Saturday, March 13, 2010

Reflections on SIGCSE 2010

The conference luncheon is over, and I'm heading back to Arkansas in a few hours. This has been a very informative conference, and it's filled my head with a number of ideas and methods to try in my classes.

Here are some of the highlights from the past three days:
  • My presentation on Thurs afternoon (teaching Web IR to undergrads) went well although it was scheduled at the same time as an NSF funding panel which cut into my audience. I got some positive feedback by others teaching or wanting to teach a similar course.

  • Thurs night's "Teaching Web Programming" Birds-of-a-Feather session was interesting. Participants shared a number of things they teach (PHP is popular and JavaScript frameworks are gaining in popularity). One participant has her students perform usability studies on their class projects. Apparently I am one of the few that is still teaching CGI programming.

  • Carl Weiman gave an excellent keynote on Fri morning. He discussed how humans build long-term memory (retrieve and apply repeatedly with time in between) and limits on our working memory ("blue screen of death" for individuals when presented with more than 7 items at once). He also gave teaching tips for developing expert-like thinking in our students: present an interesting problem and bring in the necessary facts and procedures that are necessary to solve the problem. This can be done in class by having students read their text before class, take a quiz over factual knowledge, ask some questions in class and have students discuss solutions in groups of 3, and have groups discuss their solutions. (See what others say about his talk.)

  • I learned more about the Game-Themed programming Assignments (GTA) in the Games section on Fri afternoon. This approach uses a library wrapper around XNA to make game programming assignments in CS1. I plan to talk a little about this project in my upcoming Game Programming workshop at CCSC-MS (I'll blog more about this workshop later).

  • In the same game session, Michael Hewner, one of Mark Guzdial's PhD students, also shared his findings about what game companies are looking for in a new graduate. Michael created a one-page summary you can obtain here. Two most important things: C++ proficiency and social skills (ability to work well with others).

  • At the Google panel on education I learned a about a new project called Google Code University. Faculty can host their material there after it is reviewed and accepted by Google. I may look into putting some of my Android teaching materials there since there's currently little offered on Android. I also learned a little about Google App Inventor-basically Scratch for Android.

  • I spent a few hours talking to book publishers, poster presenters, and other exhibitors. In one conversation with a rep from a women's organization, she stated the org's very lofty goal of having 50/50 representation in computing in 10 years. I also talked with Ryan McFall (Hope College) who teaches an interesting breadth-first computing course for non-majors. Every time I hear about courses like this I wonder why we don't have something similar at Harding.

  • One of the most enjoyable sessions was It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time where several instructors shared in a most humorous way some of the teaching disasters they faced in past semesters. It made me laugh, and it made me feel a lot better about my past mistakes.

Next year's SIGCSE is in Dallas. That may be a good trip to make with the family next spring.