Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Teaching Research Taboo

A few years ago, I started noticing that some of my esteemed colleagues in the HCI research community (such as Scott Klemmer, also Andy Ko, and others) were talking about and publishing on their work in HCI/CS education. This was really exciting and surprising and I immediately thought: “If they can do it, why can’t I? I’m doing interesting things with CS education, too!” As Derek Sivers says in his TED talk: “It only takes one follower to turn a lone nut into a leader”. (Not really calling you a nut, Scott!) The point is that it can feel much less risky to try something when you have well-respected colleagues who are also doing that thing.

One of the barriers to adoption of curricular innovation for computing faculty members is the perception that innovating, adapting best teaching practices and conducting research into teaching is not valued by research peers. If a faculty member thinks that external reference letter writers are unlikely to value such contributions when they are up for tenure or promotion, the effects are actually two-fold: they may not engage in such work, or if they do, they may be unlikely to discuss it with their peers at their core research conferences and meetings.

It seems relatively uncommon for research-track CS faculty to discuss their teaching at conferences and research meetings (no, I’m not saying it never happens, but it is rarely the focus, except at CS education conferences like SIGCSE and ICER). So, while we are likely aware of our colleagues’ research projects, we may not realize that our colleagues are experimenting with innovative teaching methods, trying out new learning technologies or adapting some best practices related to active learning. Because we don’t talk about it, we may think it’s not happening and this can lead to us not wanting to talk about our own innovations. We think our colleagues only value core research, so that is what we focus our own discussions on.

This ‘teaching research taboo’ brings up some interesting questions:

1.     Would some faculty members be more willing to innovate, adapt best practices and try new teaching methodologies if they knew their research peers were also doing this?
2.     If the answer to #1 is yes, how can we encourage researchers to take the time to discuss their teaching (and teaching research) when at conferences and meetings?
3.     Would it be helpful to identify top researchers in particular CS areas and invite those researchers to visit, specifically to talk about their teaching innovations? Could this make a difference in areas where faculty are not buying in to active learning and other innovations?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I think there’s something here. I say let’s figure out how to ditch the ‘teaching research taboo’. Maybe next time you are at a conference, you should ask some of your most respected colleagues if they do any teaching innovation. You might be surprised by what you find out.

How can The Connected Learner lead to organizational change?

A real challenge in successful education research is to get buy in from colleagues in your own organization. NSF held a kick off meeting for the 6 teams funded by the NSF RED programThe teams worked together over a day and half to understand the language of change, the drivers of change, and the barriers to change. The workshop part of the program was lead by a team from MACH. They even managed to get a group of grown engineers and computer scientists to dance (watch the Youtube Channel for Elliot Douglas).

When asked if there was anything about the kick off meeting that surprised us, Celine said that we were being encouraged to share ideas across teams. Research projects are funded for their innovation and that leads to researchers protecting and thinking of their project as unique. In this scenario we are expected to borrow and learn from each other. A good start for our project since learning from your peers is a foundational concept for our proposed change to CS education.

We were asked to imagine that each RED project is a boat with drivers and anchors, then to draw the drivers and anchors for our context. My drawing looks like a 5 year old did it! The big idea is to see how many people you can get on the boat and keep it moving.

Coming soon: The elevator pitch for The Connected Learner

Thursday, July 9, 2015

What is The Connected Learner?

The Connected Learner Image
The Connected Learner is a re-orientation of undergraduate computing education. We want to rethink the lecture, lab, assignment model and focus on active learning in the classroom where students are connected to their peers, the profession, and socially relevant purpose. We think that learning how to learn from others, building strong collaborative and communication skills, and feeling that you are part of a community of computing professionals is as important as learning the knowledge, skills and theory of computer science.

We are planning to change the way we teach computer science course so that students are learning from each other as well as from professors and the profession. We are building on our development of lightweight teams, flipped classroom strategies, and service learning for community projects. We have already started bringing real world challenges into the curriculum by engaging our business partners.

We can share our successes as examples of course materials, pedagogical design patterns, and assessment strategies so that others can change their approach to teaching computer science.

This project is funded by the NSF Revolutionizing Engineering Departments. The project is funded for 5 years with $2M to create organizational change around teaching innovation.

The Principle Investigators on this project are Mary Lou Maher, Bojan Cokic, Larry Mays, Celine Latulipe, Jamie Payton, Audrey Rorrer, and Steven Rogelberg. We are the authors of this blog and we invite you to follow, like, share and comment on our blog posts. And then join our Google Community!