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.