Ebooks, Handbooks, Strong Themes, and Undergraduate Research: SIGCSE 2020 Preview

March 11, 2020 at 7:00 am 10 comments

A few items on things that we’re doing at SIGCSE 2020. Yes, SIGCSE 2020 is still have a face-to-face meeting. Attendance looks to be down by at least 30% because of coronavirus fears.

Barbara Ericson (and Brad Miller, who won’t be there) are presenting a paper on their amazingly successful Runestone open-source platform for publishing ebooks: Runestone: A Platform for Free, On-line, and Interactive Ebooks on Sat Mar 14, 2020 11:10 AM – 11:35 AM in D135. They are also hosting a workshop to help others to develop with Runestone: Workshop #401: Using and Customizing Ebooks for Computing Courses with Runestone Interactive on Sat Mar 14, 2020 3:30 PM – 6:30 PM in C120.

I’m part of the massive special session on Thursday 1:45 PM – 3:00 PM in B113 that Colleen Lewis is organizing: Session 2H: The Cambridge Handbook of Computing Education Research Summarized in 75 minutes. Colleen, who must have done graduate work in organizational management (or perhaps cat herding), has organized 25 authors (!) to present the entire Handbook in a single session. Even if I wasn’t one of the presenters, I’d go just to see if we can all pull it off! It’s going to be kind of like watching NASCAR — you’re on the edge of your seat as everyone tries to avoid crashing into one another.

Bravo to Bob Sloan who got this panel accepted this year: Session 6K: CS + X Meets CS 1: Strongly Themed Intro Courses on Fri Mar 13, 2020 3:45 PM – 5:00 PM in Portland Ball Room 255. The panelists are teachers and developers who have put together contextualized introductions to computing, like Media Computation. The panelists have done interesting classes, and I’m eager to hear what they have to say about them.

I am collaborating with Sindhu Kutty on her interesting summer reading group to engage undergraduates in CS research. (Read as: we meet occasionally to work on assessment, but Sindhu is really doing all the work.) The evidence suggests that she’s able to give undergraduates a better understanding of CS graduate research, at a larger scale (e.g. a couple dozen students to one faculty member) than typical undergraduate research programs. It seems like it might feel a bit safer and easier to try for female students. She was going to present a poster at RESPECT on Wednesday Undergraduate Student Research With Low Faculty Cost, but it’s now going to be virtual. I’m not sure how it’s going to work right now.

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Defining CS Ed out of existence: Have we made CS too hard to learn and teach? How do we test the cultural assumptions of our assessments?

10 Comments Add your own

  • 1. alanone1  |  March 11, 2020 at 7:10 am

    From the POV of one who was trained in molecular and micro Biology before drifting into computing …

    At this point, it would really be a mistake to hold this conference physically. Much more needs to be known about transmission vectors, viability on surfaces, etc.

    This is also a kind of test on whether people who might have taken a “science course” or two might still be using paleolithic commonsense reasoning in the face of something that is not visible to the senses.

    An appalling example of this is that it now appears that a conference at BioGen in Cambridge, Mass was the center of the Boston area contagion. (A little irony is humorous, but deep ironies are tragic.)

    What was (not) in their heads that they should go ahead with this conference?

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  March 11, 2020 at 7:44 am

      I’m not sure who can cancel the conference now. ACM signed contracts for the conference center, catering, and hotels that they can’t get out of unless the Oregon Public Health services orders a halt to large gatherings. Oregon won’t, and SIGCSE can’t cover the costs in their budget. ACM probably has deep enough pockets to cancel, but it’s looking at its whole portfolio of conferences and the possibility of losing millions if they cancel CHI in May. It’s all about the money.

      • 3. alanone1  |  March 11, 2020 at 7:58 am

        “All about the money” is most definitely “paleolithic commonsense reasoning”.

        If the heads of ACM had signed up for a very expensive non-refundable vacation, and then heard from their doctors that they had a condition that would kill them if they went on the vacation, what would they do?

        -What is actually needed- (that phrase again) is: it’s “All about preventing spread of a highly contagious disease that currently has no alleviation and can kill”.

        Many people are only calculating based on what they think their odds are, but they are completely missing that the viability of the virus on surfaces means that they are also carriers and infectious agents (and they are doing just that).

        It is not surprising that most people can’t deal with exponentials, but surely the ACM should be able to?

        I will avoid getting on my usual soapbox about “real thinking”, but -my goodness-!

        • 4. Mark Guzdial  |  March 11, 2020 at 9:06 am

          I’m interested in what the CDC and Oregon Public Health are saying, and why. Oregon Public Health explicitly said that they see no reason to cancel large meetings. CDC is still saying that it’s low-risk for the average American. These are the public health experts. It’s their job to assess risk, and if the risk is too high, recommend gatherings to be halted. But they’re not. ACM, hotels, and caterers are not going to second guess them.

          • 5. alanone1  |  March 11, 2020 at 9:42 am

            There are apples and oranges here. There’s low risk of getting infected at all at this point. That is all the CDC is saying. But that is just now, and that is not dealing with the consequences.

            There is a distribution of mortality risk should you get it. It’s not a normal or a bimodal curve (the very young hardly contract it). The statistical mean in the world right now is 3% (open heart surgery is 1%) — this is likely to go down as better testing is done. Still, what do you think?

            And, at my age and older (80), the mortality rate is about 15%. I also have a depressed immune system, and a history of severe respiratory infections including pneumonias. For me, personally, the risk after contraction is probably significantly higher than 15%.

            A larger point is that we benefit from living in societies, and this should mean that we are also trying to tend to the societies not just to harvest from them. The more community transmission can take place by transfer from surface to surface and the current estimated viability of 2-5 days on a surface, means that COVID-19 is likely to hit a large percentage of the population this time around. Everyone should be trying to limit this -right now-.

            A better way to look at what the CDC is reporting is to note that the disease is spreading quite readily — this means that “low risk of a particular individual being infected” has been plenty enough to form the front wave of a pandemic.

            A much smarter leader than the US has — with a PhD in science — Andrea Merkel, has warned Germany that it is likely that 70% of its population could easily be infected unless it is effectively contained. This could be pretty realistic.

            Looking at the current statistics — and bumping the mortality mean down to a more realistic figure of around 1-2% — say 1% — this would indicate about 580,000 deaths (perhaps a million) in Germany, a disproportionate number of which would be in my cohort.

            • 6. Mark Guzdial  |  March 11, 2020 at 10:22 am

              I agree that CDC is estimating individual risk, but Oregon Public Health’s declaration is about mass public health, isn’t it? You know the science far better than me — I don’t disagree. Isn’t it the job of public health officials to make the declaration that large gatherings should be halted? I think ACM is in the same position with CHI in Hawaii in May. Hawaii Public Health isn’t saying to stop, so they contractually can’t.

              • 7. alanone1  |  March 11, 2020 at 10:47 am

                But (the neighboring state of) Washington just did shut down gatherings of 250 or more people (I wonder if they think ones with 249 are actually OK …).

                Should Oregon and Washington now have a civil war about whose public health officials are right?

                In most of the countries where COVID-19 is spreading, “public health” officials made their shut down calls late enough to allow the disease to happily spread.

                Al Gore chose the perfect title for his book and documentary: “An Inconvenient Truth”.

                So far convenience has trumped dealing with the climate situation (and recently literally it has been “Trumped”). I think the US government has “officials” whose job it is to make calls for the country about threats like the climate. They aren’t doing it (in part because their theory of their job is quite different than their actual job description).

                And convenience has delayed and is delaying action on COVID-19. By the time things get so they can’t be swept under the rug, many of these inconvenient situations are almost out of control.

              • 8. orcmid  |  March 11, 2020 at 10:58 am

                I would like to point out that the Oregon Public Health officials have been feckless about this and the governor has had to step in. Considering that Portland is a day-trip away from Seattle on the Interstate 5 corridor, the casual approach in Oregon is near-unspeakable.

                We are seeing, here in Seattle, a more-appropriate response while suffering under the lack of testing and no good way to estimate the number of infected that have not been hospitalized or isolated in some manner. As members of the most vulnerable age group, my household is very apprehensive.

                I posit we are observing how decentralization (e.g., local control of schools) and fragmentation of layers of government is a barrier to uniform preparedness and behavior in a dispersed crisis. We are notoriously suspicious (if not paranoid) about state and higher levels of government and our political and civil structures reflect that. Now we expect executives such as governors to suddenly have super powers that they are, in fact, denied. The greatest signal of our ill-prepared situation is the number of emergency-responders and health-workers who have been exposed and what that portends now that they are sorely needed.

                This dissonance is particularly evident where economic or financial consideration trump protective social conduct and the urgent flattening of the infection rate lest our emergency and healthcare systems be unable to cope. It keeps schools open and events still being held.

                Please pay attention to the fact that there is no expectation, apart from mass denial, that infection will be prevented. The battle is not to prevent infection but to stretch it out so our systems can respond until improved detection, treatment, and even prevention be achieved at some point. We have not managed to prevent influenza, we have managed to reduce its impact and to treat those most-seriously afflicted. Consider automobile-related deaths too (not related to contagion, but sometimes liability).

                • 9. orcmid  |  March 11, 2020 at 11:13 am

                  PS: I support Alan’s remarks, we tend to be writing concurrently here and are in the same age group.

                  I suggest that appropriate individual response to SIGCSE 2020 Conference is to not go.

                  That kind of troubling decision is happening personally in my household, where an airline refused to allow penalty-free cancellation of air travel to Florence via O’Hare and Zurich. We don’t know if that has changed as the result of the current Italian actions.

  • […] my SIGCSE 2020 Preview blog post (posted just two days before the conference was posted), I mentioned the cool session that Colleen […]


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