Conference Roundup

So I’m done with conferences for the summer.  Thank goodness.  I learned a lot about my field and about myself at these conferences.  First, myself:

  • I don’t like big.  Smaller and more intimate works better for me.
  • I still feel like an outsider, though less like one than I did last year.
  • As an outsider, I’m more likely to a) be annoyed by an insider mentality; and b) to express that annoyance.
  • People in my field bristle a little when they find out I don’t have a degree in said field.  They see me as part of the problem. More on that later.
  • As much as I like professional development, I enjoy being with my family more.

Now for my field.  Computer Science has an image problem.  That became abundantly clear at both CS conference events I attended.  Here are some things that will help (IMHO):

  • Quit saying there’s one. right. way. to teach CS.  In other words, quit trying to replicate yourself.  The presentations were filled with people trying new and cool ways of teaching CS.  In conversations, however, you’d hear the same kinds of discussions: objects before recursion, this language over that language, this IDE* over that IDE (having only used two IDE’s in my life, I had no idea there were so many).  Often, people would say, I learned x way.
  • Get into social media.  Start a blog.  Use Twitter or Google+ or something.  Social media is the biggest way that regular people interact with technology.  If Computer Scientists aren’t there, then they may as well be invisible.  A keynote speaker (who had a blog) asked how many of us had blogs.  About 10 people raised their hands out of 200-300 people in the room.
  • Yes, embrace your geekiness.  It’s all to the good to make geekiness less stigmatized.  But also recognize when you’ve gone over a line.  If all you can talk about is Computer Science and playing Magic, you need to get out more.  Be able to talk politics, entertainment, etc.  Better yet, connect your field to these areas.  Someone might be interested.
  • The room was about 50 percent female–hooray.  But the keynote speakers–both white guys.  At another conference, every session I went to was run by white guys (some with ponytails) except for the session on recruiting women to STEM.  Also women tended to sit with women and men with men.  Grown people segregating by gender.  Sigh.  Get more women–and minorities–into speaking roles.
  • Quit being defeatist.  Stop saying I can’t, my school won’t, etc.  Just do.  Sneak in Computer Science where you can.  I saw many people who’d done that, and that often made the difference in having to teach classes on excel and getting to teach real CS.
  • Quit selling your soul to Microsoft and Google. I get it.  They pony up a lot of money for these conferences, which is all to the good.  I liked having good food and great speakers (who I’m sure cost a bundle).  But every other session cannot be about this Microsoft platform or that Google platform.  Make sure there’s some balance in your sessions and that you have people presenting on technologies that are open and free and cross-platform.  That’s the future, after all.  And Google and Microsoft, if you want more CS students, open up.  Let students develop in whatever language or platform they want, as long as the end product works on your platform.  (Notice that Apple is not at the table here–which is interesting in and of itself).

I enjoyed this last conference.  I met some very nice people, many of whom have similar issues to mine.  The keynotes were fabulous.  But I did get into a little bit of an argument on the first day with a “there’s one right way to teach” person.  And I must say, I wasn’t the only one who took this person to task.  Basically, we pointed out that none of us would be there if we followed her method (of certifying teachers).  It’s hard enough finding people with CS degrees willing to teach much less putting additional requirements (that are *not* necessary) in the way.  I’m just going to keep plugging away at what I’m doing.  I got some really good ideas that I hope to implement as early as this year.  I’m looking forward to seeing how things go.

3 Replies to “Conference Roundup”

  1. I hate the “there’s one right way to teach X” mentality. It crops up in so many fields and it’s an acute failure of pedagogy. If you’re not incorporating multiple approaches to teaching a subject, you’re only ensuring that more students feel left out and alienated from pursuing the subject much further.

  2. Yep–and science fields seem to be worse about this. Though I’ve seen it in composition too.

  3. First of all, I love that you enjoy professional development but would rather spend time with your family. Especially given your kids’ ages, that made me smile.

    I think the ‘one way to teach’ mentality goes along with the insider/outsider issue. If we set up boundaries then we can keep people out and make ourselves feel better, more powerful, superior, whatever.

    Finally, it seems to me that you demonstrate exactly what we want teachers (in any area) to be – continual learners and constantly growing in our fields.

Comments are closed.