O'Really?

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?

References

  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.

References

  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.

References

  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

July 7, 2021

Would YOU want to live in Alan Turing’s house?

The blue plaque on Alan Turing’s house, commemorating his work in cryptography which founded both Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence as new disciplines. Picture by Joseph Birr-Pixton on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3aYW

The house where Computer Scientist Alan Turing spent his final years is currently up for sale. The estate agent describes the property on 43 Adlington Road, Wilmslow as a Victorian family residence of significant historical importance. Wilmslow and the surrounding Cheshire countryside is popular with Manchester commuters, including many Man United, Man City & England football stars. Even if you could afford its premier league price tag, would YOU want to live in the house where Turing’s life ended so tragically? 

Turing was found dead at this house, on the 8th June 1954 by his cleaner. The cause of his death the previous day was established as cyanide poisoning. He was just 41 years old. When his body was discovered, an apple lay half-eaten by his bedside. 

The coroner recorded a verdict of suicide.

At the end of his life Turing was suffering mentally and physically. The homophobic British authorities were using a form of legalised torture, known as forced chemical castration, to punish him for being homosexual. At the time, homosexuality was a crime. Turing put on a brave face and joked about his castration (“I’m growing breasts!), but it must have been horrible to endure.

If you’re feeling suicidal or tortured, you don’t have to struggle with difficult feelings alone. If you’re suffering from emotional distress or struggling to cope a Samaritan can face your problems with you. Whatever you’re going through, samaritans.org are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. They respond to around 10,000 calls for help every day. No judgement. No pressure. Call them free any time, from any phone on 116 123.

While everyone can have a good old nosey at Turing’s house through the estate agents window, no-one needs to suffer like its famous former resident did. Personally I think I’d find this property an enigmatically haunted house to live in, knowing that this was the place where a great man’s life ended in such tragedy. How about you?

Turing’s House: Copper Folly, 43 Adlington Road, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 2BJ

  1. Rightmove details www.rightmove.co.uk/properties/109329428
  2. Savills.com details in a single pdf file bit.ly/alan-turings-house
  3. Turing’s house in Google maps goo.gl/maps/krMM3A2JfgTUVFfm8
  4. GCSE computing: Alan Turing: Creator of modern computing bbc.co.uk/teach/alan-turing-creator-of-modern-computing/zhwp7nb
  5. Alan Turing’s Manchester by Jonathan Swinton describes what it was like to make new friends and lovers in the smog-bound, bombed-out city of Manchester from 1948 to 1954 manturing.net
  6. Leslie Ann Goldberg, Simon Schaffer and Andrew Hodges discuss Turing’s ideas and life with Melvyn Bragg https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m000ncmw
  7. Breast enlargement in men undergoing chemical castration https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gynecomastia

Acknowledgements

Thanks to Alan O’Donohoe for spotting Turing’s house on the market and to Joseph Birr-Pixton for publishing his picture of Turing’s blue plaque on Wikimedia Commons.

July 5, 2021

Join us to discuss the tyranny of content on Monday 5th July at 2pm BST

Filed under: Teaching,Uncategorized — Duncan Hull @ 11:56 am
Tags: , , , ,
CC-BY-SA image of Bill Gates by Kuhlmann MSC via Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/3W7k

If content is king, then his rule is tyrannical. Bill Gates once remarked that “Content is King” but In the kingdom of education, how much do educators oppressively inflict content on their learners? What can be done to reduce the tyranny of content? We’ll be discussing this via a paper by Christina I. Petersen et al, here’s the abstract:

Instructors have inherited a model for conscientious instruction that suggests they must cover all the material outlined in their syllabus, and yet this model frequently diverts time away from allowing students to engage meaningfully with the content during class. We outline the historical forces that may have conditioned this teacher-centered model as well as the disciplinary pressures that inadvertently reward it. As a way to guide course revision and move to a learner-centered teaching approach, we propose three evidence-based strategies that instructors can adopt: 1) identify the core concepts and competencies for your course; 2) create an organizing framework for the core concepts and competencies; and 3) teach students how to learn in your discipline. We further outline examples of actions that instructors can incorporate to implement each of these strategies. We propose that moving from a content-coverage approach to these learner-centered strategies will help students better learn and retain information and apply it to new situations.

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

References

  1. Petersen, Christina I.; Baepler, Paul; Beitz, Al; Ching, Paul; Gorman, Kristen S.; Neudauer, Cheryl L.; Rozaitis, William; Walker, J. D.; Wingert, Deb; Reiness, C. Gary (2020). The Tyranny of Content: “Content Coverage” as a Barrier to Evidence-Based Teaching Approaches and Ways to Overcome It. CBE—Life Sciences Education19 (2): ar17. doi:10.1187/cbe.19-04-0079

June 3, 2021

Join us to discuss cognitive load on Monday 7th June at 2pm #SIGCSE

Filed under: education — Duncan Hull @ 8:07 am
Tags: , , , ,

Cognitive Load Theory provides a basis for understanding the learning process. It has been widely used to improve the teaching and learning of many subjects including Computer Science. But how can it help us build better collaborative learning experiences? Join us to discuss via a paper by Paul Kirschner, John Sweller, Femke Kirschner & Jimmy Zambrano R. [1] From the abstract:

Cognitive load theory has traditionally been associated with individual learning. Based on evolutionary educational psychology and our knowledge of human cognition, particularly the relations between working memory and long-term memory, the theory has been used to generate a variety of instructional effects. Though these instructional effects also influence the efficiency and effectiveness of collaborative learning, be it computer supported or face-to-face, they are often not considered either when designing collaborative learning situations/environments or researching collaborative learning. One reason for this omission is that cognitive load theory has only sporadically concerned itself with certain particulars of collaborative learning such as the concept of a collective working memory when collaborating along with issues associated with transactive activities and their concomitant costs which are inherent to collaboration. We illustrate how and why cognitive load theory, by adding these concepts, can throw light on collaborative learning and generate principles specific to the design and study of collaborative learning.

Thanks to Nicola Looker for suggesting this months paper. As usual, we’ll be meeting on zoom, see sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us for details.

References

  1. Kirschner, Paul A.; Sweller, John; Kirschner, Femke; Zambrano R., Jimmy (2018). “From Cognitive Load Theory to Collaborative Cognitive Load Theory”. International Journal of Computer-Supported Collaborative Learning13 (2): 213–233. DOI:10.1007/s11412-018-9277-y

May 5, 2021

Join us to discuss what goes on in the mind of Teaching Assistants on Monday 10th May at 2pm BST

Filed under: education — Duncan Hull @ 11:13 am
Tags: , , , , , ,
Thinking icon via flaticon.com

Both graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants (TAs) are crucial to facilitating students learning. What goes on inside the mind of a teaching assistant? How can understanding this help us train TA’s better for the roles they play in education? Join us to discuss via a paper by Julia M. Markel and Philip Guo. [1] From the abstract:

As CS enrolments continue to grow, introductory courses are employing more undergraduate TAs. One of their main roles is performing one-on-one tutoring in the computer lab to help students understand and debug their programming assignments. What goes on in the mind of an undergraduate TA when they are helping students with programming? In this experience report, we present firsthand accounts from an undergraduate TA documenting her 36 hours of in-lab tutoring for a CS2 course, where she engaged in 69 one-on-one help sessions. This report provides a unique perspective from an undergraduate’s point-of-view rather than a faculty member’s. We summarise her experiences by constructing a four-part model of tutoring interactions: a) The tutor begins the session with an initial state of mind (e.g., their energy/focus level, perceived time pressure). b) They observe the student’s outward state upon arrival (e.g., how much they seem to care about learning). c) Using that observation, the tutor infers what might be going on inside the student’s mind. d) The combination of what goes on inside the tutor’s and student’s minds affects tutoring interactions, which progress from diagnosis to planning to an explain-code-react loop to post-resolution activities. We conclude by discussing ways that this model can be used to design scaffolding for training novice TAs and software tools to help TAs scale their efforts to larger classes.

This paper was one of nine best papers at SIGCSE 2021, there’s a video of the paper presentation on pathable.sigcse2021.org. All welcome. As usual, we’ll be meeting on zoom, see sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us for details.

References

  1. Markel, Julia M. and Guo, Philip (2021) Inside the Mind of a CS Undergraduate TA: A Firsthand Account of Undergraduate Peer Tutoring in Computer Labs SIGCSE ’21: Proceedings of the 52nd ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science EducationMarch 2021 Pages 502–508 DOI: 10.1145/3408877.3432533 (open access)

April 15, 2021

I wish I’d read this book when I was doing my PhD!

Anyone for a game of PhD bingo?

Published this year by Oxford University Press, How to Get Your PhD: A Handbook for the Journey by Gavin Brown [1] is essential reading for anyone thinking of doing, or trying to get through, a PhD. I wish I’d had this book when I was doing mine, here’s why:

I thoroughly enjoyed my PhD and given the chance I’d do it all again. I was lucky to be able to do research guided by a great supervisor (Robert Stevens) and it was rewarding being part of a big and friendly lab. There were loads of opportunities to get involved in all sorts of other projects along the way. Thankfully, I also had some good mentors and met tonnes of interesting people from all over the world. I am very grateful to Robert, Carole Goble and everyone else who made it possible.

Despite all the good stuff, there’s plenty I could have done better. Hindsight is a great teacher. Gavin’s book would have helped me do a better PhD but hadn’t been written at that time – I wish it had been. I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger. [2]

Alongside serious technical advice on the mechanics of doing a PhD, Gavin’s book provides a good overview of some the psychological and emotional hurdles every PhD will encounter. Unlike a lot of similar books (there’s already tonnes of self-help PhD guides out there), this one is written in first person singular which makes for a more engaging and shorter read. Serious advice is balanced by the books light hearted tone, with plenty of humour, such as the game of PhD Bingo, shown in the picture on the right. Like most students, I ticked all those boxes (BINGO!) apart from the “you will read this book” box. Don’t be that person, Read The Friendly Manual! RTFM. Read THIS Friendly Manual!

The handbook also includes personal stories which help get key messages across, not just from Gavin, but a distinguished bunch of scientists, engineers and mathematicians who have contributed to the second part of the book including Nancy RothwellVictoria BurnsSteve FurberLucy KissickHiranya PeirisMelanie LengJeremy WyattDavid HandCarolyn VircaShakir MohamedJonny Brooks-Bartlett and Jennifer Polk.

So if you’re wondering about doing a PhD, or you’re currently doing one, go and read Gavins book. I’m not just saying that because (disclaimer) Gavin is a colleague of mine. I’m saying that because I wish this book had existed back when I did my PhD. It’s packed full of sound advice and I heartily recommend you read it!

References

  1. Brown, Gavin (2021) How to Get Your PhD: A Handbook for the Journey, Oxford University Press, ISBN:9780198866923
  2. Lane, Ronnie and Wood, Ronnie (1973) “Ooh La La.” In Ooh La La. The Faces. “I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger…”

March 23, 2021

Join us to discuss learning sciences for computing education on Monday 12th April at 2pm BST

Scientist icon made by Eucalyp via flaticon.com

Learning sciences aims to improve our theoretical understanding of how people learn while computing education investigates with how people learn to compute. Historically, these fields existed independently, although attempts have been made to merge them. Where do these disciplines overlap and how can they be integrated further? Join us to discuss learning sciences for computing education via a paper by Lauren Margulieux, Brian Dorn and Kristin Searle, from the abstract:

This chapter discusses potential and current overlaps between the learning sciences and computing education research in their origins, theory, and methodology. After an introduction to learning sciences, the chapter describes how both learning sciences and computing education research developed as distinct fields from cognitive science. Despite common roots and common goals, the authors argue that the two fields are less integrated than they should be and recommend theories and methodologies from the learning sciences that could be used more widely in computing education research. The chapter selects for discussion one general learning theory from each of cognition (constructivism), instructional design (cognitive apprenticeship), social and environmental features of learning environments (sociocultural theory), and motivation (expectancy-value theory). Then the chapter describes methodology for design-based research to apply and test learning theories in authentic learning environments. The chapter emphasizes the alignment between design-based research and current research practices in computing education. Finally, the chapter discusses the four stages of learning sciences projects. Examples from computing education research are given for each stage to illustrate the shared goals and methods of the two fields and to argue for more integration between them.

There’s a 5 minute summary of the chapter ten minutes into the video below:

All welcome. As usual, we’ll be meeting on zoom, see sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us for details. Thanks to this months paper suggestions from Sue Sentance and Nicola Looker.

References

  1. Margulieux, Lauren E.; Dorn, Brian; Searle, Kristin A. (2019). “Learning Sciences for Computing Education“: 208–230. doi:10.1017/9781108654555.009. in In S. A. Fincher & A. V. Robins (Eds.) The Cambridge Handbook of Computing Education Research. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

March 22, 2021

Thank you NHS 🙏

During an average lifetime, the human heart will beat more than 2.5 billion times. Amazing that it works at all, frankly. Computer generated cross section 3D model of the human heart via Wikimedia Commons by DrJanaOfficial at w.wiki/36zc

So what happened was, I’d been having some chest pains for a while and sleeping badly but didn’t think too much of it. Like many parents, we were struggling to balance the competing demands of two full-time jobs with an extra one called homeschooling small children. [1] It was stressful but we were trying, as you do in a pandemic, to get through it one day at a time. My wearable technology reckoned my resting heart rate was higher than it normally was. Not surprising really. I’m no athlete but try to look after my physical and mental health. Thanks to parkrun, I’ve rediscovered running and have continued to run 5km or 10km every other day in order to stay fit, sane and get out of the house during lockdown. I never expected my heart would give me problems.

One night as I was getting ready for bed, I started having palpatations and my heart rate accelerated like Usain Bolt hearing a cardiac starting pistol. As I lay down, I felt short of breath and dizzy and watched my heart rate soar. So I phoned the National Health Service support line (NHS 111) who quickly told me to get down to my local Accident and Emergency (A&E) sharpish.

As a passenger on the drive to hospital I wondered if I was having (or had I had) some kind of heart attack? WTF? I seriously wondered if my time was up. OMG. On arriving at the hospital, a well organised team of people dealt with me efficiently and with a minimum of fuss:

  • The A&E receptionist took my details, told me to sit the in big red chair labelled emergency electrocardiogram / elektro kardiogramm (ECG)
  • The nurses did an electrocardiogram, before my bottom even had a chance to park itself on the big red chair
  • The A&E nurses plastered me with electrodes and hooked me up to one of those beeping heart rate monitors like they have on hospital dramas. Beep beep beep…
  • The X-ray operator zapped me with high energy electromagnetic radiation
  • The nurse swabbed me for viral infections (ouch!) – “Your heart is swollen and its probably caused by a virus”… you mean coronavirus? … “we’re trying to find out”
  • The nurses took samples of blood, monitored my blood pressure, heart rate, oxygen saturation levels through the night and day
  • The hospital porters ferried me around between destinations on a wheelie-bed
  • The medical staff ran the Acute Medical Unit (AMU) where I was transferred to for the rest of the night (which was long, dark and sleepless) and the following day
  • The stream of junior and senior doctors came to examine, question and diagnose me
  • The catering staff served me breakfast, lunch and dinner
  • The nurses re-assured and comforted me through the night
  • The cardiologist interrogated me, outlined the prognosis and discharged me
  • The pharmacist gave me a big bag of drugs to enjoy from the comfort of my own home 💊💊💊

Hospitals can be scary places. What makes them even scarier at the moment is that you’re not allowed visitors because of social distancing. This means when you arrive at A&E you wave goodbye to your family wondering if you’ll see them again. You can phone them thankfully, but they aren’t allowed in the hospital.

Making the hospital less scary was an expert team of dedicated professionals. It was a barrage of names. I can only remember one of them: Theresa. Thanks Theresa and the rest of the team to Stepping Hill hospital. It is reassuring to know that medical staff like you are doing their jobs under challenging circumstances, despite the risks of infecting yourselves and your families.

It’s reassuring that when so many things in society feel like they need reinventing or fixing, that hospitals keep functioning normally. While education, high street retail, the internet, politics, the performing arts, culture and pretty much everything in society struggles with the pandemic, there is one thing that’s working well without any fuss or fanfare. A&E departments. Possibly the only thing I’ve interacted with in the last year that hasn’t felt a bit broken, compromised or vulnerable.

It was a sobering experience in the Acute Medical Unit. People in my part of the AMU had all experienced “cardiac events” of some kind or other. Some people didn’t make it through that long night to see the light of day. So:

  • I’m glad to be here
  • I’m glad to be alive
  • I’m glad the NHS works

Thank you NHS! 🙏

References

  1. Anon (2021) Covid home-schooling: Parents’ ‘nightmare’ juggling work and teaching BBC News, London
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