Sunday, March 08, 2009

Back from SIGCSE 2009

Scott and I returned to Searcy yesterday after attending the morning paper presentations. We both agreed that this was one of the better academic conferences we had attended.

As I mentioned before, collaborative learning was a huge theme at SIGCSE. Some of the big curriculum pushes included game programming, robotics, and parallel programming. A number of the presentations stressed how introducing games, graphics, and robotics in CS1 would probably help in retention and expanding interest to CS minorities (mostly women). However, many of the presentations also failed to show conclusive evidence that this was true. In fact one of the presenters admitted that he spent so much time discussing peripheral concepts in regards to game programming that there was no time left to teach some of the core concepts.

Ideally, I think it would be very worthwhile for our department to offer intro to programming courses that use either robotics, graphics, or games in their approach. Then incoming freshmen could pick the course that most interested them. Certainly it would be a good recruitment tool. The only problem is we don't have enough majors or teachers to offer so many courses. I may at least try to mix in more of these attention getters in my CS1 course next fall.

Something else I heard repeatedly was how we should be using Python in CS1. I can certainly see some benefits of doing so, but there's a number of benefits to teaching C++ first. One presentation showed that using Python in CS1 was no better than using C++ at preparing students for CS2. Until we see some solid research showing that Python is in fact better at increasing retention, I think we should stay where we are.

Next year's SIGCSE is in Milwaukee where the average high is 34 F this time of the year. Brr.