Tuesday, November 4, 2014

My Spider Plant Made Me Write This.

Now what? An Outer View

I can't blame the foliage, but it's because I want to stop dictating blog posts to a piece of greenery at 4am that I'm breaking my unplanned silence. I've been dictating blog posts to the Spider Plant. Ok fine, but they haven't been getting from there to here. What gives?

In a recent Twitter message, someone pointed out that science bloggers write when they just can't stop thinking about something.* But I have been thinking non stop, at speeds that defy measurement, for months now. I have been radiating ideas, any one of which could have become, but haven't become, a great blog post. For example:

The Computer Science Education Research class I'm teaching this Fall provides endless opportunities to discuss what happens when you have undergraduate CS students conducting real, not toy, research on real, not toy, human beings. The qualitative research methods we use cause the computer science  and social science worlds to collide. No number crunching here. One of my favorite quotes from a student discussing his experience conducting a research interview "...and then my brain exploded". Hearing what people are really thinking in an unfiltered way can do that to you sometimes. It's one reason I love qualitative research. It's one reason I love this class.

My other class, Great Papers in Computer Science, is no less stimulating. Unlike a traditional "Great Papers" class, we wrap our heads around the non-technical factors that aided and abetted a seminal paper having the impact that it did. Just yesterday, when someone asked what an example of a psychological factor would be, we found ourselves discussing how McCarthyism bred fear, and  speculating how that fear likely led to certain kinds of research and publications being supported while others were suppressed. On a lighter note, and in another era, someone jested that Hippies might have had a connection to the development of Unix. Maybe not Hippies per se, but I can envision formulating an argument that there was a direct relationship between the Civil Rights Era mindset and the later Open Source Movement.  I love that class!

In my work as a Independent Evaluator for education research projects, I have been crisscrossing the country quite a bit recently and each trip fills my head with ideas. For example, just last week I found myself thinking, not for the first time, about how early childhood development relates to the ability to acquire computational thinking skills. How early can children learn to code? What constitutes coding anyway? How does teaching computational thinking morph eventually into teaching computer science? What role do teachers play in this transition? What do teachers need the most to succeed? What are the critical leverage points?

Those examples from my teaching and research are only for starters. Why hasn't it all come out in blog posts?

For the past few months I have been focused on People and Process. Relationships. In itself nothing new, but perhaps more than ever; it's like a fire under my feet and burning up and out. Among other things, ever since I stumbled on the Science Communications community a few months ago I have wanted to know where computing and technology fit in. Can fit in. Should fit in. Why aren't we there? 
My mind was like this
Yesterday in class, one of my students said something to the effect that it could be hard to speak up in class when there was so much going on, so much being discussed, so many stimulating ideas, that you could get lost in a sea of potential.

That's it! My radio silence wrt blog posts hasn't been about writer's block or lack of ideas. The process of writing, assuming there ever was "a process", is, yes, about being unable to stop thinking about something, but that something isn't always directly a technology or science issue. Perhaps I thought I had nothing to say to my predominantly tech audience because I was being consumed by thoughts of the importance of people, process and relationships.

What ever was I thinking? I'm going to go fertilize the Spider Plant right now.

*Thank you Paige Brown Jarreau @FromTheLabBench for aiding and abetting the foliage

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