Post-SIGCSE reflections

It’s been a while since I blogged. Since I was in Seattle for SIGCSE 2017 and it’s the start of Spring Break, I decided to hang out here for a few extra days. It seems like a good time for a reflection on both SIGCSE and the first half of the spring semester.

On SIGCSE 2017:

I didn’t arrive at the conference until midday Thursday. It was very strange to arrive at the conference in media res; I am the sort of person who usually arrives before the conference starts and stays until it’s over. I had two reasons: 1) CS 167 meets on Wednesdays and Thursdays, and we were already down two cancelled classes due to ice. (Next spring and beyond, it will meet Tuesday instead of Thursday.) 2) I will also be away for a full week in April for a conference in Amsterdam.

I had three things on my agenda for Thursday: The LACS agenda-setting meeting, my Birds-of-a-Feather session, and the conference reception.

First, the LACS meeting showed we would have a very full agenda this summer. Fortunately, the agenda is Andrea Danyluk’s responsibility; I’ll be busy enough as host. There is a custom that the site host gets to invite local guests; it was agreed that I could count other new program founders as “local” (particularly since the liberal arts college density in the Pacific Northwest is much lower than in New England). More on this in July.

Second, I organized and co-led a discussion about communicating what liberal arts colleges contribute to computer science. I was surprised by how many people came – I would estimate around 35 or so. Many participants misunderstood the topic as communicating about CS with liberal arts colleagues, which we were carefully trying to avoid but was only to be expected. This is a perennial topic, and low-hanging fruit for a future Birds-of-a-Feather session. But I was a bit surprised about how many people showed up because “it had liberal arts in the title.” I shared this at the special session on the SIGCSE Liberal Arts Committee on Friday; my interpretation is that there’s a real need for community.

My group, which I led with Ellen Walker, talked about two audiences: Prospective students and prospective faculty. First, how to sell prospective students who want to study CS on liberal arts colleges? Second, how to raise awareness amongst Ph.D. students and their advisers about careers at liberal arts colleges? Both are likely topics of future blog posts. The best moment of the BoF was when several lines of conversation converged on the idea that we need to connect more with the Computing Research Association (CRA). In 2014, before I applied to the job at Whitman, I went to the CRA summer leadership summit at Snowbird. That’s where you find chairs of CS departments at research universities. And I learned they are trying to get more liberal arts college faculty to come. Ellen and I talked about whether we can get a session on the program about establishing bidirectional recruiting pipelines: graduate students one way, and faculty candidates the other.

I had several good conversations at the reception, and the conference overall. I talked with almost everyone I wanted to, though not quite. Somehow I kept running into John over and over again, Dustin occasionally, and Andy only once (though it was well-timed to introduce him to another new faculty member with similar interests).

I actually went to all the sessions on Friday, and I have several papers I need to follow up on reading. Some highlights:

  • I went to Sam’s students’ presentation to support them, and learned about a summer camp outreach program I might actually be interested in running at Whitman (someday).
  • Paul Dickson is an old friend. His paper on using undergraduate TAs in small classes is one I want to refer back to so I don’t forget what I’ve learned. (I also had dinner with him and with Knox College’s new hire Monica McGill, a serendipitous connection.)
  • Bo Brinkman’s “Code of Ethics Quiz Show” was engaging and informative. I learned a lot about proposed revisions to the ACM Code of Ethics. There was a panel of three “contestants”, and we all got to vote via Poll Everywhere. This almost made up for missing the SIGCAS pre-symposium event on Wednesday.
  • I went to “A Pedagogical Analysis of Online Coding Tutorials” because students and colleagues often ask me for recommendations. I learned that Khan Academy and CodeCademy stand out as self-directed tutorials for adult learners. For kids, standouts are, Gidget, and most educational games. (Mitch Resnick also gave a lovely closing keynote on the Scratch language, platform, and community, also a go-to recommendation for kids. My takeaway from that is the 4 Ps: Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play.)
  • I learned about intersectionality in CS1: first-generation women are much less likely even than other women to feel they are capable and belong in a CS classroom.
  • Though I was tired, I had a lot of fun at the evening workshop on POGIL. I understand it a lot better now. I need to think about whether now is the right time to invest in learning and developing materials. (I was sorry to miss the HMC dinner – some other time!)

Friday was also our lunch with members of the CS Working Group. Most thought-provoking question: “If you could wave a magic wand, what would you change?” I’m not ready to commit to an answer, but it’s definitely got me thinking.

Saturday, I will confess, I skipped the sessions. I had long, unplanned conversations with two friends who also started new jobs in the last two years.

It was very strange to see the conference break up, as it is the start of our spring break and I stayed in Seattle a couple days after. It made me think about time, place, and the nature of a conference community as ephemeral but recurrent.

On the semester so far:

I did not start yoga again over the winter break, nor did I get ahead on work for Software Design. However, I am in the middle of a 30+ day streak on meeting the activity goals set on my Apple Watch (thank goodness for spring!) and I am working a few hours less each week than in the fall (though still more Saturdays than I would like). In talking to Sam at SIGCSE, I realized I am actually fairly happy, despite a number of things that have been stressful. Feeling like I’ve made some friends at Whitman is no small part of it.

I wish I were writing more blog posts. Teaching four mornings a week severely constrains my best writing time. For that one day a week, I’ve prioritized revisions on a book chapter, which are not going easily.

Teaching Software Design is fun in an entirely different way than teaching Discrete Math & Functional Programming. And a hell of a lot of work, in an entirely different way: Not just grading but doing projects that are scoped for a team of four students.

I think I am spending less time on administration since the major proposal was adopted. We’ll see how long that lasts.

My goals for the spring break are mainly to (1) take some time off and (2) spend some focused time on writing, programming, and grading. Writing may include some more blog posts, as I have some more ideas now. We’ll see.

4 thoughts on “Post-SIGCSE reflections

    1. Janet Davis Post author

      I don’t think I had seen it! Thanks, I’ll add it to the reading list. Hope to see you in Walla Walla too!


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