O'Really?

March 4, 2020

Join us to discuss student misconceptions in programming, March 23rd from 1pm to 2pm

smallerscream

The Scream by Edvard Munch 😱, reproduced in LEGO by Nathan Sawaya, the BrickArtist.com

In Canterbury, Glasgow and Manchester, we’re starting a journal club, as part of uki-sigcse.acm.org, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Special Interest Group (SIG) on Computer Science Education (CSE). Journal clubs are like a book clubs, but instead of chatting about books we discuss journal papers instead. Who should come? What’s on the agenda? How can you join and what are our club rules? Read on…

Who should come?

Our journal club will be of interest to:

  • Educators who teach some flavour of computing or you run a coding boot camp.
  • Employers who employ and train software engineers, data scientists, developers, coders, programmers, etc
  • Employees your boss has sent you on a training program or bootcamp to learn or improve your programming
  • Students what misconceptions about programming have you encountered?
  • Everyone and anyone who is curious. Our doors are open, this is not an ivory tower. Everyone has something to learn, everyone has something to teach.

Agenda: The paper we’ll be discussing

If you’d like to join us, read the paper: Identifying Student Misconceptions of Programming by Lisa Kaczmarczyk et al [1] which was voted a top paper from the last 50 years by SIGCSE members in 2019. Here is a summary:

Computing educators are often baffled by the misconceptions that their CS1 students hold. We need to understand these misconceptions more clearly in order to help students form correct conceptions. This paper describes one stage in the development of a concept inventory for Computing Fundamentals: investigation of student misconceptions in a series of core CS1 topics previously identified as both important and difficult. Formal interviews with students revealed four distinct themes, each containing many interesting misconceptions. Three of those misconceptions are detailed in this paper: two misconceptions about memory models, and data assignment when primitives are declared. Individual misconceptions are related, but vary widely, thus providing excellent material to use in the development of the CI. In addition, CS1 instructors are provided immediate usable material for helping their students understand some difficult introductory concepts.

In case you’re wondering, CS1 refers to the first course in the introductory sequence of a computer science major (in American parlance), roughly equivalent to first year undergraduate in the UK. CI refers to a Concept Inventory, a test designed to tell teachers exactly what students know and don’t know. According to Reinventing Nerds, the paper has been influential because it was the “first to apply rigorous research methods to investigating misconceptions”. After a brief introduction to the paper and its authors we will discuss the following:

  • What is good about the paper?
  • What could be improved?
  • What is the most surprising or interesting thing you got from the paper?
  • How convincing is the evidence, arguments and conclusions presented?
  • How could you use the results and insights in your own teaching or training program?
  • What are the next steps that follow on from this research? What has already been done to follow on from this work?
  • Has consensus and opinion moved since the publication of this paper ten years ago? If so, how and why?
  • Why was this paper voted top 10 of all time by SIGCSE.org members?
  • Are there any elephants in the room? Does the paper omit anything relevant or gloss over important details?
  • What do we know that we know (Rumsfeld’s known knowns)
  • What do we know that we don’t know (Rumsfeld’s known unknowns)
  • A.O.B.: Any other questions or comments?
  • Why was this paper chosen for journal club?
  • What paper should we discuss at our next meeting?

How can you join?

We’ll be meeting in the Atlas rooms, Kilburn building, Department of Computer Science, University of Manchester, M13 9PL, see bit.ly/directions-to-kilburn-building and www.cs.manchester.ac.uk/about/maps-and-travel online using Zoom, find login details and register at sigman1.eventbrite.co.uk.

Can’t make it this time? Groups will be running in parallel in Glasgow (23rd March at 1pm with Quintin Cutts) and Canterbury (Friday 27th March, 14.00, Room S132 in the Cornwallis building, School of Computing with Sally Fincher) to discuss the same paper. You can also join us online using the hashtag #SIGCSEJClub. If you’d like to know about future journal clubs in Manchester send an email to with the text…

subscribe sigcse-journal-club yourfirstname yoursecondname

…in the body of your email.

Start your own local journal club

If Manchester, Glasgow or Canterbury aren’t easy for you to get to, start your own journal club by joining SIGCSE at uki-sigcse.acm.org/membership and posting the details to their mailing list. We plan to have regular journal clubs every three months or so where we’ll discuss the same paper nationally during journal club week: this one is Monday 23rd to Friday 27th March.

 

Journal club rules

We will loosely be following the guidelines at Ten Simple Rules for Running a Journal Club including:

  • It will be casual  not formal. There will be coffee and refreshments available. We won’t be providing lunch but feel free to bring your own. Some companies call them brown bag meetings, because many of us may will only have an hour so we need to get straight down to business.
  • It’s about more than just the articles. We are building (and strengthening) communities of practice amongst peers in Computer Science education, not just inside academia but in industry as well. Don’t be shy, all are welcome!
  • Multidisciplinary is not a dirty word: we aim to foster equality, diversity and inclusion of different people, disciplines, practices and viewpoints. That means we’re open to anyone teaching computer science. That could be in a school, FE college, University, bootcamp, onboarding scheme, company induction or employers staff training program etc. Students are welcome too. The more diverse our journal club is, the stronger it will be.
  • Topics will reflect the diversity of our membership. We’ve started with student misconceptions, but we invite proposals for which paper we should discuss at our next meeting so we can vote on them.
  • We’ll pick interesting papers, but they don’t have to be award winning. Papers don’t need to be heavily cited either, but they do have to be thought provoking and provide something meaty to discuss alongside practical tips that can be put into practice straight away.

Any questions? Let me know in the comments section below, via email or twitter.

You might also like…

If you care about the training & education of software engineers and computer scientists, you might also be interested in #CSEdResearchBookClub which will take place on Thursday 5th March at 8pm. They’ll be discussing a paper by Sue Sentance et al. on using Predict, Run, Investigate, Modify & Make (PRIMM) called Teaching computer programming with PRIMM: a sociocultural perspective. CS education book club is co-ordinated by Jane Waite at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) see below:

References

  1. Kaczmarczyk, Lisa C.; Petrick, Elizabeth R.; East, J. Philip; Herman, Geoffrey L. (2010). Identifying student misconceptions of programming, SIGCSE ’10: Proceedings of the 41st ACM technical symposium on Computer science educationages 107–111doi:10.1145/1734263.1734299

December 10, 2019

Thank you Sara and Bhav at Wikimedia UK

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Participants in the Training of Trainers workshop at the University of Glasgow, November 2019. Picture by Sara Thomas (WMUK) [CC BY-SA 4.0 commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:TtT_Group_Shot_2.jpg

Last month I attended a three day Training of Trainers (ToT) course at the University of Glasgow. Run as an interactive workshop, the course was designed to help leaders of Wikipedia training events to improve their delivery and organisation. Having participated and run several Wikipedia events in the past, such an Ada Lovelace event earlier this year, I was keen to learn how do things better. Here’s a report on the workshop, with some bonus extra curricular Glasgow goodies thrown in for good measure. Thanks again Sara Thomas and Bhavesh Patel for organising and delivering the course.

As a charity, Wikimedia UK (WMUK) is part of the global Wikimedia movement. WMUK organises events in order to:

… work in partnership with organisations from the cultural and education sectors and beyond in order to unlock content, remove barriers to knowledge, develop new ways of engaging with the public and enable learners to benefit fully from the educational potential of the Wikimedia projects.

Most of the workshop participants (pictured top right) were from Gallery, Library, Archive and Museum (GLAM)  institutions and a few educational and charitable ones too. Over the three days, here is what we covered:

Day one: Getting started

We kicked off with some introductory activities including “head, heart & hands” from Waldorf education. We looked at needs analysis (Who are the participants? What is the purpose?), adult learning (particularly Howard Gardners theory of multiple intelligences) and design skills (using David Kolb’s experiential learning and Bernice McCarthy’s 4MAT).

Day two: From theory to practice

The second day revisited design skills while touching on delivery skills and group work. This covered elocution, voice projection, body language and an examination the range of experiential activities that can be utilised in workshops. We also discussed aspects of Dave Meier’s accelerated learning (with feedback) and finished the day up with teams preparing for activities for day three.

Day three: The Show Must Go On

The final day of the course finished with the participants divided into four small teams. Each presented a on hour mini-session and had it critiqued by peers. This enabled us to learn from;

  • Our own mistakes
  • Other peoples mistakes
  • Copying / stealing other peoples good ideas, of which there were plenty. Thanks Abd, Daria, Doug, Eoin, Ian, Tara, Ian, Madeleine, Marianne, Saeeda, Tore, Sara and Bhav!

Overall, this was a really useful and memorable training course, one of the best training courses I’ve been on. The content, participants, location were all great and I felt empowered by taking the course as well as making useful contacts from a range of different organisations. It had a clearly defined purpose, well chosen activities and participants, with nothing irrelevant presented. There were tonnes of practical ideas to put into practice straight away which I look forward to doing in 2020. If you’d like to do the course, get in touch with Wikimedia UK.

While in Glasgow, it would be rude not to take advantage of all the bonus extra curricular activities the city has to offer:

Bonus 1: People Make Glasgow Hospitable 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿

They say that People Make Glasgow, and Glaswegians are very hospitable. In between training sessions our host Sara showed us around the city, including the University cloisters (etc), Inn Deep on the banks of the River Kelvin and Curlers Rest in the West End. Sara’s impressive knowledge of Glasgow and its history is wikipedian in its depth and breadth.

Bonus 2: Glaswegian-Mancunian connections 🇬🇧

To me, Glasgow and Manchester feel like sibling cities separated at birth. If you’re English, Glasgow can feel like a Scottish Manchester. Perhaps Manchester feels like an English Glasgow to the Scots? Here is the case:

  • Second city syndrome 🥈: As second cities, both Glasgow and Manchester live in the shadow of their more famous capitals, Edinburgh and London. Both cities are the “belly and guts” of their respective nations. Glasgow had its docks, Manchester had its cotton. While both trades are long gone, they leave similar post-industrial legacies on the culture and infrastructure of their respective cities.
  • Shipping 🚢: Ships, shipping, docks, ports, quays and wharfs run deep in both cities. Glasgow built ships on the River Clyde while Manchester used ships for export and import of goods on its Ship Canal.
  • Football ⚽: Love it or loathe it, the fitbaw connection between Glasgow and Manchester is strong [1,2]. Scrolling through the list of Manchester United managers I count not just one, two or even three but FOUR Glaswegians. Matt Busby (Belshill is basically Glasgow), Tommy Docherty, Alex Ferguson and David Moyes. Is this a coincidence or catholicism? [1,2] Who knows, but my hypothesis is that being shouted at in a strong Glaswegian accent can make teams perform better (although it didn’t work very well for Moyes). I wonder how many Glasgow kisses Alex Ferguson gave his overpaid prima donna squad to keep them in line? Strangely, the fitbaw manager connection isn’t reciprocated: I can’t find any Mancunians in the list of Celtic managers or the list of Rangers managers

Bonus 3: King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut 🎸

Glasgow is home to the legendary King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut. This humble venue, relatively small with a capacity of only 300, has hosted an impressive range artists including Coldplay, Radiohead, Oasis, Blur, Pulp, Manic Street Preachers, you name it, they’ve played King Tut’s. Curious to find out what all the fuss was about, I arranged to meetup with an old Glaswegian friend for a drink at the venue. Assuming the gig that night would be sold out we asked at the bar who was playing. Turns out they had a handful of tickets left, so we spontaneously bought a pair to see Blanco White. Mixing Andalusian and Latin American influences, Blanco White play melancholic but beautiful tunes using a variety of instruments including the Charango [3]. Part of the reason King Tut’s is legendary is Glaswegian audiences are lively, and it was fun to see the band visibly moved by what Josh Edwards, the lead singer told us was:  “easily the best reception we’ve had in months of touring”.

Bonus 4: Like a Brudge over troubled water 🌊

Looking for a walk, run or ride in Glasgow? There are some great routes around the city like the Glasgow River Clyde Bridges, with at least 21 bridges to cross the Clyde on. On an early morning run, I couldn’t find any of the “bridges”, but there were plenty of “brudges” and some fantastic scenery along the Clyde. Och aye!

Bonus 5: The Glasgow Bucket List ☑️

There is still loads on my personal Glasgow bucket list for future visits, like the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, St. Mungo’s Cathedral, the Riverside Museum, Glasgow City Chambers, People’s Palace and the Glasgow Science Centre. What a great place Glasgow is, if you’ve never been, what are you waiting for?

References

    1. Frank Worrall (2007) Celtic United: Glasgow and Manchester – Two Football Clubs, One Passion, Mainstream publishing ISBN: 9781845962760
    2. Kieran Cunningham (2016) Alex Ferguson: The Irish Connection The Irish Daily Star, buzz.ie ☘️
    3. Blanco White: Olalla, more than a name…

July 17, 2019

Educating Computer Scientists: What should we discuss at #SIGCSE journal club?

fightclub

The first rule of journal club is, you do not talk about journal club. The second rule of journal club is, YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT JOURNAL CLUB.* Discussions will go on as long as they have to. If this is your first time at journal club, you have to debate. Dress code: silly frocks and ridiculous hats are optional. Picture of my colleagues in the School of Computer Science ready for a graduation ceremony 2013, by Toby Howard.

So we’re starting a new Journal Club and Special Interest Group (SIG) for lecturers, teachers and course leaders in Manchester to discuss Computer Science Education (CSE). We’ll pick interesting papers, read them and then meet regularly to discuss them. It’s a bit like Fight Club but instead of beating each other up, we’ll “beat up” (review & critique) papers. Hopefully we’ll all learn something along the way. The first question to answer is, which papers should we discuss?

Computer Science (CS) is a young and professionally immature subject, it has only been taught at undergraduate level since 1965 in the UK. Across the pond in America, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (sigcse.org) only started as recently as 1968, making it a very spritely fifty years young. On educational timescales, computer science is a whipper snapper! Fifty years is peanuts when you compare it to the millennia that mathematics has been taught for. In ancient Greece the earliest lessons were mathematics hence μάθημα (mathematics) means the lesson and derivatives like μαθαίνω (matheno) mean to learn or to know. While the greeks built some impressive analogue computers, digital computers and computer science as we now know it, did not exist in Ancient Greece. 🇬🇷 

What this means is that there is plenty of evidence about what works (and what doesn’t) when teaching mathematics. In contrast, how to teach Computer Science, what should be taught and why, to whom and when are all open questions

So, to get the ball rolling here are nine papers that tackle some of these open questions in Computer Science Education. We’ll vote on the three most interesting papers and read them before meeting to review them. Many of these papers are likely to be of interest to “educators” in its broadest sense. That means anyone teaching coding, computer science, tinkering, hacking and software/hardware engineering at any level. Which includes primary schools, code clubs, bootcamps, CoderDojos, hackathons, secondary schools, CPD programmes, K-12 education, lifelong learning, staff training courses, onboarding, induction, adult education programmes, return to work schemes and so on. If you’d like to join us we’ll be meeting in the Kilburn building, Manchester, M13 9PL (mosty likely first week of September, date and time tbc, drop me a line). Otherwise enjoy reading the insights below (DOI’s link to originals which may be behind a paywall, freely accessible versions are provided where available). Some papers are quite short, and have been selected for the topic they discuss rather than the quality of the content.

Twenty dirty tricks to train software engineers by Ray Dawson

A classic paper from Ray Dawson in the department of Computer Science at Loughborough University describing dirty tricks they use to introducing the frustrating realities of a software engineering development to students.

“Many employers find that graduates and sandwich students come to them poorly prepared for the every day problems encountered at the workplace. Although many university students undertake team projects at their institutions, an education environment has limitations that prevent the participants experiencing the full range of problems encountered in the real world. To overcome this, action was taken on courses at the Plessey Telecommunications company and Loughborough University to disrupt the students’ software development progress. These actions appear mean and vindictive, and are labeled ‘dirty tricks’ in this paper, but their value has been appreciated by both the students and their employers. The experiences and learning provided by twenty ‘dirty tricks’ are described and their contribution towards teaching essential workplace skills is identified. The feedback from both students and employers has been mostly informal but the universally favourable comments received give strong indications that the courses achieved their aim of preparing the students for the workplace. The paper identifies some limitations on the number and types of ‘dirty tricks’ that can be employed at a university and concludes that companies would benefit if such dirty tricks were employed in company graduate induction programmes as well as in university courses.”

Identifying student misconceptions of programming by Lisa Kaczmarczyk et al

This paper by Lisa Kaczmarczyk et al (formerly University of California, San Diego) recently came top of the ACM SIGCSE Top Ten Symposium Papers of All Time. In Lisa’s own words from the reinventing nerds podcast “The paper is sharing the results of a research study about misconceptions that novice computer science students have. Computer science is also a very abstract topic and the mistakes that students make are often baffling. The paper reports on the misconceptions that students have and why they have them. It’s important because this paper was the first to apply rigorous research methods to investigating misconceptions.” From the abstract:

“Computing educators are often baffled by the misconceptions that their CS1 students hold. We need to understand these misconceptions more clearly in order to help students form correct conceptions. This paper describes one stage in the development of a concept inventory for Computing Fundamentals: investigation of student misconceptions in a series of core CS1 topics previously identified as both important and difficult. Formal interviews with students revealed four distinct themes, each containing many interesting misconceptions. Three of those misconceptions are detailed in this paper: two misconceptions about memory models, and data assignment when primitives are declared. Individual misconceptions are related, but vary widely, thus providing excellent material to use in the development of the CI. In addition, CS1 instructors are provided immediate usable material for helping their students understand some difficult introductory concepts.”

Stride in BlueJ – Computing for All in an Educational IDE by Michael Kölling et al

This paper by Michael Kölling et al describes an Integrated Development Environment (IDE) that combines the best features of visual programming languages (blockly, scratch etc) with text-based programming (such as Python, Java, C etc) for use in BlueJ.org.

“In introductory programming teaching, block-based editors have become very popular because they offer a number of strong advantages for beginning programmers: They avoid many syntax errors, can display all available instructions for visual selection and encourage experimentation with little requirement for recall. Among proficient programmers, however, text-based systems are strongly
preferred due to several usability and productivity advantages for expert users. In this paper, we provide a comprehensive introduction to a novel editing paradigm, frame-based editing – including design, implementation, experimentation and analysis. We describe how the design of this paradigm combines many advantages of block-based and text-based systems, then we present and discuss an implementation of such a system for a new Java-like language called Stride, including the results of several evaluation studies. The resulting editing system has clear advantages for both novices and expert programmers: It improves program representation and error avoidance for beginners and can speed up program manipulation for experts. Stride can also serve as an ideal stepping stone from
block-based to text-based languages in an educational context.”

  • Kölling, Michael; Brown, Neil C. C.; Hamza, Hamza; McCall, Davin (2019). “Stride in BlueJ — Computing for All in an Educational IDE”: Proceeding SIGCSE ’19 Proceedings of the 50th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education 63–69. DOI:10.1145/3287324.3287462

Ten quick tips for teaching programming by Neil Brown and Greg Wilson

This short paper from Neil Brown at King’s College London and Greg Wilson of software carpentry fame, is part of the popular Public Library of Science (PLOS) Ten Simple Rules series. The tips capture some ongoing research in listicle format.

“Research from educational psychology suggests that teaching and learning are subject-specific activities: learning programming has a different set of challenges and techniques than learning physics or learning to read and write. Computing is a younger discipline than mathematics, physics, or biology, and while there have been correspondingly fewer studies of how best to teach it, there is a growing body of evidence about what works and what doesn’t. This paper presents 10 quick tips that should be the foundation of any teaching of programming, whether formal or informal.

These tips will be useful to anyone teaching programming at any level and to any audience.”

How to Involve Students in FOSS Projects by Heidi Ellis et al

Initiatives like Google Summer of Code (GSoC) and Git going in FOSS aim to get students involved in Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) projects, through paid work and online tutorials. Some courses use FOSS projects to teach software engineering, though these are fairly unusual. How can we get more students (and teachers) involved in FOSS projects? This paper by Heidi J. C. Ellis provides some guidance

“Software projects are frequently used to provide software engineering students with an understanding of the complexities of real-world software development. Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) projects provide a unique opportunity for student learning as projects are open and accessible and students are able to interact with an established professional community. However, many faculty members have little or no experience participating in an open source software project. In addition, faculty members may be reluctant to approach student learning within such a project due to concerns over time requirements, learning curve, the unpredictability of working with a “live” community, and more. This paper provides guidance to instructors desiring to involve students in open source projects.”

  • Ellis, Heidi J. C.; Hislop, Gregory W.; Chua, Mel; Dziallas, Sebastian (2011). “How to involve students in FOSS projects” Frontiers in Education Conference (FIE) DOI:10.1109/FIE.2011.6142994 (ironically, if there is an open access version of this paper, I can’t find it! Another nominee for the Open Access Irony Awards)

A methodology for using GitLab for software engineering learning analytics by Julio César Cortés Ríos et al

This paper by Julio César Cortés Ríos at the University of Manchester describes using GitLab to analyse and improve courses.

“To bridge the digital skills gap, we need to train more people in Software Engineering techniques. This paper reports on a project exploring the way students solve tasks using collaborative development platforms and version control systems, such as GitLab, to find patterns and evaluation metrics that can be used to improve the course content and reflect on the most common issues the students are facing. In this paper, we explore Learning Analytics approaches that can be used with GitLab and similar tools, and discuss the challenges raised when applying those approaches in Software Engineering Education, with the objective of building a pipeline that supports the full Learning Analytics cycle, from data extraction to data analysis. We focus in particular on the data anonymisation step of the proposed pipeline to explore the available alternatives to satisfy the data protection requirements when handling personal information in academic environments for research purposes.”

Scaling Introductory Courses Using Undergraduate Teaching Assistants

Teaching computer science to large classes requires typically requires armies of teaching assistants, demonstrators. Your TA’s need to know their stuff and should be able to deal with students in a fair and consistent way. This paper is a medley of opinions from Jeffrey Forbes at Duke University, David Malan from Harvard University, Heather Pon-Barry from Mt. Holyoke College, Stuart Reges from the University of Washington and Mehran Sahami from Stanford University.

“Undergraduates are widely used in support of Computer Science (CS) departments’ teaching missions as teaching assistants, peer mentors, section leaders, course assistants, and tutors. Those undergraduates engaged in teaching have the opportunity to deeply engage with CS concepts and develop key communication and social competencies. As enrollments surge, undergraduate teaching assistants (UTAs) play a larger role in student experience and outcomes. While faculty and graduate student instructional support does not necessarily increase with the number of students in our courses, the number of qualified undergraduate teaching assistants for introductory CS courses should scale with the number of students in our courses. With large courses, the significance of the UTAs’ role in students’ learning likely also increases. Students have relatively little interaction with the instructor, and faculty may have more challenges monitoring and supporting individual UTAs. UTAs have a major role in affecting climate in computer science courses. The climate in large courses has substantial implications for students from groups traditionally underrepresented in computing. This panel will discuss how undergraduate teaching assistants can serve as a scalable effective teaching resource that benefits both the students in the course and the UTAs themselves.”

What Are We Doing When We Teach Computing & Programming by Sally Fincher

Two related papers by Sally Fincher at the University of Kent, the first published in 1999…

“The academic discipline of computer science uniquely prepares students for future study by teaching the fundamental construct of its practice-programming- before anything else. The disciplinary argument seems to run that if a student is not versed in the practicalities, then they cannot appreciate the underlying concepts of the discipline. This may be true. However an analogous simulation would be if it were thought necessary for architecture students to be taught bricklaying before they could appreciate the fundamentals of building design. This argument is clearly flawed when compared to endeavours such as the study of English Literature, which makes no claim to teach the practice of producing work before the study of the products of others work. It is possible that this is an argument of disciplinary maturity-that all disciplines have passed through a similar phase. This paper examines the emergent approaches being defined, all of which address the central concern of the teaching of programming and its relationship to the learning of computer science. It examines: the “syntax-free” approach of Richard Bornat and Russel Shackelford, the “problem-solving” approach of David Barnes (et al.), the “literacy” approach of Peter Juliff and Owen Astrachan and the “computation-as-interaction” approach of Lynn Andrea Stein. These approaches are discussed both in their own terms, and also placed in a preliminary taxonomic framework for the teaching of programming.”

….and the second published in 2015 (see comments on Mark Guzdial’s summary):

“Research on the cognitive, educational, and policy dimensions of teaching computing is critical to achieving “computer literacy.”

Making CS Learning Visible: Case Studies on How Visibility of Student Work Supports a Community of Learners in CS Classrooms by Amber Solomon et al

This is a paper by Amber Solomon et al from the Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education (ITiCSE) conference is about reducing defensive and competitive (macho?) cultures in Computer Science  (via Mark Guzdials blog).

Modern learning theories emphasize the critical social aspect of learning. Computer science (CS) classrooms often have “defensive climates” that inhibit social learning and prevent the development of a community of learners. We believe that we can improve the social context of computer science learning by expanding CS learning beyond the single student in front of a display screen. Our theory is that the single student and single display inhibits collaboration and collaborative awareness of student work. In this paper, we present two case studies where we explored ways to make student work visible to peers. The first case study involved using a studio model for learning enabled by projection-based Augmented Reality (AR), and the second case study involves using a maker-oriented curriculum to make student work visible. Findings suggest the visibility of student work in CS classrooms helped support a community of learners: students collaborated, used each other as sources of inspiration, and felt more comfortable asking for help.

References and notes

*”You do not talk about Journal Club” is an adapted quote from the 1999 film Fight Club, see below. I’m only joking, you are of course welcome to talk to anyone who will listen about Journal Club.

Talking of David Malan, you can see his talk on making CS50 scale when he visited Manchester in 2017

July 5, 2019

Are Liverpool and Manchester still in Lancashire?

Red_Rose_Badge_of_Lancaster.svg

The Red Rose of Lancaster is the county flower of Lancashire. 🌹Image by Sodacan, created with Inkscape. [CC BY-SA 3.0] via Wikimedia Commons.

Once upon a time, there were two football teams, a Northern one (Liverpool F.C.) and a Southern one, (Tottenham Hotspur F.C.). They were due to meet each other in a historic and lucrative match: the 2019 UEFA Champions League Final in Madrid. The biggest prize in European club football would be awarded to whichever team triumphed on the 1st June 2019. As with all zero-sum games, only one team could be crowned champions of Europe.

This particular match posed a cruel dilemma for football supporters across the North of England. Which team to support? The local Northern team or the Southern London one, on the other side of the North-South divide?

Scousers or Cockneys?

For football supporters in Manchester, this dilemma had an added dimension. Both of the Mancunian teams: United and City had been knocked out shortly beforehand. A woeful United were humiliated by superior spaniards from FC Barcelona (4-0) while City lost to Spurs during a dramatic game. The video assistant referee (VAR) judged that Raheem Sterling hadn’t scored the winning goal in the dying minutes of the game because he was offside. Ouch. With both Mancunian teams out of the running, the Champions League final was simply a question of which team you hated less, the scousers from Liverpool or the cockneys from London? A difficult choice, especially for Mancunians.

Mancs and Scousers: Sibling rivalry

Now Manchester and Liverpool have a long rivalry, not just in sport, arts and science but in commerce too. For example, when Mancunian traders got fed up with paying the duties charged by Liverpool for using their docks to export goods, they decided to bypass them by building the Manchester Ship Canal. This transformed Manchester into a port – even though it is more than 30 miles from the sea. The new ship canal gave the Port of Liverpool the finger: sibling rivalry on an industrial scale. You want to rip us off? We’ll just route around you bro!

Liverpool, Lancashire: Manchester, Mancashire

Like many siblings, the twin cities of Manchester and Liverpool have much in common. They are both joined by the River Mersey and share a common commercial and cultural rival: the megacity of London. As well as being on the same river, both Manchester and Liverpool are in the same county too; Lancashire. Symbolised since the Wars of the Roses by the Red Rose of Lancaster.🌹 Historically, there’s a strong argument for Mancunian supporters to back Liverpool over London. We are brothers in arms, sisters in arms, siblings from the House of Lancaster, two red roses from the very same rootstock.🌹

Lancashire_1610_Speed_Hondius_-_Restoration

John Speed’s map of the County Palatine of Lancaster (Lancashire) in 1610. The River Mersey joins Manchester to Liverpool along the bottom of the map and separates Lancashire in the North from Cheshire in the South. The Pennines roughly separate Lancashire in the West from Yorkshire in the East. Picture by Jodocus Hondius, engraved by John Speed, and restored by Adam Cuerden. This is a retouched picture, digitally altered from its original version. Public domain picture from Wikimedia Commons.

An organisation called the Friends of Real Lancashire (FORL) @FORLancashire puts it another way on their website forl.co.uk (emphasis mine):

“Friends of Real Lancashire are concerned to promote the true identity of our county which has been extremely confused in the minds of some people, especially those working in the broadcasting and newspaper industries, since the local government reorganisation of 1974.

The Government at that time stated that the “new counties” were administrative areas only, and that the boundaries of traditional counties such as Lancashire had not been changed. Unfortunately, the media refer to these administrative areas all too frequently and ignore the fact that places such as Barrow-in-Furness, Liverpool, Manchester, Warrington, etc. are still in Lancashire.

If administrative areas had not been called counties much of this confusion would have been avoided. The Royal Mail has at last dropped the use of administrative county names in postal addresses, and names such as Cumbria and Merseyside do not appear in the current Royal Mail Postal Address Book.”

Lucifer over Lancashire

As a follower of Manchester United, I backed our Lancastrian siblings from Liverpool. As someone with Lancashire roots, it is red roses all the way, any day and I was happy when Liverpool got the victory they deserved. Like Andy Burnham, we’re not anti-London, just pro-North. Come on Lancashire, ‘AVE IT!

My fellow United supporters didn’t see it that way. They looked at me like I was the devil incarnate, or Lucifer over Lancashire, as Mark E. Smith used to sing. How could I support Liverpool, a scouse football team? They called me a traitor, a scally and lots of other names that can’t be repeated here. Such is the sibling rivalry between LFC and MUFC. When Alex Ferguson arrived as a new manager of United in 1986 he said:

 “My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their f****ng perch. And you can print that.

Which sums it up. Forget Lancashire, forget The North, forget George Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse. United and City fans should support Spurs, the Southern Powerhouse team, because they’re not Liverpool. Support anyone you like, absolutely anyone, apart from Liverpool. Or so they told me…

Conclusion

So are Manchester and Liverpool still in Lancashire? It depends who you ask:

  • If you consult a map, the answer you’ll get will depend on who made the map and when it was made.
  • If you type a Mancunian or Scouse postcode into the Royal Mail postcode & address finder it won’t mention Lancashire, Greater Manchester, Merseyside or even Cheshire so you’ll be none the wiser.
  • If you ask a football fan, they will probably be too blinded by bitter sporting rivalry to give you a sensible answer.
  • If you ask the government, they are preoccupied at the moment, and have more important international borders to think about.
  • If you ask the Friends of Real Lancashire they’ll tell you absolutely YES without question, Manchester and Liverpool are still in Lancashire, because they never left. Our county is called LANCASHIRE, not “Cumbria”, “Greater Manchester”, “Merseyside” or “part of Cheshire”. I’m inclined to agree with them. 🌹

 References

NOTE: Here’s a good related pub quiz question which will sort the wheat from the chaff: Which football team plays closest the River Mersey? (Google it.)

June 29, 2019

The Small Scale Experimental Beer Machine aka “Manchester Beerby”

beerby

The Small Scale Experimental Beer Machine (aka Manchester Beerby) has its name in neon lights and was switched on on the 21st June 2019.

A new pub has opened opposite where I work. Set up by some enterprising scotsmen from Aberdeenshire (🏴󠁧󠁢󠁳󠁣󠁴󠁿 och aye laddie!), it has its very own microbrewery. They have called the microbrewery the The Small Scale Experimental Beer Machine (SSEBM).

As I work in a Computer Science department, this pleased me no end, because it is an appropriate nod to the Small-Scale Experimental Machine (SSEM) aka the Manchester Baby: the world’s first computer with random access memory (RAM).

Both of these machines were switched on on the 21st June (memory day), one in 1948 the other 71 years later in 2019. Unlike the Manchester Baby, you will actually be able to drink the output of the “Manchester Beerby” 🍺 and it is going to be a lot more quaffable than anything you might find in a cathode ray tube. [1]

The pub is in the heart of a new Bruntwood development called University Green, a pleasant leafy space with retail and restaurants centred around the Alliance Manchester Business School (AMBS). Like most things in the green, its a bit pricey but the beer is good, the food is tasty and the staff are friendly. Brewdog Outpost Manchester is a relaxing place to hang out.

I wonder what the engineers of the Manchester Baby, Tom Kilburn and Freddie Williams, would make of the Manchester Beerby? 🍻

References

  1. Williams, Frederic Kilburn, Tom (1948). Electronic Digital Computers. Nature162(4117): 487. DOI:10.1038/162487a0

 

July 1, 2016

Dear Europeans, do you know who your MEP is and what they do?

banksy-does-brexitAlong with 16 million other people on the 23rd June 2016 I voted to remain in the European Union (EU). I believe the benefits of EU membership exceed the costs. Free trade and free movement have been beneficial to me personally, many of those around me, as well as the wider UK economy [1]. I even married an EU migrant too, so I love Europe in more ways that one. Life outside the EU is very difficult to imagine, professionally, financially, culturally and personally.

So when I woke up to Brexit EuroDoom last Friday, to find I was in a minority outnumbered by 17 million leavers who disagreed, I felt sick. After a gloomy week of miserable soul searching, I realised I didn’t have the foggiest notion who my Member of European Parliament (MEP) was or how they got elected. Although not a student of (or expert in) politics or economics, I don’t believe I am apathetic or unaware. I follow the news, vote in general elections and write letters to my MP. I try to understand what is going on in politics and bend my head around the dismal science of economics. But until this week, I had little or no idea how the European Parliament (EP), let alone the European Commission (EC) or lots of other acronyms starting with E, actually work in practice.

Now if you are also a participant in the failing (?) European project, do YOU know who your MEP is? Any idea what they actually do? The chances are you don’t because Euroignorance is widespread [2]. Fortunately, Professor Google can help us. In Manchester, the MEPs for the North West Region of the UK comprising Cumbria, Lancashire, Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Cheshire are:

Unfortunately, I’d only heard of two of those MEPs beforehand, and neither of them because of their activity during the EU referendum. Nuttall I’d heard of because the comedian Stewart Lee performed a brilliant satirical piece mocking Nuttall’s views on immigration [3]. Woolfe I’d heard of because his campaign leaflet came through my letterbox during the 2015 general election. How did they get elected as MEPs because I can’t remember seeing their names on a ballot paper?

MEPs are elected using the D’Hondt method [4], a form of proportional representation (PR) used in the European elections in 2014 and elsewhere. As of 2016, the three largest UK parties in the European Parliament are: UKIP (24 MEPs), Labour (20 MEPs) and The Conservatives (19 MEPs). Isn’t it remarkable that so many of these MEPS were neither seen or heard during the almost entirely fact-free® debate [1] preceding the UK EU referendum?

So what is the nature of an MEPs power? Back in 1998, a politician by the name of Tony Benn proposed five democratic questions to understand the powerful:

“If one meets a powerful person–Rupert Murdoch, perhaps, or Joe Stalin or Hitler–one can ask five questions:

  1. what power do you have?
  2. where did you get it?
  3. in whose interests do you exercise it?
  4. to whom are you accountable?
  5. how can we get rid of you?”

According to Benn, anyone who cannot answer the last of those questions does not live in a democratic system. [5] Personally, I’d like to get rid of UKIP from the European parliament. How can I do this? While I can’t vote for individuals, I can vote for political parties. However, turnout in european elections is often embarrassingly low, in the UK a pathetic 35.6% showed up in 2014. Which means two thirds of UK voters were unaware or didn’t care who their MEP was, including me. My bad. You could call this democratic deficit, not one where people can’t vote but one where people are unaware or don’t bother.

Right now, it is really hard to see how any good can come of what is unfolding in Great Britain and Europe. Brexit leaves the sector I work in, and many others, facing huge uncertainty [6,7,8]. Let’s hope one thing will happen, a reformed EU where those in power are more engaged and accountable to the people they claim to represent. Personally, I am not in a position to judge if the European Union has a democratic deficit or not [9,10]. Neither can I judge if the European Union is as anti-democratic as some eurosceptics have suggested [11, 12,13]. But I do know something has gone badly wrong with the EU if many europeans have no idea of who their parliamentary representatives are and how they can exercise their democratic rights to get rid of them using the ballot box.

If you are staying in the European Union you have a duty to find out who your MEP is and ask them the five democratic questions above. You better do it quickly before risking a Frexit, Czechout, Swexit, Departugal, Grexit, Bygium, Italeave or bidding Austria La Vista.

References

  1. Zanny Minton Beddoes (2016) The Brexit Briefs: The 17 things you need to know before Britain’s #EUref—in one handy guide, The Economist
  2. Oana Lungescu (2001) EU Poll reveals huge ignorance, BBC News
  3. Stewart Lee (2014) Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle, Series 2: England
  4. Jeremy Vine (2009) D’Hondt Explainer, BBC News
  5. Anon (1998)  House of Commons Debates, Hansard, parliament.uk
  6. Anon (2016) Brexit vote sparks huge uncertainty for UK universities, Times Higher Education
  7. Alison Abbott, Daniel Cressey, Richard Van Noorden (2016) UK scientists in limbo after Brexit shock: Researchers organize to lobby for science as country prepares for life outside the EU Nature, Vol. 534, No. 7609., pp. 597-598, DOI:10.1038/534597a
  8. Anon (2016) Brexit vote highlights lack of leaving plan: Scientists — just like everybody else — have little idea what will happen now that the United Kingdom has voted to exit the European Union. Nature, Vol. 534, No. 7609., pp. 589-589, DOI:10.1038/534589a
  9. Andrew Moravcsik (2008) The Myth of Europe’s “Democratic Deficit” Intereconomics, Volume 43, Issue 6, pp 316–340 DOI:10.1007/s10272-008-0266-7
  10. Michael Dougan (2016) The UK’s position following vote to leave the EU, University of Liverpool, School of Law and Social Justice
  11. Tony Benn (2013) Tony Benn speaks at the Oxford Union on Euroscepticism, The Oxford Union.
  12. Martin Durkin (2016) Brexit: The Movie (warning: contains Nigel Farage and dubious opinions europhiles will find offensive, factual content is highly questionable in places)
  13. Tony Benn (1975) Letter from Tony Benn to his constituents about the UK European referendum of 1975, The Spectator, Coffee House

* Disclaimer, like I’ve already said, my grasp of politics and economics is pretty basic. I have made every reasonable effort to get the facts right but correct any mistakes I might have made below. These are personal views, which do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

July 3, 2015

Manchester Digital, Education & Digital Skills in 2015

deemind

#DeepDream manipulated image of the Creation of Adam, some rights reserved (CC-BY) by Kyle McDonald (@kcimc) on flickr

Manchester Digital a non-profit trade assocation of around 500 digital businesses in the north west of england. Every year they hold elections at their AGM for members of their council who serve for two years. It’s time for me to stand for re-election because my two years is up. Here’s a vote-for-me pitch in 100 words:

Digital skills are crucial to the success of Manchester Digital (MD) but many members of MD struggle to recruit employees with the skills their businesses need. Key questions for MD’s growing membership are how can the skills shortage be met, and what are the responsibilities of employers and educators in addressing the digital skills shortage? As a council member, I would reboot the education special interest group to report thoroughly on these issues at a strategic level. The report would provide an overview of what digital skills young people are likely to have aged 16, 18 and 21+ and what employers can do to bridge the gaps.

If you’re interested in finding out more about Manchester Digital, and hearing from diverse bunch of 18 candidates standing for 6 places on the council, come along to the MD AGM on Thursday 9th July at 5.30pm in Ziferblat (@ziferblatedgest) – where everything is free, except time.

References

  1. #DeepDream Inceptionism: Going Deeper into Neural Networks, Google Research blog
  2. #DeepDream – a code example for visualizing Neural Networks Google Research blog
  3. Britain faces ‘growing shortage’ of digital skills” Daily Telegraph
  4. A UK digital skills gap looms, The Guardian
  5. UK failing to address digital skills shortage, says Lords report, ComputerWeekly.com

October 23, 2014

Two big challenges facing the technology & digital industries (IMHO)

Digital Turing

Alan Turing Binary code, Shoreditch High Street, London by Chris Beckett on Flickr (CC-BY-NC-ND license)

Over at democracy corner, Manchester Digital is interviewing all of its elected council members. Somehow, I got volunteered to be first interviewee. Here’s my two pence on one of the questions asked: “What do you think is biggest challenge we face as an industry?” (with some extra links)

  • Firstly, coding and “computational thinking” [1], needs to be understood as something that isn’t just for developers, geeks, coders, techies, boffins or “whizz kids” – as the Manchester Evening News likes to call them. Computational thinking, the ability to understand problems and provide innovative solutions in software and hardware, is a fundamental skill that everyone can learn, starting in primary school. As well as being fun to learn and practice, it is a crucial skill in a wide range of organisations in digital and beyond. Thankfully, the new computing curriculum in UK schools has recognised and addressed this, but it remains to be seen what the long-term impact of the changes in primary & secondary education will be on employers.
  • Secondly, as an industry, both the digital and technology sectors are seriously hindered by gender imbalance. If only 10-20% of employees are female, then large numbers of talented people are being excluded from the sector – bad news for everyone.

Is that reasonable –  or have I missed the point? Are there more pressing issues facing the technology sector? Either way, you can read the rest of the interview at manchesterdigital.com/democracy-corner which will be supplemented with more interviews of council members every week over the next few months.

References

  1. Wing, J. (2008). Computational thinking and thinking about computing Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A: Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences, 366 (1881), 3717-3725 DOI: 10.1098/rsta.2008.0118

December 10, 2013

Manchester or Mamchester? You’re twistin’ my melon mam!

Filed under: tom-foolery — Duncan Hull @ 6:14 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
Manchester Town Hall

Manchester Town Hall by Richard Hopkins, creative commons licensed picture via Flickr

The term Manchester is a misnomer, mutated from it’s original form. The name Mamchester might be more appropriate, but only if the pedants get their way.

The Man in Manchester is misleading and has little to do with Manhood or Masculinity. Instead, the word is thought to come from the name given to city by the romans of “Mamucium”, meaning breast-shaped hill. Somewhere down the line Mamucium morphed into Manchester and the Mam became a Man. That’s mam, not man, as in Mammary or as the Miserable Mancunian Morrissey put it,

Let me get my hands on your mammary glands.”

So don’t be a boob, remember the Man in Manchester is a Mam. Mamchester, you talk so hip, you’re twistin my melon man

August 7, 2013

A sweet taste of beekeeping with @Grow4ItChorlton in Chorlton-cum-Honey

busy bee

Mosaic of a busy mancunian bee in Manchester Town Hall

Down in deepest, darkest Chorlton-cum-Hardy [1] the good people of Grow for it Chorlton have been running a series of taster sessions on beekeeping (a.k.a. apiculture). Here are some notes from one of these sessions held last weekend and some info on where to find out more if you’re interested.

Bee Science

With the ongoing mystery about the decline of bee populations [2,3] and controversial pesticide bans [4], there’s been a surge of interest in bees and beekeeping. If you’re thinking about starting a hive, here’s some things you’ll need to consider:

  • Beekeeping can be very rewarding. Remind yourself how fascinating the biology of bees is: dronesworkers, queens and swarms – you couldn’t make this stuff up if you tried.
  • It’s a real buzz breaking the propolis seal on a hive full of ~60,000 bees and having a look inside, you can’t beat hands-on experience – handling bees was the highlight of the taster session.
  • Apiculture  takes lots of time, in peak season you’ll need to be inspecting hives at least once a week for any potential problems, such as the emergence of new queen cells or pests & diseases like Nosema and Varroa mites.
  • Beekeeping can be a substantial financial commitment too, depending on how resourceful you are. There’s a lot of kit you need, see thorne.co.ukbees-online.co.uk or beekeeping.co.uk for some examples of what you can buy and how much it costs.
  • One of the biggest threats to bees is irresponsible bee-keepers! If bees aren’t looked after hygienically, diseases can be spread to the  larger population. You don’t need a license (yet) to keep bees, but it’s a good idea to register hive(s) with DEFRA’s BeeBase (not to be confused with BeeBase.org) [5].

For such a tiny insect with even smaller brain, bees are surprisingly good at maths and computation. For example, bees use sophisticated vectors [6] to tell members of the hive where the food is during their famous waggle dance. Also, honeycomb is hexagonal because this is the shape that makes optimal use of beeswax – covering the maximum area using a minimum of material.

If you’re interested getting your hands on some bees in South Manchester, contact Loucas Athienites, Nancy Green or Erica Gardner at Nam-Bee-Pam-Bee Beekeepers, Chorlton based at Grow for It, Chorlton – their next (most excellent!) beekeeping session is due to run in late August 2013. Manchester & District Beekeepers Assocation (MDBKA), part of the British Beekeepers Association (BBKA), run a longer two-day course at Heaton Park (and elsewhere) which is essential if you going to take things further. [7]

References

  1. Yes, as you might expect, Chorlton-cum-Hardy suffers from the Scunthorpe problem
  2. Bill Turnbull et al (2013) What’s Killing Our Bees? A BBC Horizon Special featuring Rothamsted and BBSRC
  3. Charlotte Stoddart (2012). The buzz about pesticides: Common pesticides affect bumblebee foraging Nature DOI:10.1038/nature.2012.11626
  4. Daniel Cressey (2013). Europe debates risk to bees: Proposed pesticide ban gathers scientific support as some experts call for more field studies Nature DOI: 10.1038/496408a
  5. Munoz-Torres MC, Reese JT, Childers CP, Bennett AK, Sundaram JP, Childs KL, Anzola JM, Milshina N, & Elsik CG (2011). Hymenoptera Genome Database: integrated community resources for insect species of the order Hymenoptera. Nucleic Acids Research, 39 (Database issue) PMID: 21071397
  6. Rossel S, & Wehner R (1982). The bee’s map of the e-vector pattern in the sky. PNAS, 79 (14), 4451-5 PMID: 16593211
  7. Ted Hooper (2010) Guide to Bees & Honey (updated): The World’s Best Selling Guide to Beekeeping Northern Bee Books, ISBN:1904846513
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