Are you succeeding?

My wife sent me a link to this image, created by Alex Koplin and David Meiklejohn.

The message is (naively) simple – if you don’t like where you are, change something. This, of course, assumes that you have the capacity for change and the freedom to change. There are lots of times where this isn’t true but, in academia, we often have far more resources to hand to help people if they assess where they are going and don’t like the direction.

I talk a lot about process awareness – making students of what they are doing to ensure that they can identify the steps that they take and the impact that those steps have. My first-years have their first process awareness assignment to complete next week where I want them to look at their coding history in terms of difficulty and timeliness. What did they do that had a big impact on their chances of success? Being honest with themselves, were they lucky to get the work in on time? What I really want my students to understand is that they have to know enough about themselves and their capabilities that their work processes are:

  1. Predictable: They can estimate the time required to complete a task and the obstacles that they will encounter, and be reasonably accurate.
  2.  Reconfigurable: They can take apart their process to add new elements for new skills and re-use elements in new workflows.
  3. Well-defined and understood: Above all, they know what they are doing, why they are doing it and can explain it to other people.

Looking back at the diagram above, the most important step is change something if you don’t like where you are. By introducing early process awareness, before we ramp up programming difficulty and complexity, I’m trying to make my students understand the building blocks that they are using and, with this fundamental understanding, I hope that this helps them to be able to see what they could change, or even that change could be possible, if they need to try a different approach to achieve success.

Remember MIKE and SWEDE? Even a good student, who can usually pull off good work in a short time, may eventually be swamped by the scale of all the work that they have to do – without understanding which of their workflow components have to be altered, they’re guessing. Measurement of what works first requires understanding the individual elements. This are early days and I don’t expect anyone to be fully process aware yet, but I like the diagram, as it reminds me of why I’m teaching my students about all of this in the first place – to enable them to be active participants in the educational process and have the agency for change and the knowledge to change constructively and productively.