Saturday, December 11, 2010

CS Ed Week

Today marks the end of 2010 CS Education Week. I could enumerate all the reasons why this is significant, but it's certainly easier for you to just follow that link and see for yourself.

In honor of CS Education Week, I want to reflect a little on how the field of CS Education has impacted me personally and professionally. I have always had a penchant for teaching, possibly because both of my parents were trained to be teachers. (Not that it's the training that matters per se, but that they both had interest and aptitude in the pursuit.) I had several teaching experiences prior to entering graduate school, and I knew that it was something for which I had a passion. However, entry into the academy is not through a focus on teaching, but rather on the individual intellectual pursuits represented by the doctorate. I spent seven years at the University at Buffalo, first on my masters and then on my doctorate. Although I would occasionally talk with my advisor about my interest in teaching, he sagely recommended avoiding teaching until the doctorate was complete: both are at least full-time jobs, and one who begins a lectureship tends to have much more difficulty finishing the dissertation.

I taught a few courses while at UB, but it wasn't until I became an Assistant Professor at Ball State University that I could really focus in on what it meant to be a good teacher. I found it challenging to keep up with my work on JIVE, partially due to the distance from UB and partially due to the stresses of the new job, being as how BSU is not a research-focused institution: with no grad students to work under me, I was unable to keep the pace of research and development.

My interest in design patterns and games led me to explore the intersection of these ideas with students, and this led to my first CS education publication, "Computer Games as a Motivation for Design Patterns," which I presented at SIGCSE 2007. This was my first time attending the conference, but it was an eye-opening experience. I learned more about education research and realized how many more opportunities I could make for significant research, but most importantly, I was inspired by being surrounded by a thousand CS professors who care deeply about student learning. Most professors are good folks who want their students to learn, but the SIGCSE community is different: these are scholars who have devoted their lives to helping make computer science education better. I'm proud and humbled to be among their ranks.

I have also become involved in the Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges, Midwest Region. I think I first went to this conference in 2006, inspired primarily by the idea of bringing a team of undergraduates to the programming competition, even though I didn't know any of the three members of the team. Since then, this has become one of my favorite annual trips, gathering several of our high-achieving students and spending two days chatting about research, education, and life. The regional conference serves a role similar to the international SIGCSE conference: it brings together a vibrant community of dedicated faculty from around the Midwest, and it's always reinvigorating to spend time with them. In fact, this is now my second year as the publicity chair for the conference and my first year as an at-large member of the regional steering committee.

There is a lot of room for improvement in higher education, and so there is a lot of room for improvement in Computer Science education. Thank you to all the scholars who have gone before me and the ones who will come afterwards—this year is my sixth as a professor, and I am proud to have seeded two alumni into CS graduate school who I know will be excellent professors. Thank you to organizations like ACM and IEEE who promote computing. Thanks to CCSC for their support of regional conferences, especially with tight travel budgets being the new norm. Thanks to CSTA for their work in K-12, where there is the greatest need to help students see the value of computational thinking, regardless of their future careers. Thanks to you, dear reader, for considering the value of computing and computer science education.

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