2016: The Year of CS Education

A Prediction Comes True…

When asked for a New Year’s prediction a few weeks ago, I responded that 2016 would be the Year of Computer Science Education.  I did not anticipate just how accurate that prediction would turn out to be just 30 days later.  And it appears that we are just getting started, thanks to the incredible support and commitment of the White House and this Administration on behalf of CS education and CS teachers.

CS education is about students.  On January 12, as he began to speak to national priorities, President Barack Obama led with CS Education.  He said that, “In the coming years, we should build on that progress, by … offering every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one.”  As Executive Director for one of the first CS teacher member organizations, it was an exciting moment to hear the President lead off with a statement so aligned to our members’ profession.

CS education is about access.  On January 20, the White House announced the Champions of Change for Computer Science Education. I was thrilled to see recipients like Jane Margolis whose book, Stuck in the Shallow End: Education, Race and Computing, motivated me to pursue this position several months ago.  The recipients of the honor included a diverse and deserving collection of individuals working to improve access to computer science education.

CS education is about collaboration.  Then today, January 30, I was again both excited and awed, as the White House announced the Computer Science for All initiative (#CSForAll)—the President’s plan to give all students across the country the chance to learn computer science in school.  It is a plan with aggressive goals, bipartisan support, and multifaceted commitments from an amazing array of participants spanning federal and state agencies, corporations, non-profit organizations and academic institutions, school districts, and teachers.

CS education is about teachers.  It is clear that many more exciting announcements are to come.  On behalf of the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) and the teachers it represents, I thank the Administration for its “above and beyond support” for CS education and recognizing that providing access to quality CS education to all students requires developing and supporting CS teachers.  I am also appreciative to the Administration for creating mechanisms to enable CSTA to actively participate and engage in the events leading up to today’s announcement.   CSTA is excited to be involved and contributing to this collaborative effort.

…And CS Education is Just Getting Started.

CSTA recently developed a new 10-year vision, supported by the first of three strategic plans.  The themes of students, access, collaboration, and teachers underpin that framework.  For the next three years our primary efforts will focus on teacher professional development, programs related to our big IDEA (Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Access), and maturing our association practices.  These three priorities are supported by a set of five strategic levers and a range of specific measures and activities.

As part of CSTA’s commitment to #CSForALL, we will pursue and implement a new professional development (PD) model for CS Teachers that includes:

  • A developmental assessment with personalized roadmap to help teachers focus PD on skill development needs and programs that could address those needs.
  • Hybrid (online + in person) PD experiences to increase access to PD for teachers.
  • A digital portfolio or digital badging model to enable competency-based micro-credentialing.  This provides a means for teachers to demonstrate CS skills and track their progress toward a master-CS teacher status.

We are on track to pilot some of the above elements as early as this spring.

This year CSTA will establish a Diversity Educational Leadership Program (DELP).  DELP will provide PD to cohorts of teacher-leaders coming from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds in CS.  The goals of DELP are to improve access to leadership and development opportunities for underrepresented teacher segments, support a growing network of effective teacher-leaders and CS advocates in their classrooms and communities, and increase the visible pool of diverse candidates for leadership positions in CSTA and other K-12 CS organizations.

CSTA is also stepping up its own capabilities, such as going live with the “alpha” version of our new member management system this past week.  In addition to a new website that is mobile-friendly, and easier to navigate and update, we will have tools to enable more members to engage and volunteer in activities of the association.  There will be new tools to support chapters.  New tools to support advocacy or outreach among segments of members. There will be new ways for members to communicate with each other and new resources to help make #CSForAll a reality.

Later this spring CSTA will unveil new branding, as we evolve into CSTeachers.org – the member organization for K-12 computer science teachers. With 22,000 members across 130 countries, with 62 local member chapters, and as founding partners of other CS educational organizations, like Code.org, NCWIT, and TeachCS, we will continue to seek out and engage in opportunities to collaborate that include CS teachers and further enable access to quality computer science education for all students.

Getting Engaged in the Future of K-12 CS Education

These and many of our other planned initiatives, such as a series of PSAs and content to promote awareness and understanding of what CS is, link back to the themes and priorities identified by the White House as part of #CSForAll:  Students, Access, Collaboration, and Teachers. Getting there will require innovation, entrepreneurship, collaboration and support from a great variety of organizations and individuals.  CSTA greatly appreciates the work of this Administration which has elevated CS education and the needs of CS teachers to a national priority.  We look forward to the great works that will come out of the current #CSForAll commitments, and for those that will follow.

2016 is going to be a great year for K-12 CS Education.  Please keep following #CSForAll and #CSTA on Twitter for more developments or reach out to CSTA if you are a CS teacher or organization who would like to be involved in our evolution.

About CSTA:  The Computer Science Teacher’s Association (CSTA) is a member-based organization founded in 2004 by ACM, the world’s largest educational and scientific computing society.  CSTA’s mission is to empower, engage, and advocate for K-12 CS teachers worldwide.

CSTA Board of Directors Election (part 2)

As a follow-up to the reminder about the CSTA Board of Directors election, here are some notes from the Nominations & Elections Committee.

  1. We apologize if any candidates have had trouble submitting applications or experienced delays in receiving acknowledgements. CSTA is currently transitioning to a new association management system (AMS) and had some related technical issues for a period. If you have any problems in the future, please contact nominations@csta-hq.org or customerservice@csta-hq.org.
  2. There are five open positions up for election in 2016. Two other positions, School District Representative and Teacher Education Representative, were scheduled to also be open this year. This would have resulted in seven of ten elected Board positions being open at once. In situations where 2/3 or more of the positions are open, the Nominations & Elections Committee is charged with extending one or more positions by one year to ensure Board continuity. No Board member can have his or her term extended more than once.
  3. In case you were on the fence about applying for the Board, here are answers to five of the most common questions that potential candidates ask:Q: How much work is involved in being a Board member?
    A: You have probably seen the phrase “the CSTA Board is a working board” in several places.  What this means is that members of the Board are expected to help carry out the business of the organization – not just advise or supervise.  This includes two face-to-face board meetings, one held in conjunction with the CSTA Annual Conference and another held in the late fall.  While these meetings are packed and productive, most of the Board’s business is conducted throughout the year by committees, with individuals working from home and coordinating via phone conferences. The time commitment can vary by task, e.g., the work conducted by the Elections & Nominations Committee is concentrated around setting up and running the annual elections, and is light during other times of the year. On average, I would guess that the workload averages out to 2-3 hours per week.Q: Are Board members expected to cover their own travel expenses to meetings?
    A: No, expenses for travel are reimbursed (within reason) following CSTA’s travel policy guidelines.  This includes travel, hotel, and meals at Board meetings.  It also includes expenses related to attending the CSTA Annual Conference, since Board members are expected to attend this event and help out by proctoring sessions and assisting with registration.  A copy of the travel policy is provided to all newly elected Board members.

    Q: Why are there different positions on the Board, such as 9-12 Representative and At-Large Representative?
    A: The mission of CSTA is a broad one, promoting K-12 CS education and supporting the interests and professional development of our 22,000+ members.  It is essential that the Board have a diversity of perspectives and experiences to address the issues and challenges that arise in the organization’s business.  Each position has requirements to ensure that key perspectives are represented on the Board.  For example, the 9-12 Representative is required to be a “9–12 classroom teacher who is currently teaching computer science at the high school level.”  Once on the Board, all members are equal in status and welcome to contribute to all initiatives.

    Q: If I apply for a position, does that automatically mean I will be on the ballot?
    A: Unfortunately, no.  According to the CSTA bylaws, the election ballot will list at most two candidates for each open Board position.  If more than two qualified candidates submit applications, the Elections & Nominations Committee is charged with selecting the two most outstanding candidates to be placed on the ballot.  Committee members independently rank the candidates using a rubric that considers factors such as leadership skills and experience, understanding of core issues in CS education, and alignment of goals to CSTA’s mission.  While this model does sometimes mean that highly qualified candidates do not make the ballot, it does allow for us to keep the ballot size manageable while still providing detailed statements from each candidate.

    Q: Why should I consider running for the CSTA Board?
    A: Serving on the CSTA Board of Directors is an extremely rewarding opportunity to give back to the teaching community.  Board members help to set the vision for the organization and work to promote CS education on a global scale.  Their work supports and provides professional development for CSTA’s more than 22,000 members.  In addition, working closely with other amazing educators is rewarding in itself.

Details on applying for the CSTA Board of Directors can be found at http://csta.acm.org/About/sub/AboutFiles/Election2016.html. The deadline for submissions is January 31 (11:59pm PST), so don’t wait too long. Questions can be directed to nominations@csta-hq.org.

Dave Reed
Chair, CSTA Board of Directors

CSTA Board of Directors Election (part 1)

These are exciting times for CSTA, as we prepare to launch a new website as well as  initiatives centered on professional development, advocacy and equity. Why not take this opportunity to help shape the future of the organization by running for the CSTA Board of Directors? There are five open positions on the board this year, four representing  specific perspectives and a fifth, at-large position.

  • 9-12 Representative: A classroom teacher who is currently teaching computer science at the high school level.
  • At-Large Representative: An educator with responsibilities for K-12 CS education.
  • International Representative: An international (outside the United States) classroom teacher who is currently teaching or promoting computer science at the pre-collegiate level.
  • State Department Representative: An educator or administrator who reports to a state department of education and oversees, in some capacity, computer science education.
  • University Faculty Representative: A faculty member from a university computing department offering graduate degrees in computer science.

To apply for one of these position, you simply need to submit a resume and a brief application form – details can be found at http://csta.acm.org/About/sub/AboutFiles/Election2016.html. The deadline for submissions is January 31 (11:59pm PST), so don’t wait too long. Questions can be directed to nominations@csta-hq.org.

Dave Reed
Chair, CSTA Board of Directors

Announcing a New Framework to Define K-12 Computer Science Education

Computing Leaders ACM, Code.org, and CSTA Launch Effort to Guide Educators and State and District Policy Makers About K-12 Computer Science

For most states and school districts, the notion of computer science for every student is a relatively new and unexplored topic. Responding to parent demand for their children to have access to computer science, there’s been a major shift in thinking by states and school districts about how to make computer science part of core academic work. They are asking big questions of the computing community: What is the appropriate scope and sequence for K-12 computer science? What does the community expect every student to learn in elementary school, in middle school, or by the time they graduate high school? And why?

CSTA, ACM, and Code.org are joining forces with more than 100 advisors within the computing community (higher ed faculty, researchers, and K-12 teachers, many of whom are also serving as writers for the framework), several states and large school districts, technology companies, and other organizations to steer a process to build a framework to help answer these questions. A steering committee initially comprised of the Computer Science Teachers Association, the Association for Computing Machinery, and Code.org will oversee this project. Funding for the project will be provided by Code.org and the ACM.

The framework will identify key K-12 computer science concepts and practices we expect students exiting grades 2, 5, 8, and 12 to know. This effort will not develop educational standards. We expect that states and school districts will use the framework to create their own frameworks, guidance, and standards, and the CSTA has its own independent process for developing detailed K-12 computer science standards.

Underpinning this effort is our belief that computer science provides foundational learning benefiting every child. Computer science gives students a set of essential knowledge and skills important for students’ learning and for their future careers and interests. This work is about defining the basic expectations for what every student should have a chance to learn about K-12 computer science to prepare for the emerging demands of the 21st century — not just to major in computer science or secure jobs as software engineers.

The projected release date for the framework is summer 2016. More information, including monthly updates and how to get involved, can be found at K12CS.org.

Mark Nelson, Executive Director of CSTA

Mehran Sahami, Chair, ACM Education Board

Cameron Wilson, Chief Operating Officer, Code.org


How I use CSTA

It is a wonderful time to teach computer science. Almost every day, there is a new tool or website or resource available to teachers for use in the computer science classroom. Sometimes teachers like me can feel overwhelmed. What should we use in our classroom? When and how? I use the CSTA community to help me answer these questions.
CSTA is the membership organization that connects me with other teachers. It provides me a safe place to share and learn from other teachers and understand how to use the many CS resources available to me as I try to stay afloat my other classroom expectations – assessment, standards, curriculum and more. I know I can rely on CSTA since it is tool and platform neutral and created specifically for teachers.
As part of my role as the K-8 board member for CSTA, I had to submit an article for the CSTA blog. Since I had nothing written up, I decided to submit this doodle that captures my thoughts on how I use CSTA. I made this on my iPad using an app called Paper. I am enjoying experimenting with this app, since like real paper, I can not type text, or copy and paste and that makes me think differently than when I am in a text editor. Please treat this as a quick doodle of my ideas and not as finished art work!
I hope this doodle will get you thinking on what CSTA means to you. Have you connected with teachers in your area at the local CSTA chapter, or online on the G+ community, joined the #CSK8 twitter chat, used resources on the website, or considered attending the next CSTA conference?  How do you use CSTA?

The Big, Big Computer Science Gender Gap

Check out the recording from Edsurge on Air, “How the Other Half Learns to Code” https://soundcloud.com/edsurge/episode-40-why-there-are-so-few-women-in-computer-science-edtech-recap-1121

Hear interviews with students, teachers, and professionals on the state of, and strategies for impacting, CS gender balance. The revelations from the 6th graders are most interesting!

CSEdWeek: Message from CSTA’s ED

December 7-11, 2015 is Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek). It began in 2009 with roughly a dozen organizations (including CSTA) joining together to raise awareness of the need for increased CS education and the importance of computational thinking across careers and disciplines.

Now in its 7th year, CSEdWeek will have more than 190,000 events world-wide, and could surpass 200 million participants this year, with participants in nearly every country on the planet. This growth and success was facilitated by the foresight of founders, the diligent work of volunteers, the ongoing support of many organizations, the media power and appeal of organizations like Code.org, and most importantly—the considerable hard work and dedication of teachers.

Around the world, CS education is getting increased attention from governments, businesses, and other organizations as a top educational priority. Access to CS skills and education will change the global landscape, affecting more than just the future access to careers. Increasingly, we see examples of using CS concepts, such as coding, to learn new things. Ultimately, access to CS education will affect equity and the ability of individuals or groups to participate in society at many levels.

CS: More than just Coding

In recent years, CSEdWeek focused heavily on the Hour of Code™. The Hour of Code™ is a nationwide initiative by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org to introduce millions of students to one hour of computer science and computer programming. This may have both positive and negative implications for CS education.

On the positive side, the simplicity of the message and the accessibility of the event have lifted interest in CS to incredible heights. The Hour of Code™ made CS fun and accessible in a new way. It introduced CS to children, parents, CS teachers’ peers and school and district leaders and many others who might otherwise have continued to think using online learning is the same as computer science, or that PowerPoint is a computer science skill crucial to the 21st Century. This is much of what we celebrate during CSEdWeek.

While coding may attract many individuals to experience CS, at some level, the simplicity of the message and the focus on “coding” has unintentionally narrowed the public discourse as to what CS really is. Coding is to CS as arithmetic is to math, or sentences are to writing. Coding is often one of the first content areas learned in CS and is fundamental to the discipline. However, like arithmetic and sentences, there is much more to CS than coding alone. Computer science embodies a wide variety of skills and practices… many of which can wrapped up into a more complete package called computational thinking. Within the K-12 CS education community, we must build upon the initial message to broaden the understanding and discourse around what students should know about CS today and in the future.

CS: The Need for Teacher PD

The global supply of people with CS skills falls short of current and projected industry demands, and the shortage of K-12 CS teachers leaves a vital part of the pipeline to fill these positions mostly empty. According to a study from Code School, interest in CS careers occurs early, with most programmers and developers showing interest before age 16.  At the same time, a recent Google and Gallup poll reported that only one in four responding schools has a CS teacher. The poll findings further indicated significant differences in access to CS education based on race, gender, and other demographic factors. Without experiences like those offered during CSEdWeek, many students might never find that interest in CS that could lead to future computing careers.

Among other needs, providing an ongoing CS educational experience for students that goes beyond what CSEdWeek can provide requires teachers trained in CS concepts, practices, and pedagogy. Closing the gaps in access to CS education for students will require a great deal of teacher professional development (PD). Currently many, if not the majority, of CS teachers come from other disciplines. It is not uncommon to hear tales from teachers who have had minimal access to CS PD. As the public continues to become more aware of the need and importance of CS skills, we must think about what is required to develop those skills in both students and teachers.

Educated citizens of the new millennium will need CS skills to ensure both economic and social prosperity. There are excellent CS teachers, but growing the supply to meet demand will take many, many more. The PD needs for CS teachers, in response to constant evolution of the field, is not just a short-term challenge. PD needs will be high and ongoing to help increase teacher capabilities and confidence with CS content and practices even as CS itself continues to evolve.

CSTA in CSEdWeek 2015 and the Future

Being new to the Executive Director role at CSTA, the breadth of organizations collaborating on activities during CSEdWeek is inspiring.  It is also interesting to note the many follow-on activities that will provide extensions to those who want to go beyond an Hour of Code™ event. There are TechJams and Hackathons. There are competitions, such as the Cutler-Bell Prize and the Congressional App Challenge. There are other immersive learning experiences, such as the NSA Day of Cyber or Oracle Academy’s JavaOne4Kids coding fair. There will be celebrations of CS happening around the world this week and through the upcoming months.

At the US-national level, CSTA will take a more low-key role in CSEdWeek this year. We are supporting numerous organizations with their initiatives, and our member chapters are participating in many ways. We selected the winners of the Faces of Computing competition, with results being publicized during CSEdWeek. We will go live with a member-based “I AM” campaign to collect pictures and perceptions of CS Teaching as a profession. We are partnering with the College Board to provide PD around the Advanced Placement (AP) CS coursework. We will be present at Hour of Code™ and White House events during the week as well.

Looking past CSEdWeek, members will soon begin to see several changes in CSTA.  Before the end of January CSTA will go live with a new website and member portal. We are working on exciting additions to the annual conference which takes place in San Diego in July 2016. Our strategic initiatives will expand PD offerings, support diversity and teachers new to CS education, increase research, strengthen chapters, and provide new services and benefits for members both in the US and internationally. We also plan to update our branding and governance models in the year ahead as part of revamping our methods of communicating with and engaging members.

Final Remarks

Please take time to explore and enjoy the many different opportunities to learn, engage and have fun during CSEdWeek 2015. Experience an Hour of Code™, and then experience one of the thousands of other events in celebration of CS education. Perhaps write a legislative representative or a school superintendent to ask them to support CS Education. We welcome the opportunity to work with new partners to support CS teacher PD. If you would like to help, please feel free to reach out to organizations like TeachCS or CSTA.

Finally, and most importantly, on behalf of CSTA, I would like to thank our more than 22,000 members across 130 countries for all of their hard work, effort, and dedication to creating a future where students have access to great CS education because of great CS teachers.

Happy CSEdWeek!

Mark R. Nelson, Ph.D., MBA, CAE
Executive Director, Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA)

(Please note, this piece has been cross-posted within LinkedIn).

Why I Joined CSTA

I’m one of the co-chairs of the Membership Committee. While all the committees are responsive to members, it’s our job to think about who our members are, what we can do to support them, and how to grow our membership. I joined CSTA about six years ago when I got my first job teaching Computer Science and I had no idea how I was going to do my job, exactly. Sure, there were things online I could refer to, but I needed real people to respond to my questions and reassure me that I wasn’t going to totally fail.

Joining CSTA got me on the email list immediately, which then meant I had thousands of teachers with a variety of experiences that I could tap into. Even if I just read the emails and didn’t directly ask questions of the list, I could get all kinds of information. Joining also gave me access to resources like the standards, curriculum resources, and research. All of these were helpful to me as I planned my courses.

Of course, I wanted to meet some CS teachers in the flesh, so I signed up for the annual conference, which happened to be fairly close by that year. The cost was so reasonable compared to other conferences I had been to in the past. I also signed up for hands-on workshops that gave me in-depth experience that is hard to get outside of a college classroom. The other sessions gave me ideas and information that I use to this day. More importantly, I met people that I am still connected to and often look forward to seeing every year.

After the conference, I found my local CSTA chapter, and became a regular attendee at their meetings where we could have regular conversations about teaching CS or hear speakers talk about different aspects of teaching. I’m still a regular participant in my local chapter, and its members are friends of mine that I regularly rely on for advice and who I look forward to seeing at our monthly meetings. It’s great that I don’t have to wait for the next annual conference to talk with fellow CS teachers.

I have joined many professional organizations over the course of my career, but more than any other, CSTA feels like home. CSTA people are my people. I know when I am with them, they’re going to understand me and be willing to help. Many CS teachers are the only CS teachers in their schools or even districts. Having an affinity group like CSTA can make teachers not feel like they’re not so alone. Just that is extremely important for teachers.

As a co-chair of the Membership Committee, I ask you to think about what membership in CSTA means to you. What has being a member given you? As you think about it, you might be surprised to find out how much you benefit from your CSTA connections. And if you’re not a member, what are you waiting for? Join now!

CSTA High School Survey Results Are In

The Research Committee has been analyzing the High School survey results from May and below are some of the highlights. A detailed Summary of Results is available on our website.

  • 51% of the survey respondents have computer science teaching experience of 15 years or more
  • 45% of the teachers reported that computer science courses make up 50-75% of their teaching load.
  • 66% of the teachers reported that they are offering a CS principals course
  • 79% of the teachers reported that they offer the APCS A course.
  • 68% of those who offer APCS A course reported that half of their course enrollment are female, and between 20-40% are underrepresented minorities.
  • Majority of the teachers (68%) also reported that CS enrollment has increased in the past 3 years

These statistics are encouraging for the outlook of CS education and what is going on in the High Schools at this time. However, this data is self-reported and we need to examine ways to triangulate the numbers, especially the APCS-A enrollment numbers. We encourage you to view the full summary.

The Research Committee,

Stephanie Hoeppner & Aman Yadav

Artificial Intelligence, Art and Collaboration: Interview with Dr. Kenneth Stanley, UCF

As Computer Science teachers, we can all testify that we have spent hours developing our “hard skills” and using them in the classroom and beyond. Chances are a STEM professional will have been nurtured on computational thinking, mathematics, science and the like, often neglecting the importance of communication, social grace, friendliness and other EQ-related traits. Lately however there’s been a lot of talk about the importance of “soft skills” in the new workplace and “collaboration” is the new keyword in STEM circles. The title of this New York Times article by Claire Cain Miller “Why What You Learn in Preschool Is Crucial at Work” may seem perplexing at first glance; however the reader will soon realize that the fundamental social skills we learn in our early years are equally as important in landing a fulfilling job as our technical expertise. Says Miller: It’s the jobs that combine technical and interpersonal skills that are booming, like being a computer scientist working on a group project.”

A short while after reading the NY Times article, I stumbled upon an interesting video that reverberated the same concept: the talk is titled “Why Greatness Cannot be Planned” and was delivered by Kenneth Stanley last month in the context of the “Collaboration and the Workplace of the Future” summit in Washington DC. Stanley is an Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of Central Florida and one of the creators of Picbreeder, an online collaborative art application that allows pictures to be “bred” almost like animals. I asked Dr. Stanley if he would be willing to be interviewed by e-mail for the CSTA International Community… here’s what he had to say:

Dr. Stanley, I am the International Representative of CSTA, an Association of Computer Science Teachers from all over the world. We’re a diverse community, and we’re looking for ways to build bridges of communication. Is diversity an asset or an obstacle when it comes to collaboration?

Thank you Mina for the opportunity to address the CSTA. I think most professionals would agree that diversity is an asset and I certainly count among them, but the interesting issue is why diversity is so important in particular in creative endeavors. What we’ve found in our research is that a critical component of a successful creative system is its ability to cultivate diverse stepping stones. By stepping stones I mean ideas that lead to other ideas. Creativity in a collaborative group tends to break down or converge prematurely when for example only the stepping stones approved by the leaders or through consensus are brought up for consideration. That premature convergence happens because there are not enough jumping off points to allow the group genuinely to explore the space of possibilities. Unfortunately, as a culture we often strait jacket innovation through just such consensus-driven processes, leading to less creative exploration.

In any case, an important corollary to the insight that diverse stepping stones foster innovation is that of course diverse people are the most likely to generate diverse stepping stones. And that’s a good thing, because the divergence of ideas in a diverse group means that the possible avenues for exploration multiply and expand. So while you may decide individually to pursue a line of inquiry that I never would, in the end your pursuit is good for both of us because your idea could be the stepping stone to my next major discovery. In that way, it’s a good thing that you and I are different because it allows us to lay stepping stones that neither of us would have respectively encountered without such diversity.

(By the way, the research I cited is disclosed in our new book by the same name as the talk you mentioned, Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned: The Myth of the Objective, which is available online at http://www.amazon.com/Why-Greatness-Cannot-Planned-Objective/dp/3319155237 or http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319155234.)

I had never heard of Picbreeder before, and I was really excited to see an application that applies Artificial Intelligence algorithms to such a universal theme as art. Have you witnessed collaboration patterns developing among users of the site? 

We have indeed gained some deep and interesting insights about collaboration from seeing how users behave on Picbreeder. One of the most interesting is that it is important to protect individuals in a collaborative setting so that they can follow their own radical intuitions for a significant time without interference from the group. That is, the most successful collaborations on Picbreeder result from chains of users who individually pursue their own directions eventually to hand off whatever they discover to the next user in the chain. In other words, even in a collaborative setting, periods of individual autonomy play a critical role.

Another insight from Picbreeder is that people almost always benefit from the discoveries of other people quite different from themselves (which ties back to the diversity issue).   For example, someone on Picbreeder bred an image that looks like an alien face, which I personally later bred into a car. Interestingly, I would never have bred the alien face myself, but somehow the car I did breed only became possible because someone else bred the alien face. So in aggregate collaboration is feeding effectively off the collective sharing of stepping stones among many diverse users.

I believe you will be happy to learn that CSTA has a chapter in Florida… and I’m sure you know UCF hosts an annual High School Programming Tournament. What lessons can we learn from the collaboration between K-12 and higher education institutes for the future generation of computer scientists and tech professionals? 

It’s nice to hear of CSTA’s Florida chapter. This is a big question with many possible answers. I think effective teaching at the K-12 level often involves inspiring passion for a subject in the students. That is, it’s a lot easier to learn when you care about the subject matter.   In that spirit, the cutting edge research that happens in higher education can serve as an inspiration for younger students that demonstrates to them just how exciting a particular subject can become down the line. Picbreeder, which packages some pretty advanced technology into an intuitive and entertaining visual form, is an example of how it’s possible to present the cutting edge in a way beginners can appreciate.

On the other hand, the unbounded curiosity and yet-to-be-indoctrinated thinking of K-12 students can also push those in higher grades in new directions. I have the pleasure right now of hosting a 12th-grade participant in one of my lab’s projects. His questions are sometimes so surprising and unanticipated that they pull us back to confronting basic assumptions that we long forgot we had. In that sense, I think the undergraduate and Ph.D. students in my lab are learning perhaps as much from him as he is from them. K-12 students remind those of us long lost in the esoteric details of advanced fields why we were originally inspired to engage those fields in the first place.

Many thanks to Dr. Stanley for the inspiring interview… interestingly enough, even though the original purpose of this post was to reach out to our International Community, I believe his insightful comments touch base with anyone seeking ways to blend a tech-oriented background with the social skills so crucial for collaborating in diverse settings. It’s food for thought.

(which brings us to the next item on my international “agenda”: food! This video portrays a graduate from India who decided to pursue a computer science master’s degree in the USA… apart from the cutting-edge technology, he chose the country for its food! Like art, a topic as universal as food can only spur new opportunities for collaboration; we’ll explore them in my next post for the CSTA international committee).