Tuesday, October 20, 2015

VL/HCC Day 2 - Keynote and other memorable talks

Another great day at VL/HCC :).

To start, there was an amazing keynote given by Georgia Tech's own Mark Guzdial, a CS Education legend, titled "Requirements for a Computing-Literate Society". The focus of the talk was the challenges while working towards a computing-literate society and how we can re-invent CS education to accomplish this goal. I must say, as an African American female from South Carolina, where CS education is almost non-existent in K-12 education and almost completely unrelatable beyond that, I could completely understand and relate to everything he said. Because I loved it SO much, I took some notes to share some of the major points.

    Mark made a few great points as to why we should care about the advancement and spreading of CS education and knowledge. The two predominant ones (that for sure stood out) are that 1) CS is study of process/problem solving, which impacts everyone and 2) learning and understanding computer science provides the ability for people to express themselves in ways they couldn't without programs/automation.

   One of the obvious and most talked about challenges is access to computer science courses or resources for learning CS and accommodations for diversity -- though there are initiatives, such as CODE2040 aimed at increasing diversity and access to computing resources, there is still a gap leading to lower participation. This is especially true for underrepresented minorities like myself.

Another challenge, which I never thought about, was what Mark called the "inverse lake wobegon effect" -- in other words, we think we know more than we do. This theory suggests that the way things are currently done, we only know the top half. The top half, which I would NOT include myself in, would be for example students with CS courses in high school. Those with access are most privileged meaning they are the ones that get noticed by universities or even at the university level getting noticed by professors and other students as being the "real deal" while people like me fall by the waist-side. Thank goodness for my mentor who wouldn't let that happen - #thepowerofmentors

The last challenge he discussed was the unanswered questions that policy-makers continue to ask. To segway into this discussion, Mark starts with a discussion of initiatives such as "Georgia Computes!" and CAITE that aim to inspire students to study CS. He also eludes to some of the differences across states that make it difficult to make concrete, uniform improvements -- these differences also relate to to unanswered questions that could affect how we improve and facilitate CS education for the masses. For example, states vary on opinions of AP CS courses (apparently to some, access to advanced education is considered 'elitist'), what CS is, and whether to require CS. From this, Mark notes other questions that are unanswered, and extremely relevant, such as are the CS requirements really CS. For this he used South Caroline as an example, which hit home for me. I was shocked when I heard that the SC curriculum requires CS for graduation. It was a few years back when I graduated and although I did take the one and only programming class offered by my high school, I knew nothing of a CS requirement or anything close to it. According to some of his findings, one of the questions that need to be answered is 'what kind of CS can we teach to everyone?' -- especially considering how important a high school degree is. We don't want to have people not graduating because they can't pass a CS course but at the same time, typing is not Computer Science >.>.

One of the more interesting findings presented is that although initiatives like "Georgia Computes!" seems to be effective overall, it has different affects on different minorities/populations. But why?? For example, when observing the affects for black in CS (graph above), there is almost a completely flat line, meaning there is no increase in participation. This all showcases the need for more research and exploration into why minorities, such as African Americans, choose to study CS and how we can get them engaged and keep them engaged. Fortunately, Mark had some ideas for that as well :)


   Mark discussed two possible solutions, each of which take on a different aspect of the CS education problem.

1) The Role of Context - For many, the problem is that CS seems irrelevant to them or their lives. I can say for me, if I hadn't discovered I could fiddle with my MySpace page and that be considered  CS, I might have thought the same thing! But many are asking, how can computing be considered irrelevant? Easy. The context in which we teach/introduce CS is critical, especially for younger audiences who may have preconceived (incorrect) notions of what CS is. For example, some of the problems we are first confronted with when learning CS are tower of hanoi or fibonnacci sequence. How many of us can say that what we do now is at all relevant or related to either of these?? I know I sure can't. Increasing interest could be as simple as teaching in a relevant context (i.e. robots and digital media).
An example of this that he spoke about is called Glitch Game Testers, started by Betsy DiSalvo and Amy Bruckman. This program hires African American males as game testers and have them think about computing deeper than the curriculum. Turns out, all of them finished high school and over half continued on to take computing classes post-secondary. This further showcases the importance of making CS relatable and relevant.

2) Understanding CS Teachers Needs - An important foundation for CS education is of course the educators! Mark suggests that teachers need sense of identity, which takes the form of confidence in their ability, as well as a sense of community with role models to look up to (which I relate to completely). Disciplinary Commons is a group that was started to bring together CS teachers to talk about classes; it's not big, but it's a step in the right direction. There is also a need for more professional learning on how to teach CS; too often we assume that to teach someone about CS, you have to be damn near a software developer. But is that true? Mark posed this question, and it's another one of those things you don't think about until someone else says it. An example he used is that one of the most successful CS teachers actually focus less on coding and more on writing assignments. Because the goal is for students to learn and understand what CS is. If it's something their interested in, the rest will follow.

Although my research area isn't CS Education, I was extremely moved by this talk and I hope the work continues and gets the publicity and backing it needs to really make a difference for states like my home.

As I did yesterday, here are some of the more memorable talks from today (again, in my opinion :D):

Supporting Exploratory Data Analysis with Live Programming
Robert DeLine and Danyel Fisher
Tempe -- web app for live exploration and analysis of data

Tempe: Live Scripting for Live Data (short paper on technology from full paper above)
Robert DeLine, Danyel Fisher, Badrish Chandramouli, Jonathan Goldstein, Michael Barnett, James Terwilliger, and John Wernsing

Jeeves – A Visual Programming Environment for Mobile Experience Sampling
Daniel Rough, Aaron Quigley
replacing paper "diaries" and expensive or difficult apps with Jeeves (using visual programming)
great/engaging slide set!

Detecting Problematic Lookup Functions in Spreadsheets
Felienne Hermans, Efthimia Aivaloglou, Bas Jansen
discusses usage of and problems with lookup functions in Excel
<3 presentation style (less than 1 minute summary at end)

Interactive Visual Machine Learning in Spreadsheets
Advait Sarkar, Mateja Jamnik, Alan Blackwell and Martin Spott
BrainCel v0.2 - spreadsheets and visualizations to help end users use and understand machine learning

Extending Scratch: New Pathways into Programming 
Sayamindu Dasgupta, Shane Clements, Abdulrahman Y. Idlbi, Chris Willis-Ford and Mitchel Resnick
Scratch Extension System, toolkit for anyone to extend Scratch language and capabilities
maintaining low barrier to entry, consistency with other blocks/conventions, and right level of abstraction, choosing the right extension

Strengthening Collaborative Groups Through Art-Mediated Self-Expression
Mengyao Zhao, Yi Wang, David Redmiles
Building interpersonal relationships between local and remote team members via art with Doodled "Us" - collaborative doodle system

Understanding Triggers for Clarification Requests in Community-Based Software Help Forums
Nathaniel Hudson, Parmit K. Chilana, Xiaoyu Guo, Jason Day, and Edmund Liu
What causes people to ask clarifying questions to improve Q&A site experiences --> design interventions to make Q&A sites more efficient

I will try to post as much as I can tomorrow - it's my last day so I really want to visit family that's down here. One of the downsides of the PhD is you really don't get to see family and friends as much as you like so advantage I will take of this :)
Until next time!

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