O'Really?

November 29, 2022

Join us to discuss Computing in school in the UK & Ireland on Monday 5th December at 2pm GMT

Filed under: education — Duncan Hull @ 9:51 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Computing is widely taught in schools in the UK and Ireland, but how does the subject vary across primary and secondary education in Scotland, England, Wales and Ireland? Join us to discuss via a paper published at UKICER.com by Sue Sentance, Diana Kirby, Keith Quille, Elizabeth Cole, Tom Crick and Nicola Looker. [1] From the abstract:

Many countries have increased their focus on computing in primary and secondary education in recent years and the UK and Ireland are no exception. The four nations of the UK have distinct and separate education systems, with England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland offering different national curricula, qualifications, and teacher education opportunities; this is the same for the Republic of Ireland. This paper describes computing education in these five jurisdictions and reports on the results of a survey conducted with computing teachers. A validated instrument was localised and used for this study, with 512 completed responses received from teachers across all five countries The results demonstrate distinct differences in the experiences of the computing teachers surveyed that align with the policy and provision for computing education in the UK and Ireland. This paper increases our understanding of the differences in computing education provision in schools across the UK and Ireland, and will be relevant to all those working to understand policy around computing education in school.

(we’ll be joined by the co-authors of the paper: Sue Sentance and Diana Kirby from the University of Cambridge and the Raspberry Pi Foundation with a lightning talk summary to start our discussion)

All welcome, as usual we’ll be meeting on zoom, details at sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us. Thanks to Joseph Maguire at the University of Glasgow for proposing this months paper.

References

  1. Sue Sentance, Diana Kirby, Keith Quille, Elizabeth Cole, Tom Crick and Nicola Looker (2022) Computing in School in the UK & Ireland: A Comparative Study UKICER ’22: Proceedings of the 2022 Conference on United Kingdom & Ireland Computing Education Research 5 pp 1–7 DOI: 10.1145/3555009.3555015

November 1, 2022

The wildness and freedom of using natural language with joy and pleasure

Filed under: education,engineering,mathematics,Science — Duncan Hull @ 9:32 am
Tags: , , , ,
Public domain portrait of Stephen Fry by the US Embassy in London on Wikimedia Commons w.wiki/4wrn

It’s easy to undervalue the importance of natural languages like English because we use them everyday. Scientists and engineers can be particularly bad at this, often overlooking the importance of written and spoken language. It probably doesn’t help that in the UK, and many other countries, many students choose either an exclusively scientific-mathematical path OR an arty-humanities path through their education, especially in the latter stages. This means that the two cultures of humanities and science are thriving, but still living in separate houses like an estranged and bickering couple. In the worst case scenario, two cultures in society produces graduate scientists and engineers with weaker communication and literacy, and articulate humanities graduates with weaker technical & numeracy skills.

Over on BBC4, Alan Yentob is having conversations with prominent artistes. [1] The first episode in the series is with writer, presenter, comedian and actor Stephen Fry. As a self-confessed Fry-fanboi, I enjoyed his description of the joy of using language:

YENTOB: Why do you need all that stuff?

FRY: I think what underlies 90%, if not more, is language, is a real profound love and excitement at the process of putting one word after another and what happens when you do it.

Not just the meanings that are conveyed and the moods you can create with language, but even the text of it, the tip of the tongue hitting the back of the teeth, the rhythm, the swing, the swoop, the flow, the joy, the sound and sex of language. People have that with music. We all have it with music. Music is often described as being beyond language, and indeed it is and I’m the first to say how profound I think music is.

But everybody has language, and yet almost nobody has such a realisation of what a beautiful thing it can be. I mean one of the thrills that’s happened in music in the last 20 or so years, I suppose, is rap and hip-hop and poetry slamming and things like that because then it’s taken away from the normal people who are people like me, who, as it were, have an educated sense of language and its returned to where language belongs.

And so the wildness and freedom of using language with joy and pleasure and realising we’re all the equivalent of grade eight musicians, or painters, only with language.

References

  1. Janet Lee and David Shulman (2022) In Conversation with Alan Yentob: Stephen Fry bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001dh8p

July 4, 2022

Join us to discuss the implications of the Open AI codex on introductory programming Monday 4th July at 2pm BST

Automatic code generators have been with us a while, but how do modern AI powered bots perform on introductory programming assignments? Join us to discuss the implications of the OpenAI Codex on introductory programming courses on Monday 4th July at 2pm BST. We’ll be discussing a paper by James Finnie-Ansley, Paul Denny, Brett A. Becker, Andrew Luxton-Reilly and James Prather [1] for our monthly SIGCSE journal club meetup on zoom. Here is the abstract:

Recent advances in artificial intelligence have been driven by an exponential growth in digitised data. Natural language processing, in particular, has been transformed by machine learning models such as OpenAI’s GPT-3 which generates human-like text so realistic that its developers have warned of the dangers of its misuse. In recent months OpenAI released Codex, a new deep learning model trained on Python code from more than 50 million GitHub repositories. Provided with a natural language description of a programming problem as input, Codex generates solution code as output. It can also explain (in English) input code, translate code between programming languages, and more. In this work, we explore how Codex performs on typical introductory programming problems. We report its performance on real questions taken from introductory programming exams and compare it to results from students who took these same exams under normal conditions, demonstrating that Codex outscores most students. We then explore how Codex handles subtle variations in problem wording using several published variants of the well-known “Rainfall Problem” along with one unpublished variant we have used in our teaching. We find the model passes many test cases for all variants. We also explore how much variation there is in the Codex generated solutions, observing that an identical input prompt frequently leads to very different solutions in terms of algorithmic approach and code length. Finally, we discuss the implications that such technology will have for computing education as it continues to evolve, including both challenges and opportunities. (see accompanying slides)

All welcome, details at sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us. Thanks to Jim Paterson at Glasgow Caledonian University for nominating this months paper.

References

  1. James Finnie-Ansley, Paul Denny, Brett A. Becker, Andrew Luxton-Reilly, James Prather (2022) The Robots Are Coming: Exploring the Implications of OpenAI Codex on Introductory Programming ACE ’22: Australasian Computing Education Conference Pages 10–19 DOI:10.1145/3511861.3511863

May 25, 2022

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

Filed under: education — Duncan Hull @ 10:14 am
Tags:
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.

References

  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

References

  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

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.

References

  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 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 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.

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
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