Archive for October, 2018

Novum Organum: The original “How To Not Be Wrong”

When I visited with Alan Kay and Bonnie MacBird in June, one of the ideas that he got me thinking about was Sir Francis Bacon’s Novum Organum (1620, wikipedia link), for ‘new instrument of science.’ Bacon understood human tendencies for bias long before behavioral economics. His book was the prototype for the modern popular book “How to Not Be Wrong: The Power of Mathematical Thinking” which advocates for mathematics as an approach to addressing human biases and limitations.

Bacon aimed to construct a foundation for real science, a body of knowledge that we could trust despite the fact that our minds are weak and that we are easily swayed. He lists four “idols” — the biases which keep us from thinking objectively and scientifically. Wikipedia has a short description for each. A couple that I found particularly striking:

  • Idols of the tribe: The things we get wrong because we like to see things at human scale and in regular structures. I read these as including the ideas we like because everyone else likes them, like picking a programming language because it’s popular and not because it suits the task.
  • Idols of the cave: The things we get wrong because of our unique education and background. Bias due to privilege (and assuming that everyone else has the same privilege) seem to fall in here.
  • Idols of the market: I just kept thinking “computational thinking” here. Idols of the market include words “which spring from fallacious theories” and “that are the result of imprecise abstraction.”  Unsupported theories of transfer and terms which we can’t actually define and test are part of Bacon’s warnings about “the market.”

I haven’t read the whole document — it’s available on Project Gutenberg, but it’s tough going.  I have found that Bacon talks about issues not in the Wikipedia article that are are significant today. For example, Bacon decries making decisions based on too “few experiments” which is explicitly a concern addressed in the efforts to replicate prior results (e.g., article here).

I keep thinking about what Bacon would say about computing education research. CER has some deep research questions it’s pondering (which I plan to address in some future blog posts). How do we make sure that we’re doing Science and not just following our Baconian idols?

October 29, 2018 at 7:00 am 1 comment

What would convince faculty in other disciplines that programming is useful?

Recently I came across an article from the journal Issues in Information Systems, “Faculty perspectives on the information technology and analytics requirements of business students.” The authors surveyed 204 business faculty from 20 different universities.  They found that “[N]early a third of respondents (32.6%) felt that computer programming skills should not be required at all. Interestingly, the same number (32.6%) also believe that Calculus should not be required of business students.”  Below is the table with the results.  About a third of faculty actually thought that all business students should take a three credit hour course in programming, but a third also felt that it shouldn’t be required at all. Details in the table below:

business-faculty

I’ve been working with the Georgia Department of Education on a new kind of pre-calculus course that uses computing to demonstrate the pre-calc concepts in a variety of contexts, e.g., scalar multiplication of a vector by reducing red in all the pixels in a picture, matrix multiplication by doing transforms of objects in 3-D space, periodicity of functions (like trigonometric functions) to generate sounds, etc. We did a careful mapping of each pre-calculus learning objective to relevant computing demonstrations, with multiple possible computing contexts for each pre-calculus learning objective. The course was rejected by the mathematics oversight board today. They didn’t buy it at all.  Among the responses: “The description of the course states that it is ‘designed to prepare students for calculus and other college level mathematics courses,’ which they believe it does not” and “Members feel that computer science is not mathematics and should not be replacing a mathematics course.”

I’m struck by these two stories.  For me, programming is this useful new notation that can enhance learning in many disciplines.  I’m swayed by the results with Bootstrap and with the CT-STEM effort at Northwestern. I hadn’t realized the extent to which the teachers in the non-CS disciplines were not buying the story.

  • Business faculty are clearly dubious about the benefits of programming for business students.  I wonder if they’ve done the studies about how many business school graduates use programming (from SQL queries and spreadsheet macros, to data analysis and even modeling and simulation) in their daily jobs.
  • Mathematics faculty are clearly dubious that (a) programming to apply mathematics topics leads to more mathematics learning and (b) computer science is even related to mathematics.

These create an interesting set of research questions to me. Why are faculty in non-CS disciplines dubious about the advantages of programming for their students?  What do they think programming is?  Maybe they’re right — maybe “programming” as we are currently defining it isn’t worth the credit hours for their students. How could we re-define programming (and programming languages and tools) to make it more useful?

October 26, 2018 at 7:00 am 33 comments

How Google is supporting computing education research

Google in August made five awards to support computing education research (see announcement here).  They are not huge awards, and they’re all fairly short time frames. But what I’m impressed with is how Google is doing their investment in computing education research.

Google started their process by asking Paulo Blikstein to poll the field and write a report summarizing the state of computing education research.  I blogged about that report here — I liked it.  I thought he covered a lot of ground in a small space, and he pointed out important open research questions.

Google wanted to hear from researchers directly. So they held a workshop with a bunch of researchers (some involved in Paulo’s report, some outsiders) to talk to them about what were the pressing research issues we saw and what we’d recommend Google should do about them.  (I was there, and mentioned the workshop in passing in this blog post.) So, first they educated themselves (and the community) with Paulo’s report, then they brought in more voices to respond to the report and point out other issues.

Now they’ve made their awards. The process is interesting because they engaged the community, at multiple levels. They didn’t just hire the people away from their campuses to come to Google. They made external awards, so that the faculty keep teaching (which we desperately need with the exploding enrollments). I hope other companies make note of the process and consider it as a model.

 

October 22, 2018 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Analyzing CS in Texas school districts: Maybe enough to take root and grow

My Blog@CACM for this month is about Code.org’s decision to shift gradually the burden of paying for CS professional development to the local regions — see link here.  It’s an important positive step that needs to happen to make CS sustainable with the other STEM disciplines in K-12 schools.

We’re at an interesting stage in CS education. 40-70% of high schools have CS, but the classes are pretty empty.  I use Indiana and Texas as examples because they’ve made a lot of their data available.  Let’s drill a bit into the Texas data to get a flavor of it, available here.  I’m only going to look at Area 1’s data, because even just that is deep and fascinating.

Brownsville Intermediate School District. 13,941 students. 102 in CS.

Computer_Science_Regional_Data___STEM_Center___The_University_of_Texas_at_Austin

Of the 10 high schools in Brownsville ISD, only two high schools have anyone in their CS classes.  Brownsville Early College High School has 102 students in CS Programming (no AP CS Level A, no AP CSP).  That probably means that one teacher has several sections of that course — that’s quite a bit.  The other high school, Porter Early College High School has fewer than five students in AP CS A.  My bet is that there is no CS teacher there, only five students doing an on-line class.  That means for 10 high schools and 13K students, there is really only one high school CS teacher.

Edinburg Consolidated Independent School District, over 10K students, 92 students in CS.

Computer_Science_Regional_Data___STEM_Center___The_University_of_Texas_at_Austin-3

This is a district that could grow CS if there was will.  There are 6 high schools, but two are special cases: One with less than 5 students, and the other in a juvenile detention center.  The other four high schools are huge, with over 2000 students each.  In Economedes, that are only 9 students in AP CS A — maybe just on-line?  Edinburg North and Robert R Vela high school each have two classes: AP CS A and CS1.  With 21 and 14, I’m guessing two sections.  The other has 43 and 6. That might be two sections of AP CS A and another of CS1, or two sections of AP CS A and 6 students in an on-line class.  In any case, this suggests two high school CS teachers (maybe three) in half of the high schools in the district.  Those teachers aren’t teaching only CS, but with increased demand and support from principals, the CS offerings could grow.

It’s fascinating to wander through the Texas data, to see what’s there and what’s not.  I could be wrong about what’s there, e.g., maybe there’s only one teacher in Edinburg and she’s moving from school-to-school.  Given these data, there’s unlikely to be a CS teacher in every high school, who just isn’t teaching any CS. These data are a great snapshot. There is CS in Texas high schools, and maybe there’s enough there to take root and grow.

 

October 19, 2018 at 7:00 am 2 comments

A high-level report on the state of computing education policy in US states: Access vs Participation

states-policyInteresting analysis from Code.org on the development of policies in US states that promote computing education — see report here, and linked below.  The map above is fascinating in that it shows how much computing education has become an issue in all but five states.

The graph below is the one I found confusing.

urm-access

I’ve been corrected: the first bar says that where the school’s population is 0-25% from under-represented minority groups, 41% of those schools teach CS.  Only 27% of mostly-minority schools (75%-100% URM, in the rightmost column) offer CS.  This is a measure of which schools offer computer science.

The graph above doesn’t mean that there are any under-represented minority students in any CS classes in any of those high schools.  My children’s public high school in Georgia was over 50% URM, but the AP CS class was 90% white and Asian kids.  From the data we’ve seen in Georgia (for example, see this blog post), few high schools offer more than one CS class. Even in a 75% URM high school, it’s pretty easy to find 30 white and Asian guys.  Of course, we know that there are increasing numbers of women and under-represented minority students in computer science classes, but that’s a completely different statistic from what schools offer CS.

I suspect that the actual participation of URM students in CS is markedly lower than the proportion in the school.  In other words, in a high school with 25% URM, I’ll bet that the students in the CS classes are less than 25% URM.  Even in a 75% URM high school, I’ll bet that CS participation is less than 75% URM.

Access ≠ participation.

Source: The United States for Computer Science – Code.org – Medium

October 12, 2018 at 7:00 am 10 comments

ECEP has a new home at The University of Texas at Austin: First meeting this week at CSforAll

I can’t tell you how exciting this press release is for me.  Rick Adrion, Renee Fall, Barbara Ericson, and I started the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance (http://ecepalliance.org) in 2012 to provide states with support as they broadened participation in computing education.  Six years later, we had 16 states and Puerto Rico involved — but we were ready to be done.  We all four had worked on previous alliances (CAITE and Georgia Computes) and felt that the movement needed new leaders.  I am so very pleased that Carol Fletcher and her wonderful team decided to carry on ECEP, and NSF has agreed to continue funding ECEP as it expands to TWENTY-THREE states and US territories!

ECEP (now based out of UT-Austin) will have its first meeting this week, at Wayne State University in Detroit (where Barbara and I first met in 1983) as part of the CSforAll summit.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the UT STEM Center a three-year $2.5 million grant to lead the Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliance. ECEP is one of eight Broadening Participation in Computing Alliances (BPC) funded by the NSF to increase the number and diversity of students in K-16 pathways. ECEP works with state leadership teams to achieve this goal through education policy reform. First launched in 2012 through an NSF grant to Georgia Tech and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, ECEP has since grown through four phases from two states to sixteen and Puerto Rico. Building on the existing network of ECEP states noted in the map above, the ECEP leadership team is pleased to announce the fifth phase addition of six new states to the Alliance: Hawaii, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington.

Source: National Alliance for Expanding Computing Education Pathways has a new home at The University of Texas at Austin

October 8, 2018 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

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