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Illinois Computer Science Summer Teaching Workshop Presents Innovative Approaches to Teaching the Subject | Computer Science

From August 15-16, the second Illinois Computer Science Summer Teaching Workshop will take place virtually, with the straightforward motivation of engaging the computer science teaching community with an interactive approach to teaching best practices and presenting new ideas.

Abdussalam Alawini
Abdussalam Alawini

Building on last year’s inaugural event, the organizing committee said their hopes for this year’s workshop lie in a series of concepts that make the event relevant to so many in the profession: challenging the status quo, proposing new directions, rejecting existing assumptions, advocating for new methods, and presenting surprising or preliminary results.

Building on a strength that exists right here at Illinois CS, the organizing committee wanted to tap into this department’s emphasized teaching methods while inviting others to share their own insights.

More information can be found on the workshop website, which will soon present a registration method.

Last year, about 200 attendees consumed content from 16 speakers. This year, the organizing committee hopes for even more attendees to watch the 19 talks as well as a virtual program full of networking and collaboration opportunities.

“I clearly remember how this whole conversation started before last year’s workshop,” said Abdu Alawini, Illinois CS professor and organizing committee chair. “We, as teaching faculty, are trying to find ways to spread the innovations in teaching CS that we have developed right here. Someone asked, ‘Why don’t we start a workshop where we encourage our own faculty to demonstrate in the world are we doing?’

“In the process, we expanded that thought to invite others to speak as well, so we could learn from their perspectives in the same space.”

In recent years, the teaching of computer science has undergone many changes. And Illinois CS is at the forefront of an answer.

For example, Illinois CS professor Craig Zilles helped revolutionize how students take exams and do homework using PrairieLearn, a tool developed for online assessment. Continuing that, another Illinois CS professor and invited workshop speaker, Geoffrey Challen, will present the website he built just to automate one of his own courses.

The three faculty members who make up the organizing committee of this workshop also fully understand the ongoing changes in CS teaching.

Alawini joined the Illinois CS faculty in 2018, and quickly realized how entrenched teaching innovation is here.

“I was challenged and pushed to change here from the moment I started teaching my main course on database systems,” said Alawini. “When I started the course, my exams were paper based. There is no collaborative learning component; instead, it is a traditional, one-hour lecture. In a few short semesters, I adapted this class to the point that it was fully automated with online assessments and collaborative learning activities.

“Along the way, I learned a lot from my colleagues. But I also learned a lot from my students – many of whom taught me our own PrairieLearn system for online assessment, for which they are developers.

Yael Gertner
Yael Gertner

Meanwhile, Illinois CS associate professor Yael Gertner joined the faculty here in 2020, and she teaches in the iCAN program.

Designed for students with a bachelor’s degree in any field other than computer science, iCAN is a one-year graduate-certificate program that serves as a unique entry for those with an interest in the computer sector. Its goal is to expand participation in computing using a curriculum that emphasizes collaboration and mentorship and that includes a capstone experience.

“The main goal of iCAN is to empower students by teaching them the basics, so that they can succeed in computing and in their chosen path. We want our students to feel included and that they have more to contribute to the field.

During the same period, professor Brad Solomon witnessed significant progress in his data structure course.

Coming to Illinois CS from a school where 100 students per class is considered large, Solomon must learn how to respond to a group that will include 1,2000 students in the upcoming semester of autumn.

Brad Solomon
Brad Solomon

“The trick is to combine that reality with many of my teaching interests – things like communicating feedback, increasing personal interactions, allowing for group projects, and providing clear opportunities for teaching. and guidance,” Solomon said. “My goal is to try to account for this and increase resources, so that we can do a course like this with the opportunity to still participate on an individual level despite the high number of students.”

This year’s workshop theme – Feedback, Online Assessment, and Building an Inclusive Classroom – builds on many classroom experiences here at Illinois CS. Similar ideas and challenges are often expressed by teachers teaching at other schools, too.

“This means faculty — from teaching faculty to tenure track faculty — and all people who teach computer science are welcome,” Alawini said. “The workshop is relevant to graduate students who help teach courses, or, anyone who wants to learn about the field and how to best practice it.

“Even if you are not a CS teacher, but your research focuses on CS education, we hope you will attend.”

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