Why are We Here?

questions-2212771_1920.jpgThis is a question that I think should be asked more often, because if you have a better grasp on why then you might make more informed decisions about what to do. We will give a set of seminars on the “Why are We Here” theme in connection with Anne Peters defending her PhD thesis Learning Computing at University: Identity and Participation: A Longitudinal study. The seminars will be held on November 30 and December 1 followed by Annes defence after lunch on December 1 at Uppsala University. Please feel welcome to come and listen and discuss.



Early Reflections about the ITiS Project


I have just looked at the second reflection made by the students in my groups regarding the start of the project in the IT in Society course. It has been an interesting read that give some insights into the challenges for the students, but also for us as faculty running such a course. Here area few of my observations:

A student points out that they are not supposed to create a product and that this is something they are not used to. The student also muses that this might make it hard to work on the project, for instance since they will only cover the start of the project. I did find this intriguing as it reminded me of the discussion regarding product vs process as the assessing unit in a course unit. I think there are merits and weaknesses with either extreme, but argue that a combination is generally advisable. Another aspect is the interpretation of product, since I think this concept is much broader that an artefact (or running program). For instance, the students in the IT in Society course will write a report for the client and to not view this as a product is interesting to me. Perhaps we should be better at conveying different views on what a product can be.

Another interesting observation is that an added complexity of the task is that it is not enough that the members of a group understand the plan for the work, which they are what they are used to. This is, I think, similar to another student pointing out that the project will be more tougher than first assumed (due to no programming). One student makes a clear reference to open-ended problems, which is something that we have written quite extensively about (here are a few examples: The Contribution of Open Ended Group Project to International Student Collaborations, Open Ended Group Projects a ‘Tool” for More Effective Teaching, Open-Ended Projects Opened Up – Aspects of Openness (to be presented at ASEE/IEEE FIE in three weeks), and Developing and Assessing Professional Competencies: a Pipe Dream?)

Most identifies cultural differences as a risk in the project and point out the excellent seminar hold by Helena Bernáld on this issue. An interesting manifestation of this is that three out of four group leaders are Americans, despite the fact that they have less time in their study plan for the collaboration and that they are only a third of the students in the project. This fact is definitely something for the student group to be aware of as it could influence the pace of the project. It was also interesting to note that the student assumed this was ok since we’ve run the collaboration for many years and thus would know that this would not be a problem. This comment indicate to me that there is a view that there are a recipe for how to conduct a project of this kind, rather than there being some generally good advise that would be helpful given that they are adapted to a particular setting.


IT in Society 2017 – Project start

The kick-off week in the IT in Society course is approaching its end. Nine students from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, Terre Haute, Indiana, USA are here to start a collaboration with twenty students at Uppsala University. Their task this semester is to investigate the issue of positioning in a major hospital. It will be interesting to hear them tomorrow when they will present their ideas for how they will approach this issue this semester to the clients. The clients are centrally placed at the hospital, including the Chief Digital Officer at Uppsala University Hospital and also leading persons at the Department of Electronic Medical Records at the County Council of Uppsala.

It is interesting how the setting provide a win-win situation. The gain for the clients include getting a different, and holistic, perspective on for them important aspects of their enterprise. Our cooperation stretches back to 2005, which we see as a good indicator that our clients value what our students do. The gain for the students is the development of for them relevant professional competencies, especially for those that truly engage in the project. Perhaps the most essential is to learn how to deal with open-ended problems, where they need to deal with complexities and uncertainties which prevent them from jumping right into coming up with solutions. A gain for then faculty is that each year is different presenting new challenges and opportunities to learn about how to support students in their development of professional competencies.


Measuring the “unmeasurable” – shooting oneself in the foot?

fractal-1232491_1280.jpgGave a lecture on the Computer Science Education Research course here at Uppsala University this week. What I tried to convey were different aspects on measuring in the context of doing computing/engineering education research. I did that in the context of my efforts of trying to shed more light on the development of professional competencies in degree programs, an area that is ripe with complexity and aspects where ways to measure is far from obvious.

While preparing for the lecture, or rather discussion seminar, I became somewhat cynic and wondered if pursuing research in complex environments where measurements typically have a subjective touch is just stupid. Wouldn’t it be better to look into things where one can identify clearly measurable aspects that reviewers will recognise and feel comfortable with and thus have a better chance of getting work published? Nah, not if this meant that what I could research would be limited to simple and uninteresting things.

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t think all measurable things are simple and uninteresting, just that there is a danger that it could be so. I think that there is a risk that what is looked at has to be reduced, or confined, to a level where what is measured more or less loses meaning. My advice, – easy to say, much harder to do -, was to strive for balance between the complexity of issues to research and possibilities to “measure”. I think such a balance could be achieved by searching for tools and theories suitable for addressing aspects of a complex issue, aspects that are of interest and provides interesting insights into the issue. I didn’t use this “map” (made by Roger McDermott, Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen, UK, in his presentation of our paper “Investigation into the Personal Epistemology of Computer Science Students” at ITiCSE in Canterbury 2013), but it would have been a good illustration to inspire discussions about this.


FIE again

meeting-1019875_1920.jpgJust got word about the fourth paper and it also got accepted with minor revisions. This paper, A framework for writing personal learning agreements, is an outcome of project we got from Uppsala University. We have had two students helping us develop a system for supporting learning agreements in the IT in Society course. Part of the support we will provide is definitions of professional competencies and ideas for what to do in order to develop the chosen competencies. The perhaps more interesting support is the use of personas and scenarios to help identify with developing professional competencies. Read the paper


Yesterday I was at a party celebrating my former PhD-student, Mattias Wiggberg, turning 40 (his thesis is entitled Computer science project courses – contrasting students’ experiences with teachers’ expectations). Apart from having a generally nice time I also stumbled across opportunities. I meet someone from the Swedish patent and registration office and got to know that they have a drive to educate regarding patent this year. They give these for free   🙂    I also chatted with someone who will start at an Author school next semester and got a chance to discuss developing and assessing competencies. Will keep contact and hear more how that is done and experienced from a student perspective. Anyway, going to parties can be quite rewarding.

Papers for Frontiers in Education, 2016

FIE 2016 CFP postcardI have four paper abstracts and one panel proposal accepted for the ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education (FIE)  conference to be held in Erie, Pennsylvania, USA in October 12-15. So far I have got notice that the panel Developments in global software education has been accepted with minor revisions, that the paper Students envisioning their future has been accepted, and that the papers A critical analysis of trends in student-centric engineering education and their implications for learning and Aligning quality assurance at the course unit and educational program levels both have been accepted with minor revisions. I am waiting to hear about the A framework for writing personal learning agreements  paper. Feels good so far   🙂

Keynote Speaker at ITiCSE

ITiCSEI hope you will be attending ITiCSE in Peru this summer, since I’m one of the keynote speakers and want a big audience!!

I will address how I view the identities of teachers and students interfering with integration of development of professional competencies in degree programs. I will give examples from our research and my experience that illustrates the difficulties and outline some potential interventions that might lead to changes. My hope is that this talk will result in many fruitful discussions, both at the talk and afterwards.