TITLE: SIGCSE Day 1 -- Innovative Approaches for Introducing CS
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: March 09, 2011 11:31 PM
I'm in Dallas for a couple of days for SIGCSE 2011. I owe my
presence to Jeff Forbes and Owen Astrachan, who organized a
pre-conference workshop on
innovative approaches for introducing computer science
and provided support for its participants, courtesy of their
The Sheraton Dallas is a big place, and I managed to get lost
on the way to the workshop this morning. As I entered the
room fifteen minutes late, Owen was just finishing up talking
about something called the Jinghui Rule. I still don't know
what it is, but I assume it had something to do with us not
being able to use our laptops during much of the day. This
saves you from reading a super-long breakdown of the day,
which is just as well. The group will produce a report soon,
and I'm sure Jeff and Owen will do more complete job than I
might -- not least of which because we all produced summaries
of our discussion throughout the day, presented them to the
group as a whole, and submitted them to our leaders for their
The topics we discussed were familiar ones, including problems,
interdisciplinary approaches, integrative approaches, motivating
students, and pedagogical issues. Even still, the discussions
were often fresh, as most everyone in the room wrestles with
these topics in the trenches and is constantly trying new
I did take a few notes the old-fashioned way about some things
that stood out to me:
demoed some of the cool things you can do with an iPhone using
apps like those from
Wow. That was cool.
- Owen captured the distinction between "interdisciplinary"
and "integrative" well; here is my take.
Interdisciplinary approaches pull ideas from other areas
of study into our CS courses as a way to illustrate or
motivate ideas. Integrative approaches push CS techniques
out into courses in other areas of study where they become
a native part of how people in those disciplines work.
- Several times during the day people mentioned the need to
"document best practices" of various sorts. Joe Bergin
was surely weeping gently somewhere. We need more than
disconnected best practices; we need a pattern language
or two for designing certain kinds of courses and learning
- Several times during the day talk turned to what one
participant termed student-driven discovery learning.
dream of an Exploratorium
never strays far from my mind, especially when we talk
We seem to know what we need to do!
- A group of us discussed problems and big data in a "blue
sky" session, but the talk was decidedly down-to-earth:
the need to format, sanitize, and package data sets for
use in the classroom.
- One of the biggest challenges we face is the invisibility
of computing today. Most everyone at the workshop today
views computing's ubiquity as a great opportunity, and I
often feel the same way. But I fear the reality is that,
for most everyone else, computing has disappeared into the
background noise of life. Convincing them that it is
cool to understand how, say, Facebook works may be a tougher
task than we realize.