Archive for October, 2015

Human students need active learning and Econs learn from lecture: NYTimes Op-Ed in defense of lecture

I’m sympathetic to the author’s argument (linked below), that being able to understand an argument delivered as a lecture is difficult and worthwhile. Her characterization of active learning is wrong — it’s not “student-led discussion.”  Actually, what she describes as good lecture is close to good active learning.  Having students answering questions in discussion is good — but some students might disengage and not answer questions.  Small group activities, peer led team learning, or peer instruction would be better to make sure that all students engage. But that’s not the critical flaw in her argument.

Being able to listen to a complicated lecture is an important skill — but students (at least in STEM, at least in the US) don’t have that skill.  We can complain about that. We can reform primary and secondary schooling so that students develop that skill.  But if we want these students to learn, the ones who are in our classes today, we should use active learning strategies.

Richard Thaler introduced the term “Econs” to describe the rational beings that inhabit traditional economic theory. (See a review of his book Misbehaving for more discussion on Econs.)  Econs are completely rational.  They develop the skills to learn from lecture because it is the most efficient way to learn.  Unfortunately, we are not econs, and our classes are filled with humans. Humans are predictably irrational, as Daniel Ariely puts it. And there’s not much we can do about it. In his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahneman complains that he knows how he is influenced by biases and too much System 1 thinking — and yet, he still makes the same mistakes.  The evidence is clear that the students in our undergraduate classes today need help to engage with and learn STEM skills and concepts.

The empirical evidence for the value of active learning over lecture is strong (see previous post).  It works for humans.  Lecture probably works for Econs.  If we could find enough of them, we could run an experiment.

In many quarters, the active learning craze is only the latest development in a long tradition of complaining about boring professors, flavored with a dash of that other great American pastime, populist resentment of experts. But there is an ominous note in the most recent chorus of calls to replace the “sage on the stage” with student-led discussion. These criticisms intersect with a broader crisis of confidence in the humanities. They are an attempt to further assimilate history, philosophy, literature and their sister disciplines to the goals and methods of the hard sciences — fields whose stars are rising in the eyes of administrators, politicians and higher-education entrepreneurs.

Source: Lecture Me. Really. – The New York Times

A similar argument to mine is below.  This author doesn’t use the Humans/Econs distinction that I’m using.  Instead, the author points out that lecturers too often teach only to younger versions of themselves.

I will grant that nothing about the lecture format as Worthen describes it is inherently bad. But Worthen’s elegy to a format that bores so many students reminds me of a bad habit that too many professors have: building their teaching philosophies around younger versions of themselves, who were often more conscientious, more interested in learning, and more patient than the student staring at his phone in the back of their classrooms.

Source: Professors shouldn’t only teach to younger versions of themselve

October 30, 2015 at 8:49 am 17 comments

Professor wants to double the number of computer science teachers in Wisconsin: Color me jealous

The headline that a professor wants to double the number of CS teachers is cool, but as I dug into the piece, I grew jealous.  Wisconsin has CS teacher certification! (Even if “confused, disparate, and sometimes absurd.”)  They have pre-service teacher programs!  They need more CS Teaching Methods classes — I’ve taught CS teaching methods!  Are they hiring?  (Oh, wait — I’ve heard about what’s happening to Wisconsin state universities.)  Except for that university part, Wisconsin sounds like it has it good!

The second piece of the plan consists of easing the process for computer science teachers to receive their license. Getting certified is difficult, according to Brylow. According to one report from the Computer Science Teachers Association, the process is described as “confused, disparate, and sometimes absurd.”UW-La Crosse and UW-Whitewater are the only universities left in the state that offer programs to get certified, after many universities began dropping the program in the 1990s. “Whitewater has graduated three computer science teachers in the past five years and La Crosse has graduated zero in the past five years,” Brylow said. “So we identified that one of the problems is nobody knows how to teach this one critical course called the Computer Science Teaching Methods course.

Source: Professor wants to double the number of computer science teachers in Wisconsin | Local Education | host.madison.com

October 28, 2015 at 7:04 am 5 comments

Jeff Atwood says “Learning to code is overrated” but means “We need good CS teachers”

I’ve written responses to comments like Atwood’s before.  His perspective on “coding” is too limited, and he isn’t realizing that being a user and being a programmer is where most people will be (see the “fat line” blog post here).  That “provide them plenty of structured opportunities to play with hardware and software” is a pretty good definition of one kind of “teaching kids ‘computer science.'”  We need that.  But the kids who only need opportunities to “play” in order to learn tend to be highly privileged (see the “rich boys” blog post here).  Nobody wants kids to just “type in pedantic command words in a programming environment.” That’s a good definition of poor computing teaching.  We need good teachers who know how to support a range of students with different kinds of scaffolding.

So what Atwood is really saying that we need good CS teaching.  Yup, you need a lot of that in NYC — I agree.

If you want your kids to have a solid computer science education, encourage them to go build something cool. Not by typing in pedantic command words in a programming environment, but by learning just enough about how that peculiar little blocky world inside their computer works to discover what they and their friends can make with it together. We shouldn’t be teaching kids “computer science.” Instead, we should provide them plenty of structured opportunities to play with hardware and software. There’s a whole world waiting to be unlocked.

Source: Jeff Atwood: Learning to code is overrated – NY Daily News

October 26, 2015 at 7:55 am 9 comments

Teachers Aren’t Dumb: The importance of improved teacher development

A highly recommended piece in the New York Times is linked below.  I learned a lot from it.  I didn’t know that college graduates who teach are comparable in SAT averages to other college graduates.  The information about teacher preparation programs and about how little new graduates know about teaching was surprising and fascinating.  We’re not yet at the point where we can decry CS teacher pre-service development yet (because for the most part, it exists in only a few places in the world, and almost none in the US), but these are important points to keep in mind when we do have it.

It’s true that the average SAT score of high school students who plan to become teachers is below the national average. But planning to teach doesn’t guarantee that you’ll succeed in college, pass the certification test and be hired. The median SAT score for those who actually do end up teaching is about the national mean for other college graduates. (There is some variation, depending on teaching specialty.) Teachers are smart enough, but you need more than smarts to teach well. You need to know your subject and you need to know how to help children learn it. That’s where research on American teachers raises concerns.

Source: Teachers Aren’t Dumb – The New York Times

October 23, 2015 at 7:01 am 6 comments

Requirements for a Computing-Literate Society: VL/HCC 2105 Keynote

I gave a keynote talk at VL/HCC 2015 (see the program here) on Tuesday morning.  Here is the abstract, the short form outline, and a link to the slides on SlideShare.net.

Abstract: We share a vision of a society that is able to express problems and ideas computationally. Andrea diSessa called that computational literacy, and he invented the Boxer Programming Environment to explore the media of computational literacy. Education has the job of making citizens literate. Education systems around the world are exploring the question of what should all citizens know about computing and how do we provide that knowledge. The questions being asked are about public policy, but also about what does it mean to be expressive with computation and what should computing users know. The answers to these questions have implications for the future of human-centric computing.

Outline:

I. Our Job: The first computer scientists set the goal to achieve a Computing-Literate Society.

II. Challenges to Achieving a Computing-Literate Society
Access and Diversity
Inverse Lake Wobegon Effect
Unanswered research questions of policymakers

III. Inventing New Kinds of Computing Education
Story #1: Contextualized Computing Education.
Story #2: Understanding the Needs of High School CS Teachers.

VL_HCC_2015_Keynote__Requirements_for_a_Computing_Literate_Society

October 21, 2015 at 8:13 am 4 comments

More Students Taking AP CS Exams, but WAY more taking AP Physics

Surprising result!  We knew that AP CS was growing quickly (see Code.org blog post), but AP Physics just took a giant leap forward.  I wonder why that is, and what we can learn from that.

The number of students taking the physics test doubled between 2014 and 2015. The College Board, the nonprofit that administers the AP program, said that represents the largest annual growth in any AP course in history.

Source: More Students Taking AP Physics, Computer Science Exams – Curriculum Matters – Education Week

October 19, 2015 at 8:55 am 7 comments

New OECD Report Slams Computers And Says Why They Can Hurt Learning: It’s all about the pedagogy

My PhD advisor, Elliot Soloway, considers a new report on the value of computers in education, and gets to the bottomline.  To swipe a line from Bill Clinton, “It’s the pedagogy, stupid!”  Of course, I agree with Elliot, and it’s why Lecia Barker’s findings are so disturbing.  We have to be willing to change pedagogy to improve learning.

The findings are the findings, but what is really interesting is a statement that Andreas Schleicher, the director of OECD, made as to why the impact of technology is negative. In the foreword to the OECD report, he writes, “…adding 21st century technologies to 20th century teaching practices will just dilute the effectiveness of teaching.”WOW! In this one sentence, Schleicher names clearly what he sees as the root cause of the lack of technology’s impact on student achievement. While the NYT’s articles danced around the issues, Schleicher doesn’t pull any punches: The reason computers are not having a positive impact lies in the use of outmoded teaching practices that do not truly exploit the opportunities that a 1-to-1 classroom affords.

Source: New OECD Report Slams Computers — and Actually Says Why They Can Hurt Learning — THE Journal

October 16, 2015 at 8:06 am 2 comments

In Defense of Continuous Exposition by the Teacher: Definitions of “Lecture” and “Active Learning”

One of the pushbacks that I got in response to my proposal to encourage active learning in teaching statements for hiring, promotion, and tenure was the question, “What are you calling lecture?  What is active learning?”  The below-linked blog post does a good job of defining each.

While we’re at it, here’s the consensus definition of active learning that Freeman et al. used:“Active learning engages students in the process of learning through activities and/or discussion in class, as opposed to passively listening to an expert. It emphasizes higher-order thinking and often involves group work.”The research seems pretty clear to me. Lecturing, as defined as “continuous exposition by the teacher,” is, in general, on average, less effective at promoting student learning than active learning instruction.

Source: In Defense of Continuous Exposition by the Teacher

October 12, 2015 at 8:00 am 4 comments

Seeking teacher input on Dashboard for ebooks

Matt Moldavan is an MS HCI student here at Georgia Tech who is developing a new Instructor Dashboard for the Runestone Interactive and our group’s CSP eBooks (see announcement here). The goal for the dashboard is to offer useful reports, graphs, and analytics accessible by instructors. He aims to provide instructors with useful insights into their students’ activity and progress through their online course(s).

He’s conducting a survey to find out what teachers want to know when overseeing student activity in online learning. We would like to know your previous experiences with similar student progress tracking tools (such as Cengage, Moodle, Desire2Learn, and others). Additionally, we are seeking feedback on several early design prototypes of the dashboard.

Matt has a short survey at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/YQJ5MVC. If you have taught an online course or have used any other student progress tracking tools, your input would be greatly appreciated.

For more information, contact Matt at mmoldavan@gatech.edu.

 

October 9, 2015 at 8:02 am Leave a comment

Harvard student newspaper calls for University to curtail CS50

At first blush, the Harvard Crimson‘s call seems a stark contrast to the Berkeley student’s call for more access to CS (see previous post here).  I hear both student articles asking for the same thing — computing as a literacy to which everyone gets access.

CS50 is a phenomenon.  Set aside the “CS50 paraphernalia” described below.  CS50 has pizza parties and all night hackathons, sponsored by Facebook.  Events are held at the Microsoft New England Research and Development Center.  It’s probably the richest and most privileged CS class in the world.  If you got into Harvard, and were excited to learn to code, CS50 is absolutely the class you want to be in — and you’re going to get an experience that matches your expectations.

Check out the syllabus for CS50 (linked here). This is a hard-core, intense computer science class for computer science students.  It runs on the CS50 appliance in Ubuntu Linux.  The course covers C, PHP, and SQL.

When I visited Harvard’s Graduate School of Education last year, I met students who really wanted to learn computer science.  They wanted to learn CS in order to teach it.  They wanted to learn about Scratch and Blockly, Greenfoot and BlueJ, Media Computation and CS Principles.  That’s not the goal of CS50, but the CS50 size and culture sucks all the air out of the room.  There’s not going to be another introductory CS course taught when Harvard has CS50 on its hands and in its checkbook.

The Harvard Crimson is saying that they want classes, liberal arts style classes, not phenomena. If it was just a normal class, maybe you could offer more than one of them?  Maybe some aimed at other kinds of introductory CS needs?

Outside of the classroom, however, CS50 is anything but the liberal arts course its creators proclaim. Its unprecedented corporate sponsorship ensures that the course has an unmatched visibility on campus.No other course gives away and sells merchandise en masse to its students and fan base. T-shirts, umbrellas, aprons, stress balls, M&Ms, and other CS50 paraphernalia are ubiquitous on Harvard’s campus. No other course makes the first five weeks—that is, the add-drop period—significantly easier than the proceeding eight weeks of the semester, luring less confident students until it’s too late to turn back. In no other course on Harvard’s campus are students allowed to simultaneously register for conflicting courses, even if they too are filmed. No other course has disciplinary procedures that bypass the Ad Board. No other course has seen reports that TFs are instructed to decline to give comment on the course to The Crimson before conferring first with the professor.

Source: Harvard Should Curtail CS50 | Opinion | The Harvard Crimson

October 7, 2015 at 7:35 am 2 comments

NSF is hiring a permanent Program Director in CS Ed

Andy Bernat just told me about this job — I don’t know how I missed it earlier.  This is exciting! NSF is going to hire a permanent full-time CS education Program Director. The deadline is October 20, so get applications in soon.

A DUE Program Director can have a lot of influence in the field.  Andy was a rotating Program Director in DUE when he funded the Bootstrapping and Scaffolding projects which kicked off the rebirth of CS Ed in the United States, and led to the creation of the ICER conference.

This job opportunity announcement has been amended to extend the closing date to Tuesday, October 20, 2015.

The NSF is seeking qualified candidates for a permanent full-time Program Director position in the Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE), Directorate for Education and Human Resources (EHR), Arlington, VA. The ideal candidate will have expertise in computer science, computer science undergraduate education, and knowledge of computer science education research. While candidates in all areas of computer science are encouraged to apply, there is particular interest in seeking candidates with expertise in the application of computing in interdisciplinary settings and/or data-intensive research.

Source: USAJOBS – Search Jobs

October 6, 2015 at 12:50 pm 3 comments

Prescribing a lifetime drug at high cost: New York City sets 10 year goal to offer CS in all schools

NYC has joined Chicago and San Francisco and Arkansas in requiring CS in all schools.  I appreciate that they recognize the value of computing education.  I worry that the people making these decisions don’t realize what’s involved in covering them.  In particular, is de Blasio’s decision in New York City a commitment to a long-term cost that they can’t sustain?

de Blasio’s program is going to spend $81M to help existing teachers become CS teachers over the next ten years. Let’s imagine that he succeeds and his program prepares enough CS teachers so that every school has enough teachers to provide CS learning opportunities to every NYC students.

What happens after that? A lot of the teachers going through CS teacher professional development today are new teachers, less than five years into the job. Across all STEM subjects, we lose about 50% of all new teachers within five years. In an ECS study, it was closer to 60% attrition in 3 years. We’re going to burn through those teachers quickly. Code.org counts on CS teachers being in the classroom for only three years.

Where will NYC get the teachers to sustain the effort? Do they need to raise another $81M to keep retraining existing teachers?  It’s far cheaper to get teachers pre-service, straight from undergraduate. There are less than five pre-service CS teacher education programs in the United States. None are currently in New York (city or state).

de Blasio’s decision is like an architect’s decision to design a building using a particular kind of material that is hard to make and for which there are no current manufacturers. Or a doctor prescribing a drug that you’ll need for the rest of your life — but which can only be made by a specific pharmacy company at a high cost.

Some of that $81M should be used to build the infrastructure, to create the system that will keep supplying CS teachers for NYC — to create teacher certifications, start teacher education programs, and hire education faculty who will focus on CS education.  I pointed out previously that that’s how Germany is bootstrapping CS education. They’re making the investment in CS ed faculty who will keep programs running for decades.  My Blog@CACM post (link here) this month is on how CS departments can help grow CS teachers.

CS education is important to 21st century literacy. It’s so important that we shouldn’t promise it only to kids who are in NYC over the next 10 years.  What I hope is that de Blasio’s decision leads to that kind of investment. I hope that NYC, Chicago, San Francisco, and Arkansas are going to direct attention to what’s needed to create the steady-state flow of new computing teachers into classrooms.

Meeting that goal will present major challenges, mostly in training enough teachers. There is no state teacher certification in computer science, and no pipeline of computer science teachers coming out of college. Fewer than 10 percent of city schools currently offer any form of computer science education, and only 1 percent of students receive it, according to estimates by the city’s Department of Education.

Computer science will not become a graduation requirement, and middle and high schools may choose to offer it only as an elective. But the goal is for all students, even those in elementary school and those in the poorest neighborhoods, to have some exposure to computer science.

Source: De Blasio to Announce 10-Year Deadline to Offer Computer Science to All Students – The New York Times

October 5, 2015 at 8:11 am 9 comments

Come join us at LaTiCE 2016 – Call for Papers

I’ve been asked to be the keynote speakers at LaTiCE 2016.  Hope some of you can join us! Papers due Oct 11.

The Fourth International Conference on Learning and Teaching in Computing and Engineering (LaTiCE 2016) aims to create a platform towards sharing rigorous research and current practices being conducted in computing and engineering education. The previous three LaTiCE conferences have been successfully held in Macau (2013), Malaysia (2014), and in Taiwan (2015). The fourth LaTiCE conference will be held at IIT Bombay, India, from March 31st to April 3rd, 2016.

LaTiCE 2016 is jointly organized by the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (IITB), India, and the Uppsala Computing Education Research Group (UpCERG), Uppsala University, Sweden. It is technically co-sponsored by the Special Technical Community for Education Research (STC Education), which is an IEEE Computer Society initiative to connect those interested in all forms of educational research and pedagogy in the field of computing and engineering.

The conference is preceded by a doctoral consortium on March 31st. The conference is a gathering for presentations of research papers, practice sharing papers, work-in- process papers, and display of posters and demos.

Main Conference Themes

  • Computer Science and Engineering Education research
  • Secondary School Computer Science
  • ICT in Education

Conference sub-themes

  • Computing and engineering education research, theories, and methodologies
  • Cross-cultural aspects of computing and engineering education
  • Educational technology, software, and tools
  • Teaching innovations, best practices, experience sharing in computing and engineering education
  • Course module design, proficiency assessment, and module cross-accreditation
  • Improving student engagement in computing and engineering
  • Collaborative learning in computing and engineering- team and project skills

Source: LaTiCE 2016

October 2, 2015 at 8:32 am Leave a comment


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