TITLE: Workshop 5: Wrap-Up AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: November 20, 2007 4:30 PM DESC: ----- BODY:

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

The last bit of the SECANT workshop focused on how to build a community at this intersection of CS and science. The group had a wide-ranging discussion which I won't try to report here. Most of it was pretty routine and would not be of interest to someone who didn't attend. But there were a couple of points that I'll comment on. On how to cause change.     At one point the discussion turned philosophical, as folks considered more generally how one can create change in a larger community. Should the group try to convince other faculty of the value of these ideas first, and then involve them in the change? Should the group create great materials and courses first and then use them to convince other faculty? In my experience, these don't work all that well. You can attract a few people who are already predisposed to the idea, or who are open to change because they do not have their own ideas to drive into the future. But folks who are predisposed against the idea will remain so, and resist, and folks who are indifferent will be hard to move simply because of inertia. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Others expressed these misgivings. Ruth Chabay suggested that perhaps the best way to move the science community toward computational science is by producing students who can use computation effectively. Those students will use computation to solve problems. They will learn deeper. This will catch the eye of other instructors. As a result, these folks will see an opportunity to change how they teach, say, physics. We wouldn't have to push them to change; they would pull change in. Her analogy was to the use of desktop calculators in math, chemistry, and physics classes in the 1970s and 1980s. Such a guerilla approach to change might work, if one could create a computational science course good enough to change students and attractive enough to draw students to take it. This is no small order, but it is probably easier than trying to move a stodgy academic establishment with brute force. On technology for dissemination.     Man, does the world change fast. Folks talked about Facebook and Twitter as the primary avenues for reaching students. Blogs and wikis were almost an afterthought. Among our students, e-mail is nearly dead, only 20 years or so after it began to enter the undergraduate mainstream. I get older faster than the calendar says because the world is changing faster than the days are passing. Miscellaneous.     Purdue has a beautiful new computer science building, the sort of building that only a large, research school can have. What we might do with a building at an appropriate scale for our department! An extra treat for me was a chance to visit a student lounge in the building that is named for the parents of a net acquaintance of mine, after he and his extended family made a donation to the building fund. Very cool. I might trade my department's physical space for Purdue CS's building, but I would not trade my campus for theirs. It's mostly buildings and pavement, with huge amounts of auto traffic in addition to the foot traffic. Our campus is smaller, greener, and prettier. Being large has its ups and its downs. Thanks to a recommendation of the workshop's local organizer, I was able to enjoy some time running on campus. Within a few minutes I found my way to some trails that head out into more serene places. A nice way to close the two days. All in all, the workshop was well worth my time. I'll share some of the ideas among my science colleagues at UNI and see what else we can do in our own department. -----