Saturday, March 3, 2012

SIGCSE 2012 - Hal Abelson, CS2013 Social and Professional Issues and More

Official registration at SIGCSE is 1278 as of Friday (yesterday) morning when we listened to Hal Abelson give the day's keynote talk. A very impassioned talk. Hal spoke at length about computers as instruments of intellectual empowerment. Computational Thinking -> Computational Values -> Computational Actions and the importance of generative platforms. A generative platform in this context is a platform (tool, application, etc) which can get used for something the people who created it had not thought of or planned for. A pedagogical tool, idea or lecture, a set of research results leads you or I to run in a different direction and produce something exciting for the classroom, for the community, for the academy (for anyone).  Hal  claimed that a war is underway for the soul of the university - there is a danger that the university is becoming more a marketplace for intellectual property and less a place for open sharing of intellectual ideas. (What does your experience tell you? Do you agree or disagree?)

As evidence, Hal provided impressive examples, such as copyright restrictions being placed upon faculty when they publish research results, such that they no longer own or can share their own research. He also shared a quote by one university general counsel (a large research university) stating that note taking in the classroom could constitute copyright infringement of faculty intellectual property; the suggestion was then made that faculty hand out a license agreement for students to sign at the beginning of the term.Wrap your head around that one if you can. Hal's talk was full of thought provoking information like this.

I visited the poster on display by the faculty group working on the Social and Professional Issues section of the new computing curricular guidelines (CS2013). Carol Spradling, Beth Hawthorne and Flo Appel and I had a fascinating conversation about what topics are generating the most discussion in the community - should they be part of the computing curriculum? Professional Communication is apparently a hot area. Some people believe it is critical and others believe it should not be included at all. In case you are curious, we are talking about (and now I quote from the draft document):

  • reading/understanding/summarizing technical material
  • source code and documentation
  • writing effective technical documentation
  • dynamics of oral, written, and electronic team and group communication 
  • communicating professionally with stakeholders 
  • utilizing collaboration tools. 

Also suggested:

  • dealing with cross-cultural environment
  • tradeoffs of competing risks in software projects, such as technology, structure/process, quality, people, market and financial

What do you think - should these topics have a place in the computer science curriculum?


  1. Being able to read technical material is critical even right at the beginning of the major. I think it is a skill that separates the kids who will make it through the intro sequence from the ones who won't. Most kids come in to college having only read fiction, and do not know how to read closely and deeply.
    Later on, being able to WRITE technical material becomes important too.

    1. I very much agree with you about the ability to read and write technical material. I also believe that when we (computing people) teach it far more students will take it seriously as necessary for their career.

  2. Is there a link to Professor Abelson's talk that shows his slides?

    1. On the SIGCSE home page ( there is a link to a pdf of his slides, and a link to a text file "rough transcript" of his talk.