ICER 2014 Roundup

In August I was at the International Computing Education Research (ICER) 2014 conference in Glasgow. This post is a round-up of my notes from the conference (for our own paper, see the previous post). Unfortunately, not all papers are publicly available, but if there is one that interests you, I suggest contacting the author directly for a copy.

Simon gave an interesting talk about academic integrity, pointing out that most university ethics policies on plagiarism, etc, are written in the context of essays, and don’t always apply well to computing. You are generally not allowed to take paragraphs you wrote for one essay, and re-use them in a subsequent essay. However, should you similarly be disbarred from taking a procedure you wrote in a previous programming assessment and re-using it another assessment? And what about group work? Some interesting questions, and they gathered opinions from students and educators, but there is no single right answer to many of these issues.

Colleen Lewis pointed out the CS Teaching Tips website that she is involved in running, which attempts to collect small suggestions for teaching computer science. I suggest any computing teachers reading this should take a look and contribute a tip or two — she has one or two from me, which is a clear sign that she needs some higher quality tips.

I enjoyed Michael Hewner’s ICER talk last year and this year, on students’ perceptions of Computer Science, and how they go about choosing modules in their degree. I recommend having a read of the paper — the interview snippets scattered throughout make it a more approachable read than many academic papers (last years’ paper, too). You may nod your head throughout, but it’s one of these pieces of research where almost any outcome will seem obvious in hindsight. But this does not mean it’s all as you would predict. For example: I would have predicted that what their friends took (or had taken) would be an influence, but that’s not the case. They also do not necessarily shy away from difficult courses or those where it is known to be harder to get marks.

I was pleased to learn about Parsons problems from Barbara Ericson and others (see an example here). These are programming problems where students are given some lines of code, and are asked to put the lines into order, including the indentation, to form a program that solves a given task (e.g. drawing a given shape in a turtle language). This seems like quite a nice way to provide a structured introduction to block-based programming.

Speaking of which, there were a couple of posters from PhD students Alistair Stead and Mark Sherman, who plan to look at issues surrounding the transition from block-based programming to text-based programming. It’s clearly going to be a hot topic of research for the next 2–3 years, whether it is researchers investigating the difficulties of the transition or building new tools to try to bridge the gap. I believe John Maloney (designer of Scratch) is working on one such tool with Alan Kay, there is another group doing the same that slips my mind — and our team is also building a new editor for Greenfoot to try to bridge this gap. It will be interesting to see what we all come up with! (Addendum: Shuchi Grover pointed to this recent paper on her work in the area.)

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