23 November 2017
Koli Calling Doctoral Consortium and International Conference on Computing Education
Last week was a very intense and productive week for me as I attended both the doctoral consortium and Koli Calling conference in Finland. We were ten Ph.D. students at the doctoral consortium who were all, in one way or another, involved in research related to computational thinking (CT). We got to discuss our research projects and deepen our knowledge of CT with an expert in the field, namely Matti Tedre.
The location where the doctoral consortium took place was amazing (see picture below). The cottage where we stayed was in the middle of the forest, right next to a lake, very peaceful. A perfect place for mindful discussions.
From the doctoral consortium, I take home with me a more complex understanding of computational thinking, its challenges and applications. I also take with me home all the interesting research projects that other Ph.D. students are doing. I hope to hear and read about their work in the future, and of course, I hope to meet them again someday. The picture below is from a walk during the doctoral consortium with some of the participtants.
Four years ago was the first time that I attended Koli Calling International Conference on Computing Education and I was really excited to attend the conference again this year. However, I was a bit disappointed… The focus of the conference was on programming education, which made me feel a bit “misplaced”, as my research project focuses more on young learners’ identity and interest development in computer science education. The working title of my work is Digital Capital – A Framework for Understanding Young Learners’ Development of Interest in Computer Science and their Potential for Developing Computational Thinking.
A new feature of the conference this year was that the posters from the DC were presented as “guerrilla posters”. This meant that the poster presenters had to do a one-minute elevator pitch between scheduled paper presentations to attract the audience to their posters. To assist the elevator pitch, a PowerPoint slide was displayed simultaneously. My slide contained only one word: “Digital Capital”, as I believe it was more important that the audience listened to me rather than reading the slide (see pic below). I am very pleased with the result 🙂
As for the poster presentation, I found that it was not that easy to get the audience to come and listen to what I had to say. Perhaps this had to do with the mismatch between my research topic and the focus of the conference? Although those who came to listen really did seem interested in my research. Some of the feedback that I got was really useful and inspiring – can’t wait to get to work!
2 November 2017
Frontiers in Education
The 21st of October is a day I will remember. I gave my first presentation, as a Ph.D. student, of my research results at the Frontiers in Education conference and it went really well – beyond my expectations 🙂 I had been practicing and I felt confident in my ability to do a good presentation. Even though it was the last day of the conference there were still a lot of people that attended my session (STEM Outreach) so I was quite nervous when I saw the number of people. Luckily, the session chair was funny and relaxed, which helped me to relax as well. The time after the presentation is definitely my favorite part, as you get to network, talk and discuss yours as well as the work of other presenters/researchers. I already look forward to (hopefully) attending Frontiers in Education next year.
Academic Visit to Georgia Tech
About a week and a half ago I got the opportunity to visit Mark Guzdial and his Ph.D. students at Georgia Tech, which was a memorable experience. I contacted Mark through one of the senior researchers in UpCERG to see if there were any possibilities for me to come and visit, as I’ve always been interested in seeing how other CSEd groups work and how life as a Ph.D. student in the US is like. Plus, it was a great opportunity for me to network with other Ph.D. students who do similar work.
The visit to Georgia Tech was my first academic visit as a Ph.D. student, as well as my first visit to a university in the US. During the day of my visit, I got to talk about my research project and learn about the projects of Mark’s Ph.D. students. I also got to exchange ideas with both Mark and his Ph.D. students on my research work. I presented my current work on “Digital Capital” (which will be presented as a position paper and a poster at Koli Calling International Conference on Computing Education in two weeks), and although I did not get enough time as I would have liked to discuss the concept of Digital Capital, I did get some really good feedback to work on.
I would encourage every Ph.D. student to take the opportunity to do an academic visit to another university that has a research group within your field. It is a great learning experience and building collaborations and contacts with researchers outside your department is an important part of being an academic.
Below is a picture of the seminar room at Georgia Tech where I gave my presentation 🙂
4 October 2017
Tips for a Good Powerpoint Design
I am currently preparing a PowerPoint presentation for the Frontier in Education conference. My paper “What Computing Instructors Did Last Summer – Experiences and Lessons Learned” will be presented there. The paper is 8 pages long with a detailed description of the method used and a discussion of the validity of the results. My task now is to pick the most important parts of the paper to be included in the PowerPoint presentation, as I only have 15 minutes to present my work. The art of excluding text (or including only the most relevant text) is not as simple as one might think. I asked my supervisors and colleagues for advice on how to make a good PowerPoint Presentation and this is what I learned:
- Whenever it is suitable/possible, your title should be a summary or an assertion of what you want to convey with the particular slide.
- The body of the slide should support the summary/assertion
- Use pictures to aid your storytelling.
- Help your audience orient the information on the slide by considering the placement of your content. Arrows guide the audience’s reading direction and are good to include when you have a lot of information.
- Give the audience time to read the slide – don’t go too fast forward.
- Make sure to have some white space between your texts, this makes it easier for the audience to read.
- Consider the size of your text and pictures. The person sitting in the back of the room should be able to see them too.
- Avoid long lists of text if possible. People’s memory is not built to remember long lists.
A good PowerPoint presentation makes a huge difference on the audience’s ability to recall. Whether you are a teacher or student (or whatever work role you have), presenting information is going to be part of your work. Who doesn’t want his/her audience to remember what was presented, or at least not falling asleep?
My list of tips is in no way conclusive and many of them might be obvious to some readers but it bears repeating. For additional reading on presentation design, please see:
Michael Alley, Madeline Schreiber, Katrina Ramsdell, and John Muffo, “How the Design of Headlines in Presentation Slides Affects Audience Retention,” Technical Communication, vol. 53, no. 4 (May 2006), pp. 225-234.
21 sep 2017
Outstanding DC Paper at Koli Calling 2017
Two days ago I received the good news that my doctoral consortium paper “Digital Capital – A Platform for Computational Thinking” was one of the three selected for an outstanding paper! It is a great feeling to be recognized for the work that I have done 😀The next step now is to rewrite the paper into a mini-position paper. I am still waiting for more information on what that means in practice.
18 sep 2017
More Thoughts from Programming Labs
I have now gained a bit more teaching experience from being a lab assistant in a programming course and this is what I have learned:
- There were students who had a hard time understanding the description of the assignment. The students got frustrated before they could even start coding because they thought that the assignments were not clear enough.
- Because of the students’ lack of experience, it was easy for them to get stuck on a (seemingly simple) problem for a long time. One of the common problems that would not make the code work as planned is indentation.
- The display of different emotions in a programming lab is fascinating. It is always nice to hear the student cheering and high-fiving each other when they have managed to solve a programming problem. Seems to me like programming causes strong positive and negative emotions. This is probably because programming is difficult and it requires a lot of grit and effort to learn and understand programming.
- There were quite some misunderstanding about the role of “import” – the students didn’t understand why it was necessary to use e.g. “import os”, and they didn’t understand what “os” stands for.
- Lastly, I have noticed that it is hard to really understand local vs global variable when the names of the local and global variables are the same. This in combination with e.g. omitting return and/or print. I have experienced that it is easy for the students to forget that there must be a return value from a function, which is understandable as it is not exactly “natural” or could be easily associated with anything else they have done before.
11 September 2017
Trippel Helix Conference
Last Friday many of my UpCERG colleagues and I attended the Trippel Helix Conference on computational thinking and digital competencies in primary and secondary education. Jeaneatte Wing, a role model for women in computer science and also one of the strongest proponent of computational thinking was there to give the opening keynote. One of my supervisors, Arnold Pears, talked about The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly in teaching computing by referring to the many studies done in the field (see picture). I think it is important that we do not reinvent the wheel when it comes to inclusive teaching – we already know quite a lot about what kind of pedagogy works (as well as what doesn’t work) so we should do our best to use them in practice.
From Arnold’s presentation we learned about:
The Good: Computing is much more than just programming; creativity is a key to motivation; students need space to explore and make mistakes – we learn from our mistakes; and you don’t need a computer to learn about computing.
The Bad: Focus on artefacts and technology without context, solving the teacher’s problem (esp. focus on mathematical problems), communication climate and inclusiveness, a focus on syntax rather than problem solving.
The Ugly: (Programming) Language wars and folk pedagogies.
My other two colleagues Kristina von Hausswolff and Anna Eckerdal also presented at Trippel Helix. They talked about the primary results from their project “hands-on in computer programming education: educational effects and brain processes” (abbreviated HOPE). It is a super interesting project of which I do not have the time to go into detail about in this blog post but you can read more about it here.
29 August 2017
Every Lab is a Learning Opportunity
This semester I have been assigned to be a teaching assistant in an introductory programming course. The programming languages that the students will get to learn are Python, MIPS and Java (in that particular order). Since I have very limited programming experience I have been quite concerned and nervous about my own performance. How was I going to be a good teaching assistant when I didn’t have all the answers?
But…what good does it do me to see life from the negative side? If I see this experience as a learning opportunity – an opportunity for me to get better at programming – than this experience is actually rewarding rather than daunting.
I started preparing for programming in Python during the summer. I did the same exercises that the students will be doing and when I got stuck I was fortunate enough to get help from a colleague who is an experienced programmer. Frankly, I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t get the help from my colleague…Maybe I would have given up? Because at times, I really felt that programming was the hardest thing to do in the world. But then something happened – I solved a programming problem! Me! I actually wrote code that worked! Ok, maybe the code is not perfect but my understanding increases and I feel empowered. The negative thoughts I have about myself (like: “maybe I’m too stupid for this”) diminish and I feel encouraged to move on to the next assignment.
Today I had my first programming lab with the students and even though I was anxious I made it through, and I learned a lot from being in the lab (hence, the title). I want to make it a habit to write down my thoughts/observations from each lab and this is my observation from today:
When the students got stuck with a problem, they were reluctant to put their thoughts into code and try to run their code. They would rather talk about they wanted to do instead of trying things out. This could perhaps be because they are unsure about how to write the code correctly (at first trial), or they are afraid of making mistakes, or perhaps they are unsure of how to decipher the error messages? Either way, I recognized their behavior. I believe, however, that this problem will solve itself with time and experience. For my part, as I understood more I also got more comfortable writing codes, making mistakes, and interpreting the error messages – I was no longer afraid of trial-and-error.
16 August 2017
Visiting Hello World Computer Camp
Last week I was invited to visit Sweden’s first computer summer camp, Hello World! I have been in contact with Hello World already since the beginning of my Ph.D. studies, as I was interested in research on computing education in K-12. My first article “What Computing Instructors did last Summer – Experiences and Lessons Learned” was based on the interviews that I performed with the camp instructors.
According to the camp director, this year’s summer camp has been very successful, attracting more children than the camp’s available capacity. If I remember correctly, approximately 1000 children have attended the camp during the five ongoing weeks, some children stayed overnight while others attended during day time.
The camp has five different tracks, which more or less focuses on different programming activities. Three of the tracks are for beginner students and two of the tracks are for students with prior programming experience. Some of the learning activities that the students can participate in include Scratch programming, web design, interface programming, 3D game programming, 3D design and printing, and programming using microcontrollers.
From my visit to the camp, I could sense that the students and the instructors (a majority being students at a technical university program) enjoyed being there. The camp was buzzing with activities and the students seemed very focused on their work. Although computing camps such as Hello World are a good way to introduce children to programming and computing related activities, I can’t help but ponder on how pedagogy is planned in all of the learning activities. Having significant content knowledge can get you far but it is not enough to create a positive learning experience for learners. As I mentioned in my Frontier in Education paper, it could, for example, be a good idea to involve licensed teachers in the camp to assist the instructors with pedagogical content knowledge. I think that this, in the long run, creates the best learning experience and environment for both the children and the instructors.
10 August 2017
Next step: Doctoral Consortium
I am slowly moving forward in my research project with the latest accomplishment being a doctoral consortium paper for the Koli Calling International Conference on Computing Education Research. It might be good to mention that a doctoral consortium is a forum where Ph.D. students get to meet other Ph.D. students and experts within their area of research to obtain advice on future research directions. The doctoral consortium (DC) usually takes place a few days before the actual conference. This year, the conference dates are 15-19th of November (including the DC).
In my DC paper I discuss the term “Digital Capital” (DC), which is an extension of Archer et al.’s (2015) conceptual tool “Science Capital” (SC). The research project is still in its initial phase where the next step would be to define what digital capital is and what aspects affect digital capital. Based on the findings of Archer et al. I hypothesize that there is a relationship between a learner’s digital capital and his/her disposition towards computer science, as well as his/her potential to develop computational thinking. Therefore, I have chosen the title “Digital Capital –A Platform for Developing Computational Thinking” for my DC paper.
22 July 2017
Better Late Than Never
It has been way too long since my last blog post. I have been thinking that I should take some time to write but I have been very busy lately.
Good news: Our Frontier in Education paper “What Computing Instructors Did Last Summer: Experiences and Lessons Learned” has been accepted for publication 🙂 I will travel to Indianapolis between 18-21 October to present the paper at the conference. This will be my first presentation at a major international conference since I started my Ph.D. studies. I feel excited (and nervous) but I’m sure that with good preparation all will go well!
Before the summer holiday I have been working as a teaching assistant in a course called “Independent Project in Information Engineering”. My main responsibility in the course was to help to correct students’ project reports. It has truly been a valuable learning experience on how to give good feedback to the students, as well as how to encourage students to give constructive feedback to each other. I have also improved my knowledge on how to make a good poster, as well as how to present the poster in the best possible way with limited time at hand.
For me, the best part about being a teaching assistant is that I learn a lot of new things myself. I believe one can never stop learning, no matter how far you have come in your career. I really enjoyed working with the students as well. They were very ambitious and open to learning new things. I can tell that they have learned a lot during the course and their progress made me proud, and motivated me to become an even better educator.
27 April 2017
Manuscript Submitted to Frontier in Education
Two days ago I submitted a full paper to Frontier in Education, one of the top conferences in engineering education. My paper describes the experiences of the camp instructors when introducing contemporary computing tools and resources (e.g. Scratch, 3D printing) to young learners (ages 12-16). There has never been a computing summer camp in Sweden before, so the results of my study are quite unique in that sense. During my interview with the instructors, I focused on 1) how and why the instructional content was taught and how this, in turn, lead to desired learning outcomes, and; 2) how the children appropriated the content and responded to the teaching practices.
The results that I obtained from the instructors revealed challenges and advantages related to the recruitment process, instructional content, and teaching strategy. The main points to take home from my study:
- The importance of pedagogical content knowledge in the CS domain in order to make teaching effective
- The importance of context in which programming is taught. If the aim is to broaden participation and make CS attractive to a diverse group of learners then the instructional content should reflect this diversity.
I believe that by being aware of the instructors’ experiences from the summer camp we can better enhance the design of learning environments for children. This is especially relevant now that it has been decided that CS will be included in the Swedish school curriculum.
On the 19th of May I will know whether or not my paper will be accepted. The conference will be held in Indianapolis between the 18-21st of October this year. Fingers crossed!
4 April 2017
To Succeed in the Academia
Today I got the opportunity to participate in an informal seminar hosted by one of my supervisors, Åsa Cajander, on the topic of academic recruitment. Åsa had recently reviewed applicants for a position as associate professor at one of the top technical universities in Sweden, and she wanted to share her experiences with us, Ph.D. students. We talked about what experiences, both in terms of research and teaching, were required to get short-listed among a (very) competitive group of applicants. I learned that to succeed in the academia it is very important to:
- Have a strong research background and network (h-index and the number of articles where you are the first author are essential here)
- Have well-documented, reflected, and up-to-date teaching experiences and pedagogical knowledge. Some questions to ponder: what are the advantages and challenges of your teaching methods? What have you done to improve the learning environment in your classroom? What is your vision of teaching? What innovative approaches and ideas have you applied in your classroom?
- Have proven ability to apply (successfully) for research grants
- Have good presentation skills and the ability to follow instructions – might seem elementary but you would be surprised…
It was an exciting seminar where we all were a bit surprised by the board’s final list of preferable applicants. Although to be fair, the person who got the position was actually the most suitable. I think all of the Ph.D. students agreed with that.