Archive for June, 2015

Blocks and Beyond Workshop at VL/HCC: Lessons and Directions for First Programming Environments

Thursday, October 22, 2015, Atlanta, GA

A satellite workshop of the 2015 IEEE Symposium Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing (VL/HCC) https://sites.google.com/site/vlhcc2015

Scope and Goals

Blocks programming environments represent program syntax trees as compositions of visual blocks. This family of tools includes Scratch, Code.org’s Blockly lessons, App Inventor, Snap!, Pencil Code, Looking Glass, etc. They have introduced programming and computational thinking to tens of millions, reaching people of all ages and backgrounds.

Despite their popularity, there has been remarkably little research on the usability, effectiveness, and generalizability of affordances of these environments. The goal of this workshop is to begin to distill testable hypotheses from the existing folk knowledge of blocks environments and identify research questions and partnerships that can legitimize, or discount, pieces of this knowledge. It will bring together educators and researchers who work with blocks languages and members of the broader VL/HCC community interested in this area. We seek participants with diverse expertise, including, but not limited to: design of programming environments, instruction with these environments, the learning sciences, data analytics, usability, and more.

The workshop will be a generative discussion that sets the stage for future work and collaboration. It will include participant presentations and demonstrations that frame the discussion, followed by reflection on the state of the field and smaller working-group discussion and brainstorming sessions.

Suggested Topics for Discussion

  • Who uses blocks programming environments and why?
  • Which features of blocks environments help or hinder users? How do we know? Which of these features are worth incorporating into more traditional IDEs? What helpful features are missing?
  • How can blocks environments and associated curricular materials be made more accessible to everyone, especially those with disabilities?
  • Can blocks programming appeal to a wider range of interests (e.g., by allowing connections to different types of devices, web services, data sources, etc.)?
  • What are the best ways to introduce programming to novices and to support their progression towards mastery? Do these approaches differ for for learners of computing basics and for makers?
  • What are the conceptual and practical hurdles encountered by novice users of blocks languages when they face the transition to text languages and traditional programming communities? What can be done to reduce these hurdles?
  • How can we best harness online communities to support growth through teaching, motivating, and providing inspiration and feedback?
  • What roles should collaboration play in blocks programming? How can environments support that collaboration?
  • In these environments, what data can be collected, and how can that data be analyzed to determine answers to questions like those above? How can we use data to answer larger scale questions about early experiences with programming?
  • What are the lessons learned (both positive and negative) from creating first programming environments that can be shared with future environment designers?

Submission

We invite two kinds of submissions:

  1. A 1 to 3 page position statement describing an idea or research question related to the design, teaching, or study of blocks programming environments.
  2. A paper (up to 6 pages) describing previously unpublished results involving the design, study, or pedagogy of blocks programming environments.

All submissions must be made as PDF files to the Easy Chair Blocks and Beyond workshop submission site (https://easychair.org/conferences/?conf=blocksbeyond2015). Because this workshop will be discussion-based, rather than a mini-conference, the number of presentation/demonstration slots are limited. Authors for whom presentation or demonstration is essential should indicate this in their submission.

Important Dates

  • 24 Jul. 2014: Submissions due.
  • 14 Aug. 2015: Author notification.
  • 4 Sep. 2015: Camera ready copies due.
  • 22 Oct. 2015: Workshop in Atlanta.

Organizers

  • Franklyn Turbak (chair), Wellesley College
  • David Bau, Google
  • Jeff Gray, University of Alabama
  • Caitlin Kelleher, Washington University, St. Louis
  • Josh Sheldon, MIT

Program Committee

  • Neil Brown, University of Kent
  • Dave Culyba, Carnegie Mellon University
  • Sayamindu Dasgupta, MIT
  • Deborah Fields, Utah State University
  • Neil Fraser, Google
  • Mark Friedman, Google
  • Dan Garcia, University of California, Berkeley
  • Benjamin Mako Hill, University of Washington
  • Fred Martin, University of Massachusetts Lowell
  • Paul Medlock-Walton, MIT
  • Yoshiaki Matsuzawa, Aoyama Gakuin University
  • Amon Millner, Olin College
  • Ralph Morelli, Trinity College
  • Brook Osborne, Code.org
  • Jonathan Protzenko, Microsoft Research
  • Ben Shapiro, Tufts University
  • Wolfgang Slany, Graz University of Technology
  • Daniel Wendel, MIT

June 29, 2015 at 8:00 am Leave a comment

Using socially meaningful work to attract female engineers: Part of the solution

I agree with the author of this recent NYTimes post.  Women do seem to be more attracted to socially meaningful work than males.  I don’t think that’s the complete solution, though.  We have evidence that women are more likely to pursue studies in computer science if encouraged (see Joanne Cohoon’s work) and if they feel a sense of “belonging” with the department (see our work in Georgia).  If we want more women in engineering, we have to think about recruitment (as this article does) and retention (as other work does).

Why are there so few female engineers? Many reasons have been offered: workplace sexism, a lack of female role models, stereotypes regarding women’s innate technical incompetency, the difficulties of combining tech careers with motherhood. Proposed fixes include mentor programs, student support groups and targeted recruitment efforts. Initiatives have begun at universities and corporations, including Intel’s recent $300 million diversity commitment.

But maybe one solution is much simpler, and already obvious. An experience here at the University of California, Berkeley, where I teach, suggests that if the content of the work itself is made more societally meaningful, women will enroll in droves. That applies not only to computer engineering but also to more traditional, equally male-dominated fields like mechanical and chemical engineering.

via How to Attract Female Engineers – NYTimes.com.

June 26, 2015 at 7:29 am Leave a comment

A goal for higher ed: “There is magic in our program. Our program changes lives.”

My daughter is enrolled in Georgia’s “Governor’s Honor Program” which started this week.  The program is highly competitive — my daughter filled out multiple applications, wrote essays, and went through two rounds of interviews.  Over 700 high school students from across Georgia attend for four weeks of residential classes on a university campus for free.

At the parent’s orientation, we heard from two former GHP students, the Dean of Student Life, the Dean of Residence Halls, the GHP Program Manager, and the Dean of Instruction.  It’s that last one who really got me.

“You heard from these students, and many other students.  GHP changes lives.  There is magic in our program.

The program sounds remarkable.  No grades, no tests.  The Dean of Instruction said she told the teachers to “give these students learning opportunities beyond what’s in any high school classroom.” Students are only there to learn for learning’s sake.

I was thrilled for my daughter, that she was going to have this experience. I was also thrilled as a teacher.

I want to teach in a program whose leadership says, “There is magic in our program. Our program changes lives.”  Last week, I took my daughter to tour three universities.  Our daughter is the youngest of three, so I’ve attended other prospective student tours at other universities.  I’ve never heard anybody at any of these universities make that kind of claim.

I don’t mean to critique my leadership at Georgia Tech in particular.  When I was the Undergraduate Program Director, I never said anything like that to my teachers or to prospective parents.  I am critical of higher education more broadly. Higher education in America sets goals like preparing students for careers, giving them experiences abroad and in research, giving them options so that they can tailor their program to meet their particular desires, and surrounding them with great fellow students — I’ve heard all of those claims many times on many tours.  I’ve never heard anyone say, “We change lives.”

Rich DeMillo argued in his book Apple to Abelard that higher education institutions need to differentiate from one another.  Offering the same thing in the same way makes it hard to compete with the on-line and for-profit options.  At Georgia Tech, the faculty are frequently told, “We get amazingly smart students.”  We’re told to think about how to tune our education for these super-smart students.  I’ve never been told, “Give these students experiences beyond what they will get in any other program. Create magic. Change their lives.”

What I gained at GHP is a new definition for what higher education should be about. We need to step up our game.

June 24, 2015 at 7:20 am 7 comments

Big win for Computing Education: ACM Appoints New CEO, Bobby Schnabel

Bobby Schnabel has just been named the new CEO of ACM.  This is a big win for computing education.  Bobby has been an innovator and leader in efforts to improve computing education policy and broaden participation in computing.  Now, he’s in charge of ACM overall, the world’s largest computing professional organization.  That gives him a big pulpit for promoting the importance of computing education.

Schnabel has a long history of service to the computing community. He has served in several capacities, including chair, of ACM’s Special Interest Group on Numerical Mathematics (ACM SIGNUM). When Schnabel assumes his role as CEO, he will step down as founding chair of the ACM Education Policy Committee, which led to the creation of Computer Science Education Week in the US, and the formation of the industry/non-profit coalition, Computing in the Core. Schnabel also serves as board member of code.org, and as a member of the advisory committee of the Computing and Information Science and Engineering directorate of the National Science Foundation. He has served as a board member of the Computing Research Association.

Dedicated to improving diversity in computing, Schnabel is a co-founder and executive team member of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), a major non-profit organization in the US for the full participation of girls and women in computing and information technology. He also serves as chair of the Computing Alliance for Hispanic-Serving Institutions Advisory Board.

via ACM Appoints New CEO — Association for Computing Machinery.

June 22, 2015 at 7:55 am Leave a comment

People (scientsts and faculty, too) don’t generally make evidence-based, rational decisions

I found the article below fascinating, but as an instance of a general model.  The article describes how scientists who study gun control have very different opinions about gun control than the general American public — who (presumably) don’t draw on scientific evidence to inform their opinions.  People who draw on evidence have different opinions than those who don’t. Most people do not draw on evidence when informing their opinions.

I don’t see that the story here is “Scientists are smart and the public is dumb.”

I would bet that if you asked these same gun control scientists about something outside of their area of expertise, they similarly ignore evidence. I work with CS professors all the time who draw on evidence to inform their opinions within their area of expertise (e.g., robotics, HCI, networking), but when it comes to education, evidence goes out the window.  Davide Fossati and I did a study (yeah, evidence — we know what that’s worth) describing how CS faculty make decisions (see post here). In my experience, if the evidence is counter to their opinion, evidence is frequently ignored. One of the things we learned in “Georgia Computes!” was just how hard it is to change faculty (see our journal article where we tell this story).  CS teachers are pretty convinced that they teach just fine, despite evidence to the contrary.  I regularly try to convince my colleagues to teach using active learning approaches like peer instruction given the overwhelming evidence of its effectiveness (see this article, for just one), and I regularly get told, “It really doesn’t work for me.”

People are people, even when scientists and CS faculty.

Of the 150 scientists who responded, most were confident that a gun in the home increases the chance that a woman living there will be murdered (72 percent agreed, 11 percent disagreed), that strict gun control laws reduce homicide (71 percent versus 12 percent), that more permissive gun laws have not reduced crime rates (62 percent versus 9 percent), that guns are used more often in crimes that in self-defense (73 percent versus 8 percent), and that a gun in the home makes it a more dangerous place to be (64 percent versus 5 percent).

Eighty-four percent of the respondents said that having a firearm at home increased the risk of suicide.

These figures stand sharply at odds with the opinions of the American public. A November 2014 Gallup poll found that 63 percent of Americans say that having a gun in the house makes it a safer place to be, a figure that has nearly doubled since 2000. According to the same survey, about 40 percent of Americans keep a gun in the home.

via Where does science fall on the gun control debate? – CSMonitor.com.

June 19, 2015 at 8:00 am 4 comments

Code.org grows CS Ed partnership to reduce the Babble in CS Ed

I wrote my May Blog@CACM post on the “Babble of Computing Education,” about the wide variety of perspectives, definitions, and cross-purposes going on in the US in computing education.  At the end, I talk about the new Code.org partnership with the College Board and how this may reduce the Babble — the definition of CS Principles will become Code.org.  Owen Astrachan, co-PI of the NSF CS Principles grant, and I have a bet for dinner and beer that we made on Facebook.  I predict that in the first offering of the AP CS Principles exam, more than 50% of the schools that teach CSP and send students to the exam will be using Code.org curricula.  He thinks that there will be greater diversity.

I don’t know how the new partnerships announced below fit into our bet.  BJC, PLTW, and other curricula are now going to be promoted by Code.org as their partners.  Will a school adopt BJC because Code.org recommends it?  I think that’s likely.  Will the school believe that they are adopting a curriculum out of Berkeley or a Code.org curriculum?  I expect the latter.  From schools’ perspective, all the eleven new partners will be Code.org curricula. The definition of CS Principles will become Code.org.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing — that may provide a corporate face that will assure administrators in schools who don’t know CS.

“Code.org’s courses already reach millions of students globally in grades K-8,” Partovi said. “But as we expand in high school, we work region by region, and we can’t do it all. We’re leading a movement and we need partners to help.”

When Code.org meets with school districts, it will now also highlight the new partnerships as alternative ways to teach computer science versus utilizing Code.org’s own programs.

via Code.org inks 11 new partnerships to help expand computer science education – GeekWire.

June 17, 2015 at 7:15 am 10 comments

International Conference on Live Coding (ICLC), 13-15 July, Leeds, Registration open

On my recent trip to Germany, I got to connect to live coding again.  At the Dagstuhl Seminar I attended, I visited with Alan Blackwell who organized the live coding Dagstuhl Seminar I attended and has been doing live coding with Sam Aaron (of SonicPI fame). When I got back to Oldenburg, I visited with Graham Coleman, a Georgia Tech alum who is completing a PhD in computer music and who was an active live coder in Atlanta.  Great to see the first international conference happening soon!

First International Conference on Live Coding

ICSRiM, School of Music, University of Leeds

13th-15th July 2015

http://iclc.livecodenetwork.org/

We are happy to announce that registration for ICLC2015 is now open. Live coding turns programming languages into live interfaces, allowing us to directly manipulate computation via its notation. Live coding has great potential, being used for example to create improvised music and visuals, to allow developers to collaborate in new ways, to better understand computational models by making fundamental changes to them on-the-fly, and to find new ways to learn and teach programming.

Since the beginning of the TOPLAP movement in 2003 (building on an extensive but hidden pre-history), live coding has grown fast, attracting interest from many people in artistic, creative, scientific, educational, business and mixed contexts. After a good number of international events, the time is right to bring these people together for an academic conference, exchanging ideas and techniques, and enjoying dozens of peer reviewed papers and performances. The conference will also open up the field for people new to live coding, so they may develop and contribute their own perspectives on this emerging field. Join us!

Registration is £80 (£50 concessions) for the three day conference

including lunches, evening events, and more.

See the website for details of the developing programme:

http://iclc.livecodenetwork.org/

And register here, completing both the on-line payment and registration forms.

http://iclc.livecodenetwork.org/registration.html

ICLC is organised by the Live Coding Research Network, which is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.

June 15, 2015 at 7:08 am Leave a comment

Making Computer Science More Inviting: A Look at What Works from Evidence

Lucy Sanders is terrific as always in this NYTimes piece.  I particularly like that the article draws on evidence, which is too rarely used in making CS Ed decisions.

The focus on recruiting and retaining women might increase their numbers but also singles them out, say some critics of programs that change curriculums to attract more women or offer classes specifically for women. Students often say they want to be seen as a computer scientist, not a female computer scientist.

But Ms. Sanders says the American computer science curriculum is in need of a complete overhaul, not just for women.

“I don’t particularly think that the existing computer science curriculum has been effective for anybody,” she said. “It needs to be situated in a real-world or meaningful context so people understand why they’re doing it. That doesn’t make it less rigorous — students learn the same things, but in a different way.”

via Making Computer Science More Inviting: A Look at What Works – NYTimes.com.

June 12, 2015 at 8:31 am Leave a comment

More Opportunities to Participate in ICER 2015! Posters, Lightning Talks, Work-in-Progress

Want to give a lightning talk or present a poster in Omaha, August 10-12 to spark discussion or discover possible collaborations?  Keep reading!

Deadline: 

Lightning Talk Application Deadline: June 15, 2014 (submission details below) 

Venue:

ICER 2015 — International Computing Education Research Conference 

University of Nebraska, Omaha

August 10-12, 2015

What is a Lightning Talk? 

Lightning Talks are strictly timed 3 minute presentations intended to further expand the ICER community and spark discussion among conference participants. The intent is for these talks to provide a venue in support of new ideas and newcomers to our community. Lightning Talks are a great way to get early feedback on a work in progress, to demo a new tool or technique, and to find potential collaborators at other institutions. 

What is a Poster? 

Posters are a new way for ICER attendees to present early results, gain feedback from conference attendees, find collaborators on a topic, and/or spark discussion among conference participants. The intent is for these posters is similar to lightning talks in that they provide a venue in support of new ideas and newcomers to our community. 

Can I do both – give a Lightning Talk and have a Poster? 

Absolutely!  New this year, Lightning Talk presenters may elect to present a poster in conjunction with their lightning talk to provide additional information to curious parties and help foster post-lightning talk discussion.

Note: Work already being presented at ICER (i.e., accepted papers, doctoral consortium submissions) is ineligible for the lightning talks or poster sessions. 

Submission Instructions:

Submissions for consideration as lightning talks should use the provided MS Word template and are limited to a maximum of 300 words.   Abstracts should be submitted no later than June 15 to Leo Porter at leporter@cs.ucsd.edu for consideration. The template can be found at:

http://icer.hosting.acm.org/icer-2015/lightning-talks/

Are there additional opportunities to receive feedback on a work in progress?

If you are interested in an interactive feedback session after ICER, you may also want to check out the Works in Progress Workshop:

http://icer.hosting.acm.org/icer-2015/works-in-progress/

Please let me know if you have any questions! 

Leo

Leo Porter

Assistant Teaching Professor, Computer Science

University of California, San Diego

leporter@cs.ucsd.edu

June 10, 2015 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

New Video “Code” and the Quest for Inclusive Software, and a big question for Broadening Participation in Computing

The article quoted below is about a new documentary on gender issues in the computing industry.  More interestingly, the article raises an important question for broadening participation in computing:  Can we come up with examples of where a lack of diversity impacts the software product?

“Code” also addresses a question that has been discussed less often. When Reynolds described the film’s theme to her mother, her mother asked, “Well, Robin, why does it matter who’s coding as long as we have the products?” It’s a valid question: If women don’t want to program, what’s the harm? Reynolds told me that it led her to seek out, in her interviews, cases in which less diverse engineering teams created worse products than they otherwise might have. “I said, ‘Can you give me an example of where not having a diverse coding team has affected the product?’” she recalled.

via “Code” and the Quest for Inclusive Software – The New Yorker.

June 8, 2015 at 7:27 am 3 comments

Moving Beyond MOOCS: Could we move to understanding learning and teaching?

We’re years into the MOOC phenomenon, and I’d hoped that we’d get past MOOC hype. But we’re not.  The article below shows the same misunderstandings of learning and teaching that we heard at the start — misunderstandings that even MOOC supporters (like here and here) have stopped espousing.

The value of being in the front row of a class is that you talk with the teacher.  Getting physically closer to the lecturer doesn’t improve learning.  Engagement improves learning.  A MOOC puts everyone at the back of the class, listening only and doing the homework.

In many ways, we have a romanticized view of college. Popular portrayals of a typical classroom show a handful of engaged students sitting attentively around a small seminar table while their Harrison Ford-like professor shares their wisdom about the world. We all know the real classroom is very different. Especially in big introductory classes — American history, U.S. government, human psychology, etc. — hundreds of disinterested, and often distracted, students cram into large impersonal lecture halls, passively taking notes, occasionally glancing up at the clock waiting for the class to end. And it’s no more engaging for the professor. Usually we can’t tell whether students are taking notes or updating their Facebook page. For me, everything past the ninth row was distance learning. A good online platform puts every student in the front row.

via Moving Beyond MOOCS | Steven M. Gillon.

June 5, 2015 at 7:14 am 9 comments

Maria Klawe Won’t Let CS Remain a Boys’ Club, and other schools are going to try to follow the HMC model

Always fun to read articles about Maria Klawe and the work going on at Harvey Mudd. The part that I found really interesting was the quote below. I hadn’t heard about this new program to try to replicate the interventions from Harvey Mudd at other schools. I suspect that the real challenge is getting the commitment (as described below) and understanding from the top down. I have heard administrators claim “We’re doing the same things as Harvey Mudd” when they very clearly aren’t. I suspect that the administrators don’t really understand what Harvey Mudd College is doing.

What the article doesn’t talk about is the bottom up support at Harvey Mudd.  The “CS For All” course that HMC CS faculty created has four authors (see book here). HMC has 10 tenure track CS faculty (see list here).  40% of their faculty put time into creating materials for a new approach that engaged more female students.  I know several of the other faculty in the department, and I know that they were supportive, even if not named authors.  I bet that the broad-based support among faculty in the department had more to do with change at HMC than any top-down commitment.

Ms. Klawe, 63, is not content with gains at her own institution, however. Late last year, she announced a program, financed by companies including Google and Facebook, to export and adapt the changes made at Harvey Mudd to 15 other universities. Many of them, such as Arizona State University and the University of Maryland at College Park, are public and much bigger than her science-focused college of 800 students.

Getting women into computer science, and into engineering more generally, requires commitment from the top down, Ms. Klawe says. But it starts with a simple reframing. “It’s creative problem-solving,” she says. “It’s hard to find a young woman who doesn’t want to be seen as creative. They also like problem-solving.”

via Maria Klawe Won’t Let Computer Science Remain a Boys’ Club – The Digital Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

June 3, 2015 at 8:31 am 2 comments

Little Evidence That Executive Function Interventions Boost Student Achievement: So why should computing?

Here’s how I interpret the results described below.  Yes, having higher executive function (e.g., being able to postpone the gratification of eating a marshmallow) is correlated with greater achievement.  Yes, we have had some success teaching some of these executive functions.  But teaching these executive functions has not had any causal impact on achievement.  The original correlations between executive function and achievement might have been because of other factors, like the kids who had higher executive function also had higher IQ or came from richer families.

This is relevant for us because the myth that “Computer science teaches you how to think” or “Computer science teaches problem-solving skills” is pervasive in our community.  (See a screenshot of my Google search below, and consider this blog post of a few weeks ago.)  But there is no support for that belief.  If this study finds no evidence that explicitly teaching thinking skills leads to improved transferable achievement, then why should teaching computer science indirectly lead to improved thinking skills and transferable achievement to other fields?

Why do CS teachers insist that we teach for a given outcome (“thinking skills” or “problem-solving skills”) when we have no evidence that we’re achieving that outcome?

Cursor_and_computer_science_teaches_you_how_to_think_-_Google_Search

The meta-analysis, by researchers Robin Jacob of the University of Michigan and Julia Parkinson of the American Institutes for Research, analyzed 67 studies published over the past 25 years on the link between executive function and achievement. The authors critically assessed whether improvements in executive function skills—the skills related to thoughtful planning, use of memory and attention, and ability to control impulses and resist distractions—lead to increases in reading and math achievement , as measured by standardized test scores, among school-age children from preschool through high school. More than half of the studies identified by the authors were published after 2010, reflecting the rapid increase in interest in the topic in recent years.

While the authors found that previous research indicated a strong correlation between executive function and achievement, they found “surprisingly little evidence” that the two are causally related.

“There’s a lot of evidence that executive function and achievement are highly correlated with one another, but there is not yet a resounding body of evidence that indicates that if you changed executive functioning skills by intervening in schools, that it would then lead to an improvement in achievement in children,” said Jacob. “Although investing in executive function interventions has strong intuitive appeal, we should be wary of investing in these often expensive programs before we have a strong research base behind them.”

via Study: Little Evidence That Executive Function Interventions Boost Student Achievement.

June 1, 2015 at 7:44 am 7 comments


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