May 25, 2022

Join us to discuss teaching programming to Physics students on Monday 13th June at 2pm BST

Filed under: Uncategorized — Duncan Hull @ 10:14 am
CC BY-SA image of Bohr model of the atom by Jabberwock on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/59id 

print(’Hello World!’) is all very well but it doesn’t help physics students solve the Schrödinger equation. Join us for our next journal club meeting on Monday 13th June at 2pm BST where we’ll be discussing a paper by Lloyd Cawthorne on teaching programming to undergraduate Physics students. From the abstract:

Computer programming is a key component of any physical science or engineering degree and is a skill sought by employers. Coding can be very appealing to these students as it is logical and another setting where they can solve problems. However, many students can often be reluctant to engage with the material as it might not interest them or they might not see how it applies to their wider study. Here, I present lessons I have learned and recommendations to increase participation in programming courses for students majoring in the physical sciences or engineering. The discussion and examples are taken from my second-year core undergraduate physics module, Introduction to Programming for Physicists, taught at The University of Manchester, UK. Teaching this course, I have developed successful solutions that can be applied to undergraduate STEM courses.

All welcome. As usual we’ll be meeting on zoom, details are in the slack channel sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us.


  1. Lloyd Cawthorne (2021) Invited viewpoint: teaching programming to students in physical sciences and engineering, Journal of Materials Science 56, pages 16183–16194 DOI:10.1007/s10853-021-06368-1

April 4, 2022

Join us to discuss spatial skills in engineering on Monday 9th May at 2pm BST

CC BY-SA licensed image of a Rubik’s cube via by Booyabazooka Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/He9

Spatial skills can be beneficial in engineering and computing, but what are they and why are they useful? Join us to discuss this via a paper on spatial skills training by Jack Parkinson and friends at the University of Glasgow. Here is the abstract:

We have been training spatial skills for Computing Science students over several years with positive results, both in terms of the students’ spatial skills and their CS outcomes. The delivery and structure of the training has been modified over time and carried out at several institutions, resulting in variations across each intervention. This article describes six distinct case studies of training deliveries, highlighting the main challenges faced and some important takeaways. Our goal is to provide useful guidance based on our varied experience for any practitioner considering the adoption of spatial skills training for their students.

see [1]

All welcome. As usual we’ll be meeting on zoom, details are in the slack channel sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us. Thanks to Steven Bradley for suggesting the paper


  1. Jack Parkinson, Ryan Bockmon, Quintin Cutts, Michael Liut, Andrew Petersen and Sheryl Sorby (2021) Practice report: six studies of spatial skills training in introductory computer science, ACM Inroads Volume 12, issue 4, pp 18–29 DOI: 10.1145/3494574

March 7, 2022

Join us to discuss the feeling of learning ❤️ (vs. actual learning) on Monday 4th April at 2pm BST

Filed under: Uncategorized — Duncan Hull @ 4:08 pm

Learning can be an emotional process and we often don’t realise when we are actually learning. When you’re listening to an expert explain something well, it’s easy to mistake the speaker’s smooth delivery for your own understanding. You might feel like you’re learning, but actual learning is often hard work and feels uncomfortable. Join us to discuss actual learning vs. feeling of learning via a paper by Louis Deslauriers, Logan S. McCarty, Kelly Miller, Kristina Callaghan, and Greg Kestin at Harvard University here is the abstract:

We compared students’ self-reported perception of learning with their actual learning under controlled conditions in large-enrollment introductory college physics courses taught using 1) active instruction (following best practices in the discipline) and 2) passive instruction (lectures by experienced and highly rated instructors). Both groups received identical class content and handouts, students were randomly assigned, and the instructor made no effort to persuade students of the benefit of either method. Students in active classrooms learned more (as would be expected based on prior research), but their perception of learning, while positive, was lower than that of their peers in passive environments. This suggests that attempts to evaluate instruction based on students’ perceptions of learning could inadvertently promote inferior (passive) pedagogical methods. For instance, a superstar lecturer could create such a positive feeling of learning that students would choose those lectures over active learning. Most importantly, these results suggest that when students experience the increased cognitive effort associated with active learning, they initially take that effort to signify poorer learning. That disconnect may have a detrimental effect on students’ motivation, engagement, and ability to self-regulate their own learning. Although students can, on their own, discover the increased value of being actively engaged during a semester-long course, their learning may be impaired during the initial part of the course. We discuss strategies that instructors can use, early in the semester, to improve students’ response to being actively engaged in the classroom..

see [1]

Thanks to Uli Sattler and Andrea Schalk for highlighting the paper. All welcome. As usual we’ll be meeting on zoom, details are in the slack channel sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us.


  1. Logan S. McCarty; Kelly Miller; Kristina Callaghan; Greg Kestin (2019) “Measuring actual learning versus feeling of learning in response to being actively engaged in the classroom”Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America: 201821936. DOI:10.1073/PNAS.1821936116 PMC: 6765278 PMID: 31484770
  2. Jill Barshay (2022) College students often don’t know when they’re learning: Harvard experiment reveals the psychological grip of lectures, The Hechinger Report

March 1, 2022

Join us to discuss conversational programming on Monday 7th March at 2pm GMT

Between the traditional division of non-programmers and programmers, there is a third category of conversational programmers. These are people who learn programming so that they can speak in the “programmer’s language” in order to collaborate better with software engineers. Join us to discuss conversational programming via paper by Katie Cunningham et al. [1] This won a best paper award at SIGCSE 2022:

As the number of conversational programmers grows, computing educators are increasingly tasked with a paradox: to teach programming to people who want to communicate effectively about the internals of software, but not write code themselves. Designing instruction for conversational programmers is particularly challenging because their learning goals are not well understood, and few strategies exist for teaching to their needs. To address these gaps, we analyse the research on programming learning goals of conversational programmers from survey and interview studies of this population. We identify a major theme from these learners’ goals: they often involve making connections between code’s real-world purpose and various internal elements of software. To better understand the knowledge and skills conversational programmers require, we apply the Structure Behaviour Function framework to compare their learning goals to those of aspiring professional developers. Finally, we argue that instructional strategies for conversational programmers require a focus on high-level program behaviour that is not typically supported in introductory programming courses.

See [1] below

All welcome. As usual we’ll be meeting on zoom, details are in the slack channel sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us.


  1. Kathryn Cunningham, Yike Qiao, Alex Feng and Eleanor O’Rourke (2022) Bringing “High-level” Down to Earth: Gaining Clarity in Conversational Programmer Learning Goals in SIGCSE 2022: Proceedings of the 53rd ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, Pages 551–557 DOI:10.1145/3478431.3499370

February 22, 2022

Happy Twosday! 22/2/22

Happy Twosday, 22.2.22 or 2.22.22! Picture adapted from a public domain image of the international maritime signal flag for the number two on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/4sCm

Today is Tuesday, the 22nd day of the 2nd month of the year 2022 . Happy Twosday! Depending on where you live that makes today:

What order do you prefer your date in?

How many digits would you like? YYYY (2022) or just YY (22)? MM or just M? DD (02) or D? Numbers (2) or letters (FEB)? Which time zone are you in? Which separator would you like? Dots, slashes, spaces or emojis? 📅

Has the triviality and boredom of date formatting made you lose the will to live? If it hasn’t then the Wikipedia entry on date format by country will probably finish you off. For me, today has to be 22.2.22, despite the fact it doesn’t follow the very sensible ISO 8601 standard. Why? Because when the clock hits 22 hours, 22 minutes and 22 seconds it will be 22-2-22;22:22:22 in the brand new ISO-my-special-date-format that I just made up exclusively for you today. You’re welcome!

Two is a magic number

To cheer us all up and help us remember our times tables, Jazz musician Bob Dorough once sang that three is a magic number. [1] But two is a magic number. Yes it is, it’s a magic number. Somewhere in that ancient mystic duality, you get two as a magic number. There are three reasons why two is an even more magical number than three:

  1. the number two is both the smallest and the only prime number which is even, so it’s known as the oddest prime. See what they did there?
  2. the number two has spiritual and cultural significance, because duality has two sides. Good and evil. With us or against us. Yin and Yang. Dead or Alive. Female or male. Moscow or Washington. Binary or non-binary etc.
  3. the number two is the base of the binary numeral system and how computers compute everything from what sounds you’re listening to, to what show you’re watching, which words you are reading and which route your car takes.

Talking of binary, there are 10 kinds of people in this world, those who understand binary and those who don’t. So have a magic Twosday 22.2.22, whichever side of the binary divide you are.


  1. Bob Dorough (1973) Three is a magic number in Multiplication Rock, Capitol Records (also covered by De La Soul in their 1989 album 3 Feet High and Rising)

February 15, 2022

Where have all the women gone?

Public domain image of Margaret Hamilton standing next to a print out of software that she and her MIT team produced for the Apollo Guidance Computer in 1969 via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/4mXY

Computing is too important to be left to men, but where have all the women gone? While women continue to play a key role in computing they are currently under-represented in Computer Science. How can we change this and what evidence is there for practices that get more women into computing? We discussed this paper by Briana Morrison et al [1] on Monday 7th February at journal club. Here is the abstract of the paper:

Computing has, for many years, been one of the least demographically diverse STEM fields, particularly in terms of women’s participation. The last decade has seen a proliferation of research exploring new teaching techniques and their effect on the retention of students who have historically been excluded from computing. This research suggests interventions and practices that can affect the inclusiveness of the computer science classroom and potentially improve learning outcomes for all students. But research needs to be translated into practice, and practices need to be taken up in real classrooms. The current paper reports on the results of a focused systematic “state-of-the-art” review of recent empirical studies of teaching practices that have some explicit test of the impact on women in computing. Using the NCWIT Engagement Practices Framework as a means of organisation, we summarise this research, outline the practices that have the most empirical support, and suggest where additional research is needed.

There is lot of stuff in this paper, and we barely scratched the surface. Personally, one of the things I found useful was the National Center for Women in Technology (NCWIT) Engaging Practices Framework which I’d not seen. These have advice on how to make computing a more inclusive subject for all students, not just women. Some of the guidelines include:

  1. Make it matter (e.g. by making interdisciplinary connections and addressing misconceptions)
  2. Build student confidence and professional identity (e.g. by encouraging a growth mindset)
  3. Grow an inclusive community (e.g. by using well-structured collaborative learning and avoiding stereotypes)

The evidence for which approaches work isn’t particularly strong, see Jane Waites lightning talk slides, but there is some evidence to suggest these practices can help to make small steps in the right direction. The evidence is outlined in the paper.


  1. Briana B. Morrison, Beth A. Quinn, Steven Bradley, Kevin Buffardi, Brian Harrington, Helen H. Hu, Maria Kallia, Fiona McNeill, Oluwakemi Ola, Miranda Parker, Jennifer Rosato and Jane Waite (2021) Evidence for Teaching Practices that Broaden Participation for Women in Computing in Proceedings of the 2021 Working Group Reports on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education DOI:10.1145/3502870.3506568

December 23, 2021

Join us virtually in Durham to discuss Computing Education Practice (CEP) on 6th Jan 2022

Filed under: education,Uncategorized — Duncan Hull @ 10:40 am
Tags: , ,
Picture of Durham Cathedral by Mattbuck on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/4acc

The ACM Computing Education Practice (CEP) conference is aimed at practitioners and researchers in computing education, both within Computer Science departments and elsewhere. The conference provides a platform to share and discuss innovations and developments in the practice of computing education. CEP is a community, not just a series of proceedings; everybody is encouraged to participate even if they are not presenting. We have an exciting programme of talks and workshops scheduled which will be of interest to anyone teaching Computer Science including:

  • Narrowing and Stretching: Addressing the Challenges of Multi-track programming by Steven Bradley and Eleni Akrida, Durham University
  • Automated Code Tracing Exercises for CS1 by Sean Russell, University College Dublin
  • Feedback and Engagement on an Introductory Programming Module by Beate Grawemeyer et al Coventry University 
  • Gender parity in peer assessment of team software development projects by Tom Crick et al Swansea University
  • Promoting Engagement in Remote Computing Ethics Education by Joseph Maguire and Steve Draper, University of Glasgow
  • Co-constructing a Community of Practice for Early-Career Computer Science Academics in the UK by Tom Crick et al 
  • Assessing Knowledge and Skills in Forensics with Alternative Assessment Pathways by Joseph Maguire
  • Little Man Computer + Scratch: A recipe to construct a mental model of program execution by Noman Javed, London School of Economics
  • Application of Amazon Web Services within teaching & learning at a UK University by Dan Flood Coventry University

The conference will be held online on Thursday 6th January 2022. More info and registration at cepconference.webspace.durham.ac.uk/programme. We look forward to seeing you there. 

On behalf of the UK ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE) uki-sigcse.acm.org/about/

September 10, 2021

On this day, twenty years ago, 10th September 2001

The World Trade Center, New York in 2001, public domain image via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/_z323

On this day twenty years ago, September 10th 2001, the following things did not exist:

  • Euro coins and banknotes; real physical €uro currency was released the following year in January 2002 [1]
  • The iPhone, iPad, iPod, iOS, smartphones and tablets. A new device called the “iPod” was released the following month in October 2001, swiftly followed by a tsunami of mobile devices and iThings. [2]
  • YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, WhatsApp, TikTok and indeed any form of social media. Do you sometimes wish we could go back to a world without social media? Oh Happy days!
  • Deadly viruses such as SARSMERS and SARS‑CoV‑2, the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Any kind of usable videotelephony service for the masses: Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, Teams, Whatever…

On this day twenty years ago, September 10th 2001, the following events were yet to take place:

On this day twenty years ago, September 10th 2001, the global average temperature was about ~0.5°C lower and the following things did exist in a significantly cooler global climate:

(As predicted, software has eaten the world, or at least it has taken a very big bite of our communication and commerce)

On this day twenty years ago, September 10th 2001, trillions of dollars were about to be spent fighting wars in which:

  • Thousands of civilians on all sides were killed
  • Thousands of combatants on all sides were killed

(May they rest in peace)

My ticket to the observation deck 09/01/93

On this day twenty years ago, September 10th 2001, the western world was a very different place. Did a lot more happen in the last twenty years (2001—2021), than in the preceding twenty years (1981—2001)? In retrospect, do the eighties and nineties look relatively uneventful when compared to the noughties and the teenies? As the globe warms and our climate changes, is politics getting hotter too?

  • Perhaps humanity is accelerating like never before? OR
  • Perhaps it’s just that life seems to speed up as you get older? OR
  • Perhaps we were just too young and not paying enough attention back then?


  1. Anon (2002) New Euro banknotes and coins introduced in 12 countriesEuropean Central Bank, Brussels
  2. Alicia Awbrey and Natalie Sequeira (2001) Apple Presents iPod: Ultra-Portable MP3 Music Player Puts 1,000 Songs in Your PocketApple Inc, Cupertino, California
  3. Simon Bowers (2001) Google hits on profit formulaThe Guardian, London

September 6, 2021

Join us to discuss why computing students should contribute to open source software projects on Mon 6th September at 2pm BST

unlocked padlock by flaticon.com

Why should students bother with open source software? Join us to discuss why via a viewpoint piece published by Diomidis Spinellis of Athens University and Delft University of Technology published in the July issue of Communications of the Association for Computing Machinery. [1] Here’s the introduction 

Learning to program is—for many practical, historical, as well as some vacuous reasons—a rite of passage in probably all computer science, informatics, software engineering, and computer engineering courses. For many decades, this skill would reliably set computing graduates apart from their peers in other disciplines. In this Viewpoint, I argue that in the 21st century programming proficiency on its own is neither representative of the skills that the marketplace requires from computing graduates, nor does it offer the strong vocational qualifications it once did. Accordingly, I propose that computing students should be encouraged to contribute code to open source software projects through their curricular activities. I have been practicing and honing this approach for more than 15 years in a software engineering course where open source contributions are an assessed compulsory requirement. Based on this experience, I explain why the ability to make such contributions is the modern generalization of coding skills acquisition, outline what students can learn from such activities, describe how an open source contribution exercise is embedded in the course, and conclude with practices that have underpinned the assignment’s success

All welcome, as usual, we’ll be meeting on Zoom see sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us for details.


  1. Spinellis, Diomidis (2021). “Why computing students should contribute to open source software projects”. Communications of the ACM64 (7): 36–38. DOI:10.1145/3437254

July 30, 2021

Join us to discuss when study turns digital on Monday 2nd August at 2pm BST

Public domain image of Coronavirus by Alissa Eckert and Dan Higgins at CDC.gov on Wikimedia commons w.wiki/ycs

The pandemic has accelerated changes to the way we teach and learn. Join us to discuss the Covid-19 shutdown: when studying turns digital, students want more structure: a paper by Vegard Gjerde, Robert Gray, Bodil Holst and Stein Dankert Kolstø on the effects of the pandemic on Physics Education at a Norwegian University. [1]

In March 2020, universities in Norway and many other countries shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The students lost access to classrooms, libraries, study halls, and laboratories. Studying turned digital. Because it is unclear when this pandemic will cease to affect students and because we cannot know whether or when a new pandemic occurs, we need to find ways to improve digital study-life for students. An important step in this direction is to understand the students’ experiences and perspectives regarding how the digitalization affected their study-life both in structured learning arenas and their self-study. Therefore, we interviewed 12 students in an introductory mechanics course at a Norwegian university in June of 2020. Through a thematic analysis, we identified four broad categories in the students’ different experiences and reflections, namely that digitalization: (a) provides benefits, e.g. the flexibility inherent in online video lectures; (b) incurs learning costs, e.g. students reducing their study effort; (c) incurs social costs, e.g. missing being around other students; and (d) increases the need for structure, e.g. wanting to be arranged in digital groups to solve mandatory tasks. We also found that the 2019 students on average scored significantly better on the final exam than the 2020 students, d = 0.31, but we discuss why this result should be interpreted with caution. We provide suggestions for how to adapt courses to make students’ digital studying more socially stimulating and effective. Furthermore, this study is a contribution to the historical documentation of the Covid-19 pandemic.

All welcome, as usual, we’ll be meeting on Zoom see sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us for details. Thanks to Sarah Clinch for suggesting the paper.


  1. Gjerde, Vegard; Gray, Robert; Holst, Bodil; Kolstø, Stein Dankert (2021). “The Covid-19 shutdown: when studying turns digital, students want more structure”. Physics Education56 (5): 055004. doi:10.1088/1361-6552/ac031e
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