Archive for the ‘Research’ Category.

When Everyone Knows CS is the Best Major: Decisions about CS in an Indian context

This is a publication of the study I worked on when I was a visiting professor at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay in the summer of 2014. I had a lot of fun and the opportunity to interview some super smart students who had chosen CS in a much different environment than I did. I think it’s fair to say that if I was born in India, I never would have been a CS major.

Much of the existing work on student experiences in the CS major focuses on CS in American and European contexts. This paper explores the experience of CS students who — due to India’s unusual educational system, joined CS with very little knowledge about CS outside of its reputation. The study was a grounded–theory based interview study based on 20 students at 2 tiers of schools in India. Results suggest that although students generally enjoyed the CS content of their courses, they had a great deal of concern about the lack of freedom in professional programming. This is surprising considering the highly positive view of CS jobs is what initially seems to attract students to the major. We contrast this with educational findings in other contexts and discuss the educational implications of the result.

You can get the full PDF here.

Special thanks to my co-author Shitanshu Mishra who is presenting this paper at ICER.

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ICER 2014: How CS Undergraduates Make Course Choices

So the second main part of my dissertation research was accepted into ICER 2014! Here’s a pre-publication version if you’re interested.

Students in most CS curricula have to make a wide variety of educational decisions including what courses to take. Frequently, they must make these decisions based on a very limited knowledge of the content of the topics they are choosing between. In this paper, I describe a theory of CS undergraduate course choices, based on 37 qualitative interviews with students and student advisors, analyzed with grounded theory. Most students did not have specific educational goals in CS and, as long as their classes were enjoyable, tended to assume that any course required by the curriculum had useful content (even if they could not articulate way). Particularly enjoyable or frustrating courses caused them to make long term course/specialization decisions and use a more strategic goal–oriented approach.

ICER 2013: Undergraduate Conceptions of the Field of Computer Science

I had a great time at this year’s ICER conference – met up with some old friends and talked with some new ones about all sorts of CS education stuff. I also published a paper entitled Undergraduate Conceptions of the Field of Computer Science:

Students come to CS from a variety of backgrounds and with a variety of preconceptions. Some initially select CS with a very vague idea of the field they are majoring in. In this paper, I describe CS undergraduates’ view of the field of Computer Science. The approach was qualitative and cognitive: I studied what students think CS is and how students reasoned about their courses and curriculum. Through the use of grounded theory in 37 qualitative interviews with students and student advisors, I extracted three different conceptions about CS found in undergraduate CS majors using Grounded Theory. Overall, students had reasonable views of CS at a high level but lacked specifics. Students had difficulty describing subfields of CS or anticipating the content of courses they selected.

You can download a copy if you’re curious, or see all the good stuff from ICER 2013 from the complete proceedings.

My Defense

So I announced my defense today. It’ll be on November 2nd at 1pm in TSRB 132.

Here’s the abstract:

Computer Science is a complex field, and even experts do not always agree how the field should be defined. Though a moderate amount is known about how precollege students think about the field of CS, less is known about how CS majors’ conceptions of the field develop during the undergraduate curriculum. Given the difficulty of understanding CS, how do students make educational decisions like what electives or specializations to pursue?

This work presents a theory of student conceptions of CS, based on 37 interviews with students and student advisers and analyzed with a grounded theory approach. Students tend to have one of three main views about CS: CS as an academic discipline focused on the mathematical study of algorithms, CS as mostly about programming but also incorporating supporting subfields, and CS as a broad discipline with many different (programming and non-programming) subfields. I have also developed and piloted a survey instrument to determine how prevalent each kind of conception in the undergraduate population.

I also present a theory of student educational decisions in CS. Students do not usually have specific educational goals in CS and instead take an exploratory approach to their classes. Particularly enjoyable or unenjoyable classes cause them to narrow their educational focus. As a result, students do not reason very deeply about the CS content of their classes when they make educational decisions.

This work makes three main contributions: the theory of student conceptions, the theory of student educational decisions, and the preliminary survey instrument for evaluating student conceptions. This work has applications in CS curriculum design as well as for future research in the CS education community.

EDIT: The defense went well and I passed. You can see the final version of my dissertation here.

How CS Majors Select a Specialization

One of the more interesting things that I came across in my interviews is the way CS majors decide on aspects of CS to specialize in. At Georgia Tech, students choose two of eight CS “Threads” and that choice determines about two thirds of their CS coursework. I like the idea of a flexible curriculum that lets students purse their CS interests. But, based on my conversations with students, I’m pretty concerned that many students are selecting their specializations without really understanding the trade-offs of their decisions.

I’ll be presenting a paper about this at ICER 2011. The abstract says:

As CS becomes a larger field, many undergraduate programs are giving students greater freedom in the classes that make up their degree. This study looks at the process by which students within the CS major choose to specialize in some area. In this study we interviewed student advisors, graduated CS students, and students currently in the undergraduate process about their view of CS and how they make decisions. The interviews were analyzed with grounded theory approach. The analysis presents four forces that affect student decision making. One, students often use the amount they enjoy individual classes as a sign of how well they fit with a particular specialization. Two, students often do not research, so they select specializations based on misconceptions. Three, students often rely on the curriculum to protect against poor educational choices. Four, students usually do not have a personal vision for what they hope to do with a Computer Science degree.

You can read my version of the paper here.

My Paper on Game Developer Qualifications

So this summer I worked at a video game company to try and get a feel for what skills are important in that field. I figure every CS teacher might not have time to wander off to industry for a summer, so while I was there I did a study about what game developers look for in a new hire. I interviewed some developers, managers and artists and then used that to build an online survey.

For the curious, here is my paper as it will be published in SIGCSE 2010. There was nothing earthshaking here, although I was impressed about the extent to which the people I talked to emphasized that people skills were at least as critical as the technical side of things.

There is a big chart a few pages in that summarizes the results.

My first paper

So I will be published for the first time in the proceedings of the ICER 2008 conference. In all honesty, I am not particularly wild about this particular paper – now that I really understand some more about how qualitative research works I can think of plenty of ways this could be improved. Ah well, one step at a time.

Computing educators may hope that postsecondary courses both convey content and also give students a new perspective on computing. In the study described in this paper, a sample of students about to graduate with their postsecondary degrees wrote about their relationship with computing and what influenced that relationship. Computing majors wrote expressively about the excitement and breadth of the discipline. Other majors were positive about computing, but the essays indicate that postsecondary education (including introductory computer science courses) did not have a large effect on their attitudes about computing.

Feel free to check it out.