ITiCSE 2014, Monday, Session 1A, Technology and Learning, #ITiCSE2014 #ITiCSE @patitsel @guzdial

(The speakers are going really. really quickly so apologies for any errors or omissions that slip through.)

The chair had thanked the Spanish at the opening for the idea of long coffee breaks and long lunches – a sentiment I heartily share as it encourages discussions, which are the life blood of good conferences. The session opened with “SPOC – supported introduction to Programming” presented by Marco Piccioni. SPOCs are Small Private On-line Courses and are part of the rich tapestry of hand-crafted terminology that we are developing around digital delivery. The speaker is from ETH-Zurich and says that they took a cautious approach to go step-by-step in taking an existing and successful course and move it into the on-line environment. The classic picture from University of Bologna of the readers/scribes was shown. (I was always the guy sleeping in the third row.)

No paper aeroplanes?

No paper aeroplanes?

We want our teaching to be interesting and effective so there’s an obis out motivation to get away from this older approach. ETH has an interesting approach where the exam is 10 months after the lecture, which leads to interesting learning strategies for students who can’t solve the instrumentality problem of tying work now into success in the future. Also, ETH had to create an online platform to get around all of the “my machine doesn’t work” problems that would preclude the requirement to install an IDE. The final point of motivation was to improve their delivery.

The first residential version of the course ran in 2003, with lectures and exercise sessions. The lectures are in German and the exercise sessions are in English and German, because English is so dominant in CS. There are 10 extensive home assignments including programming and exercise sessions groups formed according to students’ perceived programming proficiency level. (Note on the last point: Hmmm, so people who can’t program are grouped together with other people who can’t program? I believe that the speaker clarifies this as “self-perceived” ability but I’m still not keen on this kind of streaming. If this worked effectively, then any master/apprentice model should automatically fail) Groups were able to switch after a week, for language or not working with the group.

The learning platform for the activity was Moodle and their experience with it was pretty good, although it didn’t do everything that they wanted. (They couldn’t put interactive sessions into a lecture, so they produced a lecture-quiz plug-in for Moodle. That’s very handy.) This is used in conjunction with a programming assessment environment, in the cloud, which ties together the student performance at programming with the LMS back-end.

The SPOC components are:

  • lectures, with short intros and video segments up to 17 minutes. (Going to drop to 10 minutes based on student feedback),
  • quizzes, during lectures, testing topic understanding immediately, and then testing topic retention after the lecture,
  • programming exercises, with hands-on practice and automatic feedback

Feedback given to the students included the quizzes, with a badge for 100% score (over unlimited attempts so this isn’t as draconian as it sounds), and a variety of feedback on programming exercises, including automated feedback (compiler/test suite based on test cases and output matching) and a link to a suggested solution. The predefined test suite was gameable (you could customise your code for the test suite) and some students engineered their output to purely match the test inputs. This kind of cheating was deemed to be not a problem by ETH but it was noted that this wouldn’t scale into MOOCs. Note that if someone got everything right then they got to see the answer – so bad behaviour then got you the right answer. We’re all sadly aware that many students are convinced that having access to some official oracle is akin to having the knowledge themselves so I’m a little cautious about this as a widespread practice: cheat, get right answer, is a formula for delayed failure.

Reporting for each student included their best attempt and past attempts. For the TAs, they had a wider spread of metrics, mostly programmatic and mark-based.

On looking at the results, the attendance to on-line lectures was 71%, where the live course attendance remained stable. Neither on-line quizzes nor programming exercises counted towards the final grade. Quiz attempts were about 5x the attendance and 48% got 100% and got the badge, significantly more than the 5-10% than would usually do this.

Students worked on 50% of the programming exercises. 22% of students worked on 75-100% of the exercises. (There was a lot of emphasis on the badge – and I’m really not sure if there’s evidence to support this.)

The lessons learned summarised what I’ve put above: shortening video lengths, face-to-face is important, MCQs can be creative, ramification, and better feedback is required on top of the existing automatic feedback.

The group are scaling from SPOC to MOOC with a Computing: Art, Magic, Science course on EdX launching later on in 2014.

I asked a question about the badges because I was wondering if putting in the statement “100% in the quiz is so desirable that I’ll give you a badge” was what had led to the improved performance. I’m not sure I communicated that well but, as I suspected, the speaker wants to explore this more in later offerings and look at how this would scale.

The next session was “Teaching and learning with MOOCs: Computing academics’ perspectives and engagement”, presented by Anna Eckerdal. The work was put together by a group composed from Uppsala, Aalto, Maco and Monash – which illustrates why we all come to conferences as this workgroup was put together in a coffee-shop discussion in Uppsala! The discussion stemmed from the early “high hype” mode of MOOCs but they were highly polarising as colleagues either loved it or hated it. What was the evidence to support either argument? Academics’ experience and views on MOOCs were sought via a questionnaire sent out to the main e-mail lists, to CS and IT people.

The study ran over June-JUly 2013, with 236 responses, over > 90 universities, and closed- and open-ended questions. What were the research questions: What are the community views on MOOC from a teaching perspective (positive and negative) and how have people been incorporating them into their existing courses? (Editorial note: Clearly defined study with a precise pair of research questions – nice.)

Interestingly, more people have heard concern expressed about MOOCs, followed by people who were positive, then confused, the negative, then excited, then uninformed, then uninterested and finally, some 10% of people who have been living in a time-travelling barrel in Ancient Greece because in 2013 they have heard no MOOC discussion.

Several themes were identified as prominent themes in the positive/negative aspects but were associated with the core them of teaching and learning. (The speaker outlined the way that the classification had been carried out, which is always interesting for a coding problem.) Anna reiterated the issue of a MOOC as a personal power enhancer: a MOOC can make a teacher famous, which may also be attractive to the Uni. The sub themes were pedagogy and learning env, affordance of MOOCs, interaction and collaboration, assessment and certificates, accessibility.

Interestingly, some of the positive answers included references to debunked approaches (such as learning styles) and the potential for improvements. The negatives (and there were many of them) referred to stone age learning and ack of relations.

On affordances of MOOCs, there were mostly positive comments: helping students with professional skills, refresh existing and learn new skills, try before they buy and the ability to transcend the tyranny of geography. The negatives included the economic issues of only popular courses being available, the fact that not all disciplines can go on-line, that there is no scaffolding for identity development in the professional sense nor support development of critical thinking or teamwork. (Not sure if I agree with the last two as that seems to be based on the way that you put the MOOC together.)

I’m afraid I missed the slide on interaction and collaboration so you’ll (or I’ll) have to read the paper at some stage.

There was nothing positive about assessment and certificates: course completion rates are low, what can reasonably be assessed, plagiarism and how we certify this. How does a student from a MOOC compete with a student from a face-to-face University.

1/3 of the respondents answered about accessibility, with many positive comments on “Anytime. anywhere, at one’s own pace”. We can (somehow) reach non-traditional student groups. (Note: there is a large amount of contradictory evidence on this one, MOOCs are even worse than traditional courses. Check out Mark Guzdial’s CACM blog on this.) Another answer was “Access to world class teachers” and “opportunity to learn from experts in the field.” Interesting, given that the mechanism (from other answers) is so flawed that world-class teachers would barely survive MOOC ification!

On Academics’ engagement with MOOCs, the largest group (49%) believed that MOOCs had had no effect at all, about 15% said it had inspired changes, roughly 10% had incorporated some MOOCs. Very few had seen MOOCs as a threat requiring change: either personally or institutionally. Only one respondent said that their course was a now a MOOC, although 6% had developed them and 12% wanted to.

For the open-ended question on Academics’ engagement, most believed that no change was required because their teaching was superior. (Hmm.) A few reported changes to teaching that was similar to MOOCs (on line materials or automated assessment) but wasn’t influenced by them.

There’s still no clear vision of the role of MOOCs in the future: concerned is as prominent as positive. There is a lot of potential but many concerns.

The authors had several recommendations of concern: focusing on active learning, we need a lot more search in automatic assessment and feedback methods, and there is a need for lots of good policy from the Universities regarding certification and the role of on-site and MOOC curricula. Uppsala have started the process of thinking about policy.

The first question was “how much of what is seen here would apply to any new technology being introduced” with an example of the similar reactions seen earlier to “Second Life”. Anna, in response, wondered why MOOC has such a global identity as a game-changer, given its similarity to previous technologies. The global discussion leads to the MOOC topic having a greater influence, which is why answering these questions is more important in this context. Another issue raised in questions included the perceived value of MOOCs, which means that many people who have taken MOOCs may not be advertising it because of the inherent ranking of knowledge.

@patitsel raised the very important issue that under-represented groups are even more under-represented in MOOCs – you can read through Mark’s blog to find many good examples of this, from cultural issues to digital ghettoisation.

The session concluded with “Augmenting PBL with Large Public Presentations: A Case Study in Interactive Graphics Pedagogy”. The presenter was a freshly graduated student who had completed the courses three weeks ago so he was here to learn and get constructive criticism. (Ed’s note: he’s in the right place. We’re very inquisitive.)

Ooh, brave move. He’s starting with anecdotal evidence. This is not really the crowd for that – we’re happy with phenomenographic studies and case studies to look at the existence of phenomena as part of a study, but anecdotes, even with pictures, are not the best use of your short term in front of a group of people. And already a couple of people have left because that’s not a great way to start a talk in terms of framing.

I must be honest, I slightly lost track of the talk here. EBL was defined as project-based learning augmented with constructively aligned public expos, with gamers as the target audience. The speaker noted that “gamers don’t wait” as a reason to have strict deadlines. Hmm. Half Life 3 anyone? The goal was to study the pedagogical impact of this approach. The students in the study had to build something large, original and stable, to communicate the theory, work as a group, demonstrate in large venues and then collaborate with a school of communication. So, it’s a large-scale graphics-based project in teams with a public display.

Grading was composed of proposals, demos, presentation and open houses. Two projects (50% and 40%) and weekly assignments (10%) made up the whole grading scheme. The second project came out after the first big Game Expo demonstration. Project 1 had to be interactive groups, in groups of 3-4. The KTH visualisation studio was an important part of this and it is apparently full of technology, which is nice and we got to hear about a lot of it. Collaboration is a strong part of the visualisation studio, which was noted in response to the keynote. The speaker mentioned some of the projects and it’s obvious that they are producing some really good graphics projects.

I’ll look at the FaceUp application in detail as it was inspired by the idea to make people look up in the Metro rather than down at their devices. I’ll note that people look down for a personal experience in shared space. Projecting, even up, without capturing the personalisation aspect, is missing the point. I’ll have to go and look at this to work out if some of these issues were covered in the FaceUp application as getting people to look up, rather than down, needs to have a strong motivating factor if you’re trying to end digitally-inspired isolation.

The experiment was to measure the impact on EXPOs on ILOs, using participation, reflection, surveys and interviews. The speaker noted that doing coding on a domain of knowledge you feel strongly about (potentially to the point of ownership) can be very hard as biases creep in and I find it one of the real challenges in trying to do grounded theory work, personally. I’m not all that surprised that students felt that the EXPO had a greater impact than something smaller, especially where the experiment was effectively created with a larger weight first project and a high-impact first deliverable. In a biological human sense, project 2 is always going to be at risk of being in the refectory period, the period after stimulation during which a nerve or muscle is less able to be stimulated. You can get as excited about the development, because development is always going to be very similar, but it’s not surprising that a small-scale pop is not as exciting as a giant boom, especially when the boom comes first.

How do we grade things like this? It’s a very good question – of course the first question is why are we grading this? Do we need to be able to grade this sort of thing or just note that it’s met a professional standard? How can we scale this sort of thing up, especially when the main function of the coordinator is as a cheerleader and relationships are essential. Scaling up relationships is very, very hard. Talking to everyone in a group means that the number of conversations you have is going to grow at an incredibly fast rate. Plus, we know that we have an upper bound on the number of relationships we can actually have – remember Dunbar’s number of 120-150 or so? An interesting problem to finish on.



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