SIGCSE China Symposium at ACM TURC 2018

follow 3 pngThe ACM SIGCSE China Chapter is holding a symposium at the ACM Turing Celebration Conference (TURC) in Shanghai on May 19-20, 2018. I was at this conference last year and enjoyed it immensely. More information on the China SIGCSE chapter can be found here. The TURC page is here, and the SIGCSE Symposium link (still under construction) is here.  Until the site is up, the CFP below (pdf here: SIGCSE@TURC2018) has the detail. Abstracts due Dec 22, full papers due Dec 29.


Girls ‘just as good as boys’ at computer science work

follow 3 pngThis week the Irish Independent published an article reporting on some work by Maynooth University colleagues Keith Quille, Susan Bergin, and Natalie Culligan, focussing on gender aspects of performance in computer science, and how computer science as an academic subject is experienced. The paper was presented at the 2017 ACM Conference on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education in Bologna, Italy, and is available in the ACM Digital Library.

From their abstract:

This paper describes a multivariate, multi-institutional study conducted in the academic year 2015-16. Six hundred and ninety-three students participated from 11 institutions, (ten institutions in Ireland and one in Denmark). The goal of the study was to compare the profile of male and female students enrolled on introductory programming modules (CS1), to determine if any significant differences could be identified by gender. The gender split was 79:21, male to female respectively. The study took place early in the CS1 module with three instruments used to capture data: a background survey, a survey on programming self-efficacy, comfort and anxiety, and a short programming test. At the end of the module, the overall result for each participant was gathered. Of importance, the study was conducted across multiple levels of Computer Science education, from Level 5 Certificate up to and including Honors Bachelor Degree and Higher Diploma, (which are based on the Irish National Framework of Qualifications NFQ). This paper describes the approach taken and the detailed analysis performed. Several significant differences between male and female students were identified early in CS1, some of which did not hold true at the end of the module. A gender comparison between the two participating countries and the different institution types was also performed and discussed. The findings could be used to positively influence teaching practice and to the development of gender focused retention and recruitment strategies.

It’s great to see work like this getting the spotlight. In the Irish context it is particularly timely, as Ireland is rolling out a computer science curriculum nationwide next September which I have written about here, here, here, here, and here. More details on that are available there, there, there, there and there.

As this is a particularly ‘Irish’ post, I took the liberty of setting the featured image to one of Kylemore Abbey in beautiful Connemara. However, this theme doesn’t show featured images on individual blog views. So if you can’t see it now, you’ll have to go to the main page, or click here to see it. Bummer.


The New York Times on cheating in university programming courses

Yesterday the New York Times published an article on cheating in university computer programming courses. To anyone who has taught a programming course, much of the narrative is probably all too familiar. Nonetheless, it is interesting to see it featured in mainstream media, it is helpful to hear about what is happening at different universities, and it may play a small part in refocussing the communities involved. This is important as the number of students taking computer science courses is increasing, as is their diversity (k-12, extracurricular, university non-majors, etc.). In addition, major efforts are under way to increase student diversity in terms of age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, and other ways. As a result of increasing student numbers and diversity, the numbers and diversity of teachers and institutions are also set to increase, making the issue of plagiarism one that is likely to continue to crop up in new and interesting ways.

The article goes into details on academic misconduct in programming courses, and methods of dealing with it, at Purdue, BerkeleyBrown, Stanford, Yale, and Harvard (including the popular CS50). It states that in some institutions, computer science courses have become some of the most common sources of academic honesty incidents, but also states that many computer science educators reject that their courses are any more prone to cheating than those in other disciplines. This view is supported by a quote from Alex Aiken, the head of computer science at Stanford who mentions the tendency for computer science educators to actually check assignment submissions for plagiarism as one of the reasons for the number of cases, along with citing recent high-profile cheating scandals in other disciplines that have received wide media attention.

The use of software-based methods of detecting plagiarism such as MOSS and Codio are discussed, and I suspect used fairly widely, but there was also mention of other more novel strategies to cope with plagiarism. One of these is the ‘regret-clause’ introduced in Harvard’s CS50 by David J. Malan, which lets students who cheat and admit it within 72 hours receive an unsatisfactory or failing grade on an assignment, and avoid further discipline – however repeat offenders don’t have this option.

Some of the other discussion surrounds the grey area between the collaborative ethos in programming where code sharing and reuse is commonplace, and policies on academic honesty. The problem is that many of the practices employed by software developers in the workplace violate academic honesty policies. So we are teaching students to work in highly collaborative environments, in educational environments where their collaborative abilities are restricted. A case in point is instructors encouraging students to work together, but demanding that assignment submissions be unique. This creates a grey area where guidelines on what is acceptable and what is not can become confusing to students. In the article, Paul North, a professor of German and chair of the executive committee at Yale acknowledges that compared to the guidelines “… the code to be written seems simple …”. It is my opinion that programming courses (or computer science departments) often need specific guidelines for their students. Trying to apply catchall policies and guidelines designed for any discipline is sure to lead to grey areas in computer science courses, particularly those that involve programming assignments.

It was interesting to read that many computer science professors are now delivering stern warnings at the start of each course – this is something that done at all of the institutions I have taught at. Although I didn’t think it was a unique practice it is interesting to hear that it is actually common. I wonder if computer science does this more often than other disciplines. My feeling would be yes, but I don’t know.

One thing is for sure – the ways that computer science educators deal with plagiarism need to be continuously adapting. Almost everything about computer science (particularly in the way it is taught and learned) is changing at a phenomenal pace and that isn’t showing any signs of abating.

Google seeking input on next directions in CS Education Research

Head over to Mark Guzdial’s Computing Education Blog for a link to a survey from Google’s computer science education research team. They are collecting information from ‘researchers, educators, and advocates working in the field everyday’ to help them better support the field. The deadline is Sunday, April 23.


Party like it’s 2018: Computer Science to be offered in Irish secondary curriculum in 2018, not 2019

Two months ago I wrote about news reporting that Computer Science was to be offered in Irish secondary curriculum by 2019. So I was a bit surprised (but after living in Ireland for the best part of 17 years not entirely surprised) when I read this week that Computer Science is to be offered in Irish Secondary schools next year!

According to the Irish Times, this decision is being driven in order to address the skills gap (that has been around for a long time), and that coding* is to be on new primary mathematics curriculum.

The Irish Government Action Plan for Education 2017 published on February 6 states under the heading Technology in Education:

Implementation of computer science leaving cert subject brought forward 12 months to September 2018; development of computational thinking and coding through new maths curriculum at primary; new advisory group led by industry and experts to develop new plans for greater use of technology in education.

* I really prefer the word programming, in just about every context…