TITLE: Workshop Intro: Teaching Science and Computing AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: November 15, 2007 6:59 PM DESC: ----- BODY:

[A transcript of the SECANT 2007 workshop: Table of Contents]

I am spending today and tomorrow at an NSF Workshop on Science Education in Computational Thinking put on by SECANT, a group at Purdue University funded by a grant from NSF's Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education (CPATH) program. SECANT's goals are to build a community that is asking and answering questions such as these: The goal of this workshop is to begin building a community, to share ideas and to make connections. I'll share in my next few entries some of the ideas I encounter here, as well as some of the thoughts I have along the way. This entry is mostly about the background of the workshop and a few miscellaneous impressions. First, I am impressed with the wide range of attendees. Folks come from big state schools such as Ohio State, Purdue, and Iowa, from private research schools such as Princeton and Notre Dame, and from small liberal arts schools such as Wartburg and Kalamazoo. We started with introduction from the workshop organizers at Purdue and the NSF itself. Joseph Urban from NSF spoke a bit about the challenges addressed by the CPATH program. I think its most interesting goal is to move "beyond curriculum revision" to "institution transformation models" -- avoiding the curse of incremental change. This reminded me of something that Guy Kawasaki said in his talk The Art of Innovation: Revolution, then evolution. To completely change how we teach sciences and intro computer science -- revolution first, or evolution? Given the deep strain of academic conservatism that dominates most colleges and universities, this raises an interesting question about which approach will work best. From what I've seen here today, different schools are trying each, with various levels of success. The introductory remarks by Jeff Vitter, dean of the College of Sciences -- and a computer scientist by training -- included a comment that is a theme underlying this workshop and driving the scientists who are here to explore computer science more deeply: Computing is now a fundamental component in the cycle of science: theory followed by experimentation. For many scientists, building models is the next step after experiment, or even a hand-in-hand partner to experiment. For many scientists, visualizing the results of experiments is essential -- we cannot understand them otherwise. The workshop made a few personal connections for me. Also in attendance are neighbors of mine, Alberto Segre from Iowa and John Zelle from Wartburg College. But there are connections to my past, too. Another attendee is an old grad school colleague of mine, Pat Flynn, who is now at Notre Dame. FInally, from Urban's NSF presentation I learned that one of the big CPATH awards was made to a team at Michigan State -- including my old advisor. I'm not too surprised that his professional interests have evolved in this direction, though he might be. Some here expressed surprise that so many folks are already doing interesting work in this arena. I wasn't, because there's been a lot of buzz in the last couple of years, but I was interested to see the diversity of new courses and new programs already in place. That is, of course, one of the great benefits of attending workshops such as this one. -----