We need better PD for CS educators, and Dr. Sue Sentance guides us through the decades of PD research to make it happen!

Early this month, I got to serve as session chair for Dr. Sue Sentance’s keynote speech at the CSEdGrad Virtual Conference. This conference is part of a larger effort by the organization to grow and develop the community of computer science education researchers.

Dr. Sentance gave a talk on professional development for CS educators and her work with the Raspberry Pi Foundation, England’s National Centre for Computing Education, and King’s College London make her the perfect expert to speak about the topic. The gap in professional development for CS educators manifests through a shortage of CS teachers and trouble retaining qualified teachers in the US and all over the world. Thankfully, there are decades of research in professional development and Dr. …

Summary and reflection on the 2020 DUB Retreat, a physically distant but socially connected meeting of HCI & design researchers.

Collage of slides recognizing new centers and labs, awards, promotions, and paper awards (described in text below)
The State of DUB was stuffed full of awards recognizing accomplishments of faculty and students for their research, teaching, and service.

The 2020 DUB retreat was the first remote version of this retreat we’ve ever had. This retreat is an annual reunion of sorts for DUB, necessary because DUB is spread out across many schools/departments at UW including the Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering (CSE), the Information School (iSchool), Human-Centered Design & Engineering (HCDE), Art + Art History + Design, Communication, Bioinformatics & Medical Education (BIME) and including industry professionals from organizations such as Microsoft Research (MSR). I had fond memories of past DUB retreats where I could connect faculty members, students, and industry professionals in-person and chat research ideas with them. What I remember from previous DUB retreats was how astonished I was at the innovation and impact of the diverse research people conducted and how welcoming people were to new people and ideas. …

It’s important for learners to have control over their online learning experiences. But designing the information to make that happens is nuanced!

Imagine if you told somebody who had never programmed before to “go learn it on the internet.” How would that happen? They might search on the internet “how to code.” And maybe they watch some YouTube videos that provide some instruction but don’t provide practice. Or maybe they go to a site like Codecademy and try to follow along, but get frustrated because they want to explore instead of follow some predefined path. Except for those with immense self-efficacy, metacognition, and time, this experience will almost certainly result in frustration and loss of interest. …

Tech can only amplify the values, biases of their creators. The rest of us can still act. Kentaro Toyamo calls for action at the 2019 iConference opening keynote.

At the opening keynote, Kentaro Toyama spoke about Technology’s Law of Amplification and what it means to iSchools. An iSchool is an interdisciplinary part of a university which studies information (the “i” in iSchool) and technology and how it relates to humanity. Kentaro is faculty at the University of Michigan iSchool and he spoke to members of iSchools from all over the world.

Given he presented on April 1 (“April Fools Day”), Kentaro began by speaking about fake news. He mentioned that research and initiatives to address fake news will fall short unless a single human being bought in: Mark Zuckerberg. Kentaro’s point: Social pressure comes first and technology solutions come after.

In 5–10 yrs, all the technology you built will be obsolete. So what will be your lasting contributions? Ponderings from my first doctoral colloquium…

As a third year PhD candidate who just completed my general exam (please reread “candidate”), it was prime time to attend my first doctoral colloquium (known as a DC). A DC is an opportunity for mid-late stage PhDs to present our work and ideas for your dissertation and receive incredible feedback from caring faculty mentors. So I wandered off to Washington, DC to attend the 2019 iConference, and have my first DC in DC (neat, huh?). My objectives were to get feedback on my dissertation work at my first doctoral colloquium from the very interdisciplinary information school (iSchool) community. …

While intro CS courses teach concepts, they could/should also teach SKILLS!

You’re in your first day of your first computer science (CS1) course. The instructor wants to “dive right in.” They want you to open up your computer and to the “IDE” you were supposed to download before class and copy some code projected on the screen. You copy the code. They tell you “don’t try to understand [the code] too much.” That’s funny to you because you don’t understand any of the magic that just occurred! Some code was written in English words but not typical sentence structure. After pressing a button to run the code, “Hello world!” appeared in a funny font. What did you just write and why did you get “Hello world” and your neighbor get many lines of scary red text? How did the code your copied make “Hello world!” appear? And was that it, or was there something more? …

Yes, you can use data to improve assessments. But you have to be careful. In this post, I describe a psychometric process at a high level and then demonstrate how we applied it (with Item Response Theory) to improve the SCS1, a popular introductory CS1 assessment.

We can’t reasonably assume that students will always understand a new concept on the first pass. We can’t reasonably assume that the first version of learning materials will be effective. Likewise, we cannot assume that tests will effectively measure what we want to. It’s all about designing, evaluating, and iterating to get to better.

In our current day and age, test scores matter. A lot. We interpret test scores to determine grades and advanced placement. But perhaps more importantly, learners’ interpretation of test scores can affect their sense of mastery and identity. So, it is important to ensure our interpretation of test scores are “good,” that they accurately reflect measuring the knowledge they’re designed to measure for a target group of test-takers.

A dozen UW students interrogated UCSD Prof. Philip Guo about his research, how students can start researching, and his cow-related “brand.” Here are the declassified parts of our talk.

Image for post
Is Philip Guo’s love of cows the secret to his success? Are these pictures even of the same person? (From Philip’s homepage, GitHub)

Philip visited UW to talk at the DUB seminar about his work in using visualization as scaffolding for helping people learn programming and data science. After the seminar, he sat down with graduate and undergraduate students from various departments and we poked his brain with all the questions we could think of. Here are Philip’s answers to some of those questions.

Passages in quotation marks are Philip’s words verbatim. Everything else is paraphrasing because I was just typing and not recording. I tried not to bias Philip’s responses as best I could. …

the conference was a zoo, but the animals played nicely #myfirstchi

I wandered up to Montreal, Canada for CHI, the ACM conference on Computer Human Interaction. I’ll share summaries and thoughts about papers related to computing education (and programming and learning more broadly), as well as talk about plans for a new special interest group to support work at the intersection of HCI and the learning sciences.

While the theme of CHI this year was engage, I also recognized the emphasis on inclusion. From the gender-neutral bathrooms to live-streaming every session to badges that recognize the 45% of attendees who were first timers to reserved seating for attendees with mobility diversities to sessions on feminist HCI and gender in HCI, CHI 2018 was about making people feel welcome. There’s work to be done (picking better opening keynote speakers?), …

Clickbait title: You won’t believe how 5 minutes can improve your coding skills!

Summary: Spending 5–10 minutes teaching a strategy to read code can lead to improved reading performance, helping prevent low-performers from becoming overwhelmed and giving up! I presented this work at SIGCSE 2018. Links to resources (teaching resources, papers, slides) are at the end of this post.

Say I’m teaching 4th grade math students how to solve problems with different operations, like this:

2 x (3 + 6)

I’ve taught them the individual operations of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division. So I give them practice problems that have a mix of these operations. And my hard-working students surprisingly(?) struggle with them! …


Benji Xie

Ph.D. candidate at UW Seattle; research intern at Code.org. Seeking an equitable symbiosis between humans, machine, and data. @benjixie

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