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Planning for SIGCSE 2019

Topics/tags: Code camps, digital humanities, academia, disjoint.

One of the conferences I look forward to attending [1] is the annual Technical Symposium of the Special Interest Group for Computer Science Education. Both the conference and the group are called SIGCSE. I enjoy SIGCSE because it gives me insight into teaching CS. For many years, SIGCSE (the conference) was the best place to publish research on computer science education: Papers receive many reviews (typically five or six), the acceptance rate for papers is low enough (typically between thirty and thirty-five percent) that acceptance to the conference is clearly competitive and therefore worthy of consideration in merit reviews, and the proceedings were (and are) published, making it an archival publication.

There are now more venues for CS education research, including a few journals and the SIGCSE-sponsored International Conference on Education Research (ICER), most of which I would consider more prestigious than SIGCSE. Still, SIGCSE remains a valuable conference to attend and a worthwhile place to present.

SIGCSE deadlines are usually right at the start of the semester [2], which means that they are right around the corner. It’s time to think about what papers I should finish for SIGCSE.

A few years ago, SIGCSE instituted a two-phase application process. On one Friday [3], you submit an abstract. On the following Friday [4], the full papers are due [5]. That means that the abstracts are due tomorrow. I should figure out which of the draft papers can be ready in time for SIGCSE and put together the abstracts for those papers.

It’s probably best to start by looking at the call for participation or CFP. It appears that papers have gotten slightly longer; we are now permitted six pages plus one page for references. It used to be that the six pages included the one page for references. I wonder if the change was added to avoid penalizing those who have large numbers of references. What about the abstract? It appears that that can be up to 250 words. A typical musing is about one-thousand words; two-hundred and fifty should be no problem [6].

What are the possible topics? I count at least five. My summer research students drafted three possible papers. I could also tie together all of my notes on the new digital-humanities-themed CSC 151. And it’s probably time to submit an article about the design of CSC 321/22. Five is far too many. So let me think about goals and context.

There are a variety of reasons to submit a paper to a conference [7]. The primary goal should be to present work that others would benefit from hearing about. But other factors also come into play. Publications serve as a form of currency in academia; publications get you tenure, raises, and promotions. Funding agencies like to see publications associated with the work that they have funded. And particularly good work helps build your standing in the discipline.

I’m old enough that I can worry less about many of these external factors. I’m well known in the SIGCSE community; my understanding is that I have a decent reputation: I do some things that are worth hearing about, but I’m not a leader in changing how we teach CS. Many people also know me for my service roles in SIGCSE. I’m okay with those kinds of status. My only current external funding is from the digital bridges grant, and that’s for work that I’m doing this semester. I’m a full professor with only one or two reviews left; I don’t need to publish to advance my career.

So I’m left with two primary priorities: Work that allows my students to present and work that I expect will be of high value to others. Let’s see what that says about the five options.

Code camp: Pair programming for elementary school students. If you had asked me at the start of the summer about the papers my students would write, I would not have identified this as a potential topic. But it ended up being a topic of potential interest. For the first time, we had the campers in our elementary-school code camp work in pairs. And, well, it was not quite what we expected. We know that pair programming is successful at the college and professional level [8]. However, the campers are at an age in which they are just starting to develop the right kinds of interpersonal skills and empathy to allow them to work with others and to benefit from working with others. We gathered a lot of informal information about the kinds of interactions we saw. I think this could be an interesting paper. However, for it to be a paper that I’m proud of, it needs to be grounded carefully not just in the pair-programming literature, but also the elementary-ed literature. I know the latter literature much less well. I may encourage the students to submit this as a poster, which is better for preliminary work.

Code camp: Data science for social good. This summer represents the second offering of the camp. That gives us a chance to explore and compare two summers’ worth of data [9]. And we can talk more about things that worked and didn’t work. We have feedback on a paper about the first camp that was not accepted; that feedback will help us write a stronger second paper. While I have a few concerns about getting the data into the appropriate form, I do think this can be a strong paper.

Code camp: Language and code. This summer represents our first offering of the camp. It was a good camp that illustrates a very different approach, but I don’t consider it particularly successful. The subject attracted fewer girls than we had expected. And it was clear that the curriculum was too challenging. At the same time, I do consider it useful for the SIGCSE community to think more broadly about appropriate themes for summer camps. We also developed some particularly nice exercises. And there’s a role in the literature for failure as well as success. So, while this one has lower priority than the paper on data science for social good, it’s worth considering. At worst, evolving the draft of this paper will put us in better stead for a poster submission.

Digital humanities in introductory CS [10]. Writing a paper about the course helps me get my thoughts better in order. My most successful submission from last year was our paper about our data-science-themed CSC 151. And, once again, I see value in encouraging the SIGCSE community to think about new approaches to our courses. But last year’s CFP had a category that included the design of new courses. It looks like this year’s expects a rich reflection on what worked, what didn’t, and why. We’d also written the curriculum for the data-science-themed CSC 151 already and knew we’d have taught three sections before presenting. I don’t have a curriculum ready, and I won’t teach it until spring. I’ll wait until next year; I should be able to write a much stronger paper then.

Multi-semester civic-engagement projects in software design. I’ve taught CSC 321 and CSC 322 for six semesters, and I’m passing it on to another faculty member. The design of the course is something that other schools, particularly other small schools, could adapt or adopt. And I think the stories from the course reveal a lot of important issues, even if I don’t have precise data. So I’d like to write a paper on the course. However, the original course design is Janet’s, not mine. So I’ll need to see what she thinks about this idea.

Where does that leave me? The highest priority is the paper on the data science for social good camp. It allows students to present and is useful to the community. The second-highest priority is the CSC 32x paper. It’s something I’d like to get done. I also think it would be useful to the community. The third-highest priority is the paper on the language and code camp. I’m not sure whether or not I can get that one done, but, as I said, it’s a good starting point for a paper. The other two topics? Those might make reasonable poster topics. Fortunately, both student and regular posters have a due date of October 19. There’s still some time to work on those.

Coming tomorrow: Musings about the three abstracts [11].

[1] And presenting at.

[2] Or the end of the summer, depending on how you view things.

[3] This year, it’s Friday, 24 August 2018.

[4] In case you can’t you weren’t sure, that’s Friday, 31 August 2018.

[5] Given the week-long gap and the stresses of the start of the semester, I wonder what percentage of the abstracts end up as missing submissions.

[6] More seriously, getting ideas down clearly and eloquently in 250 words can be a real challenge.

[7] Or a journal or wherever.

[8] That’s scholarship I know and can cite relatively well.

[9] The comparison will be complicated by the change in forms we used.

[10] Yeah, I still need to work on the title.

[11] I’m not yet sure what form those will take. I may write three musings; I may write one. For each abstract, I may present only the final version, or I may write one of my rambly watch the text evolve musings. We shall see.

Version 1.0 of 2018-08-23.