A resolution for 2017

I’m not a big one for New Year’s resolutions, although I have previously written about some work resolutions. But I’m coming to realize that they can help focus me, so I have a single resolution for 2017: I would like to take every weekend off from work.

Yes, that sounds radical to anyone who knows me. And given that I will serve as SIGCSE chair while teaching a full load and trying to do some research, it may be slightly unrealistic. But I think I have to push myself if I’m going to avoid burning out, something that I’ve struggled with in the past few years. So I will give it my all every weekend to not do any work other than email, since it’s really not fair to leave my students high and dry for 48 hours. Wish me luck!

Our learning community in the (DePaul) news

I’m happy to report that our linked-courses learning community is in the news! Ok, it’s the DePaul internal magazine, but still I’m pretty excited. The article is titled CDM Learning Communities Improved Retention and Academic Performance.

The only bad news I have to report is that the data from the second cohort isn’t as good as from the first. That will appear in a future paper. But we have high hopes for the third cohort, and we’re planning for a fourth!

Students who know me

I’ve written many times in this blog on my changing relationship with my students. The posts are too numerous to mention here, but I think a good summary is that I’ve become more relaxed with students. That has lots of positive benefits, and it’s made me appreciate how our interactions have evolved.

One thing I only realized this academic year is that my changing interactions with students has resulted in (some of) them understanding me better. For example, this past quarter some of my former students came to an event for our learning community, both to serve as mentors and to advertise an organization with which they are involved. After the event they were planning on attending a petting zoo at the Lincoln Park campus, and in an email exchange I later asked one of them about the petting zoo. He sent me the picture below:


It made me so happy that he sent the picture, because it gave me a much better sense of how much fun they had. Plus, I think he knows how crazy I am for animals, which I believe is partially why he shared it.

In another example, a former student of mine began babysitting my daughter a while ago. She is a sweetheart, and every year she gets us something for Christmas. This year she gave us two gifts that show me how well she knows us:


We adore cats, and one of my favorite treats of all time are dark chocolate liquor bottles. So her gift clearly hit the mark.

I don’t think it’s necessary that students know me. Frankly, students can be completely clueless about who I am as a person, as the majority of them are, and still learn effectively in my classes. But that I have a few students who so clearly know me well makes me happy.

I’ve never been happier to be wrong

Today I got around to checking my course evaluations for the Fall quarter. I was nervous about the evaluations because I was gone the entire first week of the quarter due to a conference in Australia. My theory had been that missing the first week of the quarter would be dire because that’s when students get to know you and first impressions do make a difference. In both classes they were left with only recordings of me, and for one class they were simply posted online without anything other than an email to direct them. While that’s fine when students are expecting it, these were traditional, in-person classes.

I’m happy to report that my theory was complete hogwash, at least this quarter. I got 4.47 and 4.7 out of 5 on the course evaluations, the latter of which is a record for me. I’m thrilled about being completely wrong.

When my interests collide

The fall quarter is over for me, which means I’m done teaching until January. Of course, all that means is that I now spend my days at home working on research or service instead of downtown teaching or advising. But it does mean that I have time to do things that are too time-consuming to do while I’m teaching, like doing a literature review for a new project.

Today in pursuit of said literature review I ran into an amazing article. “Following a Thread: Knitting Patterns and Program Tracing” discusses the conditional and iteration patterns found in knitting instructions and draws parallels to program tracing done by students. I learned knitting only a few years after I learned to program way back in the 80s, so this paper felt like a wonderful merging of two lifelong interests. Given that I know two of the authors but had no idea they had done this work, I can’t wait to bring it up the next time I see them.

Still together

It’s registration time at DePaul, and that means that I get to see all of my advisees again. Every year I get (almost) all of the people in my learning community assigned as my advisees, mostly because my collaborator is an administrator and advises a very small group of students. It tends to make my Octobers crazy since all first-year students must meet with their advisor before registering, and thirty times 30 minutes is a lot of advising hours. But I’m willing to do a lot for our learning community project.

Today I had an appointment scheduled with one of the students from last year’s learning community. When he showed up he brought two of the other students with him. Just like when they were in the learning community they had decided to share an advising appointment because they have the same major and are taking all the same classes at the same time. I helped them to pick classes and talked about how things were going. It was the best advising appointment I’ve had all week. It was great to see that they’re still together, are still as much fun as they were when they were my students, and are still coming to me for advice. Things with the second cohort got bumpy at the end, but seeing those three reminded me of all the things I enjoyed about them. And it made my heart happy to see that they’re still together.

The best email ever

This morning I received an email from one of the people behind PyPy. He said that he had read our ICER paper “Some Trouble with Transparency: An Analysis of Student Errors with Object-oriented Python” and that they had improved an error message in the language. The exact phrasing of the new error message is: “Did you forget ‘self’┬áin the function definition?” Our paper had found that students were most likely to forget the self parameter when writing classes in Python, and we observed that the error message in Python wasn’t helpful in this regard. That someone actually read our paper, apparently agreed with our observation, and made a change in an implementation as a result has me so excited!