Thanks to all who made last night's Code in the Classroom panel discussion a success! Our panelists had some great perspectives to share, and the audience initiated some great discussion as well. By way of a writeup, I'd like to focus on a few themes that emerged last night. If any attendees would like to add anything, be sure to leave a comment below or shoot me an email. Also, we discussed setting up a monthly video chat for those interested in teaching 'Intro to Computing for X' type classes that would all share some core content. There's a huge need for this and collaboration amongst professors and grad students will be essential. Shoot me a message if you're interested.
Edit: I've started an open Google Group for those of us interested in collabroatively curating 'core' content regarding computation. Please join and we'll see where it takes us!
Coding Education: How deep?
Coding Education: How long?
Another theme that emerged is perhaps a symptom of the stage we're in in the development of technical curriculum components: students taking a class soon before graduation, loving it, and it being too late in their careers to follow up or make use of their skills. Mark in particular mentioned that they're trying to get students in courses earlier in their careers and a series of courses planned, to develop deeper engagement with the students. Tessa mentioned that she was able to develop a three course series with the help of her department. All of the panelists expressed some degree of dismay at the uneaven technical skills of their students, suggestion that earlier education, perhaps coordinated by the University, might be in order. Mark mentioned that Duke has a required 'Writing 20' course that all freshmen take to learn basic writing skills around varying topics. A similar 'Computing 20' course would be a real innovation.
Department and University support
Speaking of university-wide policy, when the topic of departmental and university level support, the panelists and audiences had several interesting comments. Mark said that it was an interesting position to be the 'technical' faculty. On the one hand, he gets to push boundaries in teaching and research and collaborate with and learn from esteemed faculty in areas he wouldn't otherwise study. On the other, it seems that too often the vast majority of technical responsibilities and projects can be handed to those with the requisite skills, leading to a bit of an overload. It seems an unfair, unintended consequence, that those faculty with technical abilities would find them to be sources of extra work or expectation. Ryan said that his department had been very supportive of his teaching efforts, but that for one of his courses, he was participating in an inter-institutional collaborative textbook editing effort in parallel with the course. This provides a forum for him and the other professors to both shape the course and share ideas and feedback on teaching. I thought this was a very interesting development and, hopefully, a sign of things to come. Finally, Tessa mentioned how supportive the Computer Science department had been of her, but also their foot-dragging with regard to getting her on a tenure track. In fact, I was quite surprised to hear her express 'not now' attitude toward the tenure track due to the added pressures for a certain kind of work and teaching it might entail.
#altac and academic freedom
This brings me to our last theme. Two of our three panelists and several in the audience began their academic careers in staff positions. I thought it was very interesting to hear that these alternative academic career paths, a.k.a. #altac, represent a new type of academic freedom: freedom from the tenure review. This is ironic to me because tenure is intended to enhance academic freedom, but for several of our panelists and audience members it represents a potential constriction on their teaching and research activities. Especially as some department embrace multi-year contracts for non-tenure track faculty, this group could represent a peristent source of innovation, especially in teaching.
A big thanks to our panelists, attendees, my Semaphore co-founders Whitney Trettien (who helped organize) and Adam Rottinghaus (who made the killer flyer below) and everyone else who made the event so enlightening!
UNC Computer Science
Duke Art, Art History, and Visual Studies
UNC Information Science