undergraduate degrees.

Join a vibrant community of faculty and graduate students that encompasses not just the HCC PhD but also the PhDs in Digital Media, Computer Science with specialization in HCI, Psychology with specializations in Engineering Psychology and Cognitive Aging, Music Technology, and Industrial Design, and the interdisciplinary GVU Center with its multitude of research labs.

Join, upon graduation, our alumni who have academic or research careers at Adobe Research, CMU, Drexel, Georgetown, Georgia Tech, Google, Kaiser Permanente, Kaltura, U. Maryland, U. Michigan, Michigan State, U. Minnesota, Oak Ridge National Labs, Northeastern, Penn State, Rose Hulman, Samsung, Sassafras, U. Washington, US Military Academy and Virginia Tech.

Our curriculum is flexible, allowing considerable customizing based on individual interests: three core courses, three specialization courses and three minor courses. You get involved with research during your first semester, and never stop!

Students receive tuition and a competitive stipend during their studies; outstanding US students are eligible for the President’s Fellowship.

Applications are due December 15; see http://www.ic.gatech.edu/future/phdhcc for additional program and application information.

November 19, 2014 at 1:16 pm Leave a comment

Seeking study participants: What should BS in CS graduates know about software development?

Katrin was in our ICER DC this last August.  She is trying to measure the expectations that software companies and universities have on BS in CS graduates. She has a survey on software development and the software development process. She asked me to share this message:

Hello,
my name is Kathrin Bröker and I’m research associate at the University of Paderborn, Germany (Working Group Computer Science Education).
My research focus is on competencies of computer science students. In this context I developed a survey, where I would like to figure out which expectations companies and universities have on graduates with a bachelor degree in computer science. The main focus is on software development and the software development process.
I would greatly appreciate your participation in the survey. To complete the survey you will need ca. 15-20 min. Please follow this link: https://groups.uni-paderborn.de/imt/umfragen/index.php?sid=65233&lang=en
In addition, I would be very thankful if you send this mail to other potential participants in this survey.
Best regards
Kathrin Bröker

November 19, 2014 at 8:05 am 3 comments

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