Archive for August, 2021

ICER 2021 Preview: The Challenges of Validated Assessments, Developing Rich Conceptualizations, and Understanding Interest #icer2021

The International Computing Education Research Conference (ICER) 2021 is this week (website here). It should have been in Charleston, South Carolina (one of my favorite cities), but it will instead be all on-line. Unlike previous years, if you are not already registered, you’re unfortunately out of luck. As seen in Matthias Hauswirth’s terrific guest blog post from last week (see here), getting set up in Clowdr is complicated. ICER won’t have the resources to bring people on-line and get them through the half hour prep sessions on-the-fly. There will be no “onsite” registration.

However, all the papers should be available in the ACM Digital Library (free for some time), and I think all the videos of the talks will be made available after the fact, so you can still gain a lot from the conference. Let me point out a few of the highlights that I’m excited about. (As of this writing, the papers are not yet appearing in the ACM DL — all the DOI links are failing for me. I’ll include the links here in hopes that everything is fixed soon.)

Our keynoter is Tammy Clegg, whom I got to know when she was a PhD student at Georgia Tech. She’s now at U. Maryland doing amazing work around computation and relevant science learning. I’m so looking forward to hearing what she has to say to the ICER community.

Miranda Parker, Allison Elliott Tew, and I have a paper “Uses, Revisions, and the Future of Validated Assessments in Computing Education: A Case Study of the FCS1 and SCS1.” This is a paper that we planned to write when Miranda first developed the SCS1 (first published in 2016). We created the SCS1 in order to send it out to the world for use in research. We hoped that we could sometime later do in CS what Richard Hake did in Physics, when he used the FCI to make some strong statements about teaching practices with a pool of 6,000 students (see paper here). Hake’s paper had a huge impact, as it started making the case to shift from lecture to active learning. Could we use the collected use of the SCS1 to make some strong arguments for improving CS learning? We decided that we couldn’t. The FCI was used in pretty comparable situations, and it’s tightly focused on force. CS1 is far too broad, and FCS1 and SCS1 are being used in so many different places — not all of which it’s been validated for. Our retrospective paper is kind of a systemic literature review, but it’s done from the perspective of tracing these two instruments and how they’ve been used by the research community.

One of the papers that I got a sneak peek at was “When Wrong is Right: The Instructional Power of Multiple Conceptions” by Lauren Margulieux, Paul Denny, Katie Cunningham, Mike Deutsch, and Ben Shapiro. The paper is exploring the tensions between direct instruction and more student-directed approaches (like constructionism and inquiry learning) (see a piece I did in 2015 about these tensions). The basic argument of this new paper is that just telling students the right answer is not enough to develop rich understanding. We have to figure out how to help students to be able to hold and compare multiple conceptions (not all of which is canonical or held by experts), so that they can compare and contrast, and use the right one at the right time.

I’m chair for a session on interest. While I haven’t seen the papers yet, I got to watch the presentations (which are already loaded in Clowdr). “Children’s Implicit and Explicit Stereotypes on the Gender, Social Skills, and Interests of a Computer Scientist” by de Wit, Hermans, and Aivaloglou is a report on a really interesting experiment. They look at how kids associate gender with activities (e.g., are boys more connected to video games than girls?). The innovative part is that they asked the questions and timed the answers. A quick answer likely connects to implicit beliefs. If they take a long time to answer, maybe they told you what they thought you wanted to hear? The second paper “All the Pieces Matter: The Relationship of Momentary Self-efficacy and Affective Experiences with CS1 Achievement and Interest in Computing” by Lishinski and Rosenberg asks about what leads to students succeeding and wanting to continue in computing. They look at students affective state coming into CS1 (e..g, how much do they like computing? How much do they think that they can succeed in computing?), and relate that to students’ experiences and affective state after the class. They make some interesting claims about gender — that gender gaps are really self-efficacy gaps.

One of the more unusual sessions is a pair of papers from IT University of Copenhagen that make up a whole session. ICER doesn’t often give over a whole session to a single research group on multiple papers. One is “Computing Educational Activities Involving People Rather Than Things Appeal More to Women (Recruitment Perspective)” and the other is “Computing Educational Activities Involving People Rather Than Things Appeal More to Women (CS1 Appeal Perspective).” The pitch is that framing CS1 as being about people rather than things leads to better recruitment (first paper) and more success in CS1 (second paper) in terms of gender diversity. It’s empirical support for a hypothesis that we’ve heard before, and the authors frame the direction succinctly: “CS is about people not things.” Is that succinct enough to get CS faculty to adopt this and teach CS differently?

August 16, 2021 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

The Drawbacks of the One-Second Conference Trip. Or, how to prepare for ICER 2021. Guest Blog Post from Matthias Hauswirth

I miss physical conferences. But there are some things about them I do not miss at all. I don’t miss sprinting through airports to catch a connecting flight. I don’t miss standing in line at immigration for over an hour, just to enter the next long line to get through customs. And I don’t miss sitting in a tight middle seat for ten hours straight.

With today’s virtual conferences the trips are more pleasant. I can travel there with a single mouse click. It’s a one-second trip. And I love that! *

However, by eliminating the trip to the conference, we also eliminated an opportunity to prepare for the conference while being stuck in airports, planes, stations, and trains. My physical conference trips used to provide ample idle time. I used that time to contact colleagues to schedule a dinner, lunch, or coffee at the conference; to read the conference program and highlight the talks I wanted to see; to check out the map of the venue to know where to find the relevant rooms; and even to read a paper or two to prepare for talking to the authors at the conference.

That kind of preparation takes more than a second. And without the time provided by those arduous trips, I might show up ill prepared and miss out on half of the fun.

So here is my plan. For my next one-second conference trip, I will allocate a little bit of extra time to prepare. Not crammed into an airplane seat, but at home, in a comfy chair, with a nice cup of coffee.

Oh, and if your next conference trip takes you to ICER 2021 this coming Monday, here are some suggestions from the ICER Chairs for how to prepare for this conference, which will be hosted in the most recent version of Clowdr:

  • Find the invitation email you received from Clowdr (check your spam folder, too!) and log in (3 minutes).
  • Watch the ICER 2021 Clowdr Intro video (13 minutes). This will teach you the basics of how to navigate the platform. We recommend following along interactively on the Clowdr site as you watch, to familiarize yourself with the navigation
  • Watch the ICER 2021 Paper Sessions: Participant Experience video (14 minutes). This will teach you how our paper sessions will work. You won’t just be watching videos, you’ll also be interacting while you watch, talking in small groups afterwards, and asking questions.
  • Once logged in, read the ICER Clowdr Experience FAQ page (4 minutes). This has the videos above and more detail for specific types of events.
  • On Clowdr, read the Code of Conduct page (3 minutes). Everyone is responsible for following these rules to ensure everyone feels safe and welcome.
  • On Clowdr, read the How to Set Up Your Profile page and set up your profile (3 minutes). This ensures people know who you are, what your name and pronouns are, where you’re visiting from, and what roles you’re playing at the conference. 

In Clowdr you will find a lot of content, including the entire program. We recommend that inside Clowdr you “star” events you are interested in to create your personal schedule. There is a page for each paper and poster/lightning talk. On each paper page you already find the presentation as an embedded video, on each ICER poster page there’s the poster pitch video and the PDF of the poster, and on each ICER lightning talk page you find the talk slide. Have a quick look to plan your personal schedule. And while you’re there, why not already leave a message or comment for the authors in the chat at the right of the paper/poster’s page? Note that the links to the papers in the ACM DL are not yet active; we expect ACM to make the DOIs work and the papers visible in the DL by the start of the conference.

We are confident that with an hour or so of up-front effort you will get much more out of the conference! (We suspect, though, that you will end up spending more than an hour because the content draws you in!) ICER 2021 is a compact conference packed with exciting content and interaction. Log in now to make the most of it!

*) I also very much love the minimal carbon footprint, low cost, and reduced health risks of virtual conferences.

August 13, 2021 at 1:00 pm 1 comment

Why aren’t more girls in the UK choosing to study computing and technology? Guest blog post by Peter Kemp

The Guardian raised the question in the title in this article in June. Pat Yongpradit sent it to me and Peter Kemp, and Peter’s response was terrific — insightful and informed by data. I asked him if I could share it here as a guest post, and he graciously agreed.

We’ve just started a 3 year project, scaricomp, that aims to look at girls’ performance and participation in computer science in English schools. There’s not much to see at the moment, as we started in April, but we’re hoping to sample 5000+ students across schools with large numbers of students taking CS and/or high numbers of females in the CS cohorts. I’ll let you know when we have some analysis in hand.

You reference The Guardian article’s quote: “In 2019, 17,158 girls studied computer science, compared with the 20,577 girls who studied ICT in 2018”. It’s worth noting that the 2018 ICT figure was the end of the line for ICT, numbers in previous years were much higher, and the female figure was actually ~40% of the overall ICT entries, whilst it represents about 20% of the GCSE CS cohort, i.e. females were proportionally better represented in ICT than CS. For a fuller picture of the changing numbers and demographics in English computing, see slide 8 of this, or the video presentation). It’s also worth noting that since the curriculum change in 2012/13 we’ve lost the majority of time dedicated to teaching computing (including CS) at age 14-16, I’ve argued that this has had a disproportionate impact on girls and poorer students (page 45-48).

To add a bit of context from England: Students typically pick 8-10 subjects for GCSE, though their ‘options’ might be limited. Most schools will insist that students take Maths, English Language, English Literature, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, and often: French or German, and History or Geography. This leaves students with one or two actual ‘options’. Many schools are also imposing entry requirements on GCSE CS, only letting the high achieving students (often focusing on maths) onto the course; this will likely have an impact in access to the curriculum for poorer students who are less likely to achieve well in mathematics. Why don’t females pick CS in the same way they picked ICT? This might well be linked to curriculum, role models, contextualisation etc.

One of the reasons given for the curriculum change in 2012 was that students were being “bored to death” by ICT, with ICT generally being the application of software products to solve problems and the implication of technology on the world. The application of technology to the world lends itself to the contextualisation of the curriculum and the assessment materials. There was a lot of project-based assessment with real world scenarios for students to engage with, e.g. making marketing materials for businesses, using spreadsheets to organise holiday bookings etc https://web.archive.org/web/20161130183550if_/http://www.aqa.org.uk/subjects/computer-science-and-it/gcse/information-and-communication-technology-4520) . The GCSE CS is a different beast. It can be contextualised, but this is probably more difficult to do as there is an awful lot of material to cover and the assessment methodology is entirely exam based and on paper for the largest exam boards. Anecdotally we hear of schools cutting down on programming time on computers, as the exam is handwritten.

Data looking at what females ‘liked’ in the old ICT curriculum is quite limited, but what does exist places some of the ‘non-CS’ elements quite highly. So, the actual curriculum content might have a part to play here. Having taught ICT (and CS) for many years, most students I knew really enjoyed the ICT components. I’d argue that the pre-reform discourse around ICT being: “useless, boring, easy”, CS being: “useful, exciting, rigorous” was an easy political position to take, and not reflective of reality where schools had competent teachers. We now find ourselves in a position where we probably have a little too much CS, and not enough digital literacy / ICT for the general needs of students. I and people like Miles Berry (p49) have argued for more generalist qualification which maintains elements of CS. Though there appears to be little political will to make this happen.

To add another suggestions as to why we’re seeing females disengaging, within the English context, we see females substantially underachieving at GCSE in comparison to their other subjects and males of similar ‘abilities’ (ability here being similar grade profiles in other subjects). Why this is remains unclear, we see similar under achievement in Maths and Physics. My fear is that encouraging females to take CS might lead them to having their self-efficacy knocked and therefore make them less likely to pursue further study or a career in tech. We also found that females from poorer backgrounds were more likely to pick GCSE CS than their middle-class peers, we speculate that this might be the result of different cultural/family pressures and a keener engagement with the ’employability’ and ‘good pay’ discourse that often surrounds the representation of studying CS, however true this might be for these groups in reality. More research on the above coming soon through scaricomp.

Additionally, in terms of the UK picture, you’ll probably want to check in with Sue Sentance and the Gender Balance in Computing Project. One of their theories for the decline in computing is that CS is being timetabled at the same time as other (generally) more attractive subjects for females. I’m not sure if they’ve started this part of the research yet, but it’s worth checking in. They are running interventions across the country, but I don’t believe that they are trying to do a nationally representative survey.

August 2, 2021 at 7:00 am Leave a comment


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