SXSWedu Panel Discussion – Engaging Students with Computer Science Education

I’m pleased to announce that my SXSWedu proposal “Engaging Students with Computer Science Education” has been accepted as a panel discussion! Here is a brief abstract describing the purpose of the session:


“Current trends show a loss of student interest in computer science careers and degrees across the U.S., especially among women and minorities, even though the need for qualified candidates in this field has never been greater. Across the country, computer science experts, computer science educators, researchers, and even policymakers are developing initiatives that address these problems.

In this panel, the leaders of three such initiatives will share their perspectives on computer science education, gender and diversity in the field, and high-quality instructional design for computer science students and teachers alike. Their respective programs, Project Engage (University of Texas, Austin), Exploring Computer Science: Los Angeles (UCLA), and New Mexico Computer Science for All (Santa Fe Institute) represent the latest large-scale efforts in computer science education. Educators, practitioners, and researchers can all learn from their collective expertise.”

As the organizer of the panel, I will not be speaking, but I have booked leaders from three exemplary computer science education initiatives:

These speakers will provide their perspectives as they respond to a variety of questions of my choosing. For example:

  • Why do high school students of all interests need to learn computer science?
  • How can educators engage diverse student populations with computer science?
  • What instructional strategies are effective for develop computational thinking, problem-solving, and college/career readiness skills?

In the three years since I first presented at the inaugural SXSWedu with Dr. Joan Hughes, Dr. Sara Jones, and Michelle Read on “Middle school case studies of technology integration, ” the conference has grown by leaps and bounds. SXSWedu is not an ‘academic conference’ in the sense that AERA or AECT are. Instead, it has become a conference where practitioners, entrepreneurs, administrators, leaders, and researchers co-mingle.

The computer science education movement has never been as ambitious in its efforts for K-12 education as it is today (see CS10K). Nevertheless, those outside the field are often ignorant about computer science, often confusing career and technical education with CS.  I’m hopeful that this panel discussion will illuminate the state of computer science education, the needs of computer science education, and the path forward for computer science education for all those who attend, so that they (educators, researchers, and entrepreneurs) can move forward more purposefully.

I, myself, look forward to what Irene, Jane, and George have to say. We hope to see you there.


Reading ‘the Craft of Research’

Craft of Research - Book Cover

Recently, I ‘actively’ read Booth, Colomb and Williams’ (2008) the Craft of ResearchThis book, in its third edition, offers sage advice to authors of research articles…like myself. The Craft of Research describes pragmatic approaches to organize thoughts meaningfully, develop arguments effectively, and draft papers skillfully.

Normally, I annotate every journal article that I read for work on my iPad, but I find value in reading paper books, too. I feel more comfortable bringing my book to places where I would not bring my table, and I also try to limit the length of time I spend staring at screens. However, annotations in books are more difficult to organize and retrieve as electronic annotations. I want to the notes I make in paper books to be as accessible as my annotations on digital artifacts.

Why not type the notes afterward?

Seriously! How long could it take to transcribe only my notes? Transcribing pertinent passages of the book would take too long, but I planned to write notes that identified the main ideas of each page (as necessary), with the hope that the quantity of notes I would have to transcribe later might be smaller.  Then, I timed my transcription.


Some of my handwritten notes referred to lists of items that I went back and summarized briefly in my transcription. I felt this was valuable, so that I had almost all of the information I found most pertinent at my digital fingertips.  There were many highlighted passages and underlined sections that I did not transcribe, which would have taken me considerably longer.  I organized notes by chapter, so that if I wanted to refresh my memory, I could do so easily.

Were the results of the process valuable…to me? Yes. It was a great processing and review strategy, and one that I will try to employ in the future, especially having attempted it once and realizing that transcribing the notes afterward was a good review and not too demanding.

Are the results valuable to you? Probably not.

Are my notes and process description valuable to the wide world? Maybe. Maybe somebody else will find my notes valuable, or will be inspired to read paper books and transcribe their notes for a digital record. Either way, the process was valuable to me, and I will try it with my next book: Tricks of the Trade: How to Think about Your Research While You’re Doing it, by Howard Becker (1998).

photo of pages with handwritten annotations

Presenting at AECT 2012

For the past few days, I’ve been in Louisville, KY attending the annual Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT) conference. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting some wonderful scholars and watching some valuable presentations. I’ve also been privileged to share some of my own work with others who have provided valuable feedback and helped developed these ideas more fully.

The first presentation I made (with George Veletsianos) describes the technology scaffolds that we are employing in our computer science course Thriving in the Digital World.  Here is the abstract and a copy of our presentation:

Innovating Computer Science Education at the High School Level through Technology-enhanced PBL

“We describe various features and scaffolds embedded in a computer science high school course that is supported by an online learning environment. To develop this course we followed a design-based research approach with problem-based learning as our underlying pedagogy. In collaboration with computer scientists, computer science teachers, and instructional designers, we sought to re-envision Computer Science instruction while creating an innovation that is flexible enough to adapt to local contexts without losing its essence.”

Knowledge Seeking: Geocaching, QR Codes, and Outdoor Informal Learning

The second presentation I made (by myself) describes the educational repurposing of geocaching and QR codes to increase the quantity, quality, and engagement of visits to the French Legation Museum in Austin, TX.  Here is the abstract and a copy of my presentation:

“The French Legation Exploration is a geocaching adventure designed and developed to promote informal learning at the French Legation Museum in Austin, TX via contextually relevant information embedded within QR codes.  Described in this proposal are possible gains in engagement, visitation, and informal learning, as well as limitations and likely challenges.  Similar projects would benefit from collaboration with facilities management and content experts, timely communication, technical knowledge, and backwards design.  Opportunities for future implementations are numerous.”

Conspiracy Theory – a Classic Whodunit for the Digital Age

Conspiracy Theory Link

During my teaching years, my principal consistently directed me to not ‘re-invent the wheel’ with my instruction.  This meant that she encouraged me to find resources online that would suite my instructional needs.  This seems like good advice…if there were instructional materials readily available online that matched my teaching philosophy, content needs, and context.  Occasionally, after lengthy online searches, I would be able to find materials that were suitable, but more often than not, I found little to nothing online that helped me.  This process was…frustrating.  Eventually I realized that it was usually easier and more efficient to develop my own materials.

In fact, I found the design and development portion of my job to be very gratifying.  I ended up with something tangible…a product that my students would use and learn from.  Additionally, I did want to re-invent the wheel!  Or at least improve it’s design, because many of the materials that existed online re-enforced traditional pedagogies in which students were spoonfed knowledge that they would eventually be asked to regurgitate…not my style.

Now, as an instructional designer for Project Engage (an introduction to computer science course), I once again have to make choices about what to design and develop independently and what to find online and re-purpose.  For the first unit/problem of the course, I wanted students to participate in digital forensics, which would require a complete narrative occurring in authentic online spaces that students could investigage independently.  This did not exist already online…I would have to create it myself.

I’m very happy to say that the result is ‘Conspiracy Theory – a Classic Whodunit for the Digital Age.’  I hope that this mystery will engage students in their first problem of the course and help them begin to think about computing in new ways.  So, without further ado, I challenge you to solve the mystery yourself!  I also hope that this might be of use to other teachers, so feel free to forward the link to whomever you think might want to use it in their classroom.

Conspiracy Theory


  • Leandro’s online identity has been stolen and used to cyberbully Chris.  As a result, Leandro has been expelled from school.  As Leandro’s friend, you must help convince the principal that Leandro is innocent.”

Digital evidence:

  • Explore the website below, which includes multiple different digital resources that mimic digital tools that we all use on a regular basis.  Remember, this is a complete narrative/mystery.  There are more clues than I can count, and it’s your job to exonerate Leandro and prove whodunit.  Can you solve the Conspiracy Theory?

Conspiracy Theory Link

choice video selections

These videos can be found in the computer science course (Project Engage) that I’m developing with Brad, Calvin, and George

Ask yourself, “What is a computer?”  Think about how you would describe it to a young child.  Then, watch:

Next, think about how social media has changed your life.  It has.  Period.  Even if you don’t participate in it, the world does, and you’re a part of that.  Watch:

Don’t be afraid by that story though.  Technology can be a wonderful thing!  Think about how you’ve used your cell phone today, and watch:

Technology affects us, globally.  You’re ready for some hardcore stuff now (totally safe, don’t worry):

Hope you enjoyed these choice selections…and thought…just a wee bit, perhaps.

e-books, iBooks, and e-reading softwares

For the first time in my PhD program, some of my textbooks  are available in e-versions.   This is somewhat shocking, considering that I’m in the ‘Instructional Technology’ field, so if any education field would have made the transition by now, you’d think it be us.  But I digress…

I’m glad to have my textbooks on my trusty iPad2, but I’m frustrated.  Allow me to explain (in a little detail – there is a shorter summary below these 6 notes):

  1. I use a high powered annotation software called iAnnotate for reading and annotating research articles (.pdf) files, and it works fantastic.  iAnnotate provides me all the tools (and more) that I would have access to if I were taking notes by hand, and it does so in a somewhat user-friendly environment.  I could go on and on about the other features (e.g. summaries of my notations, etc.), but you can read about those on their website.
  2. iAnnotate does not support ePub or Kindle’s AZW file formats.  I’ve contacted them about this, because I’d really like to continue to use it as my professional e-reader.
  3. The Amazon Kindle app has putrid annotation tools.  They are pretty much useless, because their interface is built more for reading (consuming) than for interacting with the texts.
  4. Being the computer savvy fellow I am, I decide that I will remove the DRM restrictions from the Kindle book files, and convert them to ePub and PDF formats.
  5. After quite some time researching on the interwebs how to accomplish this, I’ve downloaded the necessary freeware and successfully removed the DRM restrictions from the Kindle files, and successfully converted them into the ePub format.  However, although the ePub format is wonderful, because it adjusts to screen size, font size, image size, etc., there are no useful annotation softwares for interacting with them (at least that I’m aware of).  Kindle, Stanza, iBooks…they all are basically useless for academic/professional consumption/interaction with the reading material.
  6. So, I try to convert the ePub files into PDF files, so that I can annotate with iAnnotate…except converting from ePub -> PDF is futile.  The pages don’t fill up (despite numerous setting changes and attempts), there are too many blank pages, the images don’t transfer in full size, and overall, it’s an even worse reading experience than before.

If any of that made sense to you, fantastic.  But I’ll still summarize:

  • e-Books currently don’t have a e-reader software that is qualified for easy, thorough, in-text annotations.
  • Converting ePub and AZM files to PDF files does not seem like a viable solution.

Enter Apple’s new iBooks Textbooks and iBooks Author…

Upon first glance, it seems that Apple has taken a step forward, especially in regards to costs, multimedia, interface, and yes…interacting with texts via annotations (and making those annotations useful).  I intend to download and experiment with these new textbooks, as well as use the iBooks Author to create new content for courses that I teach.  I hope that the file format, which isn’t exactly ePub, plays well with PCs, Macs, netbooks, etc., and is not limited to the iPad…

iBooks Textbooks…gotta admit: I’m intrigued.

*Note: This post is featured in Danny Nicholson’s blog carnival, which can be found on his Whiteboard Blog: Supporting Technology in the Classroom:

iPad facilitates digital creativity

If you know me, you probably know that I am a big believer in tablet computing for education, and for the foreseeable future, I will spend a great deal of my time learning about how these iPads affect teaching and learning.

Personally, I love my iPad 2. It’s been a fantastic tool for me. I purchased it last year, during SXSW, so that I would have a few months to learn how to use it at the end of the school year, and be perfectly prepared to use it full bore come Fall…and that’s what I did. For the first time in my life, I had no binder this past semester. Zero. I had a folder, but generally didn’t use it. My iPad was all I took to school, and it was all I needed to thrive (sometimes). I used it for a wide variety of purposes that I’ll perhaps describe another time, but that’s not what this post is about.  This post is about facilitating multimedia creativity.

During a break from academic writing two nights ago, I was inspired. I was inspired to create…art. Only, I don’t draw or paint anymore. I used to be decent at drawing, but if there was ever any talent, it’s long gone by now. BUT, I can design a thing or two from time to time. Hell…over the last five years of my life as a teacher I learned that I could make anything just using Microsoft Word. Ha! Yeah…sometimes I can be naive. Last night though, when inspiration called, I reached for my iPad.

The University of Texas football team is playing the U.C. Berkeley football team on December 28, 2011, in the Holiday Bowl. This is a special event for my family, because I am now a proud Longhorn…hook ’em…but my brother and father are Cal alumni. The Russells are torn. Clearly, the Longhorns will win, but I wanted to express this in ways more powerful than words. So, I took out my iPad and made this poster:

Yup.  Never would have done that on my computer, but designing it on my iPad was intuitive, easy, and dare I say…fun.  Last night, during another break, I made a comic about the steps it took to make the poster.  What better way to show just how easy it is to tell a story with multimedia on the iPad than by creating a multimedia narrative?  The story goes like this: (click images if you want them even larger)