TITLE: A Change in Direction at ChiliPLoP AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: March 19, 2008 12:40 AM DESC: ----- BODY: As I mentioned in my last SIGCSE entry, I have moved from carefree Portland to Carefree, Arizona, for ChiliPLoP 2008. The elementary patterns group spent yesterday, its first, working on the idea of integrating large datasets into the CS curriculum. After a few years of working on specific examples, both stand-alone and running, we started this year thinking about how CS students can work on real problems from many different domains. In the sciences, that often means larger data sets, but more important it means authentic data sets, and data sets that inspire students to go deeper. On the pedagogical side of the ledger, much of the challenge lies in finding and configuring data sets so that they can used reliably and without unnecessary overhead placed on the adopting instructor. This morning, we volunteered to listen to a presentation by the other hot topic group on its work from yesterday: a "green field" thought experiment designing an undergrad CS program outside of any constraints from the existing university structure. This group consists of Dave West and Pam Rostal, who presented an earlier version of this work at the OOPSLA 2005 Educators' Symposium, and Richard Gabriel, who brings to the discussion not only an academic background in CS and a career in computer science research and industry but also an MFA in poetry. Perhaps the key motivation for their hot topic is that most CS grads go on to be professional software developers or CS researchers, and that our current way of educating them doesn't do an ideal job of preparing grads for either career path. Their proposal is much bigger than I can report here. They started by describing a three-dimensional characterization of different kinds of CS professionals, including provocative and non-traditional labels as "creative builder", "imaginative researcher", and "ordinologist". The core of the proposal is the sort of competency-based curriculum that West and Rostal talked about at OOPSLA, but I might also describe it as studio-based, apprenticeship-based, and project-based. One of their more novel ideas is that students would learn everything they need for a liberal arts, undergraduate computer science education through their software projects -- including history, English, writing, math, and social science. For example, students might study the mathematics underlying a theorem prover while building a inference engine, study a period of history in order to build a zoomable timeline on the web for an instructional web site, or build a Second Life for a whole world in ancient Rome. In the course of our discussion, the devil's advocates in the room raised several challenging issues, most of which the presenters had anticipated. For example, how do the instructors (or mentors, as they called them) balance the busy work involved in, say, the students implementing some Second Life chunk with the content the students need to learn? Or how does the instructional environment ensure that students learn the intellectual process of, say, history, and not just impose a computer scientist's worldview on history? Anticipating these concerns does not mean that they have answers, only that they know the issues exist and will have to be addressed at some point. But this isn't the time for self-censorship... When trying to create something unlike anything we see around us, the bigger challenge is trying to let the mind imagine the new thing without prior restraint from the imperfect implementations we already know. We all thought that this thought experiment was worth carrying forward, which is where the change of direction comes in. While our group will continue to work on the dataset idea from yesterday, we decided in the short term to throw our energies into the wild idea for reinventing CS education. The result will be two proposals to OOPSLA 2008: one an activity at the Educators' Symposium, and the other an Onward! paper. This will be my first time as part of a proposal to the Onward! track, which is both a cool feeling and an intimidating prospect. We'll see what happens. -----