TITLE: OOPSLA Day 2: Morning at The Educators' Symposium
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: October 17, 2005 9:54 PM
DESC: The Educators Symposium is over. It succeeded well enough. And now, I relax.
This was my
second consecutive year
to chair the OOPSLA
and my goal was something more down to earth yet similar
in flavor: encouraging educators to consider Big Change.
Most of our discussions in CS education are about how
to do the Same Old Thing better, but I think that we
have run the course with incremental improvements to our
We opened the day with a demonstration called Agile
Apprenticeship in Academia, wherein two professors
and several students used a theatrical performance to
illustrate a week in a curriculum built almost entirely
on software apprenticeship. Dave West and Pam Rostal
wanted to have a program for developing software developers,
and they didn't think that the traditional CS curriculum
could do the job. So they made a Big Change: they tossed
the old curriculum and created a four-year studio program
in which students, mentors, and faculty work together to
create software and, in the process, students learn how
to do create software.
West and Rostal defined a set of 360 competencies that
students could satisfy at five different levels. Students
qualify to graduate from the program by satisfying each
competency at at least the third level (the ability to
apply the concept in a novel situation) and some number
at higher levels. Students also have to complete the
standard general education curriculum of the university.
Thinking back to yesterday's
morning session at Extravagaria,
we talked the role of fear and pressure in creativity.
West and Rostal put any fear behind them and acted on
their dream. Whatever difficulties they face in making
this idea work over the long run in a broader setting --
and I believe that the approach faces serious challenges
-- at least they have taken a big step forward could
make something work. Those of us who don't take any
big steps forward are doomed to remain close to where
I don't have much to say about the paper sessions of
the day except that I noticed a recurring theme:
New ideas are hard on instructors. I agree, but I
do not think that they are hard in the NP-hard sense
but rather in the "we've never done it that way before"
sense. Unfamiliarity makes things seem hard at first.
For example, I think that the biggest adjustment most
professors need to make in order to move to the sort
of studio approach advocated by West and ROstal is
from highly-scripted lectures and controlled instructional
episodes to extemporaneous lecturing in response to
student needs in real-time. The real hardness in this
is that faculty must have a deep, deep understanding
of the material they teach -- which requires a level
of experience doing that many faculty don't
This idea of professors as practitioners, as professionals
practiced in the art and science we teach, will return
in later entries from this conference...
Like yesterday's entry, I'll have more to say about
today's Educators' Symposium in upcoming entries. I
need some time to collect my thoughts and to write.
In particular, I'd like to tell you about
Ward Cunningham's keynote address
on the future of CS education. The panel was especially
energizing but troubling at the same time, and I hope
to share a sense of both my optimism and my misgivings.
But with the symposium over, I can now take the rest of
the evening to relax, then sleep, have a nice longer
run, and return to the first day of OOPSLA proper
free to engage ideas with no outside encumbrances.