Archive for February, 2016

SIGCSE 2016 Preview: Parsons Problems and Subgoal Labeling, and Improving Female Pass Rates on the AP CS exam

Our research group has two papers at this year’s SIGCSE Technical Symposium.

Subgoals help students solve Parsons Problems by Briana Morrison, Lauren Margulieux, Barbara Ericson, and Mark Guzdial. (Thursday 10:45-12, MCCC: L5-L6)

This is a continuation of our subgoal labeling work, which includes Lauren’s original work showing how subgoal labels improved learning, retention and transfer in learning App Inventor (see summary here), the 2015 ICER Chairs Paper Award-winning paper from Briana and Lauren showing that subgoals work for text languages (see this post for summary), and Briana’s recent dissertation proposal where she explores the cognitive load implications for learning programming (see this post for summary). This latest paper shows that subgoal labels improve success at Parson’s Problems, too. One of the fascinating results in this paper is that Parson’s Problems are more sensitive as a learning assessment than asking students to write programs.

Sisters Rise Up 4 CS: Helping Female Students Pass the Advanced Placement Computer Science A Exam by Barbara Ericson, Miranda Parker, and Shelly Engelman. (Friday 10:45-12, MCCC: L2-L3)

Barb has been developing Project Rise Up 4 CS to support African-American students in succeeding at the AP CS exam (see post here from RESPECT and this post here from last year’s SIGCSE). Sisters Rise Up 4 CS is a similar project targeting female students. These are populations that have lower pass rates than white or Asian males. These are examples of supporting equality and not equity. This paper introduces Sisters Rise Up 4 CS and contrasts it with Project Rise Up 4 CS. Barb has resources to support people who want to try these interventions, including a how-to ebook at http://ice-web.cc.gatech.edu/ce21/SRU4CS/index.html and an ebook for students to support preparation for the AP CS A.

February 29, 2016 at 7:56 am 6 comments

Defining Computing Education Research at University of South Florida

I just recently visited the computing education research web pages at the University of South Florida.  It’s an interesting contrast with the post about how those of us at Georgia Tech do computing education research.  The definition of the field is pretty much the same, but with different emphases and priorities.

Computing Education Research belongs to this last category. Discipline-based educational research has been pioneered in disciplines such as Math and Physics for decades. It has been embraced by Faculty from the various computing disciplines for a little less longer but with great enthusiasm. The objective here is to conduct formal educational research while leveraging expertise in the domain being taught. Often, CER faculty will find themselves partnering with education researchers as they validate how educational theories or frameworks fit or may be adapted to address the specific learning barriers encountered by their students. Again, a CER Faculty may or may not be directly teaching the courses related to their research focus; e.g. a faculty interested in conducting research on the pedagogy of programming might partner with a colleague who will help him experiment with various interventions and measure their impact on student learning. The key here is to conduct educational research with expertise on the nature of the discipline being taught.

Source: CEReAL

February 26, 2016 at 8:14 am Leave a comment

Review the Draft of the 2016 CSTA K-12 CS Standards

It’s a little weird that the CSTA Standards are out for review now, when the Framework is just finishing the first round of public comment (see my review here).  The CSTA Standards have a different goal than the Framework, from my reading of the standards presentation — it’s about reflecting teacher’s process and classroom practice.  The review period ends March 3, so get your comments in soon.

The CSTA K-12 CS Standards Revision Task Force members have been diligently working to revise the 2011 CSTA K-12 CS Standards to ensure they are current, valid, and the best they can be. The task force members very much appreciate all of you who took the time to provide us with input on the 2011 CSTA K-12 CS Standards during the public feedback period in September – October 2015. Your input, along with the draft K-12 CS Framework and practices, standards from other states and countries, and related national standards informed the task force members as they revised, deleted, and added to the 2011 CSTA K-12 CS Standards. You may view the standards development process on the CSTA Standards Webpage. The first DRAFT of the 2016 CSTA K-12 CS Standards is ready for public review and feedback. We need your assistance once again!

Source: DRAFT 2016 CSTA K-12 CS Standards: We need your feedback! | The CSTA Advocate Blog

February 24, 2016 at 8:11 am 3 comments

What can undergraduate courses do to improve diversity in computing?

Dan is one of the best computer science teachers I know, and I strongly agree with the goals he describes below.  I’m not sure how much intro courses can do to recruit more diverse students.  At Georgia Tech, Media Computation has been over 50% female since we started in 2003, but that’s because of what majors are required to take it and the gender distribution in those majors.  I know that Harvey Mudd, Stanford, and Berkeley have grown their percentage of females, but their undergraduates get to choose their majors while on-campus.  At schools like Georgia Tech, where students have to choose their major on the application form, the decision is made off-campus.

One clear thing we can do in undergraduate courses is retain more diverse students.  In our BS in CS, we graduated 16% female BS in CS students in Spring 2015, which is pretty good.  Taulbee Survey says that the national average is only 14.1% (see report here).  But our enrollment in CS is 25% female.  We lose a LOT of women who decide to try CS.  I’ve talked about some of the reasons in past blog posts (see post here about bad teaching practices and here about my daughter’s experience in CS at Georgia Tech).

Dan Garcia says there’s another important issue: Once courses are created, educators must make sure they’re reaching a diverse audience. Women and minorities are grossly under-represented, not just in tech fields, but also in computer science classes.Teachers should shake the trees and reach out to more kinds of students, not just the student who’s doing well in math. And, he says, connect computer science to bigger, more controversial topics, Garcia says, because coding and data are connected to issues of power. With the persistent digital divide, he says, educators must ask, “What does that mean for equity? What does that mean for fairness? Privacy issues? Hopefully the curriculum brings equity as part of it,” he says.

Source: Adding ‘Beauty And Joy’ To Obama’s Push For Computer Science Teaching : NPR Ed : NPR

February 22, 2016 at 7:26 am 12 comments

Dagstuhl Seminar Poster: Critiquing CS Assessment from a CS for All Lens

Today’s the last day of the Dagstuhl Seminar I’ve been attending on Assessing Learning In Introductory Computer Science (see seminar description here).  We all presented posters about the theme, and I presented a poster where I critiqued CS assessment from a CS for All Lens (see Slideshare link).

Critiquing_CS_Assessment_from_a_CS_for_All_lens__Dagstuhl_Seminar_Pos…

Not everyone who learns CS is going to want to be a software engineer.  Then why teach them CS?  And how would you teach them, if the goal is not for students to develop software to professional standards?  That’s what my new book is about.

If we have different learning outcomes, assessment has to change, too.  I argue that we have to consider what the learner wants to do and wants to be (i.e., their desired Community of Practice) when assessing learning.  Different CoP, different outcomes, different assessments.

I learned a lot from this seminar.  I was in a great breakout group that came up with shared definitions of a notional machine and student misconceptions, and defined a research agenda for understanding student misconceptions.  In a breakout group on conveying social and professional practice (bottom line for me: I’m not sure that we can or should in school), Andy Ko taught me a whole new way of thinking about MOOCs, about the positive role that they can play in society.  The whole week has me thinking more about adult learning and how we support lifelong development.  I have plans to write blog posts about these themes in future weeks.  But first, a long trip home.

February 19, 2016 at 7:28 am 1 comment

A MediaComp MOOC in Processing

I was excited to read this in Katrina Falkner’s blog at the beginning of the year.  They’re teaching a Media Computation MOOC in Processing!  I highly recommend looking at the actual blog post and the links, to see the kinds of work that the students are doing.  (I wrote and scheduled this post when I first saw Katrina’s blog post, and it’s coincidence that it’s publishing when I’m with Katrina at Dagstuhl this week, discussing how we assess CS learning and attitudes.)

At the start of this year, we were also busy working on our Introductory programming MOOC, Think Create Code. We are really excited about this course, as we are have adopted the same Media Computation approach that we use in our on-campus course. We use Processing, and have built an EdX extension module to support an open art gallery where students can share their work, explore others and discuss. We will be using this course as part of our future on-campus offerings as well, allowing us to focus more of our in class time on working closely with our students. We launched Think Create Code in April, and ended up working with over 20,000 students from 177 countries. It was amazing to see the work of our students, and to see a fantastic blending between the artistic and computer science communities. The course now runs as a self-paced course open to all.

Source: Looking back on 2015 | Katrina Falkner

February 17, 2016 at 8:26 am Leave a comment

The need for feedback to improve undergrad CS teaching

Because of the kind of work that we do in my group at Georgia Tech, we visit a lot of computer science classrooms, recitations, and labs.  Sometimes what we see is counter to what we now know is effective.  Here are two examples from this semester:

  • We see small group recitations, where students sit for 90 minutes and passively listen to a recap of the lecture.  No peer instruction.  We know active learning is better, and we know that it’s even easier to do active learning in small groups.
  • We see intro courses teaching recursion before iteration.  One of the few replicated results in CS Ed is that iteration should precede recursion.  John Anderson and company found that teaching iteration first was better even when teaching Lisp, and Susan Wiedenbeck replicated the result (see blog post).

I can’t really blame these teachers.  How could they know that there is a better way?  How could we make it better?  By what mechanism do we help CS teachers improve?  This is a technology transfer problem.  The research knows a better way. How do we change practice?

I’d argued previously that we should change promotion and tenure requirements to encourage active learning, and received massive pushback.  I don’t think we’ll see that happen anywhere anytime soon.  Teachers don’t want to feel “forced” to teach better.

Instead, what kind of feedback mechanism could we create so that undergraduate teachers learn that they’re not using effective methods?  At my school (and I’m betting at most undergraduate institutions), the only feedback that a teacher gets is from student surveys, course-instructor opinion surveys.  That’s not going to help with this problem.  How could students know that the class would be better with peer instruction?  How could students know that they should have seen iteration before recursion to learn more effectively?

Questions like these have been asked on the SIGCSE-Members list recently. What do you think?  What kinds of effective feedback mechanisms have you seen to improve CS teaching?  How do CS teachers get informed about research on better practices?

February 15, 2016 at 8:05 am 12 comments

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