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SIGCSE 2015

March 26, 2015 1 comment

Earlier this month a large group of Virginia Tech faculty and grad students attended the ACM SIGCSE Conference in Kansas City, MO—the flagship conference in computer science education. It’s an interesting conference, full of people at lots of levels of CS education: K-12, small colleges, big universities, and companies and book publishers that support them. The conference was is Kansas City, known for its BBQ, downtown plaza, long walks, and BBQ. VT faculty Steve Edwards, Cliff Shaffer, Manuel Perez, Dwight Barnette, and I all attended, along with a large number of grad students. Within my research group, Andrey Esakia, Shuo Niu, and Mohammed Seyam joined us on the trip to SIGCSE. I connected with lots of VT alums, along with with colleagues from Georgia Tech, UNC, NCWIT, Colorado, and elsewhere.

SIGCSE 2015 Pebble demo

our SIGCSE 2015 Pebble demo session with Shuo and Andrey

Our highlight of the conference was a full paper talk, focusing on our use of Pebbles in CS 3714. As far as I can tell, we were the first to use smartwatches in the classroom, and we had a well-attended talk. We touched on the assignments and activities from spring 2014 and summer 2014 sessions. We covered the core lessons related to smartwatches—including multi-device connectivity issues, wrist-mounted accelerometer use, and limitations in graphical and processing resources. At the end of the talk, Andrey demoed VT undergrad Jared Deane’s music synthesizer app—a class project in one of our classes—which was a big hit among those in attendance. There were lots of good and on-point questions at the end, showing that the audience was plugged in to our talk. Most of the questions focused on use cases for smartwatches that we were considering, though there was one on security issues with regard to smartwatch-phone pairings that merits future consideration.

We also had a demo in which we showed off the many apps that VT students have developed, including Jared’s and several by VT students Sonika Singh and Shuo Niu (favorites were Pebble-Paper-Scissors and Selfie Watch). That was a fast and furious hands-on session with some good discussions that hopefully inspired interest in using smartwatches in the classroom–as well as future outreach efforts like our Pebbles and kids program at a local elementary school. In addition, we had several posters as well. Seyam’s work on Pair Programming in the classroom was chosen as a finalist in the Microsoft Student Research Competition–yeah!  Andrey had a forward-looking poster on Android Wear in CS 3714.  These can both serve as stepping stones to bigger and better things.

VT folks on the SIGCSE road trip

VT folks on the SIGCSE road trip

Big thanks to everyone for helping make this trip a big success. Particular thanks to everyone for getting the apps working and available on the online store, and thanks to those who gave feedback on talks and posters and such.  And it was great to get to know the VT crowd on our massive road trip. CS Education is a big deal at VT, and it’s great that we were able to contribute to a big VT presence–over 20 faculty, students, and alums.  Next year’s event is in Memphis–a bit closer–so I’m hopeful we’ll have an even bigger presence there.

my dissertation turns 10

January 15, 2010 Leave a comment

In 2000, I got married, got a job, got a dog, got a new car, got a house, and … got a Ph.D. Amazingly and quite happily, I still have all of those things and will happily chat about any of them, but I want to spend some time here on the Ph.D.–in particular, that giant dissertation document that I churned out.

So who actually reads that thing? Well, I know my advisor, John Stasko, did…and used it to soak up many pens worth of ink. I still occasionally unpack a box or open a drawer that contains a marked-up chapter. I’m pretty sure my committee did, at least parts of it. I had one Ph.D. student who did, though most of the others look away and change the subject when I bring it up. Sometimes I pretend there’s others out there who’ve read it.

Oh yeah, I’ve read it. And I still occasionally read it. My dissertation had some implementation behind it (yes, I could code a little bit), and some minimal–but really cool–field work of a sort, but its primary contribution was empirical. Yes, I waded through the IRB mine fields, sat in labs while participants struggled with my animated widgets (when I was lucky enough to have them show up), poured over results with Richard Catrambone, and spent many hours writing it up.

I recall being frustrated in my early years with all the qualitative research out there, most of which seemed undirected and meandering to me. I found “undirected” and “meandering” to be highly unsatisfying–please just go ask a question, find an answer, demonstrate its correctness–so I simplified the complex interfaces of my early years to a handful of animation techniques, such that I could explore them along what became the attention-utility tradeoff and claims-centered design that was highlighted in later papers.

One of my committee members, Mark Guzdial, said he occasionally looks back on his dissertation and wonders why he didn’t do more with it afterward. I feel like I did more with it, but had to ignore (at least thus far) other roads not traveled. One thing that makes me smile: many of the results from my studies have been “rediscovered” by major networks and highly-regarded web sites 6-8 years later, reflected in the ways that they ticker and fade and blast info at us. So maybe if I’d played my cards differently, I could have parlayed my dissertation work into a nice ESPN job where design cool sports widgets all day long (hello Chris Allgood!). And perhaps it’s a flaw of academia (or just me?) that the results weren’t disseminated in a more accessible manner. But it’s nice to be right, and I’m glad the meanderers finally caught up with me ;), and maybe I learned something for next time when my students are crafting dissertations. And that has made all the difference.