Computer Science Teacher
Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

March, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    The Art of the Demo


    Recently there has been a lot of discussion about doing demos among the people I work with. Showing how a piece of software and how it works is not always, perhaps not even often, as easy as people think it is. It involves knowing something about the software of course but it is so much more than that. It is about knowing the audience and what is interesting to them. It is about being able to tell a story where the software is a bit the hero - the problem solver - of the story.

    I have seen a lot of students demonstrate their programs over the years. Some do a good job and some, well, not so good. One would think that having written the software would make a student knowledgeable about the program and of course one of the reasons why teachers often ask for a demo is to make sure the student does show enough knowledge to convince the teacher that they really did write the program. But as I said a good demo is as much about story telling as anything else. This is a skill that can be taught but generally isn't. After all how does it fit in to a computer science course? I'm starting to think we should find some room for it though. Maybe in schools (pre-college) it belongs in English class along with other presentation skills. After all people in all fields need to do demos.

    But if you want to start a discussion about demos - which I think is a good idea - then a recent post by John Montgomery would be a good place to start. John runs the Popfly project at Microsoft and he has to do a lot of demos. He probably has to sit though a lot more of them than the average person and he knows something about a demo. In this post he outlines seven things that the best demo people do:

    1. Know your audience
    2. Know your product
    3. Know what you're trying to get across to your audience
    4. Know your themes
    5. Know yourself
    6. Know your story
    7. Practice (which I might call Know your demo)

    Check out his list (he goes into some useful detail of the why and what of each item) and tell me what you think? What do you think of the order he has things in? What would you add or remove for your own list?

    You know looking over this list one more time two things occur to me. One is that teachers demo everyday. These items are important for classroom demos as much as anything. The other thing that comes home is that any presentation has these same needs. So maybe a unit on demoing products would fit into any good presentation skills course. As I tell students all the time, having a great idea is useless unless you can communicate it to others.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Five Questions with Dean Kamen


    Dean Kamen is probably best known either for FIRST Robotics or for inventing the Segway device. But he has invented a lot more than that and his robotic arm is showing some amazing potential to replace human limbs. He's also got an invention that creates clean water from dirty water. He showed that on the Colbert Report recently.

    The IEEE has a short interview with Dean (it looks like it was done in his office) where they asked him five questions. The answer to the question about the Segway was interesting enough but the real value to me is in how he talks about the future of robotics and the problem he sees with engineering (and more generally) education. He comes back to something I keep thinking - that there is a need for more passion in education. Teachers need to get more excited and they need to help students find more excitement in what is being taught.

    Dean is an interesting person and this very short interview is more than worth the time to view.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    XML in Schools - Is Now the Time?


    The other day I was chatting online with a good friend of mine. Dave was a teacher but has gone back to industry. He's a SharePoint consultant these days. Its been a real learning experience for him and he seems to be enjoying it. But one of the things he told me is that he thinks schools need to teach XML. On a day to day basis he's using that quite a bit. It is the language that applications use to share information. It is used for customization in SharePoint and other important applications and tools. It is also used within programs to comment code to automatically generate all sorts of things from Intellisense to documentation. In short, XML is showing up in a lot of places.

    Now I have to confess that I have probably not been paying enough attention to XML. Oh sure I know its out there and I see it around. I know that it is the way LINQ queries return data for example and that is something high on my list of things to know more about. But I haven't really moved it to the top of my "things to learn" queue. After chatting with Dave I'm rethinking that.

    There are a couple of questions that you my readers can help me with. For those of you in industry, just how important is XML these days? And if it is very important what do you think students should be learning? Just the basics because implementations are all over the place or are there specific tools or applications that are so critical that everyone knows them? What do you wish you had learned about XML before you entered the workforce?

    And for those of you in education (especially at the university level), are you teaching XML and if so how, when and where in the curriculum? I'd really like to know where the logical place in curriculum is for XML.

    Opinions of all sorts are welcome. Let's have a conversation.

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