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

June, 2008

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    A Technology Conference That Bans Technology


    [Note: Since this was posted ISTE has made some changes to the good. More details in a comment by Miguel Guhlin below and on his blog.] 

    NECC is the largest educational technology conference in the world. It’s huge. There are thousands of educators who attend every year. So many people attend that there are only a few conference venues large enough to handle it. But in spite of that a lot of teachers and other educators who want to attend can not. In fact my wife would would love to attend can’t make it this year. We’ll try again next year when it will be closer and travel costs will be less. Like many districts hers will pay some of the costs but much of it falls to the educator to pay out of pocket.

    But here is the thing. Over the last two years recording sessions at education conferences has become more and more common. Yes, you may have thought that only rock concerts were targets for bootleg recordings but no! People show up with microphones and recording devices for podcasts. Or they show up with digital video cameras or even webcams for live streaming. Back channels using instant message clients or Twitter allow people viewing remotely from anywhere in the world to have questions relayed in real time to presenters. The conference presentation room has opened globally. A lot of people participate in conferences this way and get a lot of value out of it.

    Some conference organizers have welcomed this trend. This has especially been the case for smaller events with limited space but even some larger ones have welcomed the opportunity to share the knowledge. There are after all a lot more (and some would argue better) reasons to attend conferences than “just” the presentations. The chance to have people view the content and see what goes on at a conference is often a real incentive to find a way to attend in person in the future. ISTE, the people who run NECC, have not gone that way though.

    With about a week to go before NECC opens, Wes Fryer has posted a warning about ISTE’s rules for podcasting at NECC. The short version is that there will be no podcasting or live streaming without prior written permission from both the presenter and ISTE. Out of common courtesy people ask presenters before recording of course. But getting permission from the conference organizers is a larger hurtle to the sort of information thing that has become typical. This rule would appear to totally close out the sort of thing that a lot of people were planning on to let them get value from NECC without actually being there. Wes is not the only one who is upset.

    Christian Long is talking about staying away from NECC on general principle and urging others to do the same.  Miguel Guhlin is saying he regrets helping ISTE with this year’s event and that he will not attend or present in 2009 unless the rules are changed. And this has been a big topic of discussion in Twitter in the last 24 hours as well.

    I’m sure ISTE thinks, possibly correctly, that most people at NECC will be unaware of the rule and of the controversy. Unfortunately the people most effected by this rule are the leaders in web 2.0 and using online technology for education. Exactly the sort of people that really need to be at NECC to share what they are doing with those people who are blissfully unaware of what they are missing. I see this rule being short sighted on ISTE’s part.

    It looks like podcasting will still be able to go on at informal events that are being organized in semi-public and public spaces. That’s a good thing. EduBloggerCon, which I have to miss because of a conflict, should be interesting with the discussions that will take place online as well as in person. I’ll be watching on Twitter as much as I can. And NECC Unplugged already has an interesting schedule most of which will probably find its way onto the web. It will not be a total loss for people who can’t make it to NECC in person.

    Oh and if you are wondering why else to attend NECC besides the sessions and workshops?

    • The Exhibit Hall – a great chance to not only pick up information and swag but to talk to people from the various companies and organizations. For some this is reason enough to attend.
    • Meeting people in person – This is the big one for me. I love talking to people online and I spend a lot of time in email, in chat, in Twitter, and reading, commenting and writing blogs. But nothing beats even a short conversation in real life to really feel like I know someone.
    • The side conversations – Many is the time that a conversation with a presenter and a group of listeners has lead to more learning then was in the whole formal presentation.
    • The atmosphere – It’s electric! The idea of being with so many people who are committed to education and to life long learning and their own development is inspiring.
    • The unplanned spontaneous things that just don’t translate to podcasts. Honestly there is no way to predict what will happen when a whole bunch of creative people happen to find themselves in the same place.

    Being there virtually is great. It is wonderful. But to me it compares to being there the way eating food at a fine restaurant compares to watching the chef prepare the food on TV. I really hope that ISTE doesn’t mess up a good thing by getting too hung up on control.

    BTW a plug. Over the last several years Microsoft has sponsored/hosted a number of educational conferences. At most of the ones I have been involved in, including the annual game development in computer science education ones, the sessions have been professionally recorded and made available though the Faculty Connection or on DVDs for free (as in no cost to educators.) Let me know if you have trouble finding them. It’s hard to do live streaming from a cruise ship but I don’t think we’ve told people they couldn’t.

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  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Getting Ready for NECC


    It’s just over a week until I head out (down to?) San Antonio for this year’s National Education Computing Conference (NECC). I’ll start on Saturday the 28th with the annual CS & IT Symposium. This year’s event looks to be the best yet. I hope to see many people who read my blog as well as many old friends there. I’m really excited about this event.

    I will also be at several of the SIGCT events. The SIGCT wiki has a list of events at NECC that should be of interest to computer science teachers. Two events definitely on my calendar are the SIGCT meeting Tuesday morning and the SIGCT Forum: Why Is Teaching Problem-Solving So Hard? on Monday morning. The latter is early, costs 20 bucks but would be worth it even if they didn’t serve breakfast. :-) And lots of people much smarter than I am will be there sharing ideas. Should be very educational.

    There should be some interesting things and people at the Microsoft booth this year. I know that there will be people talking about the new Expression Web Development curriculum that is out and which will be expanded. Also I see that the OneNote people will be there. I’ve heard talk that the Popfly team is sending out some people as well. Even if they don’t I’ll be happy to demo and talk about it.

    I’ll also bring an Xbox 360 controller or two so I can demo XNA Game Studio Express. And the way Live Earth works with them.

    If you are going to be at NECC (or just live in the San Antonio TX area) I’d love to meet you. Just come find me. I’ll be checking in at the Microsoft booth from time to time and they can give you my cell phone number. Or email me at AlfredTh (at)

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  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Women and Minorities in Computer Science


    One of the posts I wrote last week brought an interesting comment.

    Why should one concern themselves with whether or not women become computer scientists? Why should women receive any special emphasis?

    I’ve heard that question or variations of it before. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where the answer seems obvious. We clearly need all kinds of people (gender, race, ethnicity, age, you name it) in any organization that hope to succeed and make progress in the modern diverse world we live in. A field like computer science where women and various minorities are under represented is at a disadvantage today.

    Diversity is an important ideal at Microsoft just as it is with many other companies and organizations these days. Gone are the days when any organization, let alone industry, can make it with a homogenous (all white male) set of customers and employees.  And today companies have come to realize it and incorporate diversity as not a goal but as a value to live by.

    I took the following quote from the Diversity Vision and Strategy page at I think it is a good summary.

    Why Diversity Matters at Microsoft

    At Microsoft we think of the business case for diversity as having three components: talent, customers, and innovation.

    • Talent. Microsoft seeks to attract and retain the best and brightest employees. This enables us to gain a competitive advantage in the new emerging markets.
    • Customers. If we truly want to have a compelling value proposition for our customers, we must understand the rich diversity of our customer base.
    • Innovation. We work to build innovative products for an increasingly diverse customer base by using the diverse talents, ideas, and perspectives of our employees.

    Read more about Microsoft and diversity at the Diversity home page here. But if you want to learn more about women in technology in general and women at Microsoft in particular I recommend Jennifer Marsman’s blog. Jennifer runs an interesting series of "Featured Women in Technology." She has already featured a number of very interesting women doing  very interesting things.

    [Edit: Since I posted this a number of other related links have come to my attention so I added on below]

    An article on the decline in numbers of women in CS as the numbers in STEM overall are up.

    While the number of women in other fields of science and technology have increased over the past 40 years, the computer science area has seen a dramatic decline that has no easy explanation. An international group of computer science educators and historians convened recently in Minneapolis to systematically try to answer the question. You can read the full story at

     Nerd Girls - Women engineers who are working on interesting projects. Video here.

    Newsweek article here.
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