Posts tagged ‘ACM Ed Board’

People of ACM: Mehran Sahami, Co-Chair of ACM Ed Board

Nice (short) interview with Mehran Sahami — addresses several issues around computing education and about Stanford’s CS department.

How did you convince Mark Zuckerberg to come to your class every year for the last four years to lead a Q&A with students?

The last assignment I usually give in my introductory programming class is called “FacePamphlet,” as it’s supposed to be a very simple version of Facebook. I thought it would be great if Mike Schroepfer, the CTO at Facebook and a long-time friend and Stanford alum, would talk to my class about Facebook and, more broadly, the ways in which computer science can have an impact in the world.

When I first invited him to come a few years ago, he responded by asking if I’d like him to bring Mark Zuckerberg to the class too. I was thrilled at the possibility. As you can imagine, their visit to the class was a huge hit, and they spent the whole hour engaged with the students, answering a broad range of questions. They have been so kind as to continue that tradition, visiting the course to do Q&A with the students for four years in a row—their last visit drew over 700 students.

Both Mark and Mike are very committed to promoting computer science education, and I feel fortunate that coming to my class is one of the many ways they have encouraged students to pursue computer science. Interestingly enough, my young kids learned some of the basics of programming from Mark through the videos he did for I think he was a bit surprised at first when I thanked him for helping teach my kids to code on one of his more recent visits to my class.

via January 13, 2015: People of ACM: Mehran Sahami — Association for Computing Machinery.

February 16, 2015 at 7:01 am Leave a comment

Mehran Sahami wins ACM Presidential Award for the CS2013 Curriculum Revision

This is really well-deserved. Mehran worked amazingly hard to pull a wide range of stakeholders together for the CS2013 curriculum. The ACM Presidential Award is discretionary — they only give it out if someone really deserves it. Glad to see Mehran getting this recognition!

  • For outstanding leadership of, and commitment to, the three-year ACM/IEEE-CS effort to produce CS2013  a comprehensive revision of the curricular guidelines for undergraduate programs in computer science

Mehran Sahami of Stanford University, recipient of the ACM Presidential Award for leading the revision of an innovative computer science curriculum that reflects the application of computing tools in a wide variety of disciplines. Sahami led the effort by ACM and the IEEE Computer Society to develop guidelines for undergraduate degree programs that redefine essential computing topics and set the standards for computer science education worldwide for the next decade. The report includes examples of flexible courses and curricula models for a broad range of higher education institutions worldwide.


via ACM Presidential Award – ACM Award.

April 24, 2014 at 9:22 am 3 comments

Call for participants in 2nd Annual ACM Non-Doctoral Computing Programs Study

2nd Annual ACM NDC Study

Of Non-Doctoral Granting Departments in Computing
If you…

•Are at a 4-year, not-for-profit school, with 1 or more programs in in Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Information Systems, Information Technology, or Software Engineering…
•Do NOT report data to the Taulbee Survey…
•Did NOT receive a login URL for your program(s)…

Please contact ACM Education Manager Yan Timanovsky ( ASAP! Deadline is March 16  (extensions possible upon request).


Why participate:

•  As an annual survey, NDC produces timely data on enrollment, degree production, student body composition, and faculty salaries/demographics that can benchmark your institution/program(s) and invite useful conversations with your faculty and administration.

•   Those who qualify for and complete NDC in its entirety will be entered in a drawing to receive one of (3) unrestricted grants of $2,500 toward your department’s discretionary fund.






March 4, 2014 at 6:03 pm Leave a comment

Entrepreneurial MOOCs to teach CS: Different values, different evaluation

Lisa Kaczmarczyk wrote a blog post about a bunch of the private, for-profit groups teaching CS who visited the ACM Education Council meeting on Nov. 2.  I quoted below the section where the Ed Council asked tough questions about evaluation.  I wonder if the private efforts to educate mean the same things about evaluation as the academic and research folks mean by “evaluation.”  There are different goals and different value systems between each.  Learning for all in public education is very different from a privatized MOOC where it’s perfectly okay for 1-10% to complete.

Of course there was controversy; members of the Ed Council asked all of the panelists some tough questions. One recurrent theme had to do with how they know what they are doing works. Evaluation how? what kind? what makes sense? what is practical? is an ongoing challenge in any pedagogical setting and when you are talking about a startup as 3 out of the 4 companies on the panel were in the fast paced world of high tech – its tricky. Some panelists addressed this question better than others. Needless to say I spent quite a bit of time on this – it was one of the longer topics of discussion over dinner at my table.

Neil Fraser from Googles Blockly project said some things that were unquestionably controversial. The one that really got me was when he said several times, and with followup detail that one of the things they had learned was to ignore user feedback. I can’t remember his exact words after that but the idea seemed to be that users didnt know what was best for them. Coming on the heels of earlier comments that were less than tactful about computing degree programs and their graduates … I have to give Neil credit for having the guts to share his views.

via Interdisciplinary Computing Blog: Entrepreneurial MOOCs at the ACM Ed Council Meeting.

November 12, 2013 at 1:07 am Leave a comment

Congratulations to Eric Roberts on the 2012 ACM Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award!

2012 Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award:                  Eric Roberts, Stanford University
For his outstanding contributions to computing education over decades, through international leadership and intellectual contributions in developing effective computing curricula.

Eric Roberts has been a truly outstanding educator for decades, starting as the first computer scientist at Wellesley College in 1980. He has personally taught thousands of computer scientists, and reached many more through his textbooks and curriculum development. His textbooks are exemplary; the first, Thinking Recursively, was named in a 1998 CACM survey article as one of the core texts that every computer science educator should know. He built an organization of professional lecturers at Stanford that has become a model for effective teaching of computer science at universities across the country.

Eric has shown exceptional leadership in computing education, made all the more effective because of the obvious priority he placed on being an outstanding educator. He devotes enormous time and energy to drawing attention to and addressing problems in our community, such as underrepresentation of women in computing and the need to devote more resources to computing education during times of enrollment surge. His principles and values have made him a respected voice in the computing education community.

Erics leadership is international in scope. He co-chaired the ACM Education Board for several years, and was one of the founding co-chairs of the ACM Education Council. From 1999 to 2005, he worked to develop a computing curriculum for public high schools in Bermuda. This program was the first national computing curriculum to be certified by an international standard board.

Erics work on Computing Curriculum 2001 exemplifies his leadership. He drew together diverse constituencies and stakeholders in a multi-year process. He was the principal author of the final report. The report is a significant intellectual achievement that has served educators around the world as they consider what every computing student needs to learn.



April 10, 2013 at 1:47 am Leave a comment

CS2013 Strawman Curriculum Standard now available

Dear colleagues,

We are delighted to announce the availability of the ACM/IEEE-CS Computer
Science Curricula 2013 – Strawman draft.
The draft is available at the CS2013 website ( or directly

Continuing a process that began over 40 years ago with the publication of
“Curriculum 68”, the major professional societies in computing–ACM and
IEEE-Computer Society–have sponsored efforts to establish international
curricular guidelines for undergraduate programs in computing on roughly a
10-year cycle. This volume, Computer Science Curricula 2013 (CS2013),
represents a comprehensive revision of previous computer science curricular
guidelines, redefining the knowledge units in CS and rethinking the
essentials necessary for a Computer Science curriculum.

The CS2013 Steering Committee welcomes comment on the CS2013 Strawman draft
from the computing community. The comment period will begin shortly
(additional information on how to provide comments will be sent out in a few
days) and remain open until July 15, 2012. Comments on the Strawman draft
will be addressed in future drafts of CS2013.

A panel session at SIGCSE-12 will provide a brief overview of CS2013 and
provide the opportunity for in-person feedback from the community on the
Strawman draft. The panel session is scheduled for Thursday, March 1, 2012
at 10:45am-12noon in Room 301AB.

Warm regards,
Mehran Sahami and Steve Roach
Co-Chairs, CS2013 Steering Committee

CS2013 Steering Committee

ACM Delegation
Mehran Sahami, Chair (Stanford University)
Andrea Danyluk (Williams College)
Sally Fincher (University of Kent)
Kathleen Fisher (Tufts University)
Dan Grossman (University of Washington)
Beth Hawthorne (Union County College)
Randy Katz (UC Berkeley)
Rich LeBlanc (Seattle University)
Dave Reed (Creighton University)

IEEE-CS Delegation
Steve Roach, Chair (Univ. of Texas, El Paso)
Ernesto Cuadros-Vargas (Univ. Catolica San Pablo, Peru)
Ronald Dodge (US Military Academy)
Robert France (Colorado State University)
Amruth Kumar (Ramapo Coll. of New Jersey)
Brian Robinson (ABB Corporation)
Remzi Seker (Univ. of Arkansas, Little Rock)
Alfred Thompson (Microsoft)

February 20, 2012 at 8:12 am 5 comments

At the NSF CE21 Community Meeting: We have such a long way to go

I’m in New Orleans at the first NSF Computing Education in the 21st Century (CE21) community meeting. Three communities have been invited to this meeting:

  • People funded under the old CPATH (CISE Pathways to reinvigorate undergraduate education) program.  These are people that you typically see at the SIGCSE Symposium, and others interested in CS education invited by NSF program officer Harriet Taylor.  I walked into the hotel to see Mary Beth Rosson, Jack Carroll, and Margaret Burnett, whom I think of as CHI (Computer-Human Interaction) researchers who focus on end-user programming.
  • People funded by the old BPC (Broadening Participation in Computing) program.  Alex Reppening (of AgentSheets) was chatting with Mary Beth and company when I came in. I sat on a panel with Jane Margolis and Lucy Sanders, and co-facilitated a session with Joanna Goode yesterday.
  • Education researchers, people who have been or who are now funded by the NSF EHR (Education and Human Resources) Directorate.  So, these are people I might see at AERA (American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting) or ICLS (International Conference of the Learning Sciences).

The day for me was enormously intellectually stimulating, but also constantly confusing. There are 400 people here! I know many people here, but from these different communities. I went for a run yesterday morning with Tom McKlin (who is our external evaluator on “Georgia Computes!”) and Cameron Wilson (with ACM on the Educational Policy Committee).  I go to NCWIT and BPC meetings with Tom all the time, and I go to SIGCSE and ACM Ed Board meetings with Cameron all the time, and it never occurred to me that the two of them didn’t know each other previously.  Don’t we all go to the same meetings?  But CE21 is merging communities.

There were so many great moments yesterday, and I don’t have much time now before today’s sessions start.  But three people yesterday told me that I had to blog on the meeting, so I want to keep some of that promise this morning.

Jan Cuny started the session with the basic premise of CE21.  Only 1/3 of computing-related jobs are fillable by 2018 with the students currently studying computing, but 70% of the population (women, under-represented minorities, disabled) are missing from computing.  Now, Engineering is as bad as Computing in diversity, but all their trends are positive.  All our trends are getting even worse.

She then made the point that was perhaps the most startling to many of the attendees: CE21 requires CS Education Research, a focus on Broadening Participation, and real Education Research.  Without all three pieces, proposals will be returned un-reviewed.  Now, everyone knew why everyone was in the room.  I heard several people complain yesterday, “I’m in education and I don’t know anything about CS” or “I’m doing great things in my CS classes, but I don’t have the time to write it up and I don’t know Education methods.”  That was the point of the meeting.

Two moments really stood out for me yesterday.  Jim Hamos is the CE21 program officer from the Education-side of the house (with Jan Cuny of the CS-side of NSF, and Joan Peckham from the Office of Cyberinfrastructure).  He gave a frank talk about how behind CS is in the STEM education game.  He said that Engineers are just now figuring out how to do Engineering education in K-12, and they’ve been at it for 20 years.  He said that mathematics education is by far the most advanced, in terms of having cognitive developmental models and knowing what makes for effective pedagogical methods for their discipline.  Physics is way up there.  CS is not yet even on the map.  He was clearly speaking to the CPATH/SIGCSE audience when he pointed out all the benefits to higher-education faculty within the STEM disciplines of working with education faculty and researchers and with high school teachers.  He told us that we had to improve our own higher-ed classes (and that these partnerships will help), that we had to engage in qualitative methods to study the partnerships, and that we had to revise our standards for promotion and tenure to value scholarly contributions to advancing STEM education.  He didn’t pull his punches: CS has not yet been in the game, and CE21 is providing the resources and motivation to start.

There were then two parallel plenary sessions.  One was aimed at the CS Education audience, and featured Joan Ferrini-Mundy.  Joan is a mathematics education researcher, and she was able to explain what they have in math education that we need in CS Ed.

I was in a panel in the other plenary session, aimed at the education researchers.  Lucy Sanders convened the panel of Valerie Barr, Jane Margolis, Owen Astrachan, and me, to explain the issues of CS education to education researchers.  My favorite moment on that panel was when Jane answered the question (which I’m paraphrasing, describing the question that Jane answered, not necessarily what she was asked), “So why is CS education in such a bad shape with regards to diversity?”  She said that it’s culture.  She said that we are in such a “Male Day” today, especially with regard to technology and computer science.  She described CS as “pumped-up” and “testosterone-filled.”  It’s all about keeping up, working huge numbers of hours, always trying out the latest and greatest.  We always emphasize to our students about how they have to be constantly working to learn the new things, to be on top of the latest developments.  She asked, “How do you make long-term, family-oriented, stable life decisions in that culture?”  It isn’t an inviting culture if you are thinking about those values.  She really made her point for me when she pointed out that medicine is also long hours, go-go-go, and always about staying on top of the latest advances — but for the purpose of caring and supporting the community.  Computer science doesn’t advance those values.  It’s there, but it’s not front-and-center like it is in medicine.  Here’s how I interpreted Jane’s comment. In computing, the primary motivator is the start-up and the IPO.  In medicine, it’s about people.  That makes the effort worth it, and changes the culture equation.

The rest of the day was a dynamic schedule of meetings being defined, and rooms shifting as the crowds grew large, and fascinating chats everywhere. There was so much more that I could blog about, from BPC Alliances meetings; meetings with the folks of the CAITE alliance on how we support statewide pipelines in the future (I think “California Computes!” got its start in the hallways yesterday); great discussions with researchers like Jill Denner, Christy McGuire, Jeff Forbes, and Betsy DiSalvo on their work directions; explaining the dissertation studies of Allison Elliott Tew, Brian Dorn, and Mike Hewner over-and-over (Lijun is here, so she could explain her own); so many people coming to our “Georgia Computes!” poster; and so much discussion about CS10K and the new APCS effort.  (I got teased at dinner last night, for talking in a session about the great work of Barbara Ericson, co-PI on “Georgia Computes!” and Director of CS Outreach at Georgia Tech…and not mentioning that she’s my wife.  The ladies at the dinner said that they thought I did the right thing, but the guys thought I was withholding information.)  And day two starts in 30 minutes.

February 1, 2011 at 8:08 am 21 comments

One More Trip: CECC and ACM Ed Board

One last business trip of the year (by plane — I’m driving to visit collaborators in “Georgia Computes!” next week).  I’m heading today to Seattle, where I’ll have three days of meetings at Microsoft’s Lincoln Square facility in Bellevue, WA.

  • Thursday and Friday are about establishing a Computing Education Coordinating Council (CECC).  ACM and IEEE collaborate on curricular volumes, but there are more issues in computing education than that.  And while there are some important new collaborations around computing education starting up (like Computing in the Core), the IS and IT communities have been pretty much left out.  CECC is about bringing all parties to the table for a unified voice in computing education.  CECC will be most useful at the K-12 level, I think, since the issues there are the same, whether you care about CS, IS, IT, CE, SE, or any number of other two letter computing degree designations that I’m forgetting.
  • Friday and Saturday are an ACM Education Board meeting.  Lots of topics to discuss, including the 2013 CS Curriculum volume that Mehran Sahami is heading, the new AP CS efforts (Larry Snyder will be able to tell us how his pilot at U.Washington went), CSEd week, and international initiatives.


December 8, 2010 at 11:19 am 3 comments

Women in CS in Qatar: It’s Complicated

As mentioned, I’m at a meeting of the ACM Education Board at Qatar University in Doha.  We’re exploring the possibility of larger summits or even computing education conferences here in the Gulf States and in India.  We’re learning a lot about cultural differences and the challenge of even understanding the gender balance in computer science here.  I’m here with Dame Dr. Wendy Hall, President of the ACM, who keeps the gender issue front-and-center in discussions of computing education challenges in Qatar.  It’s complicated.

Members of Qatar University’s first ACM Student Chapter, and QU CS students with Dan Garcia and Wendy Hall

On the first day, we asked about the representation of women in computer science at Qatar University.  We were told that it was a real problem — CS is over 70% female and they’d like to attract more males. (Dan Garcia proposed starting an “ACM-M” chapter to attract more men.  We started considering an “NCMIT” and a wonderfully named “CRA-M” subcommittee.)

Why so few men?  The faculty told us (with some pain) that computer science is considered a lesser degree here.  The men want “engineer” in their degree, because the government says that engineers have to be paid more.  Some men who are interested in computer science go to school abroad, leaving the women who can’t really leave Qatar.  We were told that the faculty were considering adding more Information Systems classes to the Computer Science program, to make their students more marketable.  We were told (multiple times, in fact) that the computing culture in Qatar is more about adopting and adapting software for the Middle East culture and setting, with relatively little programming of new applications.  There’s a government push to innovate more in technology here, but it’s still mostly about modifying than creating.

Today, we heard from representatives from CMU’s Qatar campus.  Their gender split is 50/50!  They emphasize developing “a Geek culture,” because they claimed that sense of wanting to learn and digging in to figure it out yourself was missing from the student culture.  Wendy had some concerns with that.  “Maybe you’re emphasizing the very thing that’s keeping the women away!”

Then as we talked more with the faculty, and in particular, with the almost-all female CS students of Qatar University who attended the sessions, we realized that the story was more complicated.  The female students avoided CMU Qatar.  They didn’t avoid CMU Qatar because of the “geek culture.”  If anything, I’d say that the QU CS students who spoke to us relished geek culture.  I was amazed at how eager they were to program “robots, animation, mobiles — anything! We want to be challenged!”  It turned out that some of the women had started exploring the programming competition problems available on the Web, all on their own. They don’t have any programming competitions here, but the y wanted more programming practice with more challenging problems. (How geeky is that!)  Dan Garcia of Berkeley asked them if they’d like more IT in their classes, and several students told him that they really preferred the straight CS, without dealing with management kinds of issues.  No, they avoided CMU Qatar because CMU Qatar does not segregate their classes by gender.

Qatar University has two campuses, one for men and one for women.  Men are never invited to the women’s campus.  The faculty advisor to the QU’s student chapter of the ACM, Ryan Riley, told me that women were sometimes invited to the men’s campus, but some women wouldn’t come.  He said that some of the “most covered” women (whose veils and garments only allowed their eyes to be visible) wouldn’t even come to the ACM event today because it was mixed gender.  The women who choose QU over CMU’s Qatar campus were explicitly choosing to be in an all-female culture — and as geeky as they could get it.

I’m left wondering how similar and how different this situation is from the one in the United States.  Yeah, there are a lot of women who are turned off by “Geek Culture,” but maybe there are also many, like the students here at QU, who embrace it.  Maybe other factors, like the gender segregation, come into play.  Certainly, factors like the prestige of the field and how well it pays, enter into the equation, and that differs radically in different cultural settings.  A focus on technology innovation vs. adaptation also plays a role in making a field attractive, and that differs between cultures, too.

I’m not a trained ethnographer, and I won’t claim that we have done anything like a “study” here.  But in two days of asking the same questions to faculty and students at different campuses, I do feel like we learned something important here — that it’s complicated.  Not that issues of gender balance in computing at home in the United States are easy! I expected the issues to be similar enough here in Qatar that I would have some insights into the issues.  Rather, I’m finding a greater appreciation for the interactions of many variables in these students’ decisions about computer science as a major and as a career.

May 3, 2010 at 3:55 pm 17 comments

ACM Ed Board Meeting in Doha, Qatar, 1-4 May 2010

My blog posts will probably get more bursty next week, as I travel Friday to Doha, Qatar for an ACM Education Board meeting and summit with education leaders in Qatar.  I’m pretty excited — I’ve never been to that part of the world.

The event is being organized by John Impagliazzo, long-time editor of SIGCSE Inroads, member of the Ed Board, former professor at Hoffstra University, and now professor at Qatar University.  The opening ceremonies, including the keynote address by Dame Dr. Wendy Hall, ACM President, are going to be covered by the local television network, Al Jazeera. I’m chairing a panel on Computing Education Research: Challenges and Opportunities, with Heikki Topi of Bentley University (and Ed Board), Boots Cassel of Villanova (and Ed Board), and Mark Stehlik of CMU (and CMU Qatar and the ACM Education Policy Committee).  Part of the meeting is going to be planning a similar event for India, with Mathai Joseph of ACM India.

I think the overall point is to make folks there aware of what ACM offers (in terms of educational resources, conferences, and research) and to draw them into the process.  My talk on the panel is going to highlight the work presented over the last five years at the ACM ICER (International Computing Education Research) Workshop, both to share the findings and to encourage faculty there to submit and present in ICER.  Mark Stehlik is going to talk about activities of the ACM US Education Policy Committee, and how similar organizations could be set up to address education policy issues in other parts of the world.

So when I do post next week, it may be part travelogue/travel-blog, as well as normal computing education related meanderings.  (They’re putting us up at the Ritz-Carlton Doha, right on the Persian Gulf.  Wow! Serious posh!)  I’ll try to report on the meeting, as I get over jetlag and find Internet connections.

April 28, 2010 at 12:04 pm 1 comment

SIGCSE 2010: Media Computation Preconference Workshop

I’m writing from the SIGCSE 2010 Media Computation Preconference Workshop.  It’s going really well.  Beth Simon is right now sharing the wiki  that the “old-timers” have been assembling with quizzes, tests/exams, and homework assignments, to help people with figuring out how to do these things in the Media Computation approach.  Beth also put together a video of student work contributed from various Media Computation teachers.

I just got word from David Schneider that the Future of Computing Education Summit page is finally up at: linked from  This includes the final report, the appendix (with tons of transcripts of actual discussions), and position papers from all the attendees.

Pictures that we messed with during the Media Computation workshop:

Here’s Barb at the lake in Milwaukee.  Yup, this is pretty much what it’s looking like here — kinda gray.

March 10, 2010 at 4:18 pm Leave a comment

How do we make high school CS classes more “real”?

I started working on a reply to Alan Kay’s comment on my previous blog post, and as it got longer with more links, I realized I should just use blog-owner’s prerogative and make a new post.  The issue we were discussing was how to make the case that the AP CS should count as a course that fulfills the “science” requirement in Georgia.  I commented:

Barb and I were just talking last night about the issue you raised, that the AP CS curriculum doesn’t look like a science. In the argument that I offered to the GaDOE, Computer Science classes have a lot of science practices (even if the content is not easily recognized as science by a traditional scientist), such as developing hypotheses, experimentation, and analysis of results. However, most CS curricula (including AP CS) do not make those connections between debugging and the scientific method explicitly.

Alan replied that he’d like to see more “real science” in these classes.

While pretty much agreeing with your comments, I think the real issue is a much deeper epistemological one — and is a problem not just in computer “science” but in the teaching of most high school and many college “real sciences” which have deep models as the representations for their theories (e.g. physics, chemistry, biology).

In the “real deal” it’s not so much about “hypotheses, experiments, analysis” (the standard elementary school characterization of science) as it is about the goodness and depth of the mapping between the observations and the model (in the standard characterization of science, this could be thought of as real thresholds in what “analysis” actually should mean).

So, how do we make that happen?  How do we get the “real deal” into high school classes?

My suggestion is that this doesn’t happen by making the argument for “real” classes at the state level.  The job of the Georgia Department of Education Science Committee is, explicitly,  to ask if any individual class “aligns with the GPS science standards, and/or the national science standards.” State standards are not re-written all that often, and Georgia just rewrote theirs.  Take a look at a given set of science standards, like those for high school Chemistry.  There you see terms like “hypotheses, experiments, analysis.”  Terms like “modeling” and “mapping” don’t appear at all.

How do we get a modeling and mapping focus in these classes?  Georgia (probably like most states) takes their lead from national authorities, like the American Association for the Advancement of Science standards “Science for All Americans.”  Take a look at what AAAS says about how to teach science — it’s a pretty close match to what Georgia has in their standards.  Nothing about modeling or mapping there, either.

The suggestion that I’m making is, if you want to get science classes to change, to make them more “real,” get the National Academies, or AAAS, or similar respected body to issue a report.  Larry Snyder’s NRC report on “Information FITness” gets cited a lot when discussing what students need to know about computer science.  It’s hard to make the case at the State level, because people within the State look outside the State for evidence.  These kinds of national reports make a difference.

Now, how do you get CS classes to be more “real”?  One way is by changing the Advanced Placement class, as NSF is trying to do.  Another way might be to use the same strategy as for Science — get the recognized authorities to come out with a statement, a report that says, “Here’s what real Computing Education should look like.”

My own opinion is that radical change is not going to come out of the ACM/IEEE curriculum standards process.  I was part of the committee for the CS 2008 standards update.  It is hard to get a dramatic and powerful statement for change out of that process.  We’re in a challenging stage in our field — we’ve got lots of ideas, and few measures for determining which is better than the other.

There were easily a half dozen new approaches to teaching CS that were vying to get a mention (better yet, a recommendation) in the new curricular volume.   How do you decide?  We have no reliable and valid measures of computing knowledge that cross approaches and languages.  We as a field can’t even agree on the learning objectives.  We on the committee tried to come up with some measure about usage and peer-review, but even that was insufficient.  If three schools do kinda the same thing and the approach got mentioned in a software engineering conference article, does that count?  Maybe it should — do we have a better standard? To list everything is no recommendation or guidance at all.  One of the criticisms of CC2001 was that it recommended a half dozen approaches for CS1 already.  I pushed to get some of those off the list — don’t we have evidence that some of these aren’t really all that effective?  The push back was similar.  “How do we really know that these don’t work?” and “We know friends who use those approaches.  How can we say in this volume that they don’t work?”  The result is that the volume reflects the least common denominator curriculum, which is useful for describing current accepted best practice, but it’s not a forward-looking statement of what should be.

Seymour Papert in his book The Children’s Machine argued that part of what happened to Logo was school.  School has a process of compartmentalizing and turning new ideas into standard curricula.  We can argue that this is wrong (and Seymour did in his book), but it is the reality.  I am describing here the process (as I understand it now, incomplete as that understanding is) of how one achieves curricular change at the secondary level — you show how you can meet the existing standards, or you push to get the standards re-written, with the most leverage coming from authoritative statements at the national level.  It’s hard work, but as Seymour points out, that’s how the system keeps from thrashing.  The system is designed to make it hard to change the system.

October 19, 2009 at 10:39 am 1 comment

Looking for Excuses to Do Something Good

David Klappholz sent me a link to an article in Sunday’s New York Times (early enough that I was able to purchase that issue and read it on my Kindle — cool!) on how the grants system in cancer research favors incremental progress over revolutionary process. David suggested that perhaps NSF is a target for similar complaints, like in those I was responding to in a recent blog post.  I think the NYT article is pointing out a different set of problems than those I was responding to earlier, and I do think that the NYT points are well-taken.  The NYT article points to general problems of how research and higher-education work today.

My colleague, Blair MacIntyre, stopped me yesterday to tell me about a cool new class he wants to build.  He wants to create a class that becomes an excuse for students to do something good.  He doesn’t want the class to have explicit learning objectives or a set curriculum.  Rather, it’s a commitment for a student to produce a great game (in this particular case) to add to their portfolio.  It’s too easy to give up a cool idea when things get hard.  Blair’s idea is for students to sign up for this course, and then have to complete the course (i.e., build the game that she committed to building) despite the midterms and pressures from other courses that arise.

Blair’s idea brought to mind a message that I got from Alan Kay (to whom I still owe a complete response — sorry, Alan!) asking (paraphrased), “This new computing education organization — will it actually lead to computing education reform?  Will it lead to something really good?”  And my response was (paraphrased), “Probably not.”  The new computing education organization is important in terms of gathering momentum in a common direction and developing infrastructure, which are good things.  The new organization is not going to lead to transformative new ideas in curriculum, or to new kinds of tools that build on how students understand and need to understand computing.

And that brings me back to David’s article.  Higher education is an ecosystem, if not a business.  Money needs to keep pumping through to keep the system running, and it’s important to keep the system running.  The demands to bring money into this system via grants are increasing.  I’m personally dealing with the expectation from my School that I bring in four months of my own salary from grants each year, and the NSF new rule that they will only pay two months of salary for any faculty member, thus requiring me to find new sources of funding.  There are lots of faculty seeking grant money for similar reasons.  Thus, with more people requesting money, and increasing need for that money, the tendency is to become more and more conservative — greater demands from review panels for proof that the project will be successful, which leads to smaller increments of “success.”  It’s pretty hard to assure a review panel that something transformative or revolutionary will really work.

So, when do university researchers get the chance to do good work, the work that might cure cancer or find new ways to improve student understanding of computing?  There’s more demand to get grants, and the grant process does prefer incremental success rather than transformative.  Faculty are expected to also be involved in the committees and infrastructure work which address issues of students and policy.  How do we create the excuses to do something good?  They’re probably not going to come from the grants process.  The projects in which I’ve been involved that I think are the most successful were pretty much all unfunded at their start.  These were things that were worth doing, and we decided that they were worth getting into trouble by not doing the things that we were expected to be doing.  That’s risky and harder to do as pressures for faculty productivity increase.  We need to find ways of creating excuses for doing good work.

July 2, 2009 at 3:18 pm 2 comments

Future of Computing Education Summit: A New Computing Education Organization!

I’ve spent the last two days in Washington DC at the Future of Computing Education Summit.  Organized by the ACM Education Board with funding from the National Science Foundation, the goal was to get computing organizations (from Computer Science  to IS to IT to Computer Engineering) to work collaboratively to solve challenges facing computing education.  Each organization wrote a two page position paper (drafts available here) describing how they saw the challenges.  The process of the workshop was aimed at developing a consensus view of the challenges, identifying common strategies, then creating action items for next steps using those strategies, and finally, to make a commitment to  execute those action items.

I was one of the organizers, with high hopes, but I  was still amazed to see it work.  On Friday morning, we had organizations commit to taking charge of some really significant action items that could have far-reaching impacts on computing education!  There’s going to be a formal report (likely before the end of the summer).  I’m going to exercise the blog-writer’s prerogative to just talk about the action items that really spoke to me personally.

Clearly the biggest action item was “to create the [ ] for Computing Education” where “[ ]” is to be filled in with words like “National Center” or “Coalition” or “Consortium.”  Amy Sharma of AAAS/NSF spoke for the group who proposed this action item which she described as “The Entity to Speak with a United Front. This is the ‘go-to’ clearinghouse/repository of ideas, policy recommendations, curricula etc.  When the ‘Computing Education Act of 2012’ gets written, which it will, this will be the organization that writes it.”  Andy van Dam of CRA-E and Brown explained the need for this new organization in these terms: other education groups (like math, chemistry, physics) have advocacy groups that speak for the concerns of that field.  They may squabble internally, but when they speak about standards or tests or whatever, they speak with one voice. Computing Ed organizations tend to squabble in public without a united voice.  “Other groups circle the wagons and shoot outward.  We circle the wagons and shoot inward.”  Heikki Topi of ACM Ed Board and Bentley University and Lucy Sanders, CEO of NCWIT, also spoke forcefully for this proposal.

What blew me away was the backing behind this effort.  Heikki, Jane Prey, and Boots Cassel of ACM Ed Board were completely convinced that ACM had to agree to “own” this, to commit to making it happen. So we did — after IEEE Computer Society committed  first (which indicated how much they were bought in to this), and just before NCWIT committed too!  Those are three powerful organizations agreeing to make this idea happen.  Organizations could also sign on as “participants,” saying “We want to be part of making this happen.”  ACM  SIGCSE, CSTA, and SIGITE, and CRA and ASEE all signed on as participants.  Wow!  Tom Hilburn of IEEE signed on as the “convener” — he’ll make sure that we come to the table and take action.

While that was the biggest one, there were all the other action items which could have a dramatic impact.  ACM Ed Board also committed to work with the iCaucus (coalition of Information Schools) to write a white paper, with representatives from other organizations, to identify the top five research questions whose answers would have the greatest impact on computing education.  John Unsworth of U. Illinois Urbana-Champaign agreed to convene that one, where the audience would be NSF, the US Department of Education, and other funding agencies, to tell them what we really need to have happen.  SIGCSE took charge of producing a survey of what’s going on in non-majors and gen-ed computer science classes, to make it easier for more of these to be built.  I’m excited about that one — this is SIGCSE extending out from their traditional focus of CS-for-CS-majors.

Not all the action items won “owners.”  One that I really liked was matching up university faculty with CSTA Cohort Leaders.  Most curricular change has to occur at the level of states, since that’s where standards and curriculum requirements exist in the US education system. CSTA has “Cohort Leaders” in most states who are trying to get computing into the curriculum. It can be hard for a K-12 teacher (which CSTA cohort leaders typically are) to convince state departments of education to change.  A university and K-12 coalition has much more  oomph, which has had a real impact in Georgia.  The action item was to find university faculty matches for existing CSTA cohort leaders.  While that action item got no “owners,” there was discussion about how we might still make this happen.

This is less than half of the action item list,  each of which, if executed and if successful, could have a powerful impact on computing education. I’m really pumped-up over the level of commitment to action with a goal of improving computing education which I witnessed over the last two days.

June 27, 2009 at 1:51 pm Leave a comment

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