What do you want to ask 1,200 CS professors?

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With only 1 day to go before SIGCSE, the "Special Interest Group in Computer Science Education" conference and the largest CS education conference in the world, my inbox has been filling with invitations to do this, see that, visit this booth, enter this raffle. For an introvert and first-time SIGCSE attendee like me, it's all a little overwhelming. My own preference is for deep communication, even if the tradeoff means I can't talk with as many people - I'd rather have 5 excellent conversations than 500 handshakes and rocket pitches.

Over the years, I've found writing to be a good way to let me get those deep experiences while also sharing them with a much wider audience - and so myself and a number of Teaching Open Source professors and opensource.com authors have been planning a tag-team effort to cover SIGCSE on opensource.com/education. Familiar faces include Allegheny College and Olin College, as well as Grant Hearn from the University of the Western Cape whom we met in Cape Town and Mihaela Sabin from the University of New Hampshire. Oregon State University's Leslie Hawthorn and Trinity College's Ralph Morelli will be pitching in on coverage of the HFOSS Symposium on humanitarian open source projects, and we're still looking for suggestions and more authors... so if you're looking for a way to get involved with SIGCSE or opensource.com, join the authors list and introduce yourself - this is a great opportunity to get started.

We're gearing up to hit the ground running, notebooks and cameras in hand - and we need your help.

Which sessions should we cover? The schedule is huge, and we want to hit the ones that people are interested in, so take a look and let us know where we should go to find great opensource.com articles.

Who should we interview? I have a video camera and a sound recorder. Matt Jadud has a video camera and a sweet, sweet SLR. There's a giant list of presenters, and even more attendees. Do any of these folks strike you as people with potentially great open source stories to tell? Help us find them!

What do you want to hear about? There are 1,200 CS professors here who specifically care about education - not just research and publishing (although they're often excellent in that area as well). These are the professors who wrote kind replies to your 2am email about problem sets when you were back in college, the ones who tried to do something awesome in every algorithms lecture, the ones who stopped you in the hallway as a senior and helped you find your first job. And some of their students are there as well - undergraduates curious about the design of the learning experiences they're going through, graduate students hoping to become great professors themselves someday.

What are you curious about? What would you like them to know? Let us know in the comments, and we'll do our best to find the answers for you.

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Andrej's picture

I'm currently a second year CS student and this is what I have been wondering about:
Free/libre and open source software is used everywhere now and the use is still spreading like fire. Yet despite this we don't get almost any teachings about FLOSS. Nothing about its methodology and philosophy. They don't even use many FLOSS tools during courses., but you see a lot of them teaching expensive proprietary tools (even they always talk about how short on cash university is). Another thing is that my fellow student are more interested in this new open source technology. So to all it looks to me it would be a big win on several fronts if they used and tought more about FLOSS: students are more interested in it so it would be more fun for us; by making some assignments actually be contributing to some FLOSS project we would also make a real contribution to make a world better place; we would learn about technology that is gaining huge in industry and finally, university could save a lot of money by using free of cost software. And this doesn't even mention all the political and ethical benefits of FLOSS (independence from vendors, empowering people...). Oh and when it comes to this they should also teach more about importance of truly free and open standards, on which information exchange is based.

Glenn's picture

Can software design be taught as a science, or should it be taught as an art ?

nwhittier's picture
Open Enthusiast

I have substantial concerns about the lacking software design/development skills in most crops of CS graduates. These concerns are founded predominantly in hiring and training CS grads over several years in a budding startup. Many say that CS is not about software design/development, and while that may be true, I think it's a problem.

I think that one of the possible solutions for this problem is to integrate open source participation in the standard CS curriculum. However, I am struck by your question, as I had never considered the possibility of an 'art' of software design. Upon reflection, it makes perfect sense, and (not to diminish the point or question) seems almost obvious.

i just wanted to highlight the importance of your question, and thank you for the insight regarding software development as a strange hybrid between science and art.

To attempt a non-answer to your question: I don't think it can be taught exclusively as either, rather it is some combination thereof.

Glenn's picture

Thanks for your kind words, you've inspired me to elaborate :)

Software design is something ive been trying to learn for myself in the last few years, but had been programming for 25 years before i realized its importance.

I assume the design part of software development can be taught, after all, its common for other types of design to be taught.

Part of the problem, is that design is creative, science is logical, different sides of the brain. Im sure it must be difficult for the more creative people to break into such a logic dominated area.

Also, when trying to solve a problem naturally focusing on the big picture (good for design), others on the details (good for science). It might be a rare thing to be able to do both ?

A practical reason why students need some appreciation of design is to be able to better predict soft development effort.

If we can accept that software has a design component, and accept that design is partly creative, then how do we estimate how long it will take to come up with that design component ? Whatever method is used, im sure it will be different than estimating how long to _implement_ that design.

Perhaps building a house is a useful analogy, programmers are like builders, designers are like architects. At the moment i think a lot of software builders are having to be their own architects as well, they havent been trained for it. They are forced to make it up as they go along, its not an ideal situation.

Im sure software design is something we can do better.