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

August, 2010

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Girls, Games and Software Development


    Girls play games – computer games, video games, console games, online games – all kinds of games. Yet girls are not big into creating their own computer games. Why is that? A recent article in the Chicago  Tribune (Women missing from video game development work force) says that:

    “According to the Entertainment Software Association, 40 percent of video and online game players in the U.S. in 2010 are female, having inched up from 38 percent in 2006. The number of women working as game developers, however, is much smaller. In a 2005 demographic survey by the International Game Developers Association, only 11.5 percent of the respondents were female.”

    Why is that a problem for the industry? Mindy Farber says "If the game designers out there are more inclusive and representative of our general culture, we're going to make better games that reach more people." I see that as quite true but not just for games. I maintain that more diversity makes for better software of all kinds. That is the big reason I try to interest more young women in taking computer science courses and considering the field as a career.

    Why are girls not looking at careers in computer game development? Why are girls who do go into computer science avoiding the game development area? I’m not sure. I can’t speak to a group of students without having one (usually several) boys who want to create the next Halo 3. Not that many girls raise their hands when I ask who wants to create video games. Maybe girls are more practical or maybe they want to appear more serious? Or maybe all the stories they have heard about game development companies that seem to be little more than sweat shops with 80 hours work weeks turn them off. Or maybe they think that all games are first person shooters and they don’t want to be a part of that? Or maybe they think they are not up to it? Girls are notoriously under confident while boys are notoriously over confident.

    In all honesty though there is no reason that girls can’t be creating wonderful games as easily and as well as boys. None at all. And I wish more of them would. First person shooters bore me to tears. I need some more interesting games to get me more active in game playing.

    There are a lot of teaching resources for teaching game development using XNA (all free) at XNA Resources and Teaching Tools for your Classroom. One last recommendation, tell the students no games with sex or violence. You’ll force many of the boys to be more creative and allow a lot more students to be a lot more comfortable with the games that are created.

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    What do you want in a Textbook


    I’ve been thinking a lot about textbooks lately. Do students really read/use them? What is the difference between a textbook and a reference book and what are the pros and cons of each in education? What about books designed for professionals rather than for teaching? They seem to be half way between a reference book and a textbook. And is larger always better or are shorter textbooks as useful as large ones? Ultimately it boils down to what is a great textbook like? I’m still working on questions and looking for answers.

    Recently I have found links to a couple of free books. Or parts of books. For example, There is a new edition of Rob Miles (@robmiles) C# Yellow book text available. That’s a textbook designed from the ground up to be used in Rob’s courses at the University of Hull. No doubt the text and course fit like hand in glove.  From Microsoft  Press there is a second draft preview ebook of Charles Petzold’s upcoming Programming Windows Phone 7! Download the PDF here. Download the XPS here. And download the sample code here. )

    This is a book designed for people who already know some programming, from what I can tell, but who are interested in learning programming for the Windows Phone. This preview has 6 chapters and about 256 pages. This compares to Rob Miles book which is complete at 197 pages. Of course I have copies of some textbooks that are 600+ pages as well.

    I have this love/hate thing with large books though. For a novel I see value in part as volume. I read quickly so a 900 page novel that is well written and tells a good story is gold to me. A 200 page book is read and gone too quickly. On the other hand many a student sees a huge textbook (or any book some times) as intimidating, as too much to handle and as something to avoid. So I tend to favor shorter textbooks for classroom use.

    Ah, but a shorter book can only cover so much material. What about stretch learning? I tend to think that a reference book is better for the “extra” stuff.  It’s too much to have students buy reference books or even to buy a classroom set. I like to have a couple of reference books on the shelf though. That allows me to occasionally point a student in a direction and get mostly out of there way. Sure it’s all there in the online documentation and some will make do with that. I guess I’m old fashioned but I don’t find online help or ebooks to be the same as a paper book.

    So how do you see the textbook situation? Do you have textbooks you like and if so what makes them great? Do you like the huge books, short books or something in between? What works for you?

  • Computer Science Teacher - Thoughts and Information from Alfred Thompson

    Non-Myths About Programming


    Mark Guzdial attended the first day of the ICER 2010 conference in Denmark this week. He blogged about that day (Blogging the first day of ICER 2010) and it sure does make me wish I had been able to go. Next year the conference is in Rhode Island so maybe I’ll be able to swing it. For now I am reading blog posts about it and waiting until the conference journal shows up in my mail box. One particularly interesting thing I borrowed from Mark’s post was his summary of  Moti Ben-Ari’s keynote talk, Non-Myths About Programming. He had seven (eight really) statements that people today talk about as being “myths,” but he says are quite true.

    1. Programming is boring. But so is everything else, says Moti. Even the specialist surgeon gets bored doing the exact same thing for the 5000th time. He suggests that television may be influencing our students’ belief that everything should be exciting and all problems can be solved in 45 minutes.
    2. You have to sit in front of a computer all day. So does everybody, he says. Some jobs, like travel agents, sit in front of computers even more than programmers do.
    3. You have to work long hours. Moti asks, “What professional job today does not involve long hours?”
    4. Programming is asocial. Moti argued, “No one ‘chats’ with his/her ‘clients.’” He says that some students may feel that, “I prefer helping people directly, say as a social worker, than creating computerized ‘things’ people need.” Programmers help people, and talk with their clients as much as doctors do.
    5. Programming is for those who think logically. Totally true. Most jobs also involve thinking logically, but if you can’t, don’t go into computing.
    6. Software is being outsourced. It is, but not the interesting stuff. He says people do things in software that they don’t quite know how to do yet. If they knew, they’d manufacture hardware to do it. If you don’t know how to do something, you don’t send it away to get it done. He had a great story about Margaret Hamilton who led the development of the Apollo software systems. He says that NASA could never have outsourced the development of the Apollo software.
    7. Programming is a well-paid profession. So what’s so bad about that?

    He then said that there’s a new myth being propagated that he dislikes, that CS is NOT primarily about programming. He says it is.

    OK that last point about programming and CS is going to be controversial. But is he just stating something along the lines of the “emperor is not wearing any clothing?” This is one I want to ponder. And of course I am hoping that smarter people than me will put forth solid arguments one way or another.

    I disagree about programming being boring though. I find it to be fun most of the time. And programming can be social if you do it right. Ben-Ari may be defining social too narrowly. I wish I had been there to hear the whole talk for more context.  Still there is a lot of potential for discussion here. Opinions?

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