Posts tagged ‘undergraduates’

Seeking Data: What’s happening at your school as you cap CS major enrollment?

I’m just back from the 2019 NCWIT Summit (see link here), which was amazing — as always. I talked to people at schools who have instituted caps on undergraduate CS enrollment, and I’m hearing stories that I didn’t expect.  I’d love to hear your experience at your school.  Are you seeing these things?

  • One story is that students are taking and re-taking (“2-3 times”) the early classes, to get high enough grades to get past the grade cap.  Thus, the GPA grade cap has actually increased enrollment pressure on earlier classes.
  • Because of these course repeats, students are (presumably) taking longer to graduate. I didn’t talk to anyone with data on that — maybe it’s too soon, since caps are within the last 3-5 years at most institutions?
  • I was also hearing about incredible pressure that students are feeling because of the grade caps.  We expected to see impacts on enrollment for under-represented groups, but these reports say that everyone has increased stress because of the grade caps. The caps are leading to damage to department climate and even a spike in mental health issues. (I heard some pretty horrible stories.)

These are all just anecdote. I’m not sure how to cast a wider net for more information, but this blog might be a place to start.  Could you share your reports on how enrollment caps are impacting your course enrollment at the lower levels, on time to graduation, and on departmental climate (or other issues)? Thanks!


May 17, 2019 at 7:00 am 9 comments

Comparing performance in learning computer science between countries

Imagine that you are a high school chemistry teacher, and you’re convinced that you have developed a terrific way to teach the basic introductory to chemistry course. Your students do terrific on all your assessments and go on to success in chemistry in college. You decide that you want to test yourself — are your students really as good as you think they are?

You reach out to some friends in other schools and ask them to give your final exam to their students. You are careful about picking the other schools so that they’re really comparable along dimensions like student wealth, size of school, and student demographics. Your friends are willing, but they just have a few of their students take the test. You don’t know really how they pick. Maybe it’s the best students. Maybe it’s the students who need remedial help. Maybe it’s a punishment for students in detention. Of course, all of your students take the final exam.

In the end, you have lots of YOUR students who took YOUR exam, and you have a handful of other students. Your friends (who likely don’t teach like you) give you a few tests from their students. Is it at all surprising that your students will likely out-score the friends’ students?

That’s how I read this paper from Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the US: “Computer science skills across China, India, Russia, and the United States.” The authors are quite careful about picking schools to compare, along dimensions of how “elite” the schools are. I’m quite willing to believe that there is a range of schools with different results along an “elite” spectrum.

They over-sample from the United States, compared to the population of these countries:

Altogether, 678 seniors from China (119 from elite programs), 364 seniors from India (71 from elite programs), and 551 seniors from Russia (116 from elite programs) took the examination…We also obtained assessment data on 6,847 seniors from a representative sample of CS programs in the United States (607 from elite programs).

The test they use is the “Major Field Test” from ETS. I don’t know that it’s a bad test. I do suspect that it’s US-centric. It’s like the final exam from our Chemistry teacher in my example. Compare that to the TIMSS assessments that go to great lengths to make sure that the data are contextualized and that the assessments are fair for everyone.

Maybe the results are true. Maybe US computer science students are far better than comparable CS students in Russia, China, and India. I’m just not convinced by this study.

May 6, 2019 at 7:00 am 2 comments

Preparing students for a research career: Gregory Abowd’s 30 PhD Graduates

Georgia Tech’s School of Interactive Computing did an article on my friend Gregory Abowd and his 30 PhD graduates, many of whom have continued in academia. You can find the article here.

The “Abowd family” is a real thing. The article ends talking about how Gregory and his students and their students get together at conferences. I’ve seen pictures of these events. There’s a strong sense of kinship and support in the group, inspired by Gregory.

Here at the University of Michigan, we have just hired two second-generation members of the Abowd family. Gabriela Marcu (see webpage here) and Nikola Banovic (see webpage here) both earned their PhD’s at CMU, working with former Gregory students Jen Mankoff and Anind Dey (who have now moved to U. Washington).  What’s striking to me about both Gabriela and Nikola is that they started down the path to academic research by doing undergraduate research with other Abowd graduates: Gillian Hayes at Irvine and Khai Troung at Toronto (respectively).

What does it take to support future academic researchers while they are still undergraduates?  Obviously, we don’t want all of our undergraduates to become researchers. But we need some. Academic researchers in computing perform a useful and important role. We particularly want more women getting into computing research, and kudos to Google for awarding fifteen grants to promote more women getting into computing research (see article here). We do not have enough CS academics today (as I described in this blog post), and that’s part of the struggle in dealing with the enrollment boom. So we want more — how do we get them?  What do we do at the undergraduate level to make it more likely that we get graduates like Gabriela and Nikola?

We need to expect that CS undergraduates will have careers other than software developers. We often build our undergraduate programs assuming that all of our graduates will become software developers, or will manage software developers. But you can do a lot with a CS degree. We have to build into our programs the features that will help students succeed in the career that they choose, including becoming academic researchers.

One of my colleagues in the Engineering Education Research program here, Joi Mondisa, researches mentoring. She just gave the first EER Seminar, and talked about the importance of being “treated/advised like family.”  Mentors give their mentees honest and valuable advice as if the mentee were a family member.

I suspect that that’s part of Gregory’s success — that the notion of being in the “Abowd family” is something that the members feel and actively participate in. That’s likely a lesson that we can use in the future. Personal mentoring relationships play a big role in encouraging future researchers.  I don’t know how to build personal “like family” research relationships into an undergraduate program, especially at the enrollment scales we see today. But it’s an important problem to think about, both because we should support a variety of outcomes for our CS undergraduates and because one way of managing the enrollment crisis is to grow more CS faculty.


September 28, 2018 at 7:00 am 3 comments

Workshops for New Computing Faculty in Summer 2018: Both Research and Teaching Tracks

This is our fourth year, and our last NSF-funded year, for the New Computing Faculty Workshops which will be held August 5-10, 2018 in San Diego. The goal of the workshops is to help new computing faculty to be better and more efficient teachers. By learning a little about teaching, we will help new faculty (a) make their teaching more efficient and effective and (b) make their teaching more enjoyable. We want students to learn more and teachers to have fun teaching them. The workshops were described in Communications of the ACM in the May 2017 issue (see article here) which I talked about in this blog post. The workshop will be run by Beth Simon (UCSD), Cynthia Bailey Lee (Stanford), Leo Porter (UCSD), and Mark Guzdial (Georgia Tech).

This year, for the first time, we will offer two separate workshop tracks:

  • August 5-7 will be offered to tenure-track faculty starting at research-intensive institutions.
  • August 8-10 will be offered to faculty starting a teaching-track job at any school, or a tenure-track faculty line at a primarily undergraduate serving institution where evaluation is heavily based in teaching.

This year we added new organizers, Ben Shapiro (Boulder) for the research-intensive track, and Helen Hu (Westminster) and Colleen Lewis (Harvey Mudd) for the teaching-intensive track.

The new teaching-oriented faculty track is being added this year due to enthusiasm and feedback we heard from past participants and would-be participants. When I announced the workshops last year (see post here), we heard complaints (a little on email, and a lot on Twitter) asking why we were only including research-oriented faculty and institutions. We did have teaching-track faculty come to our last three years of new faculty workshops that were research-faculty focused, and unfortunately those participants were not satisfied. They didn’t get what they wanted or needed as new faculty. Yes, the sessions on peer instruction and how to build a syllabus were useful for everyone. But the teaching-track faculty also wanted to know how to set up their teaching portfolio, how to do research with undergraduate students, and how to get good student evaluations, and didn’t really care about how to minimize time spent preparing for teaching and how to build up a research program with graduate students while still enjoying teaching undergraduate students.

So, this year we made a special extension request to NSF, and we are very pleased to announce that the request was granted and we are able to offer two different workshops. The content will have substantial overlap, but with a different focus and framing in each.

To apply for registration, To apply for registration, please apply to the appropriate workshop based on the type of your position: research-focused position or teaching-focused position Admission will be based on capacity, grant limitations, fit to the workshop goals, and application order, with a maximum of 40 participants. Apply on or before June 21 to ensure eligibility for workshop hotel accommodation. (We will notify respondents by June 30.)

Many thanks to Cynthia Lee who helped a lot with this post

June 12, 2018 at 6:00 am 1 comment

Facts that conflict with identity can lead to rejection: Teaching outside the mainstream

Thought-provoking piece on NPR.  Take parents who believe that the MMR vaccine causes autism.  Show them the evidence that that’s not true.  They might tell you that they believe you — but they become even less likely to vaccinate future children.  What?!?

The explanation (quoted below) is that these parents found a sense of identity in their role as vaccine-deniers.  They rejected the evidence at a deeply personal level, even if they cognitively seemed to buy it.

I wonder if this explains a phenomenon I’ve seen several times in CS education: teaching with a non-traditional but pedagogically-useful tool leads to rejection because it’s not the authentic/accepted tool.  I saw it as an issue of students being legitimate peripheral participants in a community of practice. Identity conflict offers a different explanation for why students (especially the most experienced) reject Scheme in CS1, or the use of IDE’s other than Eclipse, or even CS teacher reaction when asked not to use the UNIX command line.  It’s a rejection of their identity.

An example: I used to teach object-oriented programming and user interface software using Squeak.  I had empirical evidence that it really worked well for student learning.  But students hated it — especially  the students who knew something about OOP and UI software.  “Why aren’t we using a real language?  Real OOP practitioners use Java or C++!”  I could point to Alan Kay’s quote, “I invented the term Object-Oriented, and I can tell you I did not have C++ in mind.”  That didn’t squelch their anger and outrage.  I’ve always interpreted their reaction to the perceived inauthenticity of Squeak — it’s not what the majority of programmers used.  But I now wonder if it’s about a rejection of an identity.  Students might be thinking, “I already know more about OOP than this bozo of a teacher! This is who I am! And I know that you use Java or C++!”  Even showing them evidence that Squeak was more OOP, or that it could do anything they could do in Java or C++ (and some things that they couldn’t do in Java or C++) didn’t matter.  I was telling them facts, and they were arguing about identity.

What Nyhan seems to be finding is that when you’re confronted by information that you don’t like, at a certain level you accept that the information might be true, but it damages your sense of self-esteem. It damages something about your identity. And so what you do is you fight back against the new information. You try and martial other kinds of information that would counter the new information coming in. In the political realm, Nyhan is exploring the possibility that if you boost people’s self-esteem before you give them this disconfirming information, it might help them take in the new information because they don’t feel as threatened as they might have been otherwise.

via When It Comes To Vaccines, Science Can Run Into A Brick Wall : NPR.

March 31, 2014 at 1:13 am 36 comments

Revamped computer science classes attracting more girls: Maybe, or maybe they just want CS

Great to see Dan Garcia and his class getting this kind of press!  I’m not sure I buy the argument that SFGate is making, though.  Do female students at Berkeley find out about this terrific class and then decide to take it?  Or are they deciding to take some CS and end up in this class?  Based on Mike Hewner’s work, I don’t think that students know much about the content of even great classes like Dan’s before they get there.

It is a predictable college scene, but this Berkeley computer science class is at the vanguard of a tech world shift. The class has 106 women and 104 men.

The gender flip first occurred last spring. It was the first time since at least 1993 – as far back as university enrollment records are digitized – that more women enrolled in an introductory computer science course. It was likely the first time ever.

It’s a small but a significant benchmark. Male computer science majors still far outnumber female, but Prof. Dan Garcia’s class is a sign that efforts to attract more women to a field where they have always been vastly underrepresented are working.

“We are starting to see a shift,” said Telle Whitney, president of the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology.

via Revamped computer science classes attracting more girls – SFGate.

March 26, 2014 at 1:05 am 1 comment

The Joy of Teaching Computer Science in the Age of Facebook: Interview with Mehran Sahami

Great interview with Stanford’s Mehran Sahami.  I think he has his finger on what’s influencing students going into CS today.

And now a lot more students everywhere are choosing to major in computer science.

In terms of that trend turning around, part of it is the recovery in the high-tech economy, part of it is a change in perception. When people see companies like Google and Facebook being founded by relatively young people, they feel empowered and think: I can do that. And there’s the realization that the demand for computing, at least looking out over the next ten years, is certainly going to be there.

What are the factors that are still holding students back from studying computer science?

The problem is the educational opportunities. You take your average high school, and kids have several years of math classes, they have several years of science classes, several years of English, options for various kinds of vocational training, or history, or economics. But very few schools actually offer real computer science classes. So students don’t get the exposure in high school, of those who go to college, some have never considered computing before because they don’t really know what it is. One of the phenomena we see at Stanford is that the vast majority of our students, 90 percent of undergrads, take computer science classes even though there’s no requirement to do so. Some of them take it and end up loving it, but it’s too late to major in computer science. Had they been exposed to computer science earlier on, they could’ve started at a point that would allow them to pursue this as a major and as a career. When you take your first class your senior year and realize you love it, but you’re going to graduate in another quarter, you can’t complete a major. If there are more of those opportunities earlier in the pipeline, it will help address this.

via The Joy of Teaching Computer Science in the Age of Facebook – Hope Reese – The Atlantic.

March 10, 2014 at 1:08 am Leave a comment

Shortage in the IT U.S. labor market? Or just a lack of graduates?

Is the shortage of STEM graduates a myth, as IEEE has been arguing recently?  Is the case for IT different than the case for STEM overall?

I found the analysis linked below interesting.  Most IT workers do not have an IT-related degree.  People with CS degrees are getting snapped up.  The suggestion is that there’s not a shortage of IT workers, because IT workers are drawn from many disciplines.  There may be a shortage of IT workers who have IT training.

IT workers, who make up 59 percent of the entire STEM workforce, are predominantly drawn from fields outside of computer science and mathematics, if they have a college degree at all. Among the IT workforce, 36 percent do not have a four-year college degree; of those who do, only 38 percent have a computer science or math degree, and more than a third (36 percent) do not have a science or technology degree of any kind. Overall, less than a quarter (24 percent) of the IT workforce has at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or math. Of the total IT workforce, two-thirds to three-quarters do not have a technology degree of any type (only 11 percent have an associate degree in any field).4

Although computer science graduates are only one segment of the overall IT workforce, at 24 percent, they are the largest segment by degree (as shown in Figure F, they are 46 percent of college graduates entering the IT workforce, while nearly a third of graduates entering IT do not have a STEM degree). The trend in computer scientist supply is important as a source of trained graduates for IT employers, particularly for the higher-skilled positions and industries, but it is clear that the IT workforce actually draws from a pool of graduates with a broad range of degrees.

via Guestworkers in the high-skill U.S. labor market: An analysis of supply, employment, and wage trends | Economic Policy Institute.

February 13, 2014 at 1:16 am 6 comments

Researchers cast doubt about early warning systems’ effect on retention

CS researchers have long been interested in what predicts success in introductory computing, e.g., the “camel has two humps” paper, and the Bennedsen and Caspersen review of the literature.  Would knowing who might succeed or fail allow us to boost retention?  A new system at Purdue was claimed to do exactly that, but turns out, isn’t.

Michael Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University at Vancouver, decided to take a closer look at Signals after Purdue in a September press release claimed taking two Signals-enabled courses increased students’ six-year graduation rate by 21.48 percent. Caulfield described Purdue research scientist Matt Pistilli’s statement that “two courses is the magic number” as “maddening.”

Comparing the retention rates of the 2007 and 2009 cohorts, Caulfield suggested much of what Purdue described as data analysis just measured how many courses students took. As Signals in 2008 left its pilot and more students across campus enrolled in at least one such course, Caulfield found the retention effect “disappeared completely.”

Put another way, “students are taking more … Signals courses because they persist, rather than persisting because they are taking more Signals courses,” Caulfield wrote.

via Researchers cast doubt about early warning systems’ effect on retention | Inside Higher Ed.

December 2, 2013 at 1:41 am Leave a comment

Lessons Learned From First Year College MOOCs at Georgia Tech (and SJSU)

Karen Head has finished her series on how well the freshman-composition course fared (quoted and linked below), published in The Chronicle. The stats were disappointing — only about 238 of the approximately 15K students who did the first homework finished the course. That’s even less than the ~10% we saw completing other MOOCs.

Georgia Tech also received funding from the Gates Foundation to trial a MOOC approach to a first year of college physics course.  I met with Mike Schatz last Friday to talk about his course.  The results were pretty similar: 20K students signed up, 3K students completed the first assignment, and only 170 finished.  Mike had an advantage that Karen didn’t — there are standardized tests for measuring the physics knowledge he was testing, and he used those tests pre-post.  Mike said the completers fell into three categories: those who came in with a lot of physics knowledge and who ended with relatively little gain, those who came in with very little knowledge and made almost no progress, and a group of students who really did learn alot.  They don’t know why nor the relative percentages yet.

The report from the San Jose State University MOOC experiment with a remedial mathematics course came out with the argument:

The researchers also say, perhaps unsurprisingly, that what mattered most was how hard students worked. “Measures of student effort trump all other variables tested for their relationships to student success,” they write, “including demographic descriptions of the students, course subject matter, and student use of support services.”

It’s not surprising, but it is relevant.  Students need to make effort to learn.  New college students, especially first generation college students (i.e., whose parents have never gone to college), may not know how much effort is needed.  Who will be most effective at communicating that message about effort and motivating that effort — a video of a professor, or an in-person professor who might even learn your name?

As Gary May, our Dean of Engineering, recently wrote in an op-ed essay published in Inside Higher Ed, “The prospect of MOOCs replacing the physical college campus for undergraduates is dubious at best. Other target audiences are likely better-suited for MOOCs.”

On the freshman-composition MOOC, Karen Head writes:

No, the course was not a success. Of course, the data are problematic: Many people have observed that MOOCs often have terrible retention rates, but is retention an accurate measure of success? We had 21,934 students enrolled, 14,771 of whom were active in the course. Our 26 lecture videos were viewed 95,631 times. Students submitted work for evaluation 2,942 times and completed 19,571 peer assessments (the means by which their writing was evaluated). However, only 238 students received a completion certificate—meaning that they completed all assignments and received satisfactory scores.

Our team is now investigating why so few students completed the course, but we have some hypotheses. For one thing, students who did not complete all three major assignments could not pass the course. Many struggled with technology, especially in the final assignment, in which they were asked to create a video presentation based on a personal philosophy or belief. Some students, for privacy and cultural reasons, chose not to complete that assignment, even when we changed the guidelines to require only an audio presentation with visual elements. There were other students who joined the course after the second week; we cautioned them that they would not be able to pass it because there was no mechanism for doing peer review after an assignment’s due date had passed.

via Lessons Learned From a Freshman-Composition MOOC – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

September 21, 2013 at 1:29 am 14 comments

Study finds choice of major most influenced by quality of intro professor: Mesh with Hewner

These results seem consistent with Mike Hewner’s thesis results.  If a student likes her intro course more, they are more likely to take that major.  Students use how much they enjoy the course as a proxy for their affinity for the subject.

Undergraduates are significantly more likely to major in a field if they have an inspiring and caring faculty member in their introduction to the field. And they are equally likely to write off a field based on a single negative experience with a professor.

Those are the findings of a paper presented here during a session at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association by Christopher G. Takacs, a graduate student in sociology at the University of Chicago, and Daniel F. Chambliss, a professor of sociology at Hamilton College. The paper is one part of How College Works, their forthcoming book from Harvard University Press.

via Study finds choice of major most influenced by quality of intro professor | Inside Higher Ed.

September 10, 2013 at 1:02 am 2 comments

CS/IT higher-ed degree production has declined since 2003

I couldn’t believe this when Mark Miller sent the below to me.  “Maybe it’s true in aggregate, but I’m sure it’s not true at Georgia Tech.”  I checked.  And yes, it has *declined*.  In 2003 (summing Fall/Winter/Spring), the College of Computing had 367 graduates.  In 2012, we had 217.  Enrollments are up, but completions are down.

What does this mean for the argument that we have a labor shortage in computer science, so we need to introduce computing earlier (in K-12) to get more people into computing?  We have more people in computing (enrolled) today, and we’re producing fewer graduates.  Maybe our real problem is the productivity at the college level?

I shared these data with Rick Adrion, and he pointed out that degree output necessarily lags enrollment by 4-6 years.  Yes, 2012 is at a high for enrollment, but the students who graduated in 2012 came into school in 2008 or 2007, when we were still “flatlined.”  We’ll have to watch to see if output rises over the next few years.

Computer-related degree output at U.S. universities and colleges flatlined from 2006 to 2009 and have steadily increased in the years since. But the fact remains: Total degree production (associate’s and above) was lower by almost 14,000 degrees in 2012 than in 2003. The biggest overall decreases came in three programs — computer science, computer and information sciences, general, and computer and information sciences and support services, other.

This might reflect the surge in certifications and employer training programs, or the fact that some programmers can get jobs (or work independently) without a degree or formal training because their skills are in-demand.

Of the 15 metros with the most computer and IT degrees in 2012, 10 saw decreases from their 2003 totals. That includes New York City (a 52% drop), San Francisco (55%), Atlanta (33%), Miami (32%), and Los Angeles (31%).

via In the Spotlight: Higher Ed Degree Output by Field and Metro |

August 19, 2013 at 1:19 am 4 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. Our Favorite Charts of 2013 So FarBen Bernanke Freaked Out Global MarketsGoogle 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

Computer science enrollments soared last year, rising 30% – Computerworld

The growth of departments in the Taulbee report is astonishing, but what Computerworld got wrong is calling it “computer science enrollments,” as opposed to “computer science enrollments in PhD-granting institutions.”  The Taulbee report doesn’t cover all CS departments, and that’s why the new NDC survey has been launched.

The Taulbee report also indicates that the percent of women graduating with a Bachelors in CS has risen slightly, while the Computer Engineering percentage has dropped.  Both are well south of 15%, though — a depressingly small percentage.

The number of new undergraduate computing majors in U.S. computer science departments increased more than 29% last year, a pace called “astonishing” by the Computing Research Association.

The increase was the fifth straight annual computer science enrollment gain, according to the CRA’s annual surveyof computer science departments at Ph.D.-granting institutions.

via Computer science enrollments soared last year, rising 30% – Computerworld.

March 18, 2013 at 1:39 am 1 comment

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