Walking the walk: How Mark Guzdial Nearly Created a University of Programmers

My apologies to Mark, who reads this periodically, but I’d like to introduce more people to Mark’s blog and I thought I’d frame this in terms of a teaching anecdote. Mark, no doubt, has millions of followers, but for those who have entered the CS Ed blogging community through me, you should know that oranges are not the only fruit. And there is some excellent fruit out there!

Mark has an excellent blog that, at least in part, helped to inspire my blogging activity here. There are many reasons you should read this – basically, I believe we should all be reading the edublogosphere more widely for simple reasons of immediacy and accessibility –  but the main one is that the information and discussion contained therein are well-written, easy to digest and based on a solid, authentic foundation.

My last post was about authenticity and, in many ways, I’m a very difficult student because I go along to demonstrations and talks by teaching advocates and educational specialists expecting them to really inspire me and teach me things. I go in with very high expectations and am very demanding in terms of authenticity. Occasionally, if I know the lecture theatre, I will deliberately sit in the worst place, to simulate what students would do. Now, this sounds really harsh, but if someone is going to talk to me about how to improve my teaching – then they have to be able to teach well, reach out to me, wherever I am and stop me from drifting off. (I make myself sound like an ogre – I do give people a lot of time and space to do their thing but, well, if you’ve sat through a bad teaching talk, you know what I’m talking about.)

Here’s the basic rule: If you’re going to talk the talk, you had… well, you know the rest.

I had the good fortune and pleasure of meeting Mark and Barbara the night before both of their talks, over dinner, and it very quickly established that both talks were going to be really interesting because it was quite obvious that the speakers were knowledgable, experienced and authentic. Both Mark and Barbara were talking within the framework of our Festival of Learning and Teaching, with Mark presenting “Introducing Computing with Media, with a Pedagogical Side Tour” and Barbara presenting “The Georgia Computes Outreach program”.

Over the course of his talk, Mark showed examples, played musical instruments, demonstrated software, did small programming exercises and, down the front of a multi-hundred seat lecture theatre filled with people from across a University, drew people in more and more. Sitting down the front, I had the opportunity to observe the crowd who were listening, avidly. Phones were away, laptops were being used for note taking and, even more amazingly, people from completely non-technical disciplines started asking programming questions. Sometimes I can’t get third-year Computer Science students to ask programming questions!

This is, basically, why you may find Mark’s blog interesting. His talk was based on things that had actually been done, or were being done, at Georgia Tech. They were authentic. His teaching techniques had obviously been well-practiced and his resources were well-used, well-prepared and worked. What he did made people think, question and wonder. He held the attention of a crowd of academics, sitting around in an average lecture theatre, from every discipline in the University, over the course of the talk, when everyone had many other things they could or should be doing.

Once again, my apologies to Mark for the semi-hagiographic tone. I had originally written this some time ago, as his talk made me think long and hard about my own teaching path and communicating my thoughts, and then he started following my blog, which meant that I shelved the post out of a combination of embarrassment and self-awareness. But, if you like my blog, Mark’s part of the reason that it’s here and, if you like this blog, I think you’ll really enjoy his.

One Comment on “Walking the walk: How Mark Guzdial Nearly Created a University of Programmers”

  1. Mark Guzdial says:

    Thank you, Nick! I enjoyed meeting you and the folks at Adelaide, and I appreciate the kind thoughts here! I do read your blog regularly, but don’t always get over here to comment. You have a broader vocabulary than me — I now have to go look up “semi-hagiographic” 🙂


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