Monday, June 30, 2008

SIGCSE 2009: The Place to Talk About New CS Curriculum Ideas

The next iteration of the ACM/IEEE Computing Curriculum recommendations is currently out for comment. A group from the ACM SIGPLAN has made a proposal that the standard be modified to require CS curricula to include as much on functional programming as on object-oriented programming. The proposal has led to a huge amount of comment, both in blogs and on the feedback site, most of which is quite positive. In my "other" blog, I recently posted criticism of the proposal (with some interesting comments from Alan Kay).

All of this discussion in the blogosphere made me realize one of the greatest benefits of the SIGCSE Symposium: It's the opportunity to discuss these kinds of proposals, face-to-face, in real-time. SIGCSE is where people report on the results of their innovations and reforms, where others can critique them, and where still others can talk about how to incorporate those changes in their own curricula. It's the forum for us to talk about best practices, and what practices should (or should not) become best practice.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Hey, Where Did My Week Go?

Another posting from our guest blogger, Steve Wolfman!

The end of spring is a special time for instructors. As we put the last red marks on our spring exams, our thoughts turn to summer: beach outings, grilling, movies in which various objects explode...

...and authoring SIGCSE publications!

If you're like me, the intensity of your summer work on SIGCSE pubs starts at 0 around the last day of exams and rises to approach a vertical asymptote around Labor Day. Imagine what would happen if someone took away that last week of steep progress!

The bad news is: someone just did. This year's SIGCSE paper, panel, special session, and workshop deadline is a bit earlier than in previous years, August 29.

The good news is: we changed it to fit in a new review process that allows more careful and thorough consideration of your submissions.

We've inserted an extra week of reviewing during which a team of Associate Program Chairs---members of the SIGCSE community selected by the Program and Symposium Chairs for their experience and expertise as both reviewers and authors---will help the Program Chairs give full and fair attention to the reviewing process (including more than 300 submitted papers and their more than 1500 reviews).

The benefit for the community should be a higher quality conference and increased clarity in reviewing. The cost is moving that asymptote a bit earlier. We hope you'll agree that the cost, though substantial, is worth the benefit.

And say, shouldn't you switch to prepping for your fall classes before that August 29th deadline, anyway? ;)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Black Box Theatre Comes to SIGCSE

A blog posting contributed by Steve Wolfman, Program Co-Chair:

My college roommate lured me into the theatre back in freshman year at Duke to lay bricks for a production of Studs Terkel's "Working".

Wob — that's the roommate — was the show's technical director. "Working" was playing in a small "black box" theatre. The term may not be familiar, but it's largely self-explanatory. The theatre is a big black box, and amazingly flexible. Minimal catwalks above allow for lighting, and the seats are lightweight and movable. For this presentation, the audience sat on risers along two sides of the box facing a stepped "pyramid" stage rising to a peak in the corner.

For a blue-collar city feel, every vertical face on the set was rendered as brick: first grey paint, then thousands of pieces of tape in a brickly pattern, then red paint, and finally strip the tape. Wob was going crazy laying tape, and I was drafted to help.

It was fabulous. When the play's brick mason proudly displays his work with the line Those bricks are mine, I leaned over to my girlfriend (now wife) and whispered that they were mine.

In the subsequent years, I watched Wob and others transform that theatre into dozens of different stages, even one that welded iron steps to the catwalks and sent the show up into three dimensions.

Like traditional theatres, conferences can be brilliant and inspiring, but they can also be staid in their format. Papers, panels, posters, workshops, and BoFs are an impressive array of choices, but they can only take us so far. This year's introduction of a video exhibition just emphasizes how much more there might be out there, if only we had the conference equivalent of a black box theatre.

And, that's just what special sessions are meant to be. A special session is a 75 minute hole in the conference: four walls, some chairs, a bit of A/V, and your vision for how to engage in CS education with your colleagues: borrow from other conferences ("CHI fringe", anyone?), follow pop culture ("SIGCSE Idol"?), or maybe invent something brand new.

However you do it, propose something great for a SIGCSE special session this year.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Working on the Space Plan and Budget

Much of my effort this last week for SIGCSE 2009 was spent on coming up with a first pass space plan and a draft budget. The big question of the space plan was: Do we now have enough space contracted to cover everything that happened at SIGCSE 2008 and everything additional that we want at SIGCSE 2009? I read multiple contracts and got to know the Chattanooga Conference Center layout pretty well.

It's an interesting place. The design is made to look like a old-style railroad station, in reference to the famous "Chattanooga Choo-Choo." An advantage of this design for a conference center is that everything is on one level. There's a big hallway where everyone will be eventually and anyone can be found. I'm hoping that it will lead to more discussions and the serendipitous meetings that are the hallmark of a successful conference. (My PhD advisor, Elliot Soloway, would tell me as a graduate student that "The success of a conference doesn't depend on what sessions you go to, but who you're talking to when you skip sessions.")

The budget for the SIGCSE conference is huge. Almost a half million dollars will come and go through our account before it's all through. (We're hoping for a slightly black residue leftover in the account when it's all said-and-done, and I'm sure that Barbara Owens is also hoping for that!) Income really only comes from three sources: registrations, supporters/exhibitors, and workshops. It's the expenditures that are complicated. They cover a wide range of items--paying for A/V and food, doing criminal background checks for people working in the Kids' Camp, shipping people to and from Chattanooga for the big Program Committee meeting in October, and so on. We're grateful that Susan and JD have left us such great notes from last year (and are willing to answer our continued questions via email!)

Sue's work the last few weeks is showing up on the Web site and in your mailboxes these days. She's been working with our Publications Chair, Tom Cortina, to get the Call for Participation out to everyone physically. She's been working with the whole Program Committee and our Webmaster, Lester McCann, to get the website ready for everyone. PLEASE BE SURE TO NOTICE THE CHANGED DUE DATE FOR SIGCSE THIS YEAR! It's late August, rather than early September.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Reception: The Tennesee Aquarium

Our reception for SIGCSE 2009 is going to be at the Tennessee Aquarium. I visited a couple weeks ago, to scope out the place and see where we can put food areas and maybe demo/information spaces.

I visited during the last week of May when the place was totally packed with schoolchildren in their end-of-the-year field trips. Typically, the museum gets around 800 visitors a day, but during April and May, they get 2000-3000.

I've visited the Aquarium with my family in years past. Chattanooga is less than two hours away from Atlanta, so it's a great destination for a day trip or even a weekend mini-vacation. We have done both, staying in a train car hotel room in the Chattanooga Choo-Choo hotel room for our weekend getaway. During those visits, the Aquarium just had one building, the River Journey. The River Journey is based on the Tenneessee River and focuses on freshwater fish.

Now, the Aquarium has two buildings: Ocean Journey and River Journey. The Ocean Journey is focused on saltwater, with a great area for touching sharks and starfish (above) and a terrifically fun penguin exhibit (in front of which we'll probably set up food and drink for SIGCSE 2009). We'll have access to both for the reception. We haven't gone someplace for a SIGCSE reception for several years, and the Tennessee Aquarium is one of those can't-miss places in Chattanooga. We've decided to hold the reception there so that people don't miss it.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Keynote Speaker: Craig Mundie

Our keynote speaker for SIGCSE 2009 will be Craig Mundie, Chief Research and Strategy Officer for Microsoft. Craig is one of the six Chief Officers of Microsoft who report to Bill Gates, and he will be playing a larger role in the company as Bill Gates transitions away from the company over the next few months. When we're talking about engaging in a conversation about computing education, it's pretty cool to have such a top name in one of the world's top IT companies who wants to come tell us what he thinks.

I heard about his views on computing education when he visited Georgia Tech for our "New Face of Computing" Symposium last year. One of the striking statements that Craig made in his talk at the Symposium was that Computer Science is as important "as electricity" in our new information-based economy. Craig is also an advocate for the role of open source software as an important component in technology education.

I'm completely confident that Craig's talk is going to be fascinating, filled with interesting new insights into the role of computing education and how to make it better. I'm also thrilled that Craig recognizes that CS Education and SIGCSE are important enough to warrant a trip to join us all in Chattanooga next March.