Thursday, 15 November 2012

just-in-time vs just-in-case - useful stuff from Tomorrow's Professor

Managing your email is always an issue. Information overload is a peril to academics. that said, keeping up to date is important too.

A few mailing lists make it into my in tray - their use comes in part from careful and occasional (though regular) posts.

Tomorrow's Professor fits the bill, and to illustrate what you get I have included a full copy of a post which arrived in my inbox just today.

Topics vary, but the structure and format of the mails are well thought out. A lesson to all would be spam generators.

The emphasis in the workshop is on "just-in-time" information as opposed to the "just-in-case" material that comprises most new faculty orientations. Besides tips on starting and building a research program and designing and delivering courses, sessions are devoted to dealing with common headaches in the life of a faculty member, including difficulty getting proposals and papers written and accepted; setbacks in research projects such as equipment breakdowns, unproductive research assistants, and loss of funding in mid-project; a wide variety of classroom management and academic advising problems; and cheating.

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The posting below looks describes a very effective four-day orientation workshop for new faculty in the College of Engineering and the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences at North Carolina State University. It is by Rebecca Brent, Education Designs, Inc., and Richard M. Felder, North Carolina State University. Check out Felder's website at:


Rick Reis<>
UP NEXT: Grammar and Syntax Make Their MOOC Debut in Course Taught by Stanford Scientist

Tomorrow's Academic Careers

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Just-In-Time vs. Just-In-Case: Effective Orientation for New Faculty Members

The standard way to prepare people for a faculty career is not to. At most universities, new faculty members go to a campus-wide orientation workshop to be welcomed by the Provost and hear about their insurance and retirement options and the locations and functions of various campus administrative units, and graduate students learn how to work on a research project someone else has defined, but that's about it for academic career preparation. Little or nothing is generally said to either future or current professors about the three questions all new faculty members at research universities have uppermost on their minds: (1) How do I start and build an effective research program? (2) How do I teach? (3) How can I manage to do everything I need to do to get tenure and promotion and still have a life?

This is an absurd state of affairs. Being a tenure-track faculty member at a research university requires doing many things graduate school does not routinely teach, such as how to identify and approach funding sources and write successful proposals to them, compete with famous and well-funded faculty colleagues for good graduate students, design courses and deliver them effectively, write assignments and exams that are both rigorous and fair, deal with classroom management and advising problems and cheating, and learn a campus culture and integrate smoothly into it. Figuring out all those things on one's own is not trivial, and while there is something to be said for trial-and-error learning, it's not efficient. Robert Boice [1] studied the career trajectories of new faculty members and found that roughly 95% of them take between four and five years to get their research productivity and teaching effectiveness to levels that meet institutional standards. A 4–5 year learning curve is long and costly for universities, which invest as much as a million dollars in each new faculty hire, and the costs continue to mount for those faculty members who never manage to become effective at either research or teaching.

Boice also observed, however, that 5% of new faculty members meet or exceed their institutions' expectations for both research and teaching within their first 1–2 years. These quick starters do several things differently from their colleagues, including scheduling regular time for working on scholarly writing and sticking with the schedule, limiting lesson preparation time to less than two hours per hour of lecture (especially after the initial course offering), and networking with colleagues several hours a week, which helps the new faculty members transition into their institutional culture and cultivates advocates for them among those who will eventually vote on their promotion and tenure.[1] The problem is that new faculty members are seldom made aware of those strategies and other things they should be doing to get their research and teaching careers off to a good start. In the absence of appropriate orientation and mentoring, most make the same mistakes 95% of their colleagues make in their first few years, and the 4–5 year learning curve, tremendous stress and anxiety, and sometimes failure to earn tenure are the consequences.

As part of its comprehensive faculty development program,[2] shortly before the start of the Fall 2000 semester the N.C. State University College of Engineering (COE) gave a four-day orientation workshop to its new faculty members, covering essentially all of the topics mentioned in the second paragraph of this column. Since 2001 the workshop has been given jointly to new faculty in the COE and the NCSU College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences (PAMS), and it has now reached 257 faculty members (171 from COE, 86 from PAMS). Most participants were concerned about spending four days at a workshop shortly before the start of their first semester, but they were assured by their department heads and faculty colleagues that it would be worth their time. Those who participated clearly felt that it was: end-of-workshop rating forms have been completed by 238 attendees, who gave the program 209 "excellent," 29 "good," and no "average," "fair," or "poor" ratings.

Open responses in the post-workshop evaluations include many positive comments about the following workshop features:

• Practicality. The emphasis in the workshop is on "just-in-time" information as opposed to the "just-in-case" material that comprises most new faculty orientations. Besides tips on starting and building a research program and designing and delivering courses, sessions are devoted to dealing with common headaches in the life of a faculty member, including difficulty getting proposals and papers written and accepted; setbacks in research projects such as equipment breakdowns, unproductive research assistants, and loss of funding in mid-project; a wide variety of classroom management and academic advising problems; and cheating.

• Interactivity. While there is some lecturing in the workshop, a substantial portion of the four days is occupied with activities. The participants critique research descriptions, proposals, learning objectives, and examinations; work in bi-disciplinary pairs to outline a research project that involves the areas of expertise of both team members,[3] and find resolutions to hypothetical research, teaching, and advising crises. By the end of the first day the participants have clearly formed a learning community that continues to strengthen as the workshop progresses.

• Relevance to the participants' disciplines. Illustrative research and teaching scenarios and a mock NSF panel review are all STEM-related. In fact, a comprehensive workshop like this could not be given to a campus-wide audience, since many of the things faculty members need to know (especially where research is concerned) differ significantly between STEM and non-STEM disciplines.[4]

• Relevance to the local campus culture. The participants learn about what they really need to do to succeed at N.C. State, with the message coming from engineering and science deans and department heads, research support staff, and some of the best STEM researchers and teachers on campus. Most participants leave the workshop with a strong sense that their administrators and senior colleagues are firmly committed to their success. They know where to go when they need help, and they feel comfortable asking for it.

To gauge the impact of the workshop, 32 attendees and nine non-attendees were surveyed three years after they joined the faculty. Attendees outperformed nonattendees in both research productivity and teaching evaluations. When asked to rate their orientation to their new profession, the attendees gave it an average rating of 4.6/5 and the non-attendees rated it 3.4/5. The workshop also plays an important role in faculty recruitment efforts in the two colleges. Candidates have said that its existence was a major factor in their decision to come to N.C. State, since none of the other universities they were considering offered anything comparable.

When we visit other campuses to give teaching seminars we generally mention the workshop to our hosts, observing that its benefits to both new faculty members and their institutions are significant and the total cost of food and facilitators' fees is in the noise level of most institutional budgets. The overhead from a single substantial grant that would not have otherwise been awarded would more than cover the cost, and based on the feedback we have received, there have been many such grants. We don't understand why every research university is not doing something similar for its new faculty members. Does yours? If not, why not?

1. R. Boice, Advice for New Faculty Members, Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, 2000.
2. R. Brent, R.M. Felder, and S.A. Rajala, "Preparing New Faculty Members to be Successful: A No-Brainer and Yet a Radical Concept," Proceedings, 2006 ASEE Annual Meeting, June 2006. <>.
3. D.F. Ollis, R.M. Felder, and R. Brent, "Introducing New Engineering Faculty to Multidisciplinary Research Collaboration," Proceedings, 2002 ASEE Annual Meeting, Montreal, ASEE, June 2002. <>.
4. R.M. Felder, R. Brent, and M.J. Prince, "Engineering Instructional Development: Programs, Best Practices, and Recommendations," J. Engr. Education, 100(1), 89–122 (2011).

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Friday, 28 September 2012

Tools and Tips: getting to grips with writing

A slightly more academic aspect of the sorting out your working life theme is my efforts to make a dent in the academic writing task.
I have always found writing an abstract a great way to kickstart the writing effort, but over the past few weeks I have been working on a rather more systematic approach.
The effort was triggered by good intentions; but the arrival of an email from the Tomorrow's Professor list titled Want to Publish More? Then Train Like an Athlete". really caught my eye, and, I have to say, my imagination….

Perfectionism is a deadly enemy of good performance. It’s like being judged every time you write a sentence or paragraph. It’s far better to go ahead, make mistakes and learn from them. Rather than expecting great output from a burst of frenzied inspiration, the idea behind Boice’s brief regular sessions is to work with moderate daily expectations, knowing this will lead in time to better results.
to be continued...

More workplace tools: expenses and business cards

These are the sort of apps which are really useful when you are travelling….






This week I am continuing my new (academic) year's resolution, and getting systematic over using tools.

Latest hot app to join the ranks of workplace organisation is ExpenseMagic which does what is says. You take photos of your receipts (or upload them or mail them in) and once a month you get a spreadsheet with a summary of all your expenditure. You have to supply a small amount of metadata, but its a great way of systematising the records of what you spend, whether you are going to claim it back, or want to look at it for analysis.  You can pay for the service on a PAYG, monthly of quarterly fee, and for me, the peace of mind and delegated work is much appreciated!


As well as spending money and collecting receipts, travelling to conferences and workshops tends to lead to an accumulation of business cards. 

I already try to use evernote and take pics of people and places where possible; and I have a LinkedIn app to turn my business contacts into my online network. Now I also have a business card reader app (called BCReader!)which very nicely scans the card and lets me save the collected info into a contact in my address book.


Friday, 21 September 2012

Tools and Tricks for a life online - the slow death of Twitter

I'm working hard at the moment juggling a whole load of different (but inter-related) papers which I am writing along with revising this semester's teaching and working on a radically different incarnation of some teaching which I have done in the past. When I have that many things on the go, I find Evernote invaluable, and Twitter is just part of the fabric.
When I wrote about workplace tools in a previous post, I neglected to mention twitter - probably because its use is just an intrinsic part of how I work. I use twitter to find stuff, to keep in touch with my (various and not necessarily inter-related communities of practice (web science; technology enhanced learning;  personal and educational development; workplace and remote friends and colleagues; running and cycling (think serious juggling plus work life balance here). I have Twitter tools on my various devices, and have been  using Twitter with IFTTT to help me build up an archive of useful stuff which I have spotted by saving it in Evernote.
Imagine my disappointment therefore to discover that twitter has decided to self harm to a disastrous extent - of which I learnt courtesy of the IFTTT twitter feed, and the ensuing storm of twitter discussion.

Upcoming changes to Twitter Triggers

We recently sent an email to everyone with a Recipe that uses a Twitter Trigger outlining some upcoming changes to the Twitter Channel. Here’s the full email:
In recent weeks, Twitter has announced policy changes* that will affect how applications and users like yourself can interact with Twitter’s data. As a result of these changes, on September 27th we will be removing all Twitter Triggers, disabling your ability to push tweets to places like email,Evernote and Facebook. All Personal and Shared Recipes using a Twitter Trigger will also be removed. Recipes using Twitter Actions and your ability to post new tweets via IFTTT will continue to work just fine. 

At IFTTT, first and foremost, we want to empower anyone to create connections between literally anything. We’ve still got a long way to go, and to get there we need to make sure that the types of connections that IFTTT enables are aligned with how the original creators want their tools and services to be used. 
We at IFTTT are big Twitter fans and, like yourself, we’ve gotten a lot of value out of the Recipes that use Twitter Triggers. We’re sad to see them go, but remain excited to build features that work within Twitter’s new policy. Thank you for your support and for understanding these upcoming changes. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact us at
Linden Tibbets 
*These Twitter policy changes specifically disallow uploading Twitter Content to a “cloud based service” (Section 4A and include stricter enforcement of the Developer Display Requirements (
This enlightened action of self mutilation comes hot on the heels of twitter announcing that it was ending its tweet syndication partnership with LinkedIn! However a few folk have pointed out that the writing has been on the wall for some time when API guidelines were revised in the spring (see AllThingsD and TechCrunch )
What it means for me, is back to the drawing board and work out another way of hanging on and archiving useful information.  

Monday, 17 September 2012

Women in Technology


Over the summer two female interns who are also undergrads studying in Electronics and Computer Science have been working on reviving ECS.Women as an action and support group for all female undergraduates and post graduates in our area.  

The basic idea is to establish a full programme of activities ready to roll at the beginning of the academic year and to use the internships as a means of creating some momentum to sustain the group's activities and  thus secure its future.

A fundamentatal problem when women are in a minority, is that relying on voluntary activities is inherently risky, because you are seeking a big contribution from a relatively small pool of individuals - a call which can be particularly challenging when those individuals are trying very hard at the same time to work on getting a good phd or a high quality degree.  

I will be pointing at outputs from the internship in future posts, but meantime I wanted to use this post as a pointer to a couple of links

Interesting Blog Post from Tim Chevallier a member of the Haskell community titled "How to exclude women from your technical community: a tutorial". 

The blog includes links to Geek Feminism's WIKI  - resources for Allies and Good sexism comebacks - many of the links in Geek Feminism are understandably US centric, but none the less many others are relevant and helpful to those coming from a European perspective.  


Friday, 22 June 2012

Web Science - what, why, where and how?

As hundreds of folk gather in Evanston, Illinois for the fourth web science conference, its time to ask once more a few defining questions about the topic.

On Wednesday 21st June, I was one of three academics leading a pre-conference workshop titled 'Teaching the Web'.

We had a good turn out for the workshop, although unfortunately it clashed with a meeting of the WSTNet so a few key people were not able to attend

Following on from the workshop I would like to set out a challenge. We discussed how we introduce people to web science and agreed there were a few questions which would like to have answered.

So, your challenge, should you choose to accept it….

  • What is Web Science?
  • Why would students follow web science, what future careers and employment might they follow?
  • Where do you find web science? How is it practiced? and indeed, where is it taught
  • How do we practice web science? What methods do we use?
you could try to answer any or all of the questions,

The answers to these questions can be used to consolidate our understanding of Web Science in a way which can allow us to better design and suggest a plausible model for the Web Science Curriculum.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

In memorium Mark Brummell (1959-2012) RIP

Sad news last night transformed a relaxing evening into an unexpected wake...


Mark Brummell - a rather special cyclist, died when his bike was hit by a car at Ipley Cross on the Beaulieu Road on the edge of the New Forest. Mark regularly went for afternoon bike rides in the forest, so its some consolation to think that he would have had an enjoyable afternoon outing before his untimely death.

Mark Brummell bicycle as rickshaw driver in 2004

The accident happened at about 18.15 on Monday 28th May 2012.   The accident has been widely reported in the local media. The piece in the Southampton Daily Echo from May 30th includes a tribute from local cyclists.  The photo above shows Mark in an uncharacteristically 'smart cyclist' mode was a rickshaw driver when he took us to our wedding in 2004.

Mark was well known and liked amongst the local cycling community, a  long standing member of the Southampton Cycling Campaign. He was previously a popular, conscientious and well respected academic in the Physics Department at the University of Southampton. About 10 years ago he took early retirement from the University because of ill health.  


After that time he dedicated himself to all things bikes which included maintaining, re-building and restoring old cycles working from his home in Shirley. This included some project work refurbishing bikes for people without other means of transport. If you were lucky enough to have your bike handled by Mark it meant that you had passed his (rather opaque) admission interview, and your steed(s) details would be added to his database for future reference.  


His work was always meticulous, and the itemised account which you received after a detailed explanation of how and where all the parts had been sourced would inevitably be written on the back of an envelope.  Mark's afternoon rides were a regular feature and essential part of his working life and would be followed by evening relaxation in the Wellington Arms, in Freemantle where he could replace some well used calories with appropriate quantities of real ale. 


I knew Mark as a friend and very reliable bike mechanic/engineer who was always ready to sort out a problem, and whose rigorous physics background was just the thing when setting up a chain set or building or truing a wheel. He advised me, and cared for many of my bikes over the years, and everyone who I introduced to him agreed with me that he was a lovely and rather special person. One thing is for certain, among his many friends he will be most sorely missed. 


 Mark Brummell, cyclist, physicist 1959-2012. His is survived by an elderly mother and a brother, 

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Something for my masters students

Survey Form:  MSc pre-dissertation survey COMP6029
 when I first meet my Masters project students I like them to complete a short survey which helps me understand their background and expectations of the dissertation.
I am keen to ensure that the practice runs as smoothly as possible and believe that starting from a clear understanding of current experience and expectations can be helpful in this process.
You can complete the survey by following the link  here

Workplace tools

Workplace tools are important, here is a  post about the tools I use and a few new tools which I came across over the easter break when I managed to find some time  to do a bit more reading that usual...
Tools I could not exist without
  • I can get at all my files on any of my computers and any web based computers wherever I am.
  • I can use it to share docs which otherwise live on my personal computers
  • I want to have a seamless backup system
Thank you Janet Carter for introducing me to it :-)
  • there are lots of things going on, and I want to keep note of them.
  • bookmarks, tools etc are distributed and Evernote is in one place.
  • keeping a diary/journal should be as easy as possible.
  • keep pics of info taken on your phone for instant diary/journal notes
  • most importantly work on lots of different devices, be accessible from the web in a synched manner
I use this to keep running notes of my supervision meetings and as a one place for info being collated as I research info - particularly when writing.
  • lets me write my blogs offline
  • organises my tagging
Online/Cloud tools which I use
  • Online service set up a poll and get people to decide when they will come and meet you - no more hopeless negotiating over dates and times 
  • Online service manage admin for small meetings - free if meeting is free
  • Online service use the forms feature to run quick surveys, or collate info on who want's what from a menu when you are organising a social event
  • Use the docs for a quick turnaround on a collaboratively authored piece of writing, there is a great example of that in Mike Wesch's lovely (if a little old now… video 'The vision of students today' (2006))
  • Is the University of Southampton survey tool 
  • install a client on your  desktop
  • use as a reference manager
  • use to share references and establish public citation collections 
  • tool for crowd sourcing related publications
I use this with my project students so i an see how their background research is proceeding
Online service, sets up times on your machine
  •  good idea when you are trying to work on a deadline etc and need to prevent yourself getting distracted...
  • it also has special times - e.g. the 25 mins plus 5 is ideal for half hour meetings
  • An online training tool you can use to log your runs, play games, analyse training
  • Website tools which I don't use, but which I might tell you about
750 words
  • use this to help yourself get into the writing habit. 
Some that look like a good idea ' selectively block web site access
Tools which are not online
from the good folk at the fabulously named literature and latté (although I strictly take my coffee black) I am finding this tool a real winner...
  • the thing to use to help turn notes or blogs into coherent form
  • it lets me organise my writing collecting lots of bits from lots of places
  • it can output to electronic format as well as various others such as PDF and RTF
  • it handles word count, tracking 
  • it have a visual interface to the organiser 
This is a desktop app, there are others with similar functionality
  • everyone needs one secure place to keep lots of info
  • not least to share with their nearest and dearest to ensure that things can be sorted out on your behalf if you are incapacitated, or even after your death (ultimate incapacity)
  • because there is so much info in life 

Friday, 4 May 2012

Spot that Dick(head) - my dream app

Will Spotted Dick be the cyclist's answer to buzzword bingo?

As a regular and long-time  commuter and leisure cyclist, I have become a big fan of the CTC app fill that hole. 

and, as a regular and long time commuter and leisure cyclist I am regularly enraged by the inconsiderate behaviour of fellow road users - and very occasionally pleasantly surprised by acts of consideration and kindness (thank you to the driver who collected a dropped item and drove to return it to me just yesterday)

However… back to 'spot that dick'

"Spot that Dick' This is my dream app which will work in a manner very similar to fill that hole (with a nod of recognition to UK Snow).

When cyclists are subjected to inconsiderate (and very often potentially injurious) behaviour, what better way to deal with it than to record said activity, post an update on Facebook or twitter and log it on a web site with relevant data.

The complete specification is a work in progress, but I am more than happy to explain the rationale 

In the course of the average day, across the uk incidents occur which which will typically evoke the response - ' what a dick!' (well actually typically rather more offensive than that, but I had to be realistic when choosing a name for my dream app.

What sort of things am I talking about - I am talking about the behaviours of drivers as follows

  • drivers consistently stopping taxis and busses in cycle advance areas at junctions
  • drivers paring taxis and cars  in cycle lanes
  • drivers parking their vehicles so they obstruct access/transitions from roads to cycle lanes
  • drivers who steer their vehicles so close to cyclists that they clip them with their wing mirrors as they pass
  • drivers who make cyclists and their bikes unstable because they drive their vehicles within a couple of feet of the cyclist at speed 
  • drivers who decide to accelerate their vehicles past a cyclist and then immediately turn across their path
  • drivers who purposefully use their vehicles as weapons to 'bump' cycles at junctions whist waiting for lights to turn from red to green
  • drivers and occupants of vehicles who shout or scream on purpose to surprise and  'spook' cyclists at junctions
  • occupants of vehicles who throw eggs at cyclists
  • stop suddenly
  • open doors
Is this some wild flight of imagination where I am just fantasising about these behaviours? no - they are all behaviours to which I have been subjected over the past couple of years.
What sort of people think that this type of behaviour is acceptable? in a (mildly abusive) word 'Dickheads'
So I decided that what better repost than to play 'spot that dick' the joy being that when a 'repeat offender' is identified, the cyclist can shout the triumphal claim 'spotted dick'
I can see a whole industry emerging,
  • the app
  • the logo (a steaming spotted dick)
  • the cycling vest with slogan 'I am a dick spotter'
  • the sticker to place of vehicles - announcing publicly that their driver/owner has been 'spotted' as a 'dick'
Now perhaps you ar thinking, at this point that I am one of those out of touch, ageing hippy cyclists, who doesn't understand the real world, and who does not understand exactly what threat cyclists and their offensive cycling behaviour poses to upstanding members of the public.
The thing is, I think there are very good reasons for encouraging cycling, and raising the general awareness of the public of what constitutes acceptable behaviour between cyclists, drivers and the walking public 
  • encouraging and supporting cycling can form a key part of an integrated transport policy
  • supporting individuals to use a bike in preference to a car for short journeys can ease congestion and have a positive environmental impact
  • by reducing the total number of cars of the road around towns, increased cycling can make a city quieter, cleaner and more pleasant for the whole community
  • quieter roads are more welcoming and less intimidating to the novice cyclist
  • parents can realistically cycle their children to school (or encourage them to join a cycling 'school bus') when they are reassured of quiet roads and respectful considerate motorists
  • car free streets and public spaces generate relaxed city centres where pedestrians and cyclists can mix amicably, with mutual respect
  • regular cycling over short distances helps people become more active as an everyday part of life
Are there other reasons/arguments which can be put forward?
 CTC have their safety in numbers campaign
I had originally planned to write this post today - when I dreamed up the idea of my app earlier in the week. This morning, in response to the labour win of Southampton City Council, I posted a tweet
I was disappointed to receive one of the all too predictable responses - explaining to me how many dangerous cyclists an individual had seen that week, fast cycling on pavements, ignoring lights, lack of awareness and signals …"accidents waiting to happen"
Lets look at the evidence

Monday, 5 March 2012

International Women's Day - and (pink) princesses and princes

"Pink Stinks" its not just a website, its also statement which describes a phenomenon which has been troubling me for many years; International Women's day seems to provide a suitable prompt to make me voice my concerns so that they can be discussed and considered.

Much as I despise the abuse of the English language, so too do I despise the 'pinkification' - or rather colour categorisation of young women.

I am saddened and distressed to see girls dressed in pink, but more so when there are few colours to choose from apart from pink. I am saddened and distressed to see girls choosing to dress in pink (and not being ironic about it), and I  am saddened and distressed  when I hear young girls being referred to as princesses - this linguistic categorisation is as offensive to my ears as the rather more easily recognised (yet still not sufficiently challenged) 'tradition' of female genital mutilation.

I find myself half remembering Orwell's essays on the English Language, and wondering at the paralleled unconsidered acts of disempowerment committed as part of our daily ritual. I cannot celebrate any (unconscious) act of cultural disempowerment.

I believe that each child who is made a princess (or prince) is being denied those fundamental human rights of passage which step by step help us make the change from child to self-sufficient adult.

I believe the prince or princess who is adored, protected and idolised is also systematically being denied the everyday lessons and interactions which enable us to function as compassionate, caring, and sentient human beings.

The systematic (unconscious) categorisation and declaration of young females as 'princesses' is in effect a systematic act of disempowerment. Boys too are made into princes, and those individuals also are systematically disempowered.

I am troubled. We do not enter this world fully formed, we learn bit by bit to interact, to crawl, to walk, to utter, to converse. We learn - if we are lucky, that we are equal, and that every one of us is entitled to equal respect… or am I misguided???

I don't know by what miracle I came to adulthood owning such audacious thoughts. Perhaps it was a lucky accident brought about because my parents were children of a wartime era, which had no option but recognise the equal value of each individual, irrespective of social class or gender. Perhaps is was because I had a mother raised in the school of hard knocks, for whom the idea of daughter as princess was as unlikely as the prospect of wealth and lifelong happiness.

Perhaps it was this foundation combined with an adolescent reading list which was accidentally  literate, intellectual and left wing.

Perhaps it was an inevitable impact of the disadvantage of my mother's upbringing from a perspective of poverty recast into the perspective of the feminists and socialists of the early nineteen seventies. Whatever it was, there is something in my very being which believes that we *are* all equal. And I am troubled. Because when I see little girls being dressed in pink, and little buys being dressed in blue, I cannot think that for one it is no different than having a star tattooed into their flesh. And when the dressing continues into a colour coding through childhood and adolescence, I am still more troubled.

Simone de Beavoir spoke eloquently of the 'other', but her story of the 'other' was one which engendered respect.

I am troubled, when I see reported a family who have 'lost their princess' or see a little girl scooped up and forgiven the ordinary manners and social norms of every day life with an en-compassing 'my princess' I am troubled. I fear for the future of that small girl, I fear for the future of our society. Perhaps I will be dismissed - with another cliché - a middle aged women, a granny, an ageing hippy, what do I know of the modern world, or the ways things are. It was ever thus.  Move over and make way for the next generation.  But I am troubled….

I look at the few young women who come into computer science and I wonder why. I look at the female participation in higher education and I am impressed. I look at female achievement in schools and I see that they out perform young men. And then I look at the average salary after graduation and I see that women earn less. I look at the number of women in technical roles and they are under-represented. I look for women in executive roles and they are under-represented. And I am troubled….

And I want to do more analysis. Perhaps those clever women who go to uni, who come into computer science, who get jobs in business make choices, perhaps  they opt out, perhaps they understand that there is something valuable in the work life balance… but then would you not expect some young men to come to similar conclusions...

I am troubled.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Science Fiction in Computer Science Education - or "Do you know what 42 is?"

another wip page - better to post than just save!

Becky Bates, Judy Goldsmith, Valerie Summit, Nanette Veilleux

interesting discussion on how SCiFi can contribute to CS Edu

Valerie Summit Emory University

- first year seminar class


Robots and Robotic - what can robots and robotics do?

Moxon's Master by Ambrose Bierce (1909) - in Can Such Things be - available for free download via amazon for Kindle, also available on Project Guttenberg

A logic named joe Leinster (1946)


Nanette Veilleux - Simmons College in Boston

We were out of our minds with joy David Marusek (1995)

read short stories/novel/articles and discuss

Super Sad True Love Story - Gary Shteyngart screenshot





















'not your father's science fiction'

journal article - talks about social capital (relevant to ash)

ambient stereotype threat


Judy Goldsmith University of Kentucky

ai - read research papers do survey, implement, read scifi book or game review

can write short stories

minority report - emerging sci...

reviewing the reality of the technology

list of options given to student - about half the list is female authors


Rosalyn Berne University of Virginia

nano talk - conversation with scientists and engineers about ethics, meaning and belief in the development of nanotechnology

Humanities/ethics specialist working in university of virginia, engineering and applied science

example of minority report as an ethical novel - in a computer context


Diamond Age


Becky Bates - Minnesota State

quwetions which you can ask which arise from science fiction

what is sentience

are the repilcants sentient

do the human charachters


the computer wore tennis shoes - 1969  cf space odessy

who owns my info?

william gibson pattern recognition, war games neal stephenson, snow crash, super sad love story

intellectual property

ironman 2, counting heads

did hal commit murder? daniel dennet

identify types of agents and explain your decisions THX1138 - film show after star wars


if you want to encode emotions what would you do - star trek - data

Tron, MCP just a greedy growing algorithm

- opportunity for creativity in computer science - opening the mind for learning will have a lot of this information

questions and comments

this was a popular and engaged session which gendered debate, questions and suggestions



observation seems as if it could be a really good agent for crowd sourcing

OU got a scifi author to write censored - cory doctorow -

read the machine stops - E M Forster T100 my digital life <follow up>

Moon - as alternative to 2001

short stories out of I Robot


robopocolypse - what happens if every car in NYC becomes controlled by evil robot?

bicentennial man - disney version of IRobot

what do you think would happen if robots took over the world, no jobs etc etc

see conflict - the last story in IRobot

Iain M Banks books

Monkey Huts Kurt Vennegurt -

SIGCSE 2012 - another outing for the Web Science Curriculum

Web Science (and me) are going to SIGCSE 2012

There is quite a bit of Web Science in the conference this year - although it is hardly taking centre stage.

This blog will be refined over the next couple of days but here we are for starters...

ACM SIGCSE is the Special Interest Croup for Computer Sciecne Education - so as someone who is working in computer science, teaching and researching in computer science and web science, and particularly interested in computer science education and the web science curriculum, you can understand that I would be pitching up to take the pulse of the community.

On top of that, I am able to present the paper which I co-wrote with Michalis Vafopoulos - now of the university of central greece, titled

Web Science: expanding the notion of Computer Science - the paper is in ECS eprints and will also be in the ACM conference proceedings.

This paper develops further some of the ideas expressed in our highly commended paper presented at the 2011 Web Science Conference in Koblenz last year  Negotiating the Web Science Curriculum through Shared Educational Artefacts which is also available from ECS  sprints , direct from the Web Science Trust, or via the ACM digital library.

Web Science Perspectives


Open Meeting of the Special Interest Group on Computers and Society (SIGCAS)

This session is hosted by the current char and the immediate past chair of the ACM Computers and Society Special Interest Group. With the interdisciplinary nature of web science it is always interesting to see how different people are talking about changes. I am hoping to have some time catching up with these folks

SIGCAS is the ACM Special Interest Group that addresses the social and ethical consequences of widespread computer usage. SIGCAS' main goals are to raise awareness about the impact that technology has on society, and to support and advance the efforts of those who are involved in this important work.

Our members are computer professionals from both industry and academia, as well as ethicists, psychologists, sociologists and others. We welcome students from a variety of disciplines. Our areas of involvement include computer ethics, universal access to computer technology, security, privacy, and reliability. We collaborate with other ACM bodies that are engaged in related work, such as USACM, SIGITE and SIGCSE.

Ben Schneiderman provides a testimonial for the group on its web site which is also testament in a way that Web Science definitely belongs in the SIGCAS community, since probably the first time that the ACM community go a formal heads up on the emerging importance of web science and its implications for the broader computer science community was in the paper in CACM which Ben published in 2007 titled Web Science: A Provocative Invitation to Computer Science.

Main Program(me) - a timeline view



Plenary Session
Keynote Speaker: Frederick P. Brooks, Jr.
I have a doctoral student (Jian Shi)  looking at students learning programming - so this is really relevant to his area of study

this presentation took the perspective of designing learning rather than delivering teaching, and there was a lot of emphasis on reframing the learning experience - for example flipping the classroom, and critique approaches.

some time was spent talking about team software engineering projects, and various items of advice on how to run sessions - allocating peer marks from a budget, advertising to get external clients - keeping team sizes at 3,4 and 5 with  preference for 4 team memnberts

recommended book to emerge Peopleware by Decosta - have put it on my Kindle Wishlist! should also put time to read on my wish list ;-)


Computer Science Curriculum 2013 – Reviewing the Strawman Report from the ACM/IEEE-CS Task Force

This is really relevant to the pitch we are making in our paper, so should be interesting.

presenters of a very useful (and well attended) session were Mehran Sahami (stanford) Steve Roach (U Texas at El Paso, Ernesto Cuadros-Vargas, San Pablo Catholic University, David Reed Creigton University

The Strawman report -

There was an introduction from Sahami, followed by a presentation of the Body of Knowledge by David Reed

The body of knowledge is chapter 5 in the Strawman report

The consultation on this has been widely representative of different sizes and types of institution, but entirely US centric.

this may not be true as far as the external reviewers were concerned.

main points which came up - revision of BOK, there is a move away from programming to principles to software development fundamentals which is independent of paradigm

seeks to broaden thinking away from equating programming fundamental with introductory programming courses

information assurance and security

parallel and districted computing

networking and comms - replaces net-centric

platform based development (elective only)

curriculum organisation

there tiered classification of BOK units

Screen Shot 2012 03 01 at 11 17 36






for each of the content areas, the topics are listed  and there is an expectation of certain learning outcomes classed under three broad categories

Screen Shot 2012 03 01 at 11 23 09





special note of interest - software developed by  Ernesto Cuadros-Vargas at San Pablo Catholic University for evaluating existing curricula against the recommended curricula






General Perspectives

Other stuff of interest

Teaching Ethics in Computer Science: Active Learning - workshop



Kent state uni are running a digital sciences interdisciplinary bachelors which may be of interest


Shneiderman, B. 2007. Web Science: A Provocative Invitation to Computer Science. Communications of the ACM, 50 (6), 25-27.

Vafopoulos, M. Web Science Subject Categorization (WSSC) Web Science Trust

Vafopoulos, M. May 16-18 2011. The Web Science Subject Categorization (WSSC). In Proceedings of the ACM WebSci '11, (Koblenz, Germany).

White, S., Croitoru, M., Bazan, S., Cerri, S., Davis, H. C., Jonquet, C., Prini, G., Scharffe, F., Staab, S., Tiropanis, T. and Vafopoulos, M. May 16-18 2011. Negotiating the Web Science Curriculum Development through Shared Educational Artefacts. In Proceedings of the ACM WebSci '11, (Koblenz, Germany).

White, S. and Vafopoulos, M.N. 2012. Web Science: expanding the notion of Computer Science. 43rd ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, 28th February-3rd March 2012 (Rayleigh, NC, 2012).


Monday, 6 February 2012

How we apply sloppy thinking to other people

I am frequently disappointed to learn of ways which people get labelled. As a short, small, woman, who does social science in a computer science department I get to experience what I imaging are the consequences of such labelling.  Of course we can't disown our cultural heritage ( I would be a real 'girls blouse' if I did ;-) There are cultural traditions, sometimes assumptions, sometimes unwritten rules, other time written rules which categorise individuals by their outward appearances rather than the use of actual evidence or clear logical thinking.

Sloppy thinking leads to decisions like the (now overturned) thinking of the International Association of Federations' ruling that Paula Radcliffe's women's world marathon record could not stand because she was 'paced' by a MAN!

Having heard of female students who have been told by their male colleagues that girl's can't program, I thought this illustration from the fabulous xkcd was just the ticket








Young People and the Internet

I am highly sceptical of the so called phenomena of 'digital native'. I also think that pundits, commentators, academics and researchers should beware of generalising from the leisure habits of teenagers. For that reason, those who are about to engage in future gazing, and the debate about young people's use of the internet and new media might want to familiarise themselves with some existing investigations of web and internet use.



















Take a look at the Pew Foundation:

The Pew foundation in the US funds a lot of research into (North American) young people's use of the internet and social media, mostly just usage figures. Worth browsing their archives e.g.

FutureLab has funded a few studies in the UK, and have a slightly more qualitative bias.


David Gauntlet published and researches some interesting stuff on identity and the Internet, see for example

Identity in Cyberspace

Danah Boyd:Taken Out of Context: American Teen Sociality in Networked Publics


Computer Science Conferences and Deadlines

note for ref - review


  • ITICSE deadline
  • Australasian Computing Education Conference (Jan/Feb)
  • FIE Abstract Deadline




  • SIGCSE (US, Feb/Mar)


ICER deadline



  • ITICSE (Europe)
  • Koli Calling Deadline



  • Australasian Computing Education Conference deadline


  • SIGCSE Deadline
  • ICER (date and location varies - May-Sept)


  • FIE (North America - mostly US)


  • Koli Calling (Finland)


Monday, 16 January 2012


One of the modules I teach is research methods to our Web Science Masters - we cover qualitative and quantitative methods

I like this




Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Testing my google form

sometimes you have to use your blog for less than glamorous tasks which are related to everyday life.


Here is a link to a web form which I am testing at the moment



I promise to share insights and reflections in my next post - maybe even a bit of web science.


Meanwhile I am afraid its all rather head's down in Shirley as I deal with the tail end of the first semester teaching and get  bid finished - hey ho