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!