One of the things I like most about working on scholarship in the area of computing education is that in the end it’s about improving how we interact with students. Yes, there are lots of people who do computing education research that is (often far) removed from classroom activities, but eventually research about almost any topic in computing education ends up impacting teaching in some way. To me that kind of research makes a significant difference, and it makes me happy to contribute in the small ways that I do.
Recently though I’ve observed something interesting. The longer I work in computing education, the more I think that my scholarship has changed me. To give a particular example, I’ve written about the learning community project that a colleague and I have run for the past three years. And I’ve observed that my approach to students has changed, in that I’ve become more attached to my students. The more I think about it, the more I think the learning community project and the change in my interaction with students is connected. Next week I travel to Boston for SIGITE 2016 where I’m going to present our latest work on the learning community project. In that paper we discuss results that show that students in the learning community feel less isolated post-quarter, something that we don’t see in the general CS1 population at DePaul. What the data we have so far doesn’t capture, and what we hope to formally investigate in the qualitative work we plan next, is the feeling I get from the students. They seem more connected to me and each other, and experiencing something like that has changed me. I interact differently with all my students as a result.
Last week something small happened that concretely showed me how my relationship with students has evolved. A student who was enrolled in the CS1 class associated with the first cohort of the learning community, but not in the learning community itself since as a transfer student she wasn’t eligible, emailed me. She had an interview scheduled and needed to get some pants altered in preparation. She asked me where I would recommend she go for alterations. I congratulated her and told her where I would go for alterations. Thinking about it later I realized that those are precisely the kind of emails I want to get from former students. It shows that she trusts my judgement and wants my advice for things that go well beyond which classes to choose. Those are the best kind of questions, and I hope I have a lot more of them in my future.