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.
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.