Tuesday, September 16, 2014

ACM Education Council Meeting - Day 1

Ceiling Lights with an Encoded Message?

What a wonderful brain sucking invigorating day at the ACM Education Council meeting. We hit the ground running with a stimulating discussion of Data Science and Computing Education and barely slowed down until many long hours and too many sugary cookies and bad coffee later, we ended with a discussion of the current status of the Ensemble Computing Portal. In between we heard about and discussed the latest on AP CS Principles, (I learned what a "MOOClet" is*), code.org 's education, advocacy and outreach activities, goings on with the CSTA, various ACM SIGs with education initiatives and .... 

I happily tweeted about it all day, performing a spontaneous ear to brain to finger transfer of interesting goings on. (twitter handle : @lisakaczmarczyk) You can check my feed for a dynamic view of the day. It crosses my mind I could go back, pull those tweets and create a poem from them. I'm putting it on my To Do list for when I need  a mental break . I feel creatively inspired.

Unofficial theme of the day: interdisciplinary. The discussion of Data Science, presented by Heikki Topi from Bentley College, was an exciting way to start the morning and get us off on a brain stretching foot. Data Science is an intersection of statistics, IS, CS, Math, Informatics, and various domains of practice. Methodologies in use include those found in machine learning, data management, data visualization, statistics, sensors, programming, scalable hardware and software systems. We find Data Science in the environmental, physical, and social sciences. None of this would be possible without significant contributions of the computing disciplines.

The above begs the question: how should computing education be involved?  Not a straightforward question and the answer deserves deep and broad consideration. We barely started the conversation this morning. For example, consider this: Should there be universal learning objectives?  

A conversation to be continued! As Heikki pointed out, there is an opportunity (an imperative?) for interdisciplinary collaboration, with a goal of our contributing to achieving a high quality of [education] programs. 

I have come to think of active and engaged teamwork and team building as an interdisciplinary enterprise. Teamwork opportunities and challenges came up often today. For example, we heard a report on the [deep breath long name coming] Partnership for Advancing Computing Education Research (PACE) Workshop hosted by the National Academies and funded by the NSF. Attendees represented a range of computing subcommittees and, among other things, revisited the truth that they have common interests across computing education (e.g. the pipeline problem). An important question becomes: What can we do to build structural mechanisms that enable these computing education research sub-communities to work together?

The most intense part of the day for me came when we broke into sub groups to make actionable education priorities for the Education Council. The groups were: Diversity, International, Cybersecurity, Curriculum (there was one more but I'm blanking on what it was). Each group's task was to come up with two concrete recommendations for the Council and Board.

I joined the Diversity group. It was a challenge - we rapidly found ourselves discussing the recent media storm around the revelations of poor diversity numbers in tech companies, the violence that takes place in some online communities  and the fact that even when URM groups make it through a degree program unscathed, they all too often encounter a culture that causes them to leave. The word "ugly" came up more than once. At moments it was painful. The long and the short of it was that we decided to take the initiative to form a task group and further discuss how we can work for cultural change.  We felt we had so much to say and so many ideas for consideration as action items. I'm proud of our group for deciding to take this on. 

I don't want to end this post on that note. It is an unfinished story and there will be more. I'd rather note that across the several SIGs we heard from 

(SIGCAS - computers & society, SIGCHI - human computer interaction, SIGGRAPH - siggraph..., SIGPLAN (formerly OOPSLA), SIGITE - Information Technology, and SIGCSE - computer science education ) 

we heard over and over again about the intersection and overlap of education concerns, even within separate sub-contexts. People want to find common ground and combine forces on many concerns and initiatives. Someone pointed out that we (computing education) have come a long way in a short 4-5 years. It is heartening and exciting when you step back to look at the big picture. 

Tomorrow, we continue. My twitter feed will continue. I'll be doing my part to get the word out and incidentally generating material for my future poem.


*a small MOOC