I almost finished reading Katrine Marcal’s book “Att uppfinna världen: hur historiens största feltänk satte käppar i hjulet” (the English title is: Mother of invention: How Good Ideas Get Ignored in an Economy Built for Men), and page after page I was amazed by the sharpness of her writing. Essentially, the book is a feminist critique of society’s ideas of what counts as technology, invention, innovation and what among those ideas are perceived as legitimate and valuable. Marcal problematises our preconception of what things are masculine and feminine, and shows how ideas of masculinity and femininity limit us to “access the full spectrum of what it means to be human”. I find this quote very sentimental and powerful. If we are aware that we are limited by norms, imaginations, ideas, and opinions of others, we will be better placed at making informed choices. I think we need to remind ourselves that we are not only a biological gender, we are so much more. We need to ask: Who do we want to be as human beings, irrespective of our biological gender? And what can we do to fight this idea that men and women are essentially different? How can we be more aware of the ways we value typically masculine and feminine ways of being and doing?
Katrine Marcal has a blog, which I have subscribed to. In one of her blog posts she writes that women tend to attribute their success to luck and men tend to attribute their success to their own skills. I find this interesting, and started to reflect on this aspect in my own life. Ever since I started my Ph.D. studies I have been interviewed by other researchers twice about my knowledge/experience as a woman in the field of computer science. One of the questions that I got from both these interviews was how I ended up studying a Ph.D. in computing education. And just like the research shows I attributed my success to luck (the way I see it, being accepted to study a Ph.D. is a success). I was lucky to have had a good supervisor. I was lucky that my supervisor saw something in me, and helped me get good recommendations. I was simply lucky. Never once did it occur to me to say that it was my research skills that got me to where I am today. That it was my research skills that contributed to me being lucky. I know that I would not have gotten here without those skills but why was I so focused on attributing luck to my success? This is a complex question to answer but it matters. As Katrine Marcal writes: “Because if you are putting your success down to “luck” (like many women do) you are also saying that you can’t replicate it. If it was all down to “luck” why would people invest in your next business? Why would they listen to your advice?”
She also points out that attributing your success ONLY to your own skills is not problem-free either: “there’s also a VERY DARK side of attributing your success to merit (as men tend to do more than women). It means it was all YOU (my emphasis). You “earned” these billions, so why should you pay tax? Why should you give back? Why should you not think that you are invincible and faultless and unable to fail?”
Something to think about, and to be more aware about as we continue our lives.
A few days ago I listened to a seminar on how to “decode” the Swedish labour market. The seminar was for PhD students at Uppsala University. Although I was (almost) born and raised in Sweden I thought it was an interesting topic and wanted to hear what the experts had to say. Unfortunately, I missed the first half of the seminar but I was lucky enough to enter the seminar right before Brian Palmer starts talking about the concept of immaterial gifts. Brian Palmer is “a social anthropologist and public speaker. He wrote a PhD dissertation based on ethnographic research in Sweden “Wolves at the Door: Existential Solidarity in a Globalizing Sweden”.
Palmer explained that there are four types of gifts that are highly valued in the academia.
- Taking time to read your colleague’s manuscript and to give constructive feedback.
- Sending articles to your colleague that are relevant for their research or that you think they will appreciate. Palmer says he particularly likes receiving paper articles instead of digital articles, preferably with a small note attached to it.
- At conferences, introduce your colleague to other people. Help them expand their contact network.
- Refer journalists, researchers and other investigators to your colleague’s work, alternatively provide your colleague’s contact details to the investigator. This does not mean that you have to contact different people to promote your colleague’s work, but to think about them if you ever are in a situation where investigators are looking for experts to interview. This could, for example, be that they are looking for experts to include in a panel.
What these gifts have in common is that no money in the world can buy you these gifts, only the goodwill of your colleagues and friends will do. I thought these four gifts make a perfect illustration of how dependent we are of each other to thrive and succeed in the academia. People with a lot of contacts (usually senior researchers) have an incredible amount of power to influence the destiny of newcomers such as PhD students. I think this is an important aspect to keep in mind and to discuss continuously with people around you, particularly your supervisors. Also, we need to reflect on what we do with our position of power. Who we choose to give these gifts to can have an immense impact on that person’s career. I hope that, by thinking about these four ways of interacting with colleagues as gift-giving moments, we can be more generous to each other 🙂 I wonder, is there anything else that is not on the list that you would like to add? Something to think about…
For the last two and a half months, I have been busy with teaching duties in three different courses. I have been responsible for workshops in oral (presentation) and written communication (reports). It was the first time that I had to do a lecture in front of the students and it was, of course, a nerve-wracking experience. I am usually quite comfortable talking in front of an audience but this time I was not that familiar with the material I presented. I had been given the slides by my supervisor and so I was not quite sure about what she wanted to communicate with each slide. At the first presentation, I was so nervous that I spoke way too quickly and wrapped up the presentation in less than 20 minutes. Anyway, the rest of the presentations turned out well (for the most part) and now that I am familiar with the material, next year’s lecture will be even better. However, I still need to make the slides “my own” by thoroughly thinking about what it is I want to communicate with the students.
Teaching students is a rewarding activity but also very difficult. I am sure that teaching will get easier with time and experience, this was after all my first time teaching this particular part of the course. It is easy to be hard on oneself when criticisms are brought forward by the students. Then again, how else do you learn?
In all three courses I was teaching we had an online forum where the students could post their questions anonymously if they wanted to. This turned out to be an interesting and quite sad experience. The possibility to post questions anonymously made some of the students rather mean. Somehow they thought that if they did not have to reveal their identity they could write whatever insulting and disrespectful things they want. I find it too bad that the rude atmosphere in the online forum might stop us from using it in the future. You have got to own your words just as much as your actions.
I was invited to present my research at a seminar arranged by the Centre for Discipline-Based Education Research (MINT). A few things have changed since I presented my work-in-progress article at the NERA conference. The title is now “Children Participating in Computing Outreach Activities – A Survey Study on Gender Differences”. We decided to focus on the results of the survey instead of focusing on the development of the survey tool itself. Thereby, the change of the title.
We have also decided to send the article to a journal instead of a conference because we believe the paper is good enough to be published as a journal paper.
I really enjoy presenting my research at different seminars and conferences. I often get interesting and useful feedback and comments to take with me. I also feel more comfortable talking about my work (and in front of people) the more I get to present it.
I am finally back to work from my parental leave (although only at 40% capacity) and it feels great!
I started off this autumn with a presentation, together with my colleague Anne-Kathrin Peters, on the topic of “Inclusive Computing Education” at KomTeks national conference in Stockholm. Komtek is an organization that arranges CS related activities for children outside of school, as well as provides support for CS teaching for teachers. Komtek had reached out to our research group because they wanted to get more knowledge on how to include a gender perspective in their teaching. During our, almost an hour long presentation, me and Anne talked about the gender gap in computing and presented the social and psychological reasons behind the gap. We also talked about inclusive pedagogical practices, that is, what research tells us works well in a CS classroom. Lastly, I presented my research paper on the experiences of computing instructors with the title: “What Computing Instructors Did Last Summer: Experiences and Lessons Learned” that was accepted to Frontiers in Education last year.
After our presentation we were asked many interesting questions, which led to a vivid discussion. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to address them all but luckily we could continue the talk after our presentation as we were invited to join Komtek for dinner and a virtual reality experience in the center of Stockholm.
On the train back home I felt a surge of happiness to finally be able to contribute to the “real world” with my research and knowledge. This was my first presentation at a non-academic conference and I really enjoyed it.
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!
Frontiers in Education
The 21st of October is a day I will remember. I gave my first academic presentation, as a Ph.D. student, 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 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 🙂
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.
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.
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.