Posts tagged ‘undergraduate education’

The BlueJ Blackbox now available: large scale programming education data collection

Neil Brown announced this at ICER last week.  The new version of BlueJ now anonymously logs user actions onto a server for analysis by researchers.  I just signed up to get access to the site.  I have a couple of ideas for research projects using these data.  It’s pretty exciting: Big data comes to computing education research!

We have begun a data collection project, called Blackbox, to record the actions of BlueJ users. We’re inviting all the BlueJ users (with the latest version, 3.1.0, onwards) to take part. About 2 months in to the project, we already have 25,000 users who have agreed to take part, with 1,000 sending us data each day. Based on current estimates, I expect that in November 2013 we should see around 5,000 users sending data each day, with a total of over 100,000 users. Rather than hoarding the data, we are making this data available to other computing education researchers for use in their own research, so that we can all benefit from this project.

via Blackbox: large scale programming education data collection | Academic Computing.

August 27, 2013 at 1:34 am 3 comments

Colleges Fight to Retain Interest of STEM Majors: Computing, too

This is our problem in computing, too.  If students have never seen a computer science course before coming to college, they won’t know what hits them when they walk in the door.

Experts estimate that less than 40 percent of students who enter college as STEM majors actually wind up earning a degree in science, technology, engineering or math.

Those who don’t make it to the finish line typically change course early on. Just ask Mallory Hytes Hagan, better known as Miss America 2013.

Hagan enrolled at Auburn University as a biomedical science major, but transferred to the Fashion Institute of Technology a year later to pursue a career in cosmetics and fragrance marketing.

“I found out I wasn’t as prepared as I should be,” Hagan said during a panel discussion today at the 2013 U.S. News STEM Solutions conference in Austin. “I hit that first chem lab and thought, ‘Whoa. What’s going on?'”

via Colleges Fight to Retain Interest of STEM Majors – US News and World Report.

July 15, 2013 at 1:33 am 2 comments

Google Finally Admits That Its Infamous Brainteasers Were Completely Useless for Hiring

Google has found that being great at puzzles doesn’t lead to being a good employee.  They also found that GPA’s aren’t good predictors either.

Nathan Ensmenger could have told them that.  His history The Computer Boys Take Over shows how the relationship between academic mathematics and brainteasers with computer science hiring was mostly an accident.  Human resources people were desperate to find more programmers.  They used brainteasers and mathematics to filter candidates because that’s what the people who started in computing were good at.  Several studies found that those brainteasers and math problems were good predictors of success in academic CS classes — but they didn’t predict success at being a programmer!

How many people have been flunked out of computer science because they couldn’t pass Calculus — and yet knowing calculus doesn’t help with being a programmer at all?!?

You can stop counting how many golfballs will fit in a schoolbus now. Google has admitted that the headscratching questions it once used to quiz job applicants (How many piano tuners are there in the entire world? Why are manhole covers round?) were utterly useless as a predictor of who will be a good employee.”We found that brainteasers are a complete waste of time,” Laszlo Bock, senior vice president of people operations at Google, told the New York Times. “They don’t predict anything. They serve primarily to make the interviewer feel smart.”

via Google Finally Admits That Its Infamous Brainteasers Were Completely Useless for Hiring – Adam Pasick – The Atlantic.

July 4, 2013 at 1:15 am 11 comments

Interaction between Geek-Boy Culture, Gender Diversity, and Education

A nice piece making the argument that we can’t fix the computing employment shortage without diversifying our labor pool.

I found this quote (further along from the quote and link below):  “Geeks often have a hostile relationship to formal education. Rather than sit through a pre-programmed curriculum with problems and solutions laid out in advance, geeks like to tinker and hack to solve new problems and innovate.”  If that’s true (and I believe it is), why are geeks advancing MOOCs, which are as formal and pre-programmed as you can get?

Despite a deserved reputation for progressiveness, the tech sector is highly exclusionary to those who don’t fit the geek stereotype–and this tendency is getting worse, especially in Silicon Valley. You might have heard, based on 2011 numbers, that only 25 percent of the U.S. high tech workforce is female, and the percentages have been in steady decline since the nineties. The numbers for minority women are even more dismal. Hispanic women represent 1 percent of the high tech workforce, and African-American women don’t fare much better, at 3 percent. The better the jobs, the lower the proportions are of women and non-Asian minorities. Despite the diversity of the population of the region, Silicon Valley, which boasts the highest salaries among tech regions, fares much worse than the national numbers.

via The Geek-Boy Irony Behind Mark Zuckerberg’s Tech Lobby ⚙ Co.Labs ⚙ code + community.

June 7, 2013 at 1:27 am 3 comments

New book: “A practical guide to gender diversity for CS faculty”

Diana Franklin has just published a new book with Morgan & Claypool, A Practical Guide to Gender Diversity for Computer Science Faculty.  This is exciting to see.  I can’t recommend it yet, just because I haven’t read it. What’s great is that it’s a book on how to teach computing — and there are just far too few of those.  Other than the Logo books and the Guide to Teaching CS (from Orit Hazzan et al.), there’s not much to help new CS teachers.  So glad that Diana has written this book!

Computer science faces a continuing crisis in the lack of females pursuing and succeeding in the field. Companies may suffer due to reduced product quality, students suffer because educators have failed to adjust to diverse populations, and future generations suffer due to a lack of role models and continued challenges in the environment. In this book, we draw on the latest research in sociology, psychology, and education to first identify why we should be striving for gender diversity (beyond social justice), refuting misconceptions about the differing potentials between females and males. We then provide a set of practical types (with brief motivations) for improving your work with undergraduates taking your courses. This is followed by in-depth discussion of the research behind the tips, presenting obstacles that females face in a number of areas. Finally, we provide tips for advising undergraduate independent projects or graduate students, supporting female faculty, and initiatives requiring action at the institutional level (department or above).

via Morgan & Claypool Publishers – Synthesis Lectures on Professionalism and Career Advancement for Scientists and Engineers – 1(2):1 – Abstract.

June 3, 2013 at 1:42 am 2 comments

College Halls: What a lovely opposite-of-MOOC idea

Vanderbilt is developing the value of residential colleges and naming top faculty to direct those Halls.

College Halls at Vanderbilt continues the university’s commitment, which started with The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons for first-year students, to creating engaging living and learning communities. Faculty in residence serve as mentors and guide these academic learning environments, which are designed to make all students feel welcome to participate and contribute ideas and experiences at Vanderbilt.

Moore College and Warren College will open in fall 2014 to a combination of sophomores, juniors and seniors.

via Faculty directors named for new College Halls | News | Vanderbilt University.

May 13, 2013 at 1:47 am 1 comment

Tech Training May Provide Fatter Paychecks Than 4-Year Degrees, Study Finds

I find the result dubious, because they took only starting salaries as the comparison point.  Do the following years leave those with shallower education “stuck in the shallow end”?  But the point quoted below is clearly right — we need to know more about the downstream salaries.  I’m not sure that we don’t have the data to answer the question.  Aren’t there salary surveys in the Tech industry all the time?  Doesn’t the BLS know about salaries?

The College Measures study makes the case for looking at the short-term gain. It found that, one year after graduation, those with two-year technical degrees earned, on average, more than $50,000, about $11,000 more than graduates with bachelor’s degrees. And compared with graduates of two-year colleges who had focused on academic subjects, those with technical degrees were making about $30,000 more.

Those who went on to receive master’s degrees earned, on average, $63,340, or $24,000 more than the median first-year earnings of those who stopped with a bachelor’s degree.

Mark Schneider, president of College Measures and a vice president of the American Institutes for Research, acknowledged in an interview on Thursday that the salary someone makes one year after graduation doesn’t necessarily reflect a person’s lifetime earnings potential. Many educators point out that, with rapidly changing work-force needs, students who complete narrowly focused technical degrees or certificates might land lucrative jobs right away but struggle to move on if those jobs dry up.

“We’ve all heard about the philosophy majors who start out as baristas at Starbucks and go on to become barristers, and the person with a technical degree who’s going to be replaced by robots,” Mr. Schneider said. But when it comes to tracking salaries 10 years down the road, “the truth is, we don’t know.”

via Tech Training May Provide Fatter Paychecks Than 4-Year Degrees, Study Finds – Students – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

May 7, 2013 at 1:39 am 3 comments

Coding boot camps promise to launch tech careers – but beyond launch?

This strikes me as a good way to become stuck in the shallow end — learn enough to be employed on the first day, don’t know enough to transfer to tomorrow’s technology.  What we know about transfer is that knowing something well is more likely to transfer than knowing several things at a shallow level.  It seems contradictory, but it’s true: Knowing today’s technology  well serves you better for learning tomorrow’s technology.

Dev Bootcamp, which calls itself an “apprenticeship on steroids,” is one of a new breed of computer-programming school that’s proliferating in San Francisco and other U.S. tech hubs. These “hacker boot camps” promise to teach students how to write code in two or three months and help them get hired as web developers, with starting salaries between $80,000 and $100,000, often within days or weeks of graduation.

“We’re focused on extreme employability,” said Shereef Bishay, who co-founded Dev Bootcamp 15 months ago. “Every single skill you learn here you’ll apply on your first day on the job.”

via Coding boot camps promise to launch tech careers –

April 17, 2013 at 1:29 am 3 comments

Reaching an intellectual peak: Should Everyone Go to College?

Ann Sobel has an article in IEEE Computer asking “Should everyone go to College?”  as part of a special issue on education.  Her answer is, “No.”  She might be right, but I disagree with her argument.  For example, below she suggests that students should avoid college if they “have already reached their intellectual peak.” Modern cognitive science suggests that fluid intelligence “peaks” in students’ 20’s, but other forms of intelligence develop and grow throughout one’s life.

I’m particularly concerned about this article appearing in IEEE Computer.  Thinking that high school is enough for a computing job is (a) wrong and (b) counter-productive at the high school level, since it encourages the instruction to be more vocational and less about developing computing concepts that could be used in post-secondary instruction.  I’m particularly worried about what an emphasis on high school computing education means for under-represented minorities.  A high-school only IT job will earn, on average, far less than a college degree IT job.  Emphasizing high school IT jobs may mean trapping more under-represented minorities “in the shallow end.”

Ann identifies several important issues that prevent students from succeeding in college, like lack of adequate preparation and cost.  I see those as challenges to be addressed, not roadblocks.  If the context of the piece is taken seriously (i.e., high school degrees as preparation for jobs like those of IEEE Computer readers), then we have to consider the far more considerable issues of inadequate numbers and preparation for teachers.  We are challenged to produce enough high school teachers to cover Exploring CS or CS:Principles, both of which de-emphasize programming compared to a traditional CS1.  If we wanted students to be ready to get an IT job right out of high school, they better learn some serious vocational computing skills, from network management, to database administration, to low-level coding.  How are we going to develop enough high school teachers to teach all of that?!?

Here’s my bottom-line: “Should everyone go to college?”  If you want a job in computing, yes.

Students can attend a community college to help improve these test scores, but this route doesn’t always work, particularly when students have already reached their intellectual peak. While students have the potential for intellectual growth, if they can’t grow sufficiently, they should be supported in considering myriad rewarding career paths that don’t require a college degree.

via Computing Now | Should Everyone Go to College?.

February 13, 2013 at 1:36 am 4 comments

The future of the university with MOOCs: It’s all about the individual

Interesting piece in Inside HigherEd which argues that the real impact of MOOCs on the University is to get the University out of the business of engaging students and working to improve completion, retention, and graduation rates.  Nobody gets into the University until proven by MOOC.  And since so few people complete the MOOCs, the percentage of the population with degrees may plummet.

Constructing this future will take some time, but not much time.  It only requires the adaptation of various existing mechanisms for providing proctored exams worldwide and a revenue and expense model that allows all the providers (university and faculty content providers, MOOC middleware providers, and quality control providers) to establish profitable fee structures.  In this model, the risk and cost of student engagement is borne by the students alone.  The university assumes no responsibility for student success other than identifying quality courses.  The MOOC middleware companies create and offer the content through sophisticated Internet platforms available to everyone but make no representations about the likelihood of student achievement.  Indeed, many student participants may seek only participation not completion. The quality control enterprise operates on a fee-for-service basis that operates without much concern for the number of students that pass or fail the various proctored tests of content acquisition, and many participants in MOOC activities may not want to engage the quality control system.

via MOOCs and the Future of the University | Inside Higher Ed.

January 28, 2013 at 1:18 am 6 comments

More Universities Should Teach Computer Science and Not be Shut Down

Following the announced restructuring of the University of Florida CS program and this classic quote about how Yale shouldn’t be in the business of teaching “trade skills” (meaning, applied software engineering), I’m going to argue that more (not all, but more) academic computer science programs should be shut down or reorganized.

via More Universities Should Shut Down Their Computer Science Programs | Jeffrey McManus.

That’s an interesting claim. Unfortunately, the argument isn’t very convincing..

1. Most undergraduates and professionals actually want to learn applied software engineering, not “computer science.” So? That’s not all that industry most wants to hire. That’s not what society most needs.

2. University undergraduates are not discriminating consumers of education. Agreed, which again gets back to why we would care (in Step #1) that that’s what undergraduates think that they want.

3. It should not be necessary for two universities located within commuting distance of each other to have the same academic department. I guess it depends on how large you can make the classrooms and how effective the teachers are at motivating large groups of students to reach completion. Part of the growth of universities has been spurred on by increased demand. I’m not sure how this statement fits into the overall argument.

4. Applied software engineering is a discipline that lends itself to being effectively taught online. Definitely an intriguing claim, but I’m not sure that I agree. Really good software engineering is a design activity, which is best learned in a reflective apprenticeship setting — the kind of high-bandwidth communication that we can’t do yet well on-line. Further, online learning is still hard to do with multiple modalities (yes, you can watch a video, but you can’t read the screen well; and the tools to provide audio narration for clearly-readable code are still developing), and there’s evidence to believe that multiple modalities are key to learning to read code well.

5. Most university computer courses simply aren’t that good if your goal is to get a job doing applied software engineering. I might be willing to agree here, but it’s not clear (a) that we should be teaching only applied software engineering in universities, (b) that students most need applied software engineering, and (c) that it’s not better for everyone (industry, society, students) to aim to teach CS better.

6. University academic departments in general should have limited charters and should be reorganized frequently. That’s another interesting claim, and one I might support, but still doesn’t seem connected to the argument that University CS departments should be shut down.

December 5, 2012 at 9:33 am 2 comments

How do we measure the value of a degree to society?

I enjoyed this blog post from “Gas stations without pumps,” where he talks about how we value the “private good” value of a college education. But given the interesting distinction he makes in the first paragraph (below), I wonder if we could measure the value of a degree to a society, rather than to a person. How much good does it do the society and the economy for someone to earn their college degree? I’ve read evidence that dropouts have a high cost to society, but I don’t know how to measure the value that society gets by having someone finish. It’s an important question, as the cost of higher education gets increasingly shifted to the individual.

The ongoing privatization of higher education in the USA is driven largely by a view of education as a private good (of benefit primarily to the one receiving the education) rather than a public good (where society as a whole reaps the benefit of an educated populace). To make the “private good” view work, one has to convince people that there is a substantial benefit to the recipients of the education that far exceeds any benefit to society. This has generally been done in crassly monetary terms, talking about the earnings of graduates compared to those with less education (generally in lifetime earning terms, to make the differences appear as large as possible). By using a purely monetary assessment, one can conveniently ignore all the other effects on society, and pretend that education is purely a private investment in increasing earning potential.

via How much is a degree worth? « Gas station without pumps.

November 28, 2012 at 5:58 am 1 comment

Berkeley talking about compulsory computing

Cool!  Glad to see the discussion!  Mike Hewner’s dissertation really supports the argument for requiring computer science of everyone and making it enjoyable, as a strategy to get people to explore computer science (the ACM/WGBH study suggests that few students will explore academic CS unless it’s put in their path) which creates the opportunity for students deciding to pursue more computer science.

Why doesn’t UC Berkeley require — or at least strongly encourage — nonmajors to take computer science? For a few reasons, none of which are particularly compelling. The computer science department would need to accommodate many more students. And the department would likely need to create a suite of introductory courses, rather than simply dramatically expanding its existing course for nonmajors, according to Garcia. This would be a challenge, Garcia says, but it’d be a worthwhile one.

Some people will no doubt charge that requiring a computing course would undermine the ideal of a liberal arts education by making the Letters and Science curriculum too focused on vocational preparation rather than intellectual exploration. But the terrible job market has already put the concept of a pure liberal arts education under scrutiny. If the liberal arts are to retain their credibility, they must be adapted to reflect changing economic realities. Not to mention the fact that, as Garcia and others have argued, computational literacy is a fundamental skill in the 21st century — it has nearly as strong a claim to a place in the liberal arts curriculum as reading or writing.

via Compulsory computing? | The Daily Californian.

November 19, 2012 at 8:32 am 4 comments

MOOCing an analogy between teachers and John Henry: But maybe it’s students?

I wrote my monthly Blog@CACM piece this last weekend, which was a synthesis of several pieces I wrote here: About the worked examples that I’m trying out in Oxford, the PixelSpreadsheet, and contrasting the study abroad I’m teaching on and MOOCs.  I mention that I’m doing an end-of-term survey about how all this worked, and I expect to say more about those results here in the next couple weeks.

In the Blog@CACM piece, I mention an analogy I’ve been thinking about.  (Please forgive the terrible pun in the title.)  John Henry is an American folk hero who worked on the railroads “driving steel.”  Along comes the steam-powered hammer, which threatened the job of steel-drivers like John Henry.  John Henry raced the steam-powered hammer, and beat it — but suffered a heart attack and died immediately afterwards.  In some versions of the story, John Henry’s wife or son picks up his hammer and keeps driving steel.  But as we all know, the steam-powered hammer did drive the steel-drivers out of a job.

I wonder about the analogy to higher education.  The Internet makes information cheaper and easier to access.  Teachers play the role of John Henry in this analogy.  Sure, they may do a better job than that steam-powered education, but cheap and plentiful is more important than quality, isn’t it?  Taking the analogy in a different direction, the teachers who are building the new Coursera courses at Universities with no additional pay or course/work release remind me of the John Henry who suffered exhaustion and “died with a hammer in his hand.”

Colleagues who went to the Google Faculty Summit came back with stories of how MOOC’s were part of the conversation there.  I heard that my advisor, Elliot Soloway, stood up to say:

 “I’m at the University of Michigan where in addition to our university we have Central Michigan, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan, etc.  In five years, those schools will be gone.”

That’s when I realized another potential casualty in the battle over MOOCs, if Elliot is right.  My niece went to Central Michigan to get a degree in Occupational Therapy.  Today, she works with special needs children, with both physical and cognitive impairments.  There are only a couple of OT programs in the state of Michigan, and none at U-M.  Can you imagine teaching students how to provide therapy to patients with physical impairments via MOOCs?!?  (Relates to “Gas Stations Without Pumps” on what works as a Coursera course.)  How do we teach everything that we want and need to teach if only elite universities and MOOC’s exist for higher education?  Is the role of John Henry in the higher education version of the analogy played by teachers (as in my original blog post), by degree programs that don’t fit these models, or by the students who seek to do something other than what the elites and MOOCs offer?

It’s over-the-top melodramatic, I admit, but that’s what makes for good folklore.  Folklore and similar stories play a useful purpose if they help us to see new perspectives.  In the vision of the world where community colleges don’t survive, who gets wiped out (besides the Colleges themselves) like John Henry?

August 3, 2012 at 2:27 am 13 comments

New PCAST report talks about SIGCSE

Pretty cool!  The latest PCAST (President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology) report is on “ENGAGE TO EXCEL: PRODUCING ONE MILLION ADDITIONAL COLLEGE GRADUATES WITH DEGREES IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, ENGINEERING, AND MATHEMATICS.”  CS Education plays a significant role in this, and SIGCSE gets a few mentions!

February 16, 2012 at 9:48 am 1 comment

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