Summer Camps for Computer Students: Sustainable, Effective and Replicable


Great post over on Mark Guzdial’s blog on the work being done by Barbara Ericson on Computing Summer Camps. You should head on over and read it (not you, Mark, but thank you!) but the core message is so useful and transferable that I wanted to reiterate it here. Student activities that foster engagement, participation and skill development are very popular but, to be successful, you have to make sure that you do them right. I had a chance to see Barb present when she and Mark were in Adelaide and her talk was really helpful because it was informative but also really, really useful. Too many times I’ve seen people talk a great theory at me but without giving me any starting points. Her talk, and the paper, highlight good practices with a strong basis. Here are the three points that capture why Barb’s summer camps are so good – with my own commentary added somewhat superfluously.

  • Effectiveness is essential. Measuring student performance is vital to showing that students do improve – in attitudes and knowledge. If the camp isn’t effective in either increasing engagement or driving knowledge, then why are we bothering? I’m, going to mention MIKE again here – Measurement Is the Key to Everything. If we don’t measure, we have no idea what has succeeded or how we can make it work.
  • The program is sustainable and will keep going after the first flush of money runs out. This is an enormous problem with so many of the programs I’ve seen – they work beautifully while the big cash is available and disappear when it dries up. Barb’s Summer Camps are sustainable as a whole because she’s done this for long enough to get some great rules of thumb for keeping enough money in from key groups to allow an investment in slightly smaller groups (such as using a large residential middle school camp to offset the costs of a smaller high school camp).
  • ┬áThe camps can be run by other people and still be successful. This replicability is another thing that’s frequently missing from our courses. All of my materials should be able to survive me moving on but, too often, they come close but I don’t quite capture all of the details – although I strive to. Barb’s aim is to have these programs running lots of places and, by making the material available and providing seed grants, there are now 11 more camps around Georgia, returning similar results in terms of success. ┬áThere is only one Barb, but at the moment we have a 12-fold increase in ‘BarbCamposity’ through scaling. If Computer Scientists should be good at anything, it’s leveraging amplifiers to allow us to be in more than one place at once.

There are so many other places we can apply these principles and, most importantly, it identifies the focus of our efforts as educators – I don’t want my students to need me all the time, I want to bring information to them that is sound, that extends them and that supports them for years to come. By making sure that my material is effective, identifying needs, measuring impacts, I avoid wasting my time. By developing sustainable programs, which aren’t resource heavy, I can keep going whether we’re getting big dollars, small dollars, no dollars or (shudder) negative dollars as we slash budgets to ride out troubled times. Finally, my making my course so self-contained and good that someone else can teach it and someone else WANTS to teach it, I can go on to the next thing I want to do. This is liberating – I’m not writing myself out of a job, I’m giving myself the scope to pursue new techniques, to share my knowledge (such as it is) with other educators and to spend my time where it’s most needed.

Please go and read the blog post, and the paper, because both are really good and I’m only shadowing them here. One of the things I love about the vitality of the CSE community is that I can interact with, and learn so much from, people like Mark and Barb, but also share it with you – efficiently, sustainably and (given that I’m reflagging) in a replicable manner.