Posts tagged ‘computing education research’

Call for Participants: ICER Doctoral Consortium, Sept 8th, Melbourne, Australia

The ICER 2016 Doctoral Consortium provides an opportunity for doctoral students studying computing education to explore and develop their research interests in a supportive workshop environment with a panel of established researchers. We invite students to apply for this opportunity to share their work with students in a similar situation as well as senior researchers in the field.

Applicants to the Doctoral Consortium should have begun their research, but should not have completed it.  We want people who have questions to raise with their peers and the more senior mentors, and who still have time to respond to and use the feedback in their research.

DC Co-Chairs for 2016:

Anthony Robins, University of Otago, New Zealand

Ben Shapiro, University of Colorado, USA

Contact us at:

The DC has the following objectives:

  • Provide participants a supportive setting for feedback on their research
  • Offer participants comments and fresh perspectives from outside their own institution
  • Promote the development of a supportive community of scholars
  • Support a new generation of researchers with information and advice on research and academic career paths
  • Contribute to the conference goals through interaction with other researchers and conference events

The DC will be held on Thursday, September 8, 2016 (prior to the main ICER conference, in Melbourne, Australia). Students at any stage of their doctoral studies are welcome to apply and attend. The number of participants is limited to 15. Applicants who are selected will receive a limited partial reimbursement of travel, accommodation and subsistence (i.e., food) expenses of $600 (USD).  An extra $200 may be available for participants with travel expenses greatly exceeding the standard support.

Process Timeline:

  • Friday 20th May – initial submission
  • Friday 3rd June – notification of acceptance
  • Friday 17th June – camera ready copy due

You can find more information on applying at

April 27, 2016 at 7:42 am Leave a comment

LaTICE 2017 in Saudi Arabia: Women must cover up

At the end of LaTICE 2016, the Vice-Rector of Al-Baha University in Saudi Arabia (see information here) welcomed attendees to LaTICE 2017. After the presentation about Al-Baha University, Sahana Murthy of IIT-Bombay stood up and asked, “Can I come to LaTICE 2017 dressed as I am right now, in Indian clothes?” The Vice-Rector replied, “No.” All women, including foreigners, will be required to cover their hair at LaTICE 2017.


That exchange was a central topic of conversation for the rest of the conference and in social media for me. I heard some female computing education researchers say that they would attend anyway. Many I heard from expressed outrage. Several were angry that the organizing committee for LaTICE would even place the conference in Saudi Arabia under these restrictions.

I spoke to Neena Thota about LaTICE 2017 (seen below after my keynote).  She was one of the Chairs for LaTICE 2016 (faculty at Uppsala University and University of St. Joseph in Macau) who went to Saudi Arabia in preparation for the conference.  She felt respected there and taken seriously as a scholar, but she did have to cover-up.  Neena doesn’t expect that the rules for women in Saudi Arabia (see the Wikipedia page here about them) will change for a long time.  Do we simply ignore the scholars there and ostracize them, for rules over which they may have no control?  As in Qatar, computer science students in Saudi Arabia are majority female.


The question is no longer rhetorical for me. I was invited to attend the Program Committee meeting at LaTICE 2016 as a non-voting observer, and I have been invited to serve on the PC for LaTICE 2017. I have already had several people warn me that I should not participate. They urged me to shun the conference publicly, in order to send a clear message against the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia.

I’ve been thinking about this, and discussing it with women in my life (my wife, my daughters, and my colleagues).  I’m not female, and I can’t fully understand my own biases as a male, so I sought advice from women in my life and very much appreciate all the comments I received. I’ve decided that I will serve on the LaTICE 2017 program committee.

I understand the reasons of anyone who chooses not to participate.  Those who choose not to review are sending a message that LaTICE should never have gone to a place that restricts the rights of women.  I can understand why women, especially from the West, might choose not to attend. I don’t think foreign women should go there, unless they’re willing to abide by the laws and customs of the place they’re visiting.

Here are my reasons for thinking it worthwhile to engage in LaTICE 2017:

  1. The female Computing students and faculty in Saudi Arabia might not otherwise be able to attend a conference like LaTICE. Unless LaTICE goes there, they do not get the opportunity to hear other perspectives, to share their practices, and to participate in a community of education scholars. By participating in the PC, I get to share what I know about computing education with the community of scholars in Saudi Arabia, both female and male.
  2. As an education researcher, I know that learning and change occurs from active dialogue, not from passive silence. I doubt that I can change much in Saudi Arabia, either by my engagement or my public refusal to engage. This semester our seminar on Learning Sciences and Technologies at Georgia Tech read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire points out that privileged people can’t solve the problems of the less-privileged, nor can the privileged even “help” the less-privileged. All that any of us can do is to create dialogue which creates opportunities for learning for everyone. Freire explicitly includes teachers in that everyone. Teachers ought to aim to learn from students. Dialogue requires engagement.  Reading papers and responding to them with my comments creates dialogue.
  3. Finally, I want to be engaged because of what I will learn. I’m curious. I learned more about India from attending LaTICE 2016 (see the first and second blog posts in this series). I would like to learn more about Saudi Arabia. It makes me a more informed and effective researcher when I am more aware of other contexts.

Neeti Pathak, one of the students with whom I work, pointed out that there is interplay between religion and culture in Saudi Arabia. I also look to my own faith in thinking about LaTICE 2017. Pope Francis, the leading figure in my faith, recently made a proclamation encouraging the Church to be more welcoming, even to those that the Church may have once ostracized (see NYTimes piece). That’s a proclamation that relates to LaTICE 2017. Everyone gains by engaging, even with those whose activities and rules we might not like.

I’m not willing to ostracize a whole country, even if they have rules and customs that I think are wrong. I’m not confident that I understand the issues in Saudi Arabia. I’m not confident that my views on them are more than my Western biases interpreting customs and values I don’t understand. I don’t feel justified in making a statement against LaTICE 2017. I see value in engaging in dialogue.

I shared earlier versions of this post with several colleagues, who are angry with me for the stance I’m taking. These are complicated issues. I am sure that there are many more perspectives that I have not yet considered. I welcome further discussion in the comments, including telling me why I’m wrong.

April 22, 2016 at 7:27 am 19 comments

The Indian Education Context is Completely Different from the US Education Context

At LaTICE 2016, I attended a session on teacher professional development. I work at preparing high school CS teachers. I felt like I’d be able to relate to the professional development work. I was wrong.

One of the large projects presented at LaTICE 2016 was the T10kT project (see link here) whose goal is to use technology to train 10,000 teachers. What I didn’t realize at first was that the focus is on higher-education teachers, not high school teachers. The only high school outreach activity I learned about at LaTICE 2016 was from the second keynote, on an Informatics Olympiad from Madhavan Mukund (see slides here) which is only for a select group of students.

India has 500 universities, and over 42,000 higher education institutions. They have an enormous problem trying to maintain the quality of their higher-education system (see more on the Wikipedia page). They rely heavily on video, because videos can be placed on a CD or USB drive and mailed. The T10kT instructors can’t always rely on Internet access even to higher-education institutions. They can’t expect travel even to regional hubs because many of the faculty can’t travel (due to expense and family obligations).


As can be seen in the slide above, they have a huge number of participants.  I asked at the session, “Why?”  Why would all these higher-education faculty be interested in training to become better teachers?  The answer was that participants get certificates for participating in T10kT, and those certificates do get considered in promotion decisions.  That’s significant, and something I wish we had in the US.

I tried to get a sense for how many primary and secondary schools there are in India, and found estimates ranging from 740K to 1.3M. Compulsory education was only established in 2010 (goes to age 14), and is not well enforced. I heard estimates that about 50% of school-age children go to school because only enrollment is checked, not attendance.

Contrast this with the CS10K effort in the United States. There are about 25-30,000 high schools in the US. Having 10K CS teachers wouldn’t reach every school, but it would make a sizable dent. A goal to get 10K CS teachers in Indian high schools would be laughable. When you increase the number of high schools by two orders of magnitude, 10,000 teachers barely moves the needle. Given the difficulty of access and uncertain Internet, it’s certainly not cheaper to provide professional development in India. They have an enormous shortage of teachers — not just CS. They lack any teachers at all in many schools. The current national focus is on higher-education because the secondary and primary school problems are just so large.

Alan Kay has several times encouraged me to think about how to provide educational technology to support students who do not have access to a teacher. I resisted, because I felt that any educational technology was a poor substitute for a real teacher. Now I realize what a privilege it is to have any teacher at all, and how important it is to think about technology-based guided learning for the majority of students worldwide who do not have access to a teacher.

How do we do it?  How do we design technology-based learning supports for Indian students who may not have access to a teacher?  I attended a session on IITBx, the edX-hosted MOOCS developed by IIT-Bombay. I tweeted:

One of the IIT-Bombay graduate students responded:

Here’s the exchange as a screencap, just in case the Twitter feed doesn’t work right above:


I’m sure that Aditi (whose work was described in the previous blog post) is right. Developers in the US can’t expect to build technologies for India and expect them to work, not without involving Indian learners, teachers, and researchers. One of the themes in my book Learner-Centered Design of Computing Education is that motivation is everything in learning, and motivation is tied tightly to notions of identity, community of practice, and context. I learned that I don’t know much about any of those things for India, nor anywhere else in the developing world. The problems are enormous and worth solving, and US researchers and developers have a lot to offer — as collaborators. In the end, it requires understanding on the ground to get the context and motivation right, and nothing works if you don’t get that right.

April 20, 2016 at 7:22 am 2 comments

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

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.


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.


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:


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.”

April 18, 2016 at 7:18 am 3 comments

Spreadsheets as an intuitive approach to variables: I don’t buy it

A piece in The Guardian (linked by Deepak Kumar on Facebook) described how Visicalc became so popular, and suggests that spreadsheets make variables “intuitive.” I don’t buy it. Yes, I believe that spreadsheets help students to understand that a value can change (which is what the quote below describes). I am not sure that spreadsheets help students to understand the implications of that change. In SBF (Structure, Behavior, Function) terms, spreadsheets make the structural aspect of variables visible — variables vary. They don’t make evident the behavior (how variables connect/influence to one another), and they don’t help students to understand function of the variable or the overall spreadsheet. If we think about the misconceptions that students have about variables, the varying characteristic is not the most challenging one.

The Bootstrap folks have some evidence that their approach to teaching variables in Racket helps students understand variables better in algebra. It would be interesting to explore the use of spreadsheets in a similar curriculum — could spreadsheets help with algebra, too? I don’t expect that we’d get the same results, in part because spreadsheet variables don’t look like algebra variables. Surface-level features matter a lot for novices.


Years ago, I began to wonder if the popularity of spreadsheets might be due to the fact that humans are genetically programmed to understand them. At the time, I was teaching mathematics to complete beginners, and finding that while they were fine with arithmetic, algebra completely eluded them. The moment one said “let x be the number of apples”, their eyes would glaze and one knew they were lost. But the same people had no problem entering a number into a spreadsheet cell labelled “Number of apples”, happily changing it at will and observing the ensuing results. In other words, they intuitively understood the concept of a variable.

Source: Why a simple spreadsheet spread like wildfire | Opinion | The Guardian

April 15, 2016 at 7:44 am 1 comment

Where CS Teachers See Bimodality: Guest Blog Post from Elizabeth Patitsas

When I saw Elizabeth’s debrief, I asked her if I could share it on here. She graciously prepared this guest blog post, with more detail to explain what she did. Thanks, Elizabeth!

About a year ago, I used a number of venues to recruit participants for an anonymous study about the distributions of grades in CS classes. The study involved a minor deception, and because we do not have the emails of all the participants, I’m posting the debrief openly.


Dear study participant,

You’re getting this email because about a year ago you participated in my research project, “An investigation of the grades distributions in university computer science”. In this project, I showed you a series of six histograms and I asked you how often you saw that distribution’s shape in your own teaching, as well as how you’d categorize the distribution (normal, bimodal, etc).

I’m writing to you know to let you know this study involved a minor deception. We were actually most interested whether you’d label some ambiguous distributions as “normal” versus “bimodal”. We’ve now completed our analysis, and we want to debrief you before we write up our results for publication.

As you may know, there is a common perception amongst CS educators that grades distributions are bimodal. However, upon statistical analysis of the grades distribution available to us, we discovered that most of our grades distributions pass statistical tests of normality and very few of them of them pass the statistical tests of bimodality (see link for more).

We were curious why the perception of bimodal grades is so prevalent, even when grades may actually be normally-distributed. Ahadi and Lister argued at ICER 2013 that the perception of bimodal grades comes from CS educators believing that some students possess an innate gift/talent to do computer science. Regular readers of Mark’s blog would know this as the “Geek Gene Hypothesis”: the notion that when it comes to CS, you either can get it, or you can’t.

Ahadi and Lister argued that when people see two “peaks” in their grades, it’s because they’re expecting to see two different populations to be represented: the students who get it, and the students who don’t. Usually, bimodal distributions represent data where you’ve sampled two different populations together at the same time. If CS grades were bimodal, that could imply we have two different populations of students (e.g. those who get it + those who don’t). Whereas if CS grades are normal, it would imply (but not prove) our students form a spectrum, where most students understand some — but not all — of the material.

In the study you participated in, all six histograms were randomly-generated normal distributions with a small sample size (and so looked noisy). We wanted to test two things:

  1. RQ1. Are CS educators more likely to label ambiguous distributions as “bimodal” if they believe that some students are inherently predisposed to do well in CS?
  2. RQ2. If we tell CS educators that it’s a commonly-held belief that CS grades are bimodal, will educators be more likely to label ambiguous distributions as “bimodal”?

For a random half of the participants, before you categorized the distributions, we asked you “It is a commonly-held belief that CS grades distributions are bimodal. Do you find this to be the case in your teaching?” The other half of the participants saw this question after categorizing the distributions. This priming was used to test RQ2.

If our consent form had said the true intent of the study, then all participants would have been primed, rather than a random half. Our minor deception about the purpose of the study was necessary to answer this research question.

We delayed the debriefing until after our analysis was complete, on the assumption you’d want to know the preliminary results of the study. We indeed found that participants who agreed more strongly with the statement “Some students are innately predisposed to do better at CS than others” were statistically significantly more likely to label ambiguous distributions as bimodal.

Participants who had been primed were more likely to label distributions as bimodal — and this effect was stronger if they also agreed that CS ability was innate.

To ensure participant anonymity, we did not collect names and emails on the SurveyMonkey survey. As a result we have no way to link your responses to your identity.

We will be submitting our results for publication in the coming months, and will happily disseminate the paper once it is published. If you’d like to receive a copy of the paper once it’s published, add your email to this form. If you have any further questions, please contact us.

Thank you,

Elizabeth Patitsas

Jesse Berlin

Michelle Craig

Steve Easterbrook

April 13, 2016 at 7:57 am Leave a comment

Call for Participation: International Computing Education Research 2016 in Melbourne, Australia

The twelfth annual ACM International Computing Education Research (ICER) Conference aims to gather high-quality contributions to the computing education research discipline. We invite submissions across a variety of categories for research investigating how people of all ages come to understand computational processes and devices, and empirical evaluation of approaches to improve that understanding in formal and informal learning environments.

Research areas of particular interest include:

  • discipline based education research (DBER) in computer science (CS), information sciences (IS), and related disciplines
  • learnability/usability of programming languages and the psychology of programming
  • pedagogical environments fostering computational thinking
  • design-based research, learner-centered design, and evaluation of educational technology supporting computing knowledge development
  • learning sciences work in the computing content domain
  • learning analytics and educational data mining in CS/IS content areas
  • informal learning experiences related to programming and software development (all ages), ranging from after-school programs for children, to end-user development communities, to workplace training of computing professionals
  • measurement instrument development and validation (e.g., concept inventories, attitudes scales, etc) for use in computing disciplines
  • research on CS/computing teacher thinking and professional development models at all levels

In addition to standard research paper contributions, we continue our longstanding commitment to fostering discussion and exploring new research areas by offering several ways to engage. These include a doctoral consortium for graduate students just prior to the conference, a work-in-progress workshop for researchers following the conference, and poster and lightning talks. This is in addition to the format of conference sessions, where all research paper presentations include time for discussion among the attendees followed by feedback to the paper presenters.

Submission Categories

ICER provides multiple options for participation, with various levels of discussion and interaction between the presenter and audience. These sessions also support work at various levels, ranging from formative work to polished, complete research results.

Research Papers

8 page limit (plus up to 2 additional pages for references), double-blind peer reviewed and published in the ACM digital library as part of the conference proceedings. Accepted papers are allotted 30 minutes for presentation and discussion at the conference.

Doctoral Consortium

2 page extended abstract submission required and published in ACM digital library as part of the conference proceedings. Students will present their work to distinguished faculty mentors during an all-day workshop and during the conference in a dedicated poster session.

Lightning Talks and Posters

Abstract (300 words) submission required and made available on conference website, but not published in proceedings. Accepted abstracts for lightning talks will be given a 3-minute time slot for rapid presentation at the conference followed by a discussion period for all attendees. Posters may either accompany a lightning talk or may be proposed separately using the same abstract submission process.

Work in Progress Workshop

This one-day workshop is a venue to get sustained engagement with and feedback about early work in computing education. White paper submission required but not included in proceedings.

Co-located Workshops

Proposals for pre/post conference workshops of interest to the ICER community (ie, those that aim to advance computer science education research) are welcomed and encouraged. ICER local arrangements personnel will be available to assist with workshop logistics where possible. If interested, contact the conference chairs for more details by April 22nd

For more information about preparation and submission, please visit the page corresponding to the submission type of interest.

Important Deadlines and Dates

Research Papers
Abstract submission (mandatory) Friday, April 15, 2016 at 11:59pm US Pacific Time
Full paper submission Friday, April 22, 2016 at 11:59pm US Pacific Time
Notification of acceptance Friday, June 3, 2016
Final camera ready deadline Friday, June 17, 2016
Other Submission Types
Doctoral consortium submissions Friday, May 20, 2016
Lightning talk and Poster proposals Friday, June 17, 2016
Work in progress workshop application Friday, June 17, 2016
Conference Schedule
Doctoral Consortium Thursday, September 8, 2016
ICER Conference Friday, September 9 – midday Sunday September 11, 2016
Work in Progress Workshop Sunday September 11 – midday Monday September 12, 2016

More details can be found at the specific pages, linked above.

April 7, 2016 at 12:09 pm Leave a comment

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