Email confirmation

I’m lucky in that I primarily teach small classes. It’s a rare quarter when one of my classes has more than 30 students in it. I also tend to teach novice programmers, students for whom one-on-one help can make a big difference. The combination means that I encourage students to reach out to me by email when they get stuck. In fact, I have a one-hour rule that I ask them to apply. For a long time this has worked well for me and for my students.

But as time has gone on, I’ve noticed that students are increasingly less likely to send me email. I internalized this, assuming that I was doing something differently and trying to figure out what the issue might be. Yesterday I got an email from a former student that made me think it might have more to do with my DePaul colleagues than me. This student had a Java question for me. I answered it assuming he was in one of my current classes, but then a check of my rosters showed he wasn’t. I reached out again asking which class he was in. He replied as follows:

Sorry I meant last quarter.  I was in your csc 281 online.  Thanks for the help.  Code academy is helping learn some extra code for a internship I am doing and you are the only professor who answers emails of mine.

I had a suspicion that answering email was something that only selected colleagues continue to do, partially because it’s increasingly hard to get them to respond to my email. But outright confirmation is discouraging. I responded to the student that I couldn’t decide if I was happy or sad to learn that I was one of the few who responded.

Don’t ever let me forget how lucky I am

Tonight I went out for dinner with my sweetie, and during our dinner conversation I realized that in course of 12 months (July 2016 to July 2017 to be precise), I will have visited the following places due to conferences:

That makes five different continents in a year. My job may have things that make me grumpy (grading and meetings, I’m looking at you), but getting to travel to so many amazing places to meet so many great people is definitely something that makes me happy. I’m a very lucky person.

A sort of success

The end of April is rapidly approaching, and there have been 15 weekends since the start of 2017. At the beginning of the year I made it one of my resolutions to take every weekend off from work, something I wasn’t sure I would accomplish. I’m happy to say that I’ve only worked two weekends since the start of 2017. (Ok, yes, I answer email during weekends, but that’s because I can’t leave my students without help for two days straight). During one of the weekends I was in Seattle for a conference, and I remember that I worked one other weekend day although I can’t remember now why or when. I’m frankly shocked I’ve been able to do it.

What’s been interesting is that taking weekends off from work was a hard habit to start but has gotten easier and easier as the months have gone by. It doesn’t even occur to me anymore than working on the weekend might be a good idea, which is an amazing shift for me. But the “sort of” in the title comes from the burnout that I’m feeling. I was hopeful that taking weekends off would help with it, but I’m still feeling tired and worn out by work. Of course, maybe it is helping and I would have collapsed without it. I’ll never know, and I think the burnout will make it even more important than before that I continue the experiment.

Students who know me, part 2

Today I have another entry in the series of posts about students who know me. Today a former student of mine responded to an email about something, and included the following picture as a birthday wish.


Her version included “Happy Birthday” across the top. Needless to say I was thrilled. I think I like this new state of affairs.

Comments to the rescue

I returned a couple of days ago from the 2017 SIGCSE Symposium in Seattle. A lot happened there, and I’m sure when I get the energy I’ll write a post or two about it. But for now I’m exhausted and drowning in both laundry and grading. The latter is particularly tough since this is finals week and being away for six days put me behind in homework grading.

Fortunately, at least one of my students had a great sense of humor when finishing his final assignment. He used the comments in the file to joke around with me. For example, I use comments to indicate which part of the code they need to write. He amended one of those comments as follows:

# Write this class – Well, if you insist!

I also try to let them know which parts of the code should be left as I wrote them. Again, he amended those comments. The first one:

# Do not modify this function – I’m tempted, but I will restrain myself.

And even better:

# Do not modify this function – I… I really want to though. For science.

It’s the small things that help me get through grading despite my continued sleep deficit, and my thanks go to my students with a good sense of humor.

Some intriguing news

For the past two years Winter quarter has brought incredible levels of stress. Not only do I teach an extra half class every Winter, but I also have tons of preparation for the SIGCSE Symposium which happens in the late Winter each year. But occasionally something will drag me out of my work haze, and yesterday that something was a CRA report on the latest computer science enrollment boom. Titled Generation CS, the report summary starts:

Across the United States and Canada, universities and colleges are facing a significant increase in enrollment in both undergraduate computer science (CS) courses and programs. The current enrollment surge has exceeded previous CS booms, and there is a general sense that the current growth in enrollment is substantially different than that of the mid-1980s and late 1990s.

I have to start by admitting that I haven’t read the whole report, although I certainly plan to as soon as Winter quarter ends. But the authors have done a great job in breaking things up so that you can dive into the pieces that interest you. And there were two of them.

First, it appears that non-major enrollment is CS is booming. They provide a lot more details in the relevant section, but in short, in every level of course except for the upper-level courses, non-major enrollment growth is outpacing growth in enrollment by majors. This is much different than in previous booms. For those of us who are convinced that there is real innovation to be done by people in other disciplines who know something significant about computing, this is exciting and welcome news.

Second, the worries that many have had that another boom would result in yet more drops in diversity in computing isn’t without merit. The report states:

The CRA Enrollment Survey shows that the percentage of women has grown in all three of the CS major courses surveyed from 2005 to 2015 for both doctoral-granting and non-doctoral granting units.

But the growth in underrepresented students isn’t uniform, and it lags in some places, for example in upper-level courses for women and in certain institutions for minorities. I think we need to all stay cognizant of the idea that approaches to handle this boom need to be constructed to not negatively impact underrepresented groups.

There is much more there, of course, and I haven’t even adequately summarized the two sections that I mentioned. So you should definitely read the whole thing. I know I will as soon as Winter quarter loosens its grip on me.

Working group withdrawal

I got the news today that the report for the working group that I participated in last July in Peru has been published. The title of our report is Negotiating the Maze of Academic Integrity in Computing Education. In it, we examined the attitudes and approaches to academic integrity taken by professionals and academics, and as you might have guessed there is a substantial gap between the two groups. We also proposed a new approach to academic integrity for academics. I’m excited that I’ll have a chance to talk about the work at the ACM Turing 50th Celebration Conference taking place in China in May 2017. My thanks to my co-authors for their work and for allowing me to make it the topic of my invited talk.

This week I also saw that the working groups for ITiCSE 2017 have been posted. As excited as I am to see that they are offering nine of them this year, it was a sad moment for me. As SIGCSE chair I need to be available to talk to people at all the SIGCSE conferences, and that means I won’t be participating in another working group until 2020. There are multiple working groups that would be amazing to join in 2017, so it’s tough to not be able to apply. But let my loss be your gain: apply for one of the groups! It’s a lot of work, but it’s even more fun. You won’t regret it.