Posts tagged ‘computing education’
Marvin Minsky died last month. I never met Marvin. I met his daughter, and worked with people who knew him well. He must have been a remarkable person.
The NYTimes piece has several quotes from Alan Kay about Marvin. Below is my favorite. I’ve heard it before, and I think about it often when designing classes and lessons.
I want students to understand what I do in class, but not memorize it. I want them to understand it in more than one way. It’s why I emphasize revision and multiple iterations so often in a class. I want them to understand well enough to transfer the knowledge, at least in near contexts.
For Dr. Kay, Professor Minsky’s legacy was his insatiable curiosity. “He used to say, ‘You don’t really understand something if you only understand it one way,’” Dr. Kay said. “He never thought he had anything completely done.”
There are many, many teaching jobs available in computer science right now. Scarcely a day goes by that there isn’t another ad posted in the SIGCSE Members list — sometimes for many positions at the same department. A great many of these are at Universities, with a clear statement that this is a Teaching track position, not a Tenure track position.
Many of these ads, when posted to SIGCSE Members, contain a paragraph like this (edited and hopefully anonymized):
(Highly-ranked University)’s full-time (without tenure) teaching faculty positions are called (pick one of:) Lecturers with Security of Employment, Professors of the Practice, or Teaching Professors, or Lecturers, or Instructors. These positions typically involve a teaching load of two courses each semester, advising responsibilities, and service (committee work) as well. (Highly-ranked University)’s computer science teaching faculty are NOT treated as second class citizens. We vote at faculty meetings, represent the department on university committees, and are generally well respected inside and outside the department. We currently are seeking more (see ad below).
From time to time, I write the person (almost always a teaching track faculty member) who posted the ad, to follow-up on the “NOT second class citizens” part.
- Do teaching faculty get to serve on the hiring committee for teaching faculty? Usually yes.
- Do teaching faculty get to serve on the hiring committee for tenure-track faculty? Usually not. This question often results in a snort of laughter. Why should teaching professionals be involved in hiring tenure-track faculty? That seemed obvious to me — teaching faculty are hired to be experts in teaching, and tenure-track faculty do teach.
- Do teaching faculty serve on tenure-track promotion and tenure committees? Almost never, despite the fact that tenure track faculty are expected to teach and are supposed to be evaluated (at least in part) on that teaching. Shouldn’t professionals with expertise in teaching have a voice in evaluating teaching of tenure-track faculty?
- Do teaching faculty have a voice/position at the Dean/Chair’s Cabinet/Executive Committee? I know of only one in the US.
Maybe I have been watching too much “Downton Abbey.” The treatment of teaching track faculty by tenure track faculty sounds like the relationship between the landed gentry and the tenant farmers. The University teaches as one of its primary roles, just as the estate survived through farming (and the sales and rent that were generated). The tenure track faculty (landed gentry) leave most of that to the teaching track faculty (tenant farmers). It’s a delegated responsibility, like custodial and lawn management services. The teaching track faculty don’t own the department or programs (land). The tenure track faculty make the decisions about hiring and promoting the teaching track faculty. The teaching track faculty don’t make any of the decisions about tenure track faculty. Of course, the greatest match with the analogy is that tenured faculty can’t be fired — like the landed gentry, they own their positions. Teaching track faculty are rarely tenured. One of the teaching faculty with whom I work has only a six month contract and can be fired with a month’s notice.
It is in our best interests for teaching track to be a profession. Teaching track faculty should be experts in teaching. Members should be expected to join professional organizations like SIGCSE (see previous post about the lack of membership in SIGCSE), to attend and present at organizational meetings, and to improve their practice. They should have a promotion path and evaluation as rigorous as the tenure-track promotion and tenure process. I’m pleased to see these ads, because they suggest national searches for good teaching track faculty — as opposed to hiring (for example) graduate students and post-docs who don’t want to leave their home institution.
A first step towards professionalization of teaching track faculty is to treat them with the same respect as tenure-track faculty. Tenure track faculty are treated as experts in research. Teaching track faculty should be treated as experts in teaching. If both teaching and research are important, then treat the teaching track faculty like the research faculty. There should be a comparable sense of responsibility, power, and ownership.
I’ve mentioned the K12 CS Framework Process a couple of times before (see this blog post). It’s now available for public comment.
Individuals and institutions are invited to be reviewers of the K-12 CS framework. Institutions, such as state/district departments of education and organizations (industry, companies, non-profits), are responsible for selecting an individual or a group to represent the institution. Reviewers can choose to participate in one or both of the two review periods:
- Feb 3 to Feb 17: Review of the 9-12 grade band concepts and practices
- March 14 to April 1: Review of the entire K-12 concepts and practices
There will be a public webinar (save this link) to launch the first review period on Feb 3 at 8pm ET / 5pm PT. Learn about the development of the framework and how to provide an effective review.
Find different instructions for individuals and facilitators of group reviews, including an informational session kit for review group facilitators at http://k12cs.org/review. Visit this page after 9 am on Feb 3rd and you’ll be able to access the framework draft and an online feedback form for the first public review
Lian Halbert, K-12 CS Framework development staff
P.S. Are you attending SIGCSE 2016 in Memphis this March 2-5? We will hold a Birds of a Feather session on Thursday March 3 for all SIGCSE attendees – feel free to invite folks so they can learn about the K-12 CS framework.
One of the common questions in CS education is, “What is computer science?” I recently looked into the original article in Science that introduced the term in 1967 from Allen Newell, Alan Perlis, and Herbert Simon. They define computer science as the study of computers and the phenomena surrounding them.
I do see the point that what computer scientists are really interested in is computing, which is separate from computers themselves. That’s a distinction that is mostly lost on students, though, and is not all that important to emphsize now that computers exist. We can argue that computer science existed before computers, but that’s a thought experiment. What we study today is based on the reality that the devices exist.
CMU keeps a library of correspondence from Herb Simon and I found this letter (see link here) interesting because it shows Simon making a similar distinction. Computers had to exist before computer scientists before we could really define a field: “A point of our letters was that, whether genuine substance now exists in computer science or not, computers constitute such a rich set of phenomena that it obviously will exist. (In a sense, there had to be plants, then botanists, before there could be botany.)”
There are computers. Ergo, computer science is the study of computers. The phenomena surrounding computers are varied, complex, rich. It remains only to answer the objections posed by many skeptics.
Objection 4. Computers, like thermometers, are instruments, not phenomena. Instruments lead away to their user sciences; the behaviors of instruments are subsumed as special topics in other sciences (not always the user sciences – electron microscopy belongs to physics, not biology). Answer. The computer is such a novel and complex instrument that its behavior is subsumed under no other science; its study does not lead away to user sciences, but to further study of computers. Hence, the computer is not just an instrument but a phenomenon as well, requiring description and explanation.
An article written by Rick Adrion, Barbara Ericson, Renee Fall, and me appears in this month’s Communications of the ACM about our work in the Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliance. Our annual meeting is today, with 11 states and Puerto Rico, where we talk about how to create sustained change in a state. We are learning a lot about what it takes to make change in our very diverse United States.
The lessons learned from Massachusetts and Georgia are useful for states joining ECEP, but so are the lessons from the other states. We have been surprised at how much our state leaders draw ideas from each other. South Carolina leaders used a teacher survey that was invented in Massachusetts. Utah draws inspiration from a Texas teacher recruitment strategy. What our state leaders find most useful about ECEP is access to other state leaders who share similar goals, for example, to broaden participation in computing by changing education pathways in their states.
White House Backs CS for All: Giving Every Student an Opportunity to Learn Through Computer Science For All
I don’t usually blog on a Saturday, but this is huge.
In this week’s address, the President discussed his plan to give all students across the country the chance to learn computer science (CS) in school. The President noted that our economy is rapidly shifting, and that educators and business leaders are increasingly recognizing that CS is a “new basic” skill necessary for economic opportunity. The President referenced his Computer Science for All Initiative, which provides $4 billion in funding for states and $100 million directly for districts in his upcoming budget; and invests more than $135 million beginning this year by the National Science Foundation and the Corporation for National and Community Service to support and train CS teachers. The President called on even more Governors, Mayors, education leaders, CEOs, philanthropists, creative media and technology professionals, and others to get involved in the efforts.
My daughter said to me Wednesday morning after the President’s State of the Union Address, “Your Interwebs are going crazy today.” It’s true. The President said that he wants every student to learn CS, which is something that we’ve been talking about for decades (as in this blog post and this book I wrote).
The NPR piece that came out Wednesday (thanks to Shuchi Grover for the link) did a nice job of touching on a wide range of issues to address in meeting this goal, and talking to people like Mitchel Resnick, Alfred Thompson, and my favorite quote, from Leigh Ann DeLyser which touches on what I think is the most critical issue — where are we going to get the teachers?
“The [teacher] pipeline is the biggest issue. There isn’t a pipeline. There’s no certification for teaching computer science [in New York]. We’re taking people who trained to be teachers and giving them some CS knowledge so they can step into a classroom and help kids. This is a Band-Aid.”
The Office of Science and Technology Policy sent out a letter the next day, amplifying the President’s remarks:
Tonight was an important step forward for students across the country, as the President said in his final State of the Union address:
“We agree that real opportunity requires every American to get the education and training they need to land a good-paying job. The bipartisan reform of No Child Left Behind was an important start, and together, we’ve increased early childhood education, lifted high school graduation rates to new highs, and boosted graduates in fields like engineering. In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by providing Pre-K for all, offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one, and we should recruit and support more great teachers for our kids.”
Our economy is rapidly shifting, and educators are increasingly recognizing computer science as the new basic. There are over 600,000 high-paying technology jobs open across the U.S., and by 2018, 51 percent of all STEM jobs are projected to be in computer science-related fields. However, computer science (CS), is taught in less than 25 percent of American K-12 schools, even as other advanced economies, such as Britain, are making it available for all students aged 5-16. In addition, students of color, girls, and students in high-need schools are less likely to take computer science than other students, and few middle school or elementary schools offer any computer science experiences.
A year ago, President Obama became the first President to write a line of code, and issued a broad call to action to expand computer science across the nation’s classrooms. Thanks to the efforts of parents, state and local officials, educators, philanthropists and CEOs, a movement to give every child the opportunity to learn computer science is building in this country.
In the coming weeks, the Administration will announce new steps to support these state and local efforts to give students of all ages the tools to not just live in the digital age, but to be the designers and leaders of it.
We look forward to working with you on this important effort to better serve our students.