OOPSLA '07: Educators' Symposium

I spent the morning in the Educators' Symposium at OOPSLA. It was an interesting session but unfortunately I could only stay for 3.5 activities since I wanted to go for the Dynamic Language Symposium in the afternoon.

We started off with a short session on how to teach recursion to incoming freshmen by Michael Goldwasser from St. Louis University. He had an interesting way for teaching recursion to first year students: he would pick a group of volunteers who would act as nodes in a list that is defined recursively. He would set it up so that each node knew which was the next list (null being the next node for the tail of the list). He would then act as the main program and call out a function like count() which returns the length of the list. His call of the function was symbolized by throwing a real tennis ball. This tennis ball was slit open and contained a piece of paper that was supposed to show the activation record of the current method call. In the case of count() each volunteer would then throw the ball to the next node and await a reply. This is a great way to illustrate how recursion works. However, I was a bit skeptical whether this activity might distract the students from the main concept of recursion. I was also curious whether this method of teaching recursion had permanence in the students's minds. Lastly, I wonder how well this method would scale up to a class that has 100+ students. Either way this was a nice method and it did give me some ideas for things to try on my students next time.

Next we had a session on Scrum. This was my first introduction to Scrum and it was pretty intersting -- it's a high level process that emphasizes customer needs and iterative design but it is not focused entirely on software development. So unlike XP, it is not explicitly required in Scrum to do pair programming or test first development. However, most software developers who use Scrum will augment it with those two practices anyway. It was a fun hands-on introduction to Scrum but again unless there is a decent reflection session after the activity I am curious whether the students will actually understand what Scrum is all about.

Zoo Shadow Box
As part of an activity at the Educators' Symposium we had to create a zoo shadow box as part of our Scrum training. That is what our shadow box looked like. You have to use some imagination since it is pretty abstract.

After the break, Kathy Sierra gave a nice presentation on how educators can create more motivating materials for their students. There were some nice gimmick tricks such as using bright colored slides, using seductive images, using animation, etc. These are definitely some ideas that I have to remind myself to use next time. Kathy is an engaging speaker and she managed to capture the audience's attention easily. I think she was the perfect person to give the keynote for the Educators' Symposium. Kathy also had a list of books that she thought was entertaining and enriching to read as educators. Here is a partial list of those that I wrote down:

Before I had to leave, there was a presentation on Extreme Learning by two professors from the University of Utah. Basically it is a form of XP but in the process of developing the software, you had to actually put down goals to learn something. So you are teaching yourself new things as you implement the project. Again, this seemed rather intuitive to me: every time you do any major development you are bound to have to dedicate some time learning something new. The only difference in this case is that the student has to make it part of the user story to learn a new technology. This is definitely something that would be a good approach in a graduate level class since graduate students are often more mature and know how to organize their time to actually learn something new.

The Educators' Symposium is definitely fun and interesting. I wished I could have stayed for more of the sessions but the Dynamic Language Symposium was too compelling to miss.

comments powered by Disqus