LATICE 2016 in Mumbai: An exciting, vibrant conference with great students

April 18, 2016 at 7:18 am 5 comments

I was at the Learning and Teaching in Computing Education (LaTICE 2016) conference in Mumbai in early April. It was one of my most memorable and thought-provoking trips. I have had few experiences in Asia, and none in India, so I was wide-eyed with amazement most of my time there. (Most of the pictures that I am including in this series of blog posts are mine or come from the LaTICE 2016 gallery.)

I was invited to join discussants at the LaTICE Doctoral Consortium on the day before the conference. LaTICE was hosted at IIT-Bombay, and IIT-Bombay is home to the Inter-disciplinary Program in Educational Technology (see link here). The IPD-ET program is an impressive program. Only five years old, it already has 20 PhD students. The lead faculty are Sahana Murthy and Sridhar Iyer who are guiding these students through interesting work. (Below picture shows Sahana with the DC co-chairs, Anders Berglund from Uppsala University and Tony Clear from Auckland University of Technology.) The Doctoral Consortium had students from across India and one from Germany. Not all were IDP-ET students, but most were.

IMG_0384

Talking to graduate students was my main activity at LaTICE 2017. Aman Yadav (from Michigan State, in the back of the below picture) and I missed a lot of sessions as we met with groups of students. I don’t think I met all the IDP-ET students, but I met many of them, and wrestled with ideas with them. I was pleased that students didn’t just take me at my word — they asked for explanations and references. (I ripped out half of the pages of my notebook, handing out notes with names of papers and researchers.) I feel grateful for the experience of hearing about so many varied projects and to talk through issues with many students.

Holding-office-hours

I’m going to take my blog writer’s prerogative to talk about some of the IDP-ET students’ work that I’ve been thinking about since I got back. I’m not claiming that this is the best work, and I do offer apologies to the (many!) students whose work I’m not mentioning. These are just the projects that keep popping up in my (still not sleeping correctly) brain.

Aditi Kothiyal is interested in how engineers estimate. Every expert engineer does back-of-the-envelope estimation before starting a project. It’s completely natural for them. How does that develop? Can we teach that process to students? Aditi has a paper at the International Conference of the Learning Sciences this year on her studies of how experts do estimation. I find this problem interesting because estimation might be one of those hard-to-transfer higher-order thinking skills OR it could be a rule-of-thumb procedure that could be taught.

Shitanshu Mishra is exploring question-posing as a way to encourage knowledge integration. He’s struggling with a fascinating set of issues. Question-posing is a great activity that leads to learning, but is practiced infrequently in classroom, especially by the students who need it the most. Shitanshu has developed a guided process (think the whiteboards in Problem-Based Learning, or classroom rituals in Janet Kolodner’s Learning-By-Design, or Scardamalia & Bereiter’s procedural facilitation) which measurably helps students to pose good questions that encourage students to integrate knowledge. When should he guide students through his question-posing process? Is it important that students use his process on their own?

Yogendra Pal is asking a question that is very important in India whose answer may also be useful here in the US: How do you help students who grew up in a non-English language in adapting to English-centric CS? India’s constitution recognizes 22 languages, and has 122 languages spoken by many Indian citizens on a daily basis. Language issues are core to the Indian experience. CS is very English-centric, from the words in our programming languages, to the technical terms that don’t always map to other languages. Yogendra is working with students who only spoke Hindi until they got to University, where they now want to adapt to English, the language of the Tech industry. I wonder if Yogendra’s scaffolding techniques would help children of immigrant families in the US succeed in CS.

Rwitajit Majumdar is developing visualizations to track student behavior on questions over time. Originally, he wanted to help teachers get a sense of how their students move towards a correct understanding over multiple questions during Peer Instruction. Now, he’s exploring using his visualizations with MOOC data. I’m interested in his visualizations for our ebooks. He’s trying to solve an important problem. It’s one thing to know that 35% of the students got Problem #1 right, and 75% got (similar) Problem #2 right. But is it the same 25% of students who got both wrong? What percentage of students are getting more right, and are there any that are swapping to more wrong answers? Tracking students across time, across problems is an important problem.

Overall, the LaTICE conference was comparable to SIGCSE or ITiCSE. It was single track, though it’s been dual-track at some instances. LaTICE is mostly a practitioner’s conference, with a number of papers saying, “Here’s what I’m doing in my class” without much evaluation. I found even those interesting, because many were set in contexts that were outside my experience. There are some good research papers. And there are some papers that said some things that I felt were outright wrong. But because LaTICE is a small (< 200 attendees, I’d guess) and collegial conference, I had one-on-one conversations with all the authors with whom I disagreed (and many others, as well!) to talk through issues.

My keynote was based on my book, Learner-Centered Design of Computing Education: Research on Computing for Everyone. I talked about why it’s important to provide computing education to more than computing majors, and how computing education would have to change for different audiences. Slides are here: http://www.slideshare.net/markguzdial/latice-2016-learnercentered-design-of-computing-education-for-all

LaTICE_2016__Learner-Centered_Design_of_Computing_Education_for_All

The most remarkable part of my trip was simply being in India. I’ve never been any place so crowded, so chaotic, so dirty, and so vibrant. I felt like I took my life in my hands whenever I crossed the street after noon on any day (and given the pedestrian accidents that some conference participants reported seeing, including one possible fatality, I likely was taking a risk). I went out for three runs around Mumbai and across campus (only in the morning when the traffic was manageable) and enjoyed interactions with cows and monkeys. I was shocked at the miles and miles of slums I saw when driving around Mumbai. I got stuck on one side of a major street without any idea how I could possibly get through the crowds and traffic to the other side — on a normal Sunday night. The rich colors of the Indian clothing palette were beautiful, even in the poorest neighborhoods. There was an energy everywhere I went in Mumbai.

I’ve not experienced anything like Mumbai before. I certainly have a new sense of my own privilege — about the things I have that I never even noticed until I was somewhere where they are not given. Given that India has 1.2 billion people and the US only has some 320 million, I’m wondering about how I define “normal.”

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