Recap on my first SIGCSE Technical Symposium

SIGCSE 2019, Minneapolis, MN

A first timer’s view

Education, held in Minneapolis from Feb. 27th to March 2nd. This conference (website here) gathers researchers and practitioners interested in teaching anything related to Computer Science to any kind of public. This year’s conference broke a new record with 1808 people attending. This figure is enough to illustrate the growing community of computer science educators.

SIGCSE 2019 was my first time attending this conference. Because SIGCSE accepts research projects or experience reports, the venue offers the best of both worlds. As a result, I really enjoyed the possibility of going to a paper session that could interest me either as a research or a CS teacher (or sometimes even both).

This point is also true when considering the conference sponsors. Lots of tech companies were there to present their latest suite of tools to teach and learn CS. As our CS1 courses are getting more and more crowded, I was looking for a way to automate traditionally tedious processes such as assessing and grading students’ works. The exhibit hall was the perfect place to get to know the different players in the field that could help me in doing just that.

The conference also had a few original sessions that were really instructive. I am thinking mainly about the “Birds of a Feather” sessions. These sessions are similar to more traditional panels except that nobody is really presenting anything. I attended a session called “Incorporating Computing for Social Good in Computing Education” which gathered educators all sharing the same concern: to make our students aware of their ability to design software for social good.

Finally, the organisers did a really good job at making sure first timers like me had a nice experience. We had a “First Timer Lunch” to get to know each others. The people I met were also very welcoming. This is a trait that people often fail to mention when talking about their research communities, so I’m making a point in saying that the SIGCSE community is a great community!

Presenting my poster

My poster session was scheduled on Saturday March 2nd, the last day of the conference. A first thing to note is that, yes, the conference was held until Saturday afternoon. I think this is to give teachers and practitioners a chance to attend the conference if they were busy during weekdays. In any case, I find this to be really thoughtful from the conference organizers.

Unfortunately for me, the poster session was in parallel with some really interesting paper sessions I wanted to attend such as the “Expectations”, “Blocks”, or “Nifty Assignments” sessions.

However, I am still happy with how the poster presentation went. People were interested in the project and eager to know more about the methodology and results that we have found. To me, that’s a very good sign that we are conducting a project that can contribute to both researchers and practitioners. It’s also a sign that there is still some work to be done on comparing learning gains when programming on a tangible object or a simulation.

You can find a link to my poster here.

My take from the SIGCSE conference

Whenever I think about this conference, I somehow think about everything that I have missed! The schedule was really dense, the venue spread across two hotels, and the rooms somewhat small.

Nonetheless, I came back home with an eagerness to try out new teaching techniques and keep up with the good work we’re conducting with Ilaria on comparing physical and digital devices to learn CS concepts.

Finally, what I will remember the most from this conference is the discussion on accessibility in CS education and the need to make our students aware of the great things they can achieve with their skills. So if I had only one message to pass, one thing I care about, it would be: “Build software that’s accessible, build software that helps people”.

Patrick Wang
Associate Professor of Computer Science

Interested in how people learn CS, among other things.