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Communications of the ACM


Blogging Informatics Education Europe IV, Day One

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Mark Guzdial

Georgia Institute of Technology professor Mark Guzdial

I am attending Informatics Education Europe IV in Freiburg, Germany as an invited speaker, and as a blogger for BLOG@CACM.  The Proceedings define "informatics" as what ACM/IEEE commputing curricula call "computing." The conference was opened by Thomas Ottmann, who with Andrew McGettrick, chaired the event.

I gave the opening talk, Meeting Everyone's Need for Computing where I argued for developing education to meet the needs of the programmers who are not our majors and do not want to become software engineers, which estimates suggest are four times larger than all the professional software developers.  I've blogged about that talk and its response in my ComputingEd blog.

The first set of speakers addressed issues in teaching programming. 

  • Tony Cowling of U. Sheffield talked about his analysis of informatics, and why programming is not in its core.  He argues that issues of process and architecture are really the most critical issues. 
  • Giuseppe Maggiore of Venice gave an argument for the use functional programming in teaching programming with games.  He contrasted his talk with my talk as, "Mark talked about getting non-majors interested in CS.  I'm going to talk about how to get CS majors interested in CS."  When asked (by Andrew McGettrick of the ACM Education Board),  "What about the girls?  How do they like the games focus?" Giuseppe responded, "Luckily, we have no females in our classes, so it's not a problem." 
  • Omer Gimenez of UPC (Barcelona, Spain) described a web-based, problem-oriented approach for CS1, where students simply solve problems (submitted through the web) to complete the course.  He suggests that the later courses' teachers are happy with the skills the students are gaining in the new first course.  However, the pass rate is only 20-25%, so most of the discussion was how to improve the retention using this approach.
  • Ingo Dahm of Microsoft gave a talk on "Preventing the Brainware Crisis." He challenged the community to develop new teaching methods, to actively try to compete with videogames, Facebook, and the entertainment industry.  The audience pushed back on Ingo.  "Our faculty want to focus on teaching science, not competing with entertainers!"

The second set of papers dealt with advanced programming and computer architecture.  The papers presented some pretty intriging ideas.  Juha-Matti Vanhatupa and Teemu Heinimaki of Tempere University presented their work on making Lua control an AI game engine to support easier game development.  Axel Bottcher of Munich Unviersity talked about the visualization that they've built for the MMIX Simulator.  They've had some amazing success and pervasiveness with it, e.g., the compilers class now builds backends for the simulator, so that the tool can cross course boundaries.  Besim Mustafa of Edge Hill University showed a pipeline simulator and visualizer that is resulting in some interesting results for improving students' understandings.  He's got some positive results, but also some mixed results that have him looking at improving the assessment instruments.

The final set of papers talked about international cooperations.  Many of these schools are working to create connections across international boundaries.  Rainer Herpers presented some of the challenges, like funding, figuring out course equivalencies between schools in different countries, and convincing students to leave their countries to work on the collaborators' campuses.  Other presenters talked about using these collaborations to improve learning in software engineering (with over a dozen authors from 8 universities) and robotics (Spanish, Italian, and German universities).  The idea is that these collaborations offer "intensive" experiences that help students develop skills appropriate for a global marketplace.

The first day was great.  The audience is getting engaged and asking hard questions. 


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