Posts tagged ‘teaching’

How I’m lecturing during emergency remote teaching

Alfred Thompson (whom most of my readers already know) has a recent blog post requesting: Please blog about your emergency remote teaching (see post here). Alfred is right. We ought to be talking about what we’re doing and sharing our practices, so we get better at it. Reflecting and sharing our teaching practices is a terrific way to improve CS teaching, which Josh Tenenberg and Sally Fincher told us about in their Disciplinary Commons

My CACM Blog Post this month is on our contingency plan that we created to give students an “out” in case they become ill or just can’t continue with the class — see post here. I encourage all my readers who are CS teachers to create such a contingency plan and make it explicit to your students.

I am writing to tell you what I’m doing in my lectures with my co-instructor Sai R. Gouravajhala. I can’t argue that this is a “best” practice. This stuff is hard. Eugene Wallingford has been blogging about his emergency remote teaching practice (see post here). The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran an article about how difficult it is to teach via online video like Zoom or BlueJeans (see article here). We’re all being forced into this situation with little preparation. We just deal with it based on our goals for our teaching practice.

For me, keeping peer instruction was my top priority. I use the recommended peer instruction (PI) protocol from Eric Mazur’s group at Harvard, as was taught to me by Beth Simon, Leo Porter, and Cynthia Lee (see http://peerinstruction4cs.com/): I pose a question for everybody, then I encourage class discussion, then I pose the question again and ask for consensus answers. I use participation in that second question (typically gathered via app or clicker device) towards a participation grade in the class — not correct/incorrect, just participating. 

My plan was to do all of this in a synchronous lecture with Google Forms, based on a great recommendation from Chinmay Kulkarni. I would have a Google Form that everyone answered, then I’d encourage discussion. Students are working on team projects, and we have a campus license for Microsoft Teams, so I encouraged students to set that up before lecture and discuss with their teams. On a second Google Form with the same question, I also collect their email addresses. I wrote a script to give them participation credit if I get their email address at least once during the class PI questions.

Then the day before my first lecture, I was convinced on Twitter by David Feldon and Justin Reich that I should provide an asynchronous option (see thread here). I know that I have students who are back home overseas and are not in my timezone. They need to be able to watch the video at another time. I now know that I have students with little Internet access. So, I do all the same things, but I record the lecture and I leave the Google Forms open for 24 hours after the last class. The links to the Google Forms are in the posted slides and in the recorded lectures. To fill out the PI questions for participation, they would have to at least look at that the lecture.

I’m so glad that I did. As I tweeted, I had 188 responses to the PI questions after the lectures ended. 24 hours later, I had 233 responses. About 20% of my students didn’t get the synchronous lecture, but still got some opportunity to learn through the asynchronous component. The numbers have been similar for every lecture since that first.

I lecture, but typically only for 10-15 minutes between questions. I have 4-5 questions in an 85 minute lecture. The questions take longer now. I can’t just move the lecture along when most of the students answer, as I could with clickers. I typically give the 130+ students 90 seconds to get the link entered and answer the question. 

I have wondered if I should just go to a fully asynchronous lecture, so I asked my students via a PI question. 85% say that they want to see the lecturer in the video. They like that I can respond to chat and to answers in Google Forms. (I appreciate how Google Forms lets me see a summary of answers in real-time, so that I can respond to answers.) I’d love to have a real, synchronous give-and-take discussion, but my class is just too big. I typically get 130+ students synchronously participating in a lecture. It’s hard to have that many students participate in the chat, let alone see video streams for all of them.

We’re down to the last week of lecture, then we’ll have presentations of their final projects. They will prepare videos of their presentations, and receive peer comments. Each student has been assigned four teams to provide peer feedback on. Each team has a Google Doc to collect feedback on their project.

So, that’s my practice. In the comments, I’d welcome advice on improving the practice (though I do hope not to have to do this again anytime soon!), and your description of your practice. Let’s share.

April 6, 2020 at 7:00 am 5 comments

Implementing Design Studio Pedagogy with an Augmented Reality CS Classroom

Architecture and art is often taught in a design studio setting, where students work in a large, open space where everyone can see what everyone else is doing all the time — for collaboration, for inspiration, and for camaraderie. Colleen Kehoe wrote her dissertation on advantages of these pedagogies for learning and how they might be used in CS classes. Colleen was part of establishing the use of design gallery walks (where students work is displayed for the whole class to review and comment on) in some of our HCI classes. The challenge to using design studio pedagogies in most CS classes is that our work lives just on the screen, where the only ones who can see it are those right in front of the screen.

This semester, we built a design studio classroom using augmented reality technology, and taught a recitation section of a Media Computation course using it.

Image 5-3-16, 7-51 PM

The room was created by Blair MacIntyre with students Ashwin Kacchara and Ryan Jones. They used technology from Microsoft Research called RoomAlive, which uses Kinects to scan the room and develop a model to drive the projectors. Blair and his students defined a set of virtual displays for each student’s work. When students were in the room, they programmed in Pythy from Steve Edwards, a browser-based Python IDE that supports the Media Computation library. Ryan modified Pythy so that the last picture generated from student work was saved to a database, then he and Ashwin used RoomAlive to display those images around the room. The effect was that the wall was covered with the latest of students’ work for all to see.

Betsy DiSalvo is an expert on design pedagogies. She guided the design of the room and me (as the teacher in the room) in figuring out how to use the room. Amber Solomon is a first year PhD student working with me who evaluated the project. Betsy has been working with Amber during the evaluation, since I’m conflicted as the teacher of the class. Amber’s done an amazing job, observing literally hours of the design studio recitation section and a comparison recitation section, then interviewing almost all of the students in the design studio classroom. They’ve written one article already, for the IEEE Virtual Reality 2016 Workshop on K-12 Embodied Learning through Virtual & Augmented Reality (KELVAR) which is available through the workshop website.

Image 5-3-16, 8-13 PM

I had a great time teaching in the class. I was able to move around the room, pointing to student work as examples of things I wanted to highlight. I knew the room was really working the first time that a student produced a humorous picture (turning Donald Trump into a Shrek-like green). Students started laughing, grabbing one another to get their attention. Then another student pulled our his phone to Snapchat the image. How often do CS students use Snapchat to share other students’ CS work?

I’m writing this now because Amber is now finishing her interviews, and we’re already getting some surprising results. I don’t want to give away too much, because I hope she’s going to publish another fascinating paper on her results.

We were worried about the effect of the technology on the students. Would it frighten students off? Would it be too unusual? Amber says that students didn’t find it unusual or novel.

The biggest surprise for me so-far: It helped students in getting help. In any CS class, you can provide help, but it’s hard to get students to take it. There is a whole literature on help-seeking behavior. For a student to seek help, the student has to first admit that he needs help — and that can trigger imposter syndrome. Students told Amber that they were willing to ask for help because their work (and everyone else’s) was visible, so everyone knew who needed help. One student told Amber, “I liked it alot. It projects like the last image someone produced. You could see who had already, like, fully understood the topic and, like, who had completed the task and then you could ask them for help if you needed too, or people who are struggling you could help them.”

We’re grateful for support for this project from Microsoft Research and from a GVU/IPaT Engagement Seed Grant.

May 16, 2016 at 7:47 am 8 comments

What should a post-full Computing Education Researcher do next?

My school chair, Annie Anton (most recently famous for being on a Presidential Commission on Cybersecurity), asked me to think about what I’d like to do, what I’d like to make, and what I’d like to be next — and what are the challenges to those goals. It’s a great exercise for anyone post-full professor. I have no tenure or promotion goals to achieve, but I “am not dead yet.” What comes next?

I’ve been privileged to be part of some significant efforts: From “Georgia Computes!” and “Media Computation,” to “ECEP” and our ebooks. Both of my currently-funded NSF projects (ECEP and our Ebooks) end in Fall 2017. So I have to do something else to fund graduate students and to cover the overhead of being faculty in a research university.

Below are some of the options that appeal to me. It isn’t really a wish list — there are incompatible activities on this list. This is an exploration of possibilities that particularly appeal to me. Many interesting and worthwhile problems that I might pursue aren’t interesting to me because I don’t think I have any useful leverage on the problem, or the problem is too big to make a useful dent in it..

I’m sharing it as a blog post because it might be a useful starting point for similar reflections for other post-full faculty.

To be part of a significantly-sized Computing Education Research group

The last few weeks, I’ve been part of an NSF Expeditions preliminary proposal around computing education research. It’s been a deeply engaging intellectual activity, and one that I’d like to do more often. It’s been terrific to work with a group of faculty who know computing education research (different emphases, different areas of research, but with a common core literature and research values) to have detailed discussions about what we think is known and what’s important to do next.

I see my colleagues around here doing that kind of planning in HCI and in Robotics, and it probably happens in any area with three or more faculty. I used to be a peripheral participant in meetings like that at University of Michigan, when Elliot Soloway, Phyllis Blumenfeld, Joe Krajcik, and Ron Marx were inventing technology-enhanced project-based learning for STEM. We used to have visioning activities like those when Janet Kolodner led the EduTech Institute here at Georgia Tech, but most of those faculty at the heart of the EduTech have moved on. (It’s even hard to find a digital footprint of EduTech today.)

You can do that kind of planning if you have several faculty in an area. It’s harder to do with one or two faculty and some students. It’s still hard to grow CER at scale in research-oriented computing departments. How many CER courses can one department offer, and when you hit that limit, what else will the CER faculty teach? Like any new area, it’s hard to explain it to all the other faculty, to get them to appreciate a candidate.

It would be great to be part of a Center doing the work that pushes the boundary of what we know and what we know how to do in computing education research. I know some universities that are thinking about building a Center that includes computing education research. Others, aren’t. There is some distrust of STEM Ed research — I once had a senior administrator say that an academic unit focused on STEM education research would happen on his campus “over his dead body.” I’d like to work with others to create significant, impactful projects in CER — the kinds of things that are bigger than what one or two people can do.

To create an organization/system to have a lasting impact on Computing Education in the US

Like most people in CER, I hope my work has research value in the future, but I don’t expect any of the particular products to last for long. I expect that no curriculum, assessments, tools, or standards that we’re developing for K-12 schools today will still be in schools in 20 years. All of these will have to change dramatically because the students we’ll be teaching, what we think we ought to teach, and how we teach will change. We’re at the very beginning of growth of the field, so now’s (a) when we expect to realize how little we know, and (b) when I hope that decision-makers will start asking, “What do we already know?” That’s a big part of why I wrote the book last year Learner-Centered Design of Computing Education: Research on Computing for Everyone. I wanted to put a signpost to say, “Here’s where we’ve been and where we are now in figuring out how to teach computing to everybody.”

I’ve got a few more years left in my career. I’d like to leave something of longterm use for computing education. I’m creating a CS Ed Research class at Georgia Tech, but classes come and go. We created a lot of learning science and technologies classes when we had those faculty in years past, but we can’t even teach all of those courses anymore.

We need to create organizations, systems, and programs to sustain computing education. Key to that goal is establishing CER in schools of Education. I would like to be part of that effort. Schools of Education are how we get education reforms to stick around in the United States. We need faculty doing CER in schools of Education. We need computing education in pre-service teacher education. I love the idea of defining introductory computer science classes for teachers. (Hint: “Python or Java?” is completely the wrong question, and not the least because both answers are wrong.)

To be part of growing Computing Education Research globally

My experience in India has me realizing how little I know about how most of the world’s education systems work (see blog post comparing Indian and US Education contexts). I also realize that computing education is growing all over the world. My years spent at the boundary of computer science and education suggest to me that I might have something to share in those efforts.

I was one of the co-founders of the International Computing Education Research (ICER) conference, and that’s the most rigorous CER conference around today. That’s great to have a high-quality conference, but there’s a lot more demand for CER than ICER can meet. The SIGCSE Symposium and ITICSE serve a larger audience than ICER, but are still mostly Western, mostly privileged, and mostly missing most of the world.

I’ve recently joined the program committees of both Koli Calling (Finland) and LaTICE (which has mostly Southeastern Asia, but moving to Saudi Arabia this next year and South Africa in two years). I would like to be involved in more international conferences. I want to understand what parts of the challenge of computing education are due to the design of the educational system and context, and what parts are inherent to the complexity of understanding computing.

The mechanics of being a participant in an international community are challenging. I’ve used NSF funds to go to ICER and Dagstuhl (in Germany), but that’s dissemination on a grant. How does one fund going to international conferences when it’s less about dissemination and more about scholarly exchange — me learning about their context, and us discussing research issues from different contexts? There probably are mechanisms, but beyond the ones used by a traditional US POP (Plain Ole Professor).

To focus on teaching

I still love to teach Media Computation. Every Spring, I get to teach around 150 non-technical majors about computation. There’s a set curriculum that is mostly programming-focused (about 80% intersection with my book), but I still find space to talk about Alan Turing and Claude Shannon, incompleteness theorem, and how “The Matrix” and “Sin City” were created. Could I become a full-time teaching faculty? I don’t like how they get typically treated (see this blog post), so I don’t think I would want to become teaching track.

If I did focus on my teaching, I’d need to do it in a context that values research-based CS teaching methods. I want to be able to say to my colleague teachers, “Did you see what Beth, Leo, and Cynthia are doing with peer-instruction?  Or how about what Leo and Dan are doing from the last SIGCSE proceedings? Let’s try that!” The teaching faculty that I know work very hard and care deeply. Especially with today’s enrollments, few of them have the capacity to read CER, too. I know I’d get bored if I couldn’t talk about the research, try to use it, and to extend it with my colleagues.

To just focus on research

I could hunker down and just do computing education research — no more public policy, no more broadening participation work, only occasional international conferences when we have something big to report. It is so hard to make traction on broadening participation in computing these days — diversity has taken a back-burner in many CS departments because they’re just trying to keep their head above water.

There are lots of research questions I’m interested in:

  • I recently attended a AAAS/NSF symposium on STEM Education (which I blogged about at Blog@CACM), and was struck again about how far behind computing education research (CER) is behind other discipline-based education research (DBER). Too much of what we know about CER is bound to particular classes and languages. (Because novices tend to attend to surface-level features, programming languages likely are important, but then we need to parameterize use the language to understand how different languages interact with student understanding.) So much of computing education is focused on implementation, and there is so much fundamental research yet to do. We know too little about misconceptions, learning progressions, alternative models of big ideas and thinking practices, and even, interaction of different natural languages with learning CS (see Yogendra Pal’s work). There is so much to do, and we are years behind other fields.
  • What is the right media for teaching about computation? I’m working on a couple of different kinds of ebooks now. I’ve always been interested in interactive multimedia (see MediaText that I did as a grad student), and the work of our ebooks is promising. I’ve even been thinking about the interaction between MOOCs and ebooks — how could they aid one another?
  • How do we provide education without a teacher? I think often about my trip to India and the need for learning without teachers. MIT recently produced a tablet that they literally just gave to kids in Ethiopia, and it did lead to gains in literacy (see article here). What would you put on a tablet to self-start learning about computing?

I don’t think I’d stop writing in the blog, at least in the forseeable future, for any of these paths. I like to write. The blog gives me an excuse. I hope it provides a service to readers.

(Thanks to the friends who gave me comments on earlier drafts of this document! I appreciate all of it!)

May 9, 2016 at 7:46 am 10 comments

A MediaComp MOOC in Processing

I was excited to read this in Katrina Falkner’s blog at the beginning of the year.  They’re teaching a Media Computation MOOC in Processing!  I highly recommend looking at the actual blog post and the links, to see the kinds of work that the students are doing.  (I wrote and scheduled this post when I first saw Katrina’s blog post, and it’s coincidence that it’s publishing when I’m with Katrina at Dagstuhl this week, discussing how we assess CS learning and attitudes.)

At the start of this year, we were also busy working on our Introductory programming MOOC, Think Create Code. We are really excited about this course, as we are have adopted the same Media Computation approach that we use in our on-campus course. We use Processing, and have built an EdX extension module to support an open art gallery where students can share their work, explore others and discuss. We will be using this course as part of our future on-campus offerings as well, allowing us to focus more of our in class time on working closely with our students. We launched Think Create Code in April, and ended up working with over 20,000 students from 177 countries. It was amazing to see the work of our students, and to see a fantastic blending between the artistic and computer science communities. The course now runs as a self-paced course open to all.

Source: Looking back on 2015 | Katrina Falkner

February 17, 2016 at 8:26 am Leave a comment

Using Greek ideals to improve progress in education

Nick Falkner has been using his blog in a series of posts to address a question that I’ve wondered about here: Why does research influence so little practice (see post here) and policy (see post here)?  Nick is taking a novel approach — he’s using the three values of Ancient Greece, brought together as a trinity through Socrates and Plato: beauty, goodness and truth.  He’s exploring how we can use these to define high-quality teaching. It’s an interesting series and approach which I recommend.

I used to say that it was stunning how contemporary education seems to be slow in moving in directions first suggested by Dewey a hundred years ago, then I discovered that Rousseau had said it 150 years before that. Now I find that Quntilian wrote things such as this nearly 2,000 years ago. And Marcus Aurelius, among other stoics, made much of approaches to thinking that, somehow, were put to one side as we industrialised education much as we had industrialised everything else.

This year I have accepted that we have had 2,000 years of thinking (and as much evidence when we are bold enough to experiment) and yet we just have not seen enough change. Dewey’s critique of the University is still valid. Rousseau’s lament on attaining true mastery of knowledge stands. Quintilian’s distrust of mere imitation would not be quieted when looking at much of repetitive modern examination practice.

What stops us from changing? We have more than enough evidence of discussion and thought, from some of the greatest philosophers we have seen. When we start looking at education, in varying forms, we wander across Plato, Hypatia, Hegel, Kant, Nietzsche, in addition to all of those I have already mentioned. But evidence, as it stands, does not appear to be enough, especially in the face of personal perception of achievement, contribution and outcomes, whether supported by facts or not.

Source: A Year of Beauty | Nick Falkner

January 8, 2016 at 7:44 am 4 comments

Virtual Faculty Communities of Practice to improve instructional practices

Posted to the SIGCSE-Members list — I really like this idea! Our work on DCCE showed that communities of teachers was an effective way of improving teacher’s sense of belonging and desire to improve.  Will it work for faculty?  ASEE is the organization to try!

Greetings SIGCSE,

This is a great opportunity for CS faculty to work with like-minded faculty from across the country to explore and share support for introducing new instructional practices into your classroom.  Please consider this for yourself and pass it on to your colleagues.

Engineering education research has shown that many research-based instructional approaches improve student learning but these have not diffused widely. This is because (1) faculty members find it difficult to acquire the required knowledge and skills by themselves and (2) sustaining the on-going implementation efforts without continued encouragement and support is challenging. This project will explore ways to overcome both obstacles through virtual communities.

ASEE is organizing several web-based faculty communities that will work to develop the group’s understanding of research-based instructional approaches and then support individual members as they implement self-selected new approaches in their classes. We expect participants to be open to this technology-based approach and see themselves as innovators in a new approach to professional development and continuous improvement.
The material below and the project website (http://www.asee.org/asee-vcp) provide more information about these communities and the application process. Questions should be addressed to Rocio Chavela at r.chavela@asee.org.
If you are interested in learning about effective teaching approaches and working with experienced mentors and collaborating colleagues as you begin using these in your classroom, you are encouraged to apply to this program. If you know of others that may be interested, please share this message with them.
Please consider applying for this program and encouraging potentially interested colleagues to apply. Applications are due by Friday, September 13, 2013.
 
———————————– ADDITIONAL DETAILS ABOUT THE PROGRAM ——————————–
Format
Faculty groups, which will effectively become virtual communities of practice (VCP) with 20 to 30 members, will meet weekly at a scheduled time using virtual meeting software during the second half of the Fall 2013 Semester and during the entire Spring 2014 Semester. Each group will be led by two individuals that have implemented research-based approaches for improving student learning, have acquired a reputation for innovation and leadership in their course area, and have completed a series of training sessions to prepare them to lead the virtual communities. Since participants will be expected to begin utilizing some of the new approaches with the help and encouragement of the virtual group, they should be committed to teaching a course in the targeted area during the Spring 2014 Semester.
 
VCP Topics and Meeting Times
This year’s efforts are focusing on required engineering science and design courses that are typically taught in the second and third year in each of the areas listed below.
 
Computer science
Co-leaders are Scott Grissom and Joe Tront
Meeting time is Tuesday at 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. EST starting October 29, 2013 and running until December 17, 2013
 
Application Process
Interested individuals should complete the on-line application at https://www.research.net/s/asee-vcp_application_form_cycle2. The application form asks individuals to describe their experience with relevant engineering science courses, to indicate their involvement in education research and development activities, to summarize any classroom experiences where they have tried something different in their classes, and to discuss their reasons for wanting to participate in the VCP.
 
The applicant’s Department Head or Dean needs to complete an on-line recommendation form at https://www.research.net/s/asee-vcp_recommendation_form_cycle2 to indicate plans for having the applicant teach the selected courses in the Spring 2014 Semester and to briefly discuss why participating in the VCP will be important to the applicant.
Since demonstrating that the VCP approach will benefit relatively inexperienced faculty, applicants do not need a substantial record of involvement in education research and development. For this reason, the applicant’s and the Department Head’s or Dean’s statements about the reasons for participating will be particularly important in selecting participants.
 
Application Deadline
Applications are due by Friday, September 13, 2013. The project team will review all applications and select a set of participants that are diverse in their experience, institutional setting, gender, and ethnicity.
 
————————————————–
Scott Grissom
Professor
School of Computing & Info Systems
Grand Valley State University
 

August 20, 2013 at 1:28 am 2 comments

Carl Wieman Finds Colleges Resist Measuring Teaching

I’ve just started my subscription to The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the first print issue I received had a great article about Carl Wieman, whom I have written about previously (here and here and here, for just three).  The story (online here: Crusader for Better Science Teaching Finds Colleges Slow to Change – Government – The Chronicle of Higher Education) was about his efforts to get the White House to measure teaching practices.

At the White House, Mr. Wieman tried to figure out what might actually get colleges and their faculty members to adopt proven teaching practices. His centerpiece idea was that American colleges and universities, in order to remain eligible for the billions of dollars the federal government spends annually on scientific research, should be required to have their faculty members spend a few minutes each year answering a questionnaire that would ask about their usual types of assignments, class materials, student interaction, and lecture and discussion styles.

Mr. Wieman believed that a moment or two of pondering such concepts might lead some instructors to reconsider their approaches. Also, Mr. he says, data from the responses might give parents and prospective students the power to choose colleges that use the most-proven teaching methods. He hoped the survey idea could be realized as either an act of Congress or a presidential executive order.

I hadn’t heard about this survey, but my immediate thought was, “What a great idea!”  We need better ways to measure teaching (like with Sadler’s recent work), and this seems like a great first step.  I was surprised to read the response

College leaders derided it as yet another unnecessary intrusion by government into academic matters.

“Linking federal funding for scientific research to pedagogical decisions of the faculty would have set a terrible precedent for policy makers,” said Princeton University’s Shirley M. Tilghman, one of several presidents of major research institutions who wrote to the White House to complain about Mr. Wieman’s idea. “It is naïve to think that the ‘surveys’ will not have consequences down the line.”

Wouldn’t “consequences” be a good thing?  Shouldn’t we reward schools that are doing more to improve teaching and adopt better practices?  Shouldn’t we incentivize schools to do better at teaching?  I guess I’m the one who is naïve — I was surprised that there was so much resistance.  In the end, Wieman lost the battle.  He’s now left the White House, dealing with multiple myeloma.

Perhaps the saddest line in the piece is this one:

“I’m not sure what I can do beyond what I’ve already done,” Mr. Wieman says.

Is it really impossible to get universities to take teaching seriously?

 

July 12, 2013 at 1:05 am 12 comments

Teaching Tree: A Source for CS Videos

Here’s a repository for videos that teach computer science.  Unlike Khan, it’s open to anyone to contribute.  Unlike YouTube, it’s only about teaching CS.

TeachingTree is an open platform that lets anybody organize educational content. Our goal is for students to quickly access the exact clips they need in order to learn individual concepts. Everyone is encouraged to help by adding videos or tagging concepts.

via Teaching Tree.

March 14, 2013 at 1:19 am Leave a comment

Hard to tell if Universities teach: The challenge of low-stakes testing

What a great idea!  Everybody who goes to University takes a test like the ACT or SAT.  Simply give it to them again as they’re graduating! Now you have a measure of impact — the change between the entrance test and exit test is the value added by a University.

Seems simple, but it doesn’t work. Students have a huge incentive to do well on the entrance exam, but zero incentive to do well on the exit exam.   A new study published in Education Researcher shows that the motivation really matters, and it calls into question the value of the Academically Adrift study that claimed that Colleges aren’t teaching much.  How do you know, if students don’t really have any incentive to do well on the post-intervention exams?

To test the impact of motivation, the researchers randomly assigned students to groups that received different consent forms. One group of students received a consent form that indicated that their scores could be linked to them and (in theory) help them. “[Y]our test scores may be released to faculty in your college or to potential employers to evaluate your academic ability.” The researchers referred to those in this group as having received the “personal condition.” After the students took the test, and a survey, they were debriefed and told the truth, which was that their scores would be shared only with the research team.

The study found that those with a personal motivation did “significantly and consistently” better than other students — and reported in surveys a much higher level of motivation to take the test seriously. Likewise, these student groups with a personal stake in the tests showed higher gains in the test — such that if their collective scores were being used to evaluate learning at their college, the institution would have looked like it was teaching more effectively.

via Study raises questions about common tools to assess learning in college | Inside Higher Ed.

January 8, 2013 at 7:46 am 15 comments

It’s not about the teachers, it’s about the students: In MOOCs or Classroom

I agree with the post below which suggests that MOOCs misunderstand what a good teacher does–that’s what my post earlier was about.  I’m not convinced that I agree with the author’s definition of what a teacher does.  Yes, a good teacher does all those things described in the second paragraph below, but a key part of what a teacher does is to motivate the student to learn.  Learning results from what the student does and thinks.  It’s the teacher’s job to cajole, motivate, engage, and even infuriate the student so that he or she thinks about things in a new way and learns.  In the end, it’s always about the student, and the most important thing a teacher does is to get the student to do something.

But even if Tabarrok’s model makes good economic sense, it makes bad education sense and misrepresents what genuine teaching is and what the “best” teachers actually do. For starters, unlike TED speakers, they don’t simply deliver lectures and profess. They also work with students to help them become better thinkers, readers, and writers. How?

Through personal attention (such as tutorials) and classroom interaction (such as discussions and the guided close reading of texts). By constantly testing their students’ minds against theirs, forcing them to ask the hard questions and to explain them with significant answers. And by giving them appropriate personalized feedback.

via A Cautious Word about MOOCs.

Seb Schmoller had a nice response to my Friday post, where he asked what it will take for MOOCs to engage the student and lead to the learning that a good teacher can achieve.  He included a wonderful quote from Herb Simon which really captures the key idea:

“Learning results from what the student does and thinks, and only from what the student does and thinks. The teacher can advance learning only by influencing what the student does to learn.” – Herb Simon.

January 7, 2013 at 8:23 am 2 comments

MOOCs are a fundamental misperception of how teaching works

During break (e.g., multi-hour long car rides), I gave a lot of thought to MOOCs and the changes that are coming to higher education. I realized that people can only believe that MOOCs can replace existing higher-education classes if they misunderstand what a teacher does.

MOOCs (for the most part, as they are defined in Udacity, Coursera, and edX, and as defined at Wikipedia) provide lecture-like material (typically through videos). These are broken into small pieces, and are presented with interspersed mini-quizzes. There is additional homework. Feedback is provided, either canned (the system knows what’s right and wrong) or through peer-evaluation. There is typically some kind of forum for questions and answers, and is a key part of the connectivist MOOC for “nurturing and maintaining connections.”

So why isn’t this the same as a face-to-face higher education class?

  • The main activity of a higher-education teacher is not to lecture. The main activity of a teacher is to orchestrate learning opportunities, to get students to do and think. A teacher does this most effectively by responding to the individuals in the class. I just got my student feedback on the prototyping course I taught in the Fall. What the students liked best was that I led discussions based on their questions and comments on the readings, and that I had stories and anecdotes in response to their queries. A teacher responds to the students, provides scaffolding, and helps the students increase their knowledge.
  • A teacher is an expert at teaching the topic, and the teaching is dependent on the domain. Teaching is not a generalized skill. The most effective teachers have a lot of pedagogical content knowledge — they know how to teach the domain. The same general course structure is not as effective as a course structure aimed at the domain.
  • The job of the teacher is to educate, not filter, and that includes motivating students. What’s the difference between a book and a University? You can learn from a book. Most students can’t learn as effectively on-their-own with a book as they can with a good teacher. Many self-taught learners who have only studied books lack a general overview of the field, and haven’t read the books that challenge and contradict the books that they have read and loved. A good teacher motivates students to keep going, explains why the topics are important, challenges students, points out where their understanding is lacking, and makes sure that they see more than one perspective on a topic.

If the only educated people in our society were the ones who wanted to learn (at the start, from the beginning of a class), our society would collapse. We would have too few educated workers to create innovations and maintain the technology we have. Our society depends on teachers who motivate students to persevere and learn.

There is evidence that MOOCs do not teach. We know that MOOCs have a low completion rate. What most people don’t realize is that the majority of those who complete already knew the content. MOOCs offer a one-size-fits-few model, unchanging between content domains, that does not change for individual students (I know that they hope that it will one day, but it doesn’t now), that filters and certifies those who can learn on their own. The role of education in society is to teach everyone, not just those auto-didacts who can learn in a MOOC.

Absolutely, it’s worth exploring how to make educational technology (including MOOCs) that provides learning opportunities where no teacher is available. Alan Kay encouraged us to think that way here in this blog. However, replacing good teachers with MOOCs reflects a deep misunderstanding of what a teacher does.

Please note that I am not arguing that MOOCs are bad technologies, or that they can’t be used to create wonderful learning environments.  I am explicitly critiquing the use of MOOCs as a replacement for existing courses (with a good teacher), not MOOCs as a textbook or augmentation of existing courses.

How did we get to this point, that people are seriously talking about shutting down schools in favor of MOOCs? Maybe it’s because we in Universities haven’t done enough to recognize, value, and publicize good teaching. We haven’t done enough to tell people what we do well. MOOCs do what the external world thinks that University teachers do.

January 4, 2013 at 8:34 am 127 comments

Role for research universities in promoting STEM education

I was pleased to see an essay in Inside HigherEd from a computing education researcher, Orit Hazzan.  I’ll be interested to see what happens with her new program, that seeks to create more STEM teachers from former STEM graduates.  Here’s the part that I wonder about: Will a graduate with a potentially high-paying STEM degree (say, in CS) stay in teaching when offered a better paying job in industry?  We’ve had relatively little luck making that work in Georgia.

To this end, Views invites Technion graduates back to the Technion to study toward an additional bachelor’s degree in its department of education in technology and science, which awards a teaching certificate for high school STEM subjects. Technion graduates enrolled in the Views program receive full study scholarships from the Technion for two years and are not required to commit themselves to teach in the education system. Extending the program over two academic years enables the graduates to continue working as scientists and engineers in industry in parallel to their studies (one day or two half-days each week).

Technion graduates are not required to commit themselves to teach in the education system since the knowledge they gain in the Views program is useful also in businesses, where teaching and learning processes are crucial for coping with new knowledge and technological developments on a daily basis. Thus, even if they decide not to switch to education, they will still contribute to Israel’s prosperity, but in a different way.

In its current, first year of operation (2011-12), the program started with 60 Technion graduates. Sixty percent of them are males – a fact that indicates that the Views program indeed attracts populations that traditionally do not choose education as their first choice, and who at the same time are attracted to the program.

via Essay on role for research universities in promoting STEM education | Inside Higher Ed.

October 1, 2012 at 9:16 am 4 comments

Outrage over Udacity Statistics 101: But is it really worse than others?

AngryMath’s blog post on Udacity Statistics 101 (linked below) is detailed, compelling, and damning.  It’s certainly not the best statistics course anywhere.  But I have to wonder: Is it worse than average?  It’s hard to teach statistics well (I really did try this last summer).  It’s hard to teach anything well, and there’s evidence that we need to improve our teaching in computer science.  This doesn’t feel like an indictment of MOOC courses overall.

In brief, here is my overall assessment: the course is amazingly, shockingly awful. It is poorly structured; it evidences an almost complete lack of planning for the lectures; it routinely fails to properly define or use standard terms or notation; it necessitates occasional massive gaps where “magic” happens; and it results in nonstandard computations that would not be accepted in normal statistical work. In surveying the course, some nights I personally got seriously depressed at the notion that this might be standard fare for the college lectures encountered by most students during their academic careers.

via AngryMath: Udacity Statistics 101.

September 19, 2012 at 8:42 am 5 comments

Good academic leadership as a model for good teaching

There’s a Facebook meme making the rounds:

Bosses and Leaders

I am no expert on management or leadership.  A management expert may look at the above chart and shake her head sadly about the misconceptions of the commonsense view of management.  Nonetheless, the chart sets up an interesting dichotomy that is worth exploring, in relation to academia and then to teaching.

The abrupt firing of President Teresa Sullivan from the University of Virginia raises questions about academic leadership and its goals. The below quote from a Slate article on her ouster suggests that she fit under the “Leader” column above:

The first year of Sullivan’s tenure involved hiring her own staff, provost, and administrative vice president. In her second year she had her team and set about reforming and streamlining the budget system, a process that promised to save money and clarify how money flows from one part of the university to another. This was her top priority. It was also the Board of Visitor’s top priority—at least at the time she was hired. Sullivan was rare among university presidents in that she managed to get every segment of the diverse community and varied stakeholders to buy in to her vision and plan. Everyone bought in, that is, except for a handful of very, very rich people, some of whom happen to be political appointees to the Board of Visitors. (emphasis added)

via Teresa Sullivan fired from UVA: What happens when universities are run by robber barons. – Slate Magazine.

I have known academic leaders like this.  Jim Foley is famous at Georgia Tech for generating consensus on issues.  My current school chair (ending his term this month) does a good job of engaging faculty in conversations and listening — he doesn’t always agree, but faculty opinions have swayed his choices.  Eugene Wallingford has written a good bit about how to live on the right side of the chart.

I am sure that all of us in academics have also met one or more academic bullies who land more often in the left column:

The self-righteous bully is a person who cannot accept that they could possibly be in the wrong. They are totally devoid of self-awareness and neither know nor care about the impact of their behaviour on other people. They are always right and others are always wrong. R. Namie and G. Namie (2009) described bullies as individuals who falsely believed they had more power than others did…They tend to have little empathy for the problems of the other person in the victim/bully relationship.

The bosses vs. leaders chart at the top of this post is about leadership, but it’s also about teaching.  The common view of the undergraduate teacher veers toward the “boss” and “bully” characterizations above.  We are “authorities.”  The education jobs in academia are often called “Lecturers” or “Professors.”  We lecture or profess to students — we tell them, we don’t ask them.  We “command” students to complete assignments. We strive to make our lectures “always right.”

The best teachers look more like the right side of the chart at the top.   From what we know about learning and teaching, a good teacher does “build consensus.”  We don’t want to just talk at students — we want students to believe us and buy into a new understanding.  One of my favorite education papers is “Cognitive Apprenticeship” which explicitly talks about how an effective teacher “models/shows” a skill, and “develops” and “coaches” students.  The biggest distinction between a “boss/bully” teacher and a “leader” teacher is listening to students. A good teacher “asks” them for students’ goals and interpretations. How People Learn emphasizes that we have to engage students’ prior understanding for effective learning. A good teacher sympathizes with the students’ perspectives, then responds not with a canned speech, but with a thoughtful response (perhaps in the form of an activity, not just a lecture) that develops student understanding.

I saw Eric Roberts receive the IEEE Computer Society Taylor L. Booth Education Award last week.  I told him that I was eager to try a teleprompter for the first time.  Eric said that he wouldn’t.  He said that he would respond to the moment, the audience, and the speeches of the previous recipients.  He would use the adrenalin of the moment to compose his talk on the fly.  (Eric’s a terrific speaker, so he can pull that off better than me.)  He told me that it was the same as in class — he listens and responds to the students.

At the end of this week, I’m heading off to Oxford where I’ll teach in our study abroad program there.  It will be Georgia Tech students and Georgia Tech faculty, but physically, in Oxford.  I’ll be teaching two classes: Introduction to Media Computation in Python (for my first time in seven years!) and Computational Freakonomics.  I’ve taught at Oxford Study Abroad twice before, and loved it.  Sure, Oxford is fabulous, but what I most enjoyed my past times (and what I most look forward to this time) is the teaching experience.  I have 22 students registered in MediaComp (typically 150-300/semester at Georgia Tech, depending on the size of the lecture halls available), and 10 students in CompFreak.  We will meet for 90 minutes a day (each class, so 3 hours a day for me), four days a week.  It’s an immersive experience.  We will have meals together.  Last times, I had “office hours” at my kitchen table, and in impromptu meetings at a lab after dinner.

In enormous lecture halls with literally hundreds of students, it’s not always easy to be a “leader.”  It’s easier in those settings to be the “boss” (even the “bully”), professing what’s right and ordering students to do their work.  In a setting like Oxford with smaller classes and more contact, I will have more opportunity to listen to my students, and the opportunity to develop my skills as a leader/teacher.

June 18, 2012 at 9:53 am 9 comments

Carl Wieman on Effective Teaching

This is a really nice piece on a lecture by Carl Wieman, whom I have mentioned previously.  In one page, the summary hits most of the key ideas in How People Learn.

“Memory is not talked about much in education, but it is critically important,” Wieman said, and the limited discussion that does occur focuses primarily on long-term memory while short-term working memory is ignored.

He compared the latter to a personal computer with limited RAM. “The more it is called upon to do, to remember, the harder it is to process. The average human brain [working memory] has a limit of five to six new items, it can’t handle anything more.”

A new item is anything that is not in the learner’s long-term memory, he continued. “Anything you can do to reduce unnecessary demands on working memory will improve learning.”

Among them is elimination of unnecessary jargon. Wieman asked: “That new jargon term that is so convenient to you, is it really worth using up 20% of the mental processing capacity of the students for that class period?” Demands of working memory can also be reduced by shifting some learning tasks, particularly transfer of simple information from the classroom to pre-reading assignments and homework.

via AAAS – AAAS News Release – “Nobel Laureate Carl Wieman: Effective Teaching Should Create Students Who Think Like Scientists”.

June 15, 2012 at 9:25 am 11 comments

Older Posts


Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 7,995 other followers

Feeds

Recent Posts

Blog Stats

  • 1,801,952 hits
October 2020
M T W T F S S
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
262728293031  

CS Teaching Tips