Friday, December 19, 2008

Why Chattanooga is the Right Place for SIGCSE

This is a place that highlights their CS0 classes on a marquis!

And when we walked by the art museum, we discovered that they have a particular affinity for objects! Their art museum has a special exhibit on project-based learning with objects! (Well, sorta. Maybe. Kinda.)

High end restaurant in Chattanooga

On one of our trips to Chattanooga, Sue and I decided to try a high-end restaurant in Chattanooga, St John's, which is partway between the Chattanooga Choo-Choo and the Marriott. The place looks like an old bank or maybe an old hotel. The food was really great. The menu changes regularly, so what we had probably won't be on the menu when you go there in March 2009. I had a tuna appetizer in three different forms, including a sashimi and a tartare. Sue had lamb that was presented beautifully.

Most of the places that we we went to on our visits there were more moderate in price. I wanted to mention this one for the "foodies" who want to know where to get the really amazing food. St. John's is your place for that, and it's really close to all three conference hotels.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Eugene Spafford to speak at SIGCSE 2009!

Dr. Eugene Spafford is to receive the "Abacus Award" from the UPE honor society on Friday, March 6. This is like getting another keynoter for free! Details are at:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

US Airways introduces new lower fares to Chattanooga

It's getting cheaper to fly into Chattanooga! US Air just introduced a new fare structure that reduces the cost of flying to Chattanooga 30-50%.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Program is all but done

Sorry I haven't posted much in the last month! It's been a pretty busy time for all of us on the Program Committee. As you figured out, decisions were made at the end of October in Chattanooga. We accepted 100 papers, as well as panels, special sessions, and workshops. Many thanks to the Program Committee for all that effort, especially Gary and Steve who made the whole Associate Program Chair mechanism work. I have heard from several people about the value that they are finding in their meta-reviews.

The "Birds of a Feather," Posters, and Video program submissions are under review now. Those decisions will be coming out in just a few days.

Meanwhile, all the other aspects of the program are falling into place. We have some wonderful supporters who are defining their supporter sessions. We have quite a slate of presymposium activities. Parallel events are shaping up. The UPE meeting on Friday afternoon will include an award being presented to Eugene Spafford, which will be an event not-to-be-missed.

We've got lots of restaurant recommendations to make now, after hanging out in Chattanooga for another week last month. I'll post pictures and stories of those here. The bottomline is: Come to Chattanooga March 4-7, 2009! It's going to be great!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Scenes of Chattanooga

This week is the SIGCSE 2009 Program Committee meeting in Chattanooga. Before I head back up to go get more photos, I thought I should finish sharing some of my favorites from the last planning meeting in Chattanooga.

Sue and I took a walk across the pedestrian bridge over the Tennessee River when we were there last. Here's a shot of the bluffs, where there is a marvelous American art museum.

And here's a shot of the Tennessee Aquarium, where we'll have our reception, from the same bridge.
As we got closer to the other side, we could see this amazing park across from Chattanooga.

On the right side of this picture, you can see a blue roofed building -- that's the merry-go-round, filled with horses and other animals carved by Chattanooga-area artists.

The fountain in the middle is surrounded by statues of animals. The water in the fountain sprays at irregular times, so people play games, running around the fountain -- sort of Russian roulette with a squirt gun.

Around North Chattanooga, you can find these dance lessons (!) built into the pavement. Think of them as a concrete (literally!) representation of process. Some of them show where both partners stand and how they move, but they're still pretty hard to follow.

Finally, on the way back to the Marriott, we passed by this scene. I saw it across other rooftops, so I'm not really sure where it's at, but it was so cool and not what I expected to see in Chattanooga.

And there you have the theme for this blog. Each visit, I'm surprised and delighted what I'm finding in Chattanooga! I am sure that you will share this experience when you visit in March 2009.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Craig Mundie on what engages students

Our SIGCSE 2009 keynoter, Microsoft's Craig Mundie is on a tour of college campuses right now. In this interview, he talks about what rekindles interest in computer science. Expect more details on this, live, in March!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Working on the Kids' Camp!

I know that people planning to attend SIGCSE 2009 are already looking for information on the SIGCSE 2009 Kids' Camp...and not really finding much. It is coming! Pam Cutter and Kris Nagel are hard at work organizing the 2009 camp. The first issue is setting up the contract with the child care organization, and we're trying to get that settled now. So don't worry -- we promise that it will be there. Just watch the web pages near you for further updates.

Engaging Computing EXPLORATION

A recent article in Diverse Education Issues in Higher Education presents a study of executives from Fortune 1000 companies whose focus is STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). These executives said that "A shortage in STEM workers is threatening to push the United States from its global leadership position as a key innovator in these fields." That's not news to those of us teaching computing. What's more interesting is that the study goes on to make teaching recommendations. "Nearly all the executives surveyed say the best way for students to learn science is through a hands-on approach." Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black woman in space, is quoted in the article saying that kids inherently like science, but in school, "it’s drilled out of us because we don’t teach science in exploratory way."

That last recommendation is a challenge to computing educators. How do we teach computing in an "exploratory way"? Computing is mostly taught as a synthetic skill--we build things. We test the things we build, so there's an experimental component to it, but rarely do we "explore" in our classes. There's certainly evidence that that "exploratory" approach to computing is an important job skill. Beth Simon and Andy Begel's recent series of papers on their study of new hires at Microsoft show that the first year of work is mostly spent understanding existing code, not writing new code.

Therein lies a challenge for engaging CS students. How do we teach exploration skills? How do we help students to build on their inherent interest (as Mae Jemison claims) in how the world works, to helping them understand how computing works?

Pardon me, boy! Is that the...? Why, yes, it is! The Chattanooga Choo-Choo!

Yes, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo is one of the conference hotels for SIGCSE 2009. It's about a 10-20 minute walk to the Chattanooga Conference Center, or you can catch one of the free Electric Shuttles.

The Chattanooga Choo-Choo Hotel is located at the site of the original Chattanooga train station. In 2009, the Chattanooga train station will be celebrating its 100th anniversary. In May, the Glen Miller band will be visiting and performing as part of the celebration. (I'll be that you can guess at least one of the songs that they will be playing!) The lobby and front desk of the hotel is under the dome of the original train station, and it's really lovely.

One of the attractions of staying at the Chattanooga Choo-Choo is staying on a real rail car. Besides lots of traditional rooms, the Chattanooga Choo-Choo hotel has a number of rail cars that have been converted into hotel rooms. (Sorry, all the authentic, uncomfortable, tiny bunks have been removed and replaced with full-size comfy beds.) The train/hotels sit on the original tracks of the trainyard. When Sue and I were there in August, the gardens in the pedestrian areas between the trains looked terrific. Free Internet is available throughout the site, though it's wired (not wireless) in some of the train cars--hard to get the wireless signal to pass through the steel cars.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Craig Mundie on Cloud Computing

Our keynote speaker for SIGCSE 2009, Craig Mundie, just had an interview with Technology Review on his vision for cloud computing -- pretty exciting stuff!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software

There was a really nice article in the Wesleyan last week about the use of Humanitarian Free and Open Source Software (HFOSS) to engage and inspire computer science students:

HFOSS is such a great example of engaging students in computer science education. Some students aren't excited about computers themselves--they're excited about what can be done with computers, and how computation can offer new solutions that help real people in challenging situations. HFOSS provides students the opportunity to contribute using their developing computer science knowledge. That's a great tool for recruitment and retention of students.

There will be an HFOSS pre-conference event on March 4 in Chattanooga. Watch the conference website for further information on the HFOSS and other pre-conference activities that will be available to SIGCSE 2009 attendees!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Chattanooga, City of WiFi

When Sue and I visited Chattanooga a couple weeks ago, we were pleased to see how much WiFi access there is around the town.

First, we were assured by all the hotel representatives that we met that free WiFi access will be available in all three conference hotels.  We told the hotels that they could expect SIGCSE attendees to be serious WiFi users, so they might want to see what they could do to increase their capacity.

Then we met with the Chattanooga Conference Center folks in charge of their WiFi network.  We gave them the report for how Portland configured their WiFi support to deal with the demands of the SIGCSE participants.  We were told that they would do all they could to meet Portland's capacity, and maybe do a bit better.

As we wandered Chattanooga, we kept finding surprising access.  When I opened up my laptop in the visitor's center, just across from the Tennessee Aquarium (that's the Aquarium on the left in this picture, and the visitor's center is behind the tree on the right), I found that I could get WiFi access from the Aquarium! 
 Free access -- just had to go through several pages of caveats and agreements.

The most unusual one was on the Electric Shuttle, a free shuttle that connects all three hotels, the Aquarium, restaurants, and other attractions around Chattanooga.  Yup, there was a sign 
right on the front of the shuttle -- free WiFi on every shuttle!  It worked, too!

So bring your laptops to Chattanooga in March, and stay connected all over the city!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

What does it mean to be engaging?

Last week, I was at Steven Dow's thesis defense. Steven was studying "embodied narrative engagement" -- storytelling in an augmented reality. As any good Ph.D. student should, he offered definitions of all his critical terms, including "engagement."

Given our theme for this year, I thought that it might be useful to share some of the quotes that he offered on "engagement."
  • Coleridge, 1817: Engagement is a "willing suspension of disbelief."
  • Nell, 1988: It's to be "lost" (as in a book).
  • Janet Murray in her 1997 book Hamlet on the Holodeck: Engagement is to "confront questions of human existence."
  • Bolter and Grusin in their 1999 book Remediation: Engagement is an "authentic emotional experience."
  • Green and Brock, 2000: Engagement is to be "emotionally involved."
How many of these correspond to our notion of "engagement" in the classroom? Do we aim for students getting "lost" in the "authentic experience"? Do we reach for students being "emotionally involved"?

I look forward to seeing your definitions of engagement in your SIGCSE 2009 submissions, due this coming Friday, August 29!

Monday, August 18, 2008

Re-Visiting Chattanooga

Sue and I spent last Thursday and Friday re-visiting Chattanooga. We had last been there in December 2006, when we selected Chattanooga as our site for SIGCSE 2009. It was time to go back, meet our contacts, and start making lower-level plans for SIGCSE 2009.

We had a great visit. The weather was picture-perfect. We took walks around the city, to enjoy the city and to time the walking commute between hotels, the Conference Center, and the Aquarium. We met a Southern Belle telling us about riverboat trips available on the Tennessee River, pictured here with Sue.

On Friday, we visited potential caterers for the reception. What an interesting experience! At first, we couldn't understand why the visitor's bureau put long, two hour gaps in our schedule between visiting caterers. Then we realized: taste testing! Each caterer wooed us with tastes of wonderful food that might be served at the reception, and even napkins already monogrammed just for us. Even if you only "taste" each of the wonderful goodies, how many small meals can one eat in one day?!? We needed those hours between to simply digest all those goodies.

You can expect more blogs with pictures over the next few weeks. There were lots of good things to see in Chattanooga!

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Thinking about Chattanooga

"Wow -- that SIGCSE deadline sure is early this year! AUGUST 29! I dunno...what's in Chattanooga anyway?!?"

Got these thoughts here in early August? Wipe those thoughts away! Get those submissions in!

Chattanooga is a really fun city. They just opened up a new website to highlight some of the excitement of Chattanooga. Find it at

Looking forward to reading your submission soon!

Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Totally Cool Brochure That You Probably Didn't See

Our publications chair, Tom Cortina, did a terrific job at putting together a compelling hardcopy Call for Participation based on the web version. Even though we have an enormous program committee this year, he got the whole thing on the front and back of one sheet -- and still included special attention to our new video submissions.

Most of you, however, probably didn't see this. I'm including pictures of mine, for the many of you who didn't find it in their mailbox. Day after day went by after our mailing, with much of our program committee repeatedly reporting, "No mailing yet!" Many of our colleagues told us "Nope, didn't see it!"

We tracked this down, and discovered that a great many members of SIGCSE do not receive promotional mailings from SIGCSE! The two biggest reasons are:
(1) Members' addresses without institutions are not used for mailings from ACM.
(2) Most members have asked for "restricted" mailings, which means that their own SIG can't send them promotional information.

If you are happier receiving less dead-tree announcements, then you're fine. I'm happy to share with you Tom's fine work (at least visually) here in this posting. If, however, you would like to get physical mail information from your SIG, you can change your current US mailing settings with ACM by going to, clicking "myACM", logging in and then changing your ACM Postal Tolerance (under My Contact Information) to include ACM Announcements.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Keynote Speaker Craig Mundie in this week's "The Economist"

I opened up this week's "The Economist" and saw this picture:
That's Craig Mundie, our keynote speaker for SIGCSE 2009, on the left behind Bill Gates. The article says: "Mr Ozzie...has been Microsoft’s chief software architect since 2006 and will steer its technology after Mr Gates goes, while Mr Mundie will take over as the company’s long-term thinker and public face."

Our keynote speaker for SIGCSE 2009 will be the guy responsible for long-term thinking for the world's largest software company. That will be a talk worth hearing!

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.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Lunch Speaker: Gregory Abowd

Our lunch speaker for SIGCSE 2009 will be Gregory Abowd, arguably the leading researcher in the world in ubiquitous computing today. Gregory is also my friend and colleague at Georgia Tech.

When I first met Gregory some 15 years ago, he was known for his work in software engineering (his dissertation was on a language for formal methods called Z, pronounced "Zed") and the use of formal methods in human-computer interaction. When we landed him at Georgia Tech, he shifted his focus to ubiquitous computing. He was one of the key players in setting up Georgia Tech's "Aware Home," a residential laboratory where he and his colleagues explore the role of sensing, capture-and-access, and computational perception in daily living. Gregory has racked up the awards over the years (see his Wikipedia page for details) and has been promoted up the ranks to Full Professor.

A few years ago, Gregory was looking around for his next research directions. He realized that he would be most successful at what he is most passionate about. Gregory and his wife have been blessed with three children, two of whom are on the autism spectrum. Gregory realized that he was most passionate about how ubiquitous computing could support care-giving for autistic children.

That's why Gregory is an excellent choice for our theme of "Engaging Computer Science Education." Gregory is doing innovative work in an important area -- but not one that we think about often as a direction for computing. One of the questions about which we should be engaging in discussion is, "What kinds of work should we be preparing our students for?" What do our students care about doing? What engages our students?

Gregory is also an excellent speaker. After his last GVU brownbag talk, all of my students were so depressed. "My work is so meaningless! I'm not helping young children with their health!!" Gregory teaches introductory Java courses at Georgia Tech -- the silly picture of him above is from a faculty Halloween party where he was "Dr. Java."

I'm looking forward to welcoming Gregory Abowd to be our lunch speaker next March at SIGCSE 2009.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

What's in a Theme? "Engaging Computer Science Education"

Sue and I chose the theme for SIGCSE 2009 Engaging Computer Science Education for two meanings, each of which we wanted for the 2009 symposium.

The first meaning is engaging as in "
attracting or delighting" (which is what you get when you Google "define: engaging"). We want our education to be attractive, to engage the students' minds and attention. How do we do that? We encourage people to submit papers, posters, BOFs, special sessions, and panels about what makes computing education engaging. What gets your students thinking hard? What makes your classes inviting, attractive, or even "delightful"?

The second meaning is engaging as in "engagement" (go on, Google "define: engagement") -- "
a meeting arranged in advance" or even "a hostile meeting of opposing military forces in the course of a war." To be frank, computer science education is in trouble. Our enrollments are dropping, and mostly male. Some are explicitly claiming that "Computer Science is Dead" (consider the British Computer Society's take: We need to engage in serious discussion of the future of our field, and our role as educators.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

SIGCSE 2009: "Engaging Computer Science Education"

After Susan and JD did such a great job with the SIGCSE 2008 blog, how could Sue and I not do one for SIGCSE 2009? Here it is!

Be sure to visit and plan to submit something to SIGCSE 2009!