SIGCSE 2017 – Recap

As a high school teacher, I was never able to attend SIGCSE, the conference of the ACM’s Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education. Between the number of instructional days I would lose and the cost, I could never justify going. Instead I looked over the proceedings and read many of the papers.

Now that I’m at Hunter, I was finally able to attend. This year in Seattle, the conference ran from Wednesday through Saturday. I was part of a panel on “Tools we can’t live without.” Over the next few weeks, I hope to blog about a number of things I thought and talked with people about over the conference including:

  • The path I use to teach git and why GitHub a good teaching tool (my talk).
  • The relationship of different CS Ed stakeholders – teachers, researchers, organizations, etc.
  • Teaching at the high school level vs college – perceptions and reality.
  • The challenges of tech tool adoption in schools.
  • What’s going on in K12 CS Certification.
  • Maybe some other stuff.

Today, some overall thoughts.

The good

As with many conferences, the “hallway track” along with receptions sponsored by the CS4All consurtium , TEALS , Code.org were terrific. I was able to finally meet in person many people who I’ve only known virtually and got to know many more as well. I left the conference with a much larger address book and a long list of follow up items. Being in Seattle, I also enjoyed being able to spend time with people from TEALS and Code.org , two of the CS Ed groups working hard to do some real good (yes – I do like and support these guys even though I call them out on things I disagree with, but that’s the subject of another post).

I attended sessions on CS certification, teacher preparation, assessments, POGIL based instruction to name a few. They ranged from valuable to interesting and to be honest, a couple of “what were they thinking” but the overall experience was very much worth the trip. I also got to speak to a number of wonderful students at the poster sessions.

The keynotes are also well worth a read (sorry if you don’t have ACM digital library access). Jeannette Wing talked about the importance of probability and statistics in CS Ed, and aspects of Gail Chapman ‘s talk “Inspire, Innovate, and Improve…” keynote and Mitch Resnick ‘s “Fulfilling Papert’s Dream” both spoke to the educator inside me.

The bad

The biggest downside to me was that I found very little value added in a number of the paper sessions over just reading the papers. Part of this is probably because of my own over-inflated expectations given the number of years I’ve waited to attend. Part of it though, was the fact that sessions were so tightly packed that I didn’t have time to follow up with presenters before having to run to the next thing. Unfortunately, in some cases, it was because the presenter merely “read” the paper much as a professor sometimes just reads the slides or the book to his class.

Other thoughts

One paper presentation I very much liked was Exam Wrappers: Not a Silver Bullet presented byMichelle Craig and Ben Stephenson . I actually came in late since I was hustling over from the Code.org lunch. The result was that I didn’t actually know what “Exam Wrappers” were until well after the talk when I ran into Jim Huggins . Exam wrappers, in short, are merely when you require the students fill out something for some credit when picking up their exams. The funny thing is that it’s a strategy that high school teachers have used for years without a special name and we already knew the good and bad of it without the research but that’s not what I want to get at here. What I loved about the talk, besides the fact that Ben and Michelle are clearly strong presenters is that this was a negative result that was being presented. I also loved the fact that they didn’t present their research as gospel but rather pointed out the strengths and weaknesses of their approach – they made a case to what and why we should pay attention to and what should be taken with a grain of salt.

This was a major breath of fresh air after being exposed to so much education ‘research’ over the course of my life that the author or presenter felt was just as strong as a mathematical proof rather than an indication based on a specific experience or small set of experiences.

I also felt a little weird at times during the week when west coast people seemed to know me. I know I’m a loud mouthed curmudgeon and I go on my periodic ed rants but given the dearth of comments on this blog I was really surprised to get as many as “great to meet you in person after reading your blog” or “we know you and your work” all week. It was weird and somewhat humbling.

Finally, another highlight f`or me was that I got to catch up with some of family.

Already planning to submit something to present at SIGCSE 2018 in Baltimore.

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