TITLE: SIGCSE Wrap-Up: This and That AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: March 05, 2006 10:23 AM DESC: ----- BODY: I was able to stay at SIGCSE only through the plenary talk Friday morning, and so there won't be a SIGCSE Day 2 entry. But I can summarize a few ideas that came up over the rest of Day 1 and the bit of Day 2 I saw. Consider this "SIGCSE Days 1 and 1.15". Broadening the Reach of CS I went to a birds-of-a-feather session called "Innovative Approaches to Broadening Computer Science", organized by Owen Astrachan and Jeffrey Forbes of Duke. I was surprised by the number and variety of schools that are creating new courses aimed at bringing computing to non-computer scientists. Many schools are just beginning the process, but we heard about computing courses designed specially for arts majors, psychology majors, and the more expected science and engineering majors. Bioinformatics is a popular specialty course. We have an undergraduate program in bioinformatics, but the courses students take at the beginning of this program are currently traditional programming courses. My department recently began discussions of how to diversify the entry paths into computing here, with both majors and non-majors in mind. It's encouraging to see so many other schools generating ideas along these lines, too. We'll all be able to learn from one another, Extreme Grading Not quite, but close. Henry Walker and David Levine presented a paper titled "XP Practices Applied to Grading". David characterized this paper as an essay in the sense resurrected by the essays track at OOPSLA. I enjoy SIGCSE talks that reflect on practices. While there wasn't much new for me in this talk, it reminded Jim Caristi and me of a 1998 OOPSLA workshop that Robert Biddle, Rick Mercer, and I organized called Evaluating Object-Oriented Design. That session was one of those wonderful workshops where things seem to click all day. Every participant contributed something of value, and the contributions seemed to build on one another to make something more valuable. I presented one of my favorite patterns-related teaching pieces, Using a Pattern Language to Evaluate Design. What Jim remembered most vividly from the workshop was the importance in the classroom of short cycles and continuous feedback. It was good to see CS educators like Henry and Dave presenting XP practices in the classroom to the broader SIGCSE community. ACM Java Task Force Over the last two-plus years, the ACM Java Task Force has put in a lot of time and hard work designing a set of packages for use in teaching Java in CS1. I wonder what the ultimate effect will be. Some folks are concerned about the graphics model that the task force adopted. ("Back to Java 1.0!" one person grumbled.) But I'm thinking more of the fact that Java may not last as the dominant CS1 language much longer. At last year's SIGCSE one could sense a ripple of unease with Java, and this year the mood seemed much more "when...", not "if...". Rich Pattis mentioned in his keynote lecture that he had begun teaching a new CS1 language every five years or so, and Java's time should soon be up. He didn't offer a successor, but my read of the buzz at SIGCSE is that Python is on the rise. Computer Science in K-12 Education The second day plenary address was given by a couple of folks at the Computer Science Teachers Association, a group affiliated with the ACM that "supports and promotes the teaching of computer science and other computing disciplines" in the K-12 school system. I don't have much to say about their talk other than to note that there a couple of different issues at play. One is the teaching of computer science, especially AP CS, at the pre-university level. Do we need it? If so, how do we convince schools and taxpayers to do it right? The second is more general, the creation of an environment in which students want to study math, science, and technology. Those are the students who are in the "pipeline" of potential CS majors when they get to college. At first glance, these may seem like two separate issues, but they interconnect in complicated ways when you step into the modern-day high school. I'm glad that someone is working on these issues full-time, but no one should expect easy answers. ... In the end, Rich Pattis's talk was the unchallenged highlight of the conference for me. For all its activity and relatively large attendance (1100 or so folks), the rest of the conference seemed a bit low on energy. What's up? Is the discipline in the doldrums, waiting for something new to invigorate everyone? Or was it just I who felt that way? -----