I’ve been to most of the CS & IT symposiums at NECC (and the one at SIGCSE) over the years but today’s was by far the best. Every year the speakers get better. The number and range of sessions gets better. The number of people gets larger (this year’s 200 people was close to double last year’s attendance). And the conversations are more educational and fun. Between seeing old friends and making new ones this is one of my favorite events of the year. It was great to see friends like Leigh Ann Sudol, Brian Scarbeau, and Kathleen Weaver for example. But those are just the tip of the iceberg and they have blogs to link to. Also Leigh Ann and Kathleen have already blogged about the event and I expect Brian will when he gets home.
More than once today I wished I could be in two places at the same time. Not only was CS & IT on today so was EduBloggerCon. Last year I was able to go to both and I learned a lot about Web 2.0 in education and met some great people. But alas CS & IT is more relevant to both my day job (a consideration since that pays my way to NECC) and my big love of computer science education. So it was an easy but painful decision. I hear there was some controversy at EBC (as it looks like EduBloggerCon is called for short) this year as well. I hate missing controversy but I expect to talk to enough people to find out what went on.
But even at CS&IT there were usually 2 and sometimes 3 sessions I wanted to go to at the same time. I had to miss both of Leigh Ann’s sessions which I heard lots of great things about. And I missed Brian’s session on his DotNetNuke curriculum. What are you going to do when there are so many sessions that are worth while?
The keynotes were really great. Dan Reed who is with Microsoft Research but who is also chairman of the board of the Computing Research Association had the opening keynote. He’s only the latest person I have heard call computing the liberal art for the 21st century. I really believe that but it continues to be a hard sale to education administrators and school boards.
Maria Klawe, president of Harvey Mudd College and a renowned computer scientist, did the closing keynote and left the group with a number of challenges to make a difference in getting more people, more women and more minorities into the field of computer science. The more I hear Maria the more she reminds me of Grace Hopper – which is a good thing!
I also attended John Nordlinger’s talk on making computer science more interesting via game development. And he talked about the importance of using games as a tool to teach concepts and not to have as a goal creating professional game developers.
The panel on “Programs, Degrees, and Jobs, What Do I tell my students” had speakers from Microsoft and Google as well as, Debra Richardson, the Dean of the Bren School of ICS at UC Irvine and also the Chair of the CSTA Advisory Council, and Michelle Hutton who is the new president of the CSTA to manage it. It was pretty interesting. I kind of wish I had gone to the session on “Making K-8 Computer Science a Reality” but I expect I can track Karen North down and get some of the material from her. Plus the slides will be on the CSTA web site fairly soon.
Lunch was networking time. I had some wonderful conversations with teachers from New Jersey, Hawai’i and somewhere else. I’m completely spacing on where he was from which is a shame. We talked about game development as they all have some interest in that for driving interest among students. So we talks about XNA and Popfly Game Creator as well as Gamemaker and other tools. Lots of talk about both Alice and Scratch this year. Seems to be a trend.
After lunch I sat in on Barb Ericson’s talk on “Clubs, Camps, and Competitions” which was very interesting. One of the better handouts I have ever gotten was the 2GB USB flash drive loaded with software, slides, videos, and more resources for computer camps and clubs that she gave out. Is this the future? Handing out tiny (you could hide one of these drives under a dime I think) flash drives with lots and lots of materials? Wouldn’t that be a paradigm shift of sorts?
The last session I attended was Chris Stephenson’s talk on “advocating for CS.” Chris knows her stuff having been a high profile advocate for K12 CS long before she took over as the executive director of CSTA. This was well attended and there was some great discussion. A lot of teachers are frustrated by the lack of attention for computer science and they are ready to act.
So a great event. If you were not able to make it this year the slide decks will be available soon. And you’ll have to think about getting your district to set some money aside so you can come next year. Washington DC I believe.
Edit: From CSTA Board Member Brian Scarbeau I found this link to presentations from the 2008 CS & IT Symposium. Besides Brian’s talk on DotNetNuke you’ll find presentations on gender issues in CS, the AP CS Gridworld case study, information on how Google search works and Maria Klawe’s talk on Getting Future Leaders to Learn Computer Science and many more.
The first thing you have to realize about NECC is that it is huge. There are somewhere between 12,000