Posts tagged ‘CSLearning4U’

Openness is influenced by cognitive abilities: Self-efficacy too?

Interesting finding that supporting older adults learning better problem-solving skills seems to lead to a change in a personality trait called “openness.”  I find this interesting for two reasons.  First, it’s wonderful to see continuing evidence about the plasticity of the human mind.  Surprisingly little is “fixed” or “innate.”  Second, I wonder how “openness” relates to “self-efficacy.”  We heard at ICER 2011 how self-efficacy plays a significant role in student ability to succeed in introductory computing.  Is there an implication here that if we could improve students’ understanding of computer science, before programming, that we could enhance their openness or self-efficacy, possibly leading to more success?  That’s a related hypothesis to what we aim for in CSLearning4U (that studying programming in the small, worksheet-style, will make programming sessions more effective — more learning, less time, less pain), and I’d love to see more evidence for this.

Personality psychologists describe openness as one of five major personality traits. Studies suggest that the other four traits (agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and extraversion) operate independently of a person’s cognitive abilities. But openness — being flexible and creative, embracing new ideas and taking on challenging intellectual or cultural pursuits — does appear to be correlated with cognitive abilities.

via Enhancing cognition in older adults also changes personality.

January 30, 2012 at 9:20 am 3 comments

Making iBooks vs. Making iBooks for Learning CS

The announcement about Apple’s new iBooks Author application was pretty exciting for me last week.  As readers may recall, we just started a new NSF project in October to create book-like electronic media to support high school teachers learning CS.  Here’s a new authoring tool just for building electronic books for learning!  Just what we were hoping for!

From what I have learned about it (I need to get a newer Mac to run it), it does sound exciting.  I love a lot of the features, like the variety of multi-touch widgets provided and the support for general HTML5 drop-ins.  I am eager to play with it.

Here are my four biggest concerns about it right now:

(1) It’s made for a narrow definition of learning.  We know that students learn based on what they do and think, not what the lecturer or the book does.  Below is the quote for what iBooks Author provides for students to do, in what they currently call “Chapter Review” questions.  You can answer multiple choice questions, or you can label images, or you can identify the right image for the term.  Huh?  So, I can learn a variety of simple propositional statements, some with images.  Is that it?  That’s all that we might want students to learn from iBooks?

Chapter Reviews

Let readers test their knowledge using a variety of question types: multiple choice, choose the correct image, label the image, or a mix of all three. Authors can include six possible answers to each question.

via Apple – iBooks Author – Gallery.

(2) There is no support for complexity.  I gave a panel talk at the C5 Conference on Friday about needing an infrastructure for building complex electronic books.  Given a choice between Word and LaTeX for writing a book (meaning you know both), I know of no one who prefers Word for writing books.  Word just doesn’t support building large and complex documents like what LaTeX provides.  Books are big, complicated things, with lots of referencing between them.  You want to be able to name things, so that you can easily reference it elsewhere, and build tools to track the names.  You want to be able to change things, and names (for regions, and for details) make that easier.  A tool can be WYSIWYG and still support symbols and naming, and even have a programming language underneath (as LaTeX does).

iBooks Author, at least in its current version, supports even less complexity than Word.  Apple has bragged about their terrific support for glossaries and accessibility, both of which are great. There is no support for references or footnotes. I can’t reference figures, pages, or sections as a symbol or name.

(3) I don’t think I can teach CS with it.  That’s what I am most interested in doing. Much of what I want to do with eBooks, I can’t do with iBooks Author.  Can I build an interpreter or simulation in that HTML5 generic segment?  Can I have code visualizations?  Or connect to a course/cohort-only social space where students can talk about what they’re reading and doing, and see that they’re really doing fine in the class (because we know that self-efficacy is a significant factor in CS1 success)?  The current iBooks Author only goes so far, and that’s not far enough to meet what I believe are the unique needs of computing education.

(4) Apple’s EULA is “greedy and evil.”  The end user licensing agreement for iBooks Author requires authors to only sell iBooks through Apple.

As ZDNet reports:

The nightmare scenario under this agreement? You create a great work of staggering literary genius that you think you can sell for 5 or 10 bucks per copy. You craft it carefully in iBooks Author. You submit it to Apple. They reject it.

Under this license agreement, you are out of luck. They won’t sell it, and you can’t legally sell it elsewhere. You can give it away, but you can’t sell it.

That’s almost like Microsoft saying that they have all rights to sell whatever you create with Office.  (“Almost” because it is the case that iBooks Author produces…iBooks, that only run on Apple devices.)  It’s a pretty frightening document.  I am not sure that I would want to go to the effort of creating a book under these terms.

Bottomline: iBooks Author looks like an advance from what tools we have now for eBooks, and it’s really exciting. There are still some pretty big concerns that will keep me from using it, particularly for computing education.

January 23, 2012 at 8:16 am 10 comments

Fertile Ground in Africa for Computer Science to Take Root –

What a great story!  It’s wonderful to read about the interest in CS among children growing up with digital technology in Africa, and I love the idea that CS is a science that can flourish without big infrastructural advancements.  The challenge there, as here in the US, is how to prepare teachers.  That’s a grand challenge for CS education today.

Computer science in Africa, to be sure, is still held back by the perception that it is preferable to study and work in Europe or the United States, even if that means leaving Africa permanently. This must change for computer science to flourish in the region. Georgia Tech researchers recommended in a study that African educators reinforce efforts to mold computer science curriculum to meet “local needs.”

A shortage of skilled teachers also remains a problem. The continent’s leading computer science departments — based on research publications — are all in South Africa. Yet even there, the number of university-level teachers is limited. “Our C.S. departments are much smaller than counterparts in the U.S.,” said Bill Tucker, an American who is a senior lecturer at the University of Western Cape.

via Fertile Ground in Africa for Computer Science to Take Root –

December 6, 2011 at 11:16 am Leave a comment

We get the chance to beat the book: NSF CE21 funded CSLearning4U

We get the chance to beat the book for CS learning!  Our NSF CE21 (Computing Education in the 21st Century) proposal was funded for about $990K from October 1, 2011 to September 30, 2013.  The goal of this project is to create new media for learning computer science at a distance by high school teachers.  We are pursuing the correspondence school model of distance learning, rather than a remote classroom model, in Sir John Daniel’s terms. We want to create a medium that can be studied, within the time constraints of high school teachers (or others, like people re-entering the IT workforce.)  A key idea is that we can design instruction, following principles of educational psychology, to help people learn computing better.  It simply can’t be true that the only way to learn computer science (even programming) is by wrestling the interpreter or compiler.  Yes, it’s possible to learn to swim by being thrown into the deep end of the pool, but we can do better — less struggle, more efficiency, less wasted time, and fewer people giving up.

I’ve created a minimal project page at I’ve included the proposal and the reviews to help inform future CE21 proposal writers.  You can see what we proposed (as an example of something that got funded), and what the review panel liked and disliked.

Here’s the explanation of the project title we chose:

CSLearning4U means:

  • Computer Science Learning FOR YOU, as in you, as long as you want to learn some computer science. This isn’t CS learning just for software developers, or just for Information Technology, Information Systems, Computer Science, Computer Engineering, or Software Engineering specialists. It’s about making Computer Science Learning accessible to anyone with an interest in learning.
  • Computer Science Learning FOR UBIQUITOUS ACCESS. You need a computer to learn computer science, but those are everywhere today, from your cellphone to your settop box. We want CS learning to be accessible anywhere.

We also received a GVU Seed Grant which is funding a psychology PhD student, Lauren Margulieux, to work with Richard Catrambone and me.  We’re hoping to develop some instructional treatments in the current semester that we can test next semester, to identify and try some particular educational psychology principles that can help us in addressing CS learning challenges.


September 23, 2011 at 10:39 am 27 comments

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