TITLE: SIGCSE This and That AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: March 10, 2007 12:39 PM DESC: ----- BODY: Here are some miscellaneous ideas from throughout the conference... Breadth in Year 1 On Friday, Jeff Forbes and Dan Garcia presented the results of their survey of introductory computer science curricula across the country. The survey was methodologically flawed in many ways, which makes it not so useful for drawing any formal conclusions. But I did notice a couple of interesting ways that schools arrange their first-year courses. For instance, Cal Tech teaches seven different languages in their intro sequence. Students must take three -- two required by the department, and a third chosen from a menu of five options. Talk about having students with different experiences in the upper-division courses! I wonder how well their students learn all of these languages (some are small, like Scheme and Haskell), and I wonder how well this would work at other schools. Many Open Doors In the same session, I learned that Georgia Tech offers three different versions of CS1: the standard course for CS majors, a robotics-themed course for engineers, and the media computation course that I adopted last fall for my intro course. Even better, they let CS majors take any of the CS1s to satisfy their degree requirement. This is the sort of first-year curriculum that we are moving to at UNI. For a variety of reasons, we have had a hard time arriving at a common CS1/CS2 sequence that satisfies all of our faculty. We've had parallel tracks in Java and C/C++ for the last few years, and we've decided to make this idea of alternate routes into the major a feature of our program, rather than a curiosity (or a bug!). Next year, we will offer three different CS1/CS2 sequences. Our idea is that with "many open doors", more different kinds of students may find what appeals to them about CS and pursue a major or minor. Recruitment, retention, faculty engagement -- I have high hopes that this broadening of our CS1 options will help our department get better. No Buzz Last year, the buzz at SIGCSE was "Python rising". That seemed a natural follow-up to SIGCSE 2005, where the buzz seemed to be "Java falling". But this year, neither of these trends seems to have gained steam. Python is out there seeing some adoptions, but Java remains strong, and it doesn't seem to be going anywhere fast. I don't feel a buzz at SIGCSE this year. The conference has been useful to me in many ways, and I've enjoyed many sessions. But there doesn't seem to be energy building behind any particular something that points to a different sort of future. That said, I do notice the return of games to the world of curriculum. Paper sessions on games. Special sessions on games. Game development books at every publisher's booth. (Where did they come from? Books take a long time to write!) Even still, I don't feel a buzz. The idea that causes the most buzz for me personally is the talk of computational thinking, and what that means for computer science as a major and as a discipline for all. RetroChic CS I am sitting in a session on nifty assignments just now. The assignments have ranged from nifty to less so, but the last takes us all back to the '70s and '80s. It is Dave Reed's explorations with ASCII art, modernized as ASCIImations. He started his talk with a quote that seems a fitting close to this entry:
Boring is the new nifty.
-- Stuart Reges, 2006
Up next: the closing luncheon and keynote talk by Jonathan Schaeffer, of Chinook fame. -----