guido's blog

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Wednesday Keynote Speaker Revealed

I can now reveal one of our two keynote speakers - a person that I am sure many of you have met, read about (or from), and heard of: Mark Guzdial from the Georgia Institute of Technology. Many of you probably have read about Mark's efforts on media computation, as well as on contextualized support for learning and (of course) his very interesting Computing Education Blog. Of course, active SIGCSE members are likely to know, and appreciate, his efforts on behalf of SIGCSE.

For those who do not know Mark, here is a brief biography:
Mark Guzdial is a Professor in the School of Interactive Computing in the College of Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology. His research focuses on learning sciences and technology, specifically, computing education research. He has published several books on the use of media as a context for learning computing. He was the original developer of the "Swiki" which was the first wiki designed for educational use. He received the Ph.D. degree in Education and Computer Science from the University of Michigan in 1993. He serves on the both ACM's Education Board and the Special Interest Group in CS Education (SIGCSE) Board, and is on the editorial boards of the Journal of the Learning Sciences, ACM Transactions on Computing Education, and Communications of the ACM.

Mark will give us a keynote on Wednesday titled Technology for Teaching the Rest of Us. Here's what you can expect to hear, to whet your appetite:

The motivated student is easy to teach. You facilitate learning and get out of the way. It's much more challenging to teach the student who is less motivated, or who needs knowledge to support their main interest. Think of the graphics designer who chooses to learn scripting to make their job easier, but doesn't want to learn to "program" and whose many (simple) mistakes cost valuable time. Think of the secondary-school business teacher who wants to teach computer science, but who doesn't want to learn to be a professional programmer. The number of people who need some knowledge of a domain may be much greater than those who need expertise in that domain. Providing learning opportunities tailored to the needs and interests of the learner, potentially motivating that interest where necessary, is a great and important challenge in an increasingly technological society. My talk will describe characteristics of these challenges and suggest where computing technologies and computing education research insights may provide solutions.

I am sure that his keynote will be one of the highlights in the conference!

Poster deadline extended

The deadline for posters (and associated with this also for tips, techniques and courseware) was extended from March 11 to March 18.

Why? This year, we received a very large number of very good submissions - more than we can possibly accommodate in the conference program. For many of these, it would be a shame if they could not be presented to attendees, but there is a limit to the number of papers we can sensibly offer at the conference. We have therefore decided that we will invite several authors of (very) good papers that did not fit into the program to submit a poster about their idea, tool, study, or approach.

Additionally, everybody else is also invited to submit a one-page poster (which is a refereed submission and included in the proceedings, if accepted!). However, we noticed that the original deadline of March 11 collided with the ACM SIGCSE Symposium. Since many conference possible poster submitters are also likely to attend the Symposium, this is very unfortunate - especially for those authors who want to strip down their paper submission to a poster, but are unsure how they shall be able to accomplish that. By extending the deadline by one week, we hope that everybody's life will become a little bit easier, and that it will also lead to more (and more high-quality) poster submission. "Everybody wins" :-)

I look forward to your poster submissions and to meeting you in person this summer!

Guido Rößling

The review process is nearing its end...

After a long effort, the review process is now approaching its end. We have received 169 submissions, nearly all of which were sufficiently good that they could be considered for publication. Using a large number of volunteer reviews, we now have at between four and six reviews for all submissions. The program co-chairs and the conference chair have already begun to examine all review results, and are now working hard at making the decisions on which papers to accept, and how to place papers in sessions.

This problem is harder than it looks at first glance. We (obviously) aim to have the "optimal" conference program based on the submissions and reviews we have received. What does that mean (in a non-scientific, off-my-head, not empirically validated or researched way)?

Exactly "the best papers" are accepted
Ideally, if the conference has space for (say) 60 papers, the 60 best papers will be selected. However, what does "best" mean? Do we simply use the average rating, or a normalized rating that ignores outliers (as done, for example, in ice skating)? Or should we check outliers personally, read the paper, and decide if the outlier should be discarded or not? How do we factor in higher or lower reviewer familiarity? Also, if the last "best papers" belong to a group with the same net rating, how do we decide which ones to take and which ones to reject with regrets?

As you can see, a one-dimensional numerical rating may not be good enough.

The conference program should ideally offer at least one session at any time slot that has something that interests each concrete attendee
Since the interest areas of attendees vary significantly, it is easy to see that this is hard (if not impossible) to achieve for "each attendee". We try to provide a program that has parallel sessions with no "obvious" overlap; for example, if there are two sessions that address "ideas for CS1/2", they will not be placed at the same time slot. However, some combined interests are difficult to predict!
Avoid parallel presentations of the same presenter in different sessions
This is normally easy to do at first glance, but actually does involve some work in cross-checking all entries scheduled in parallel to avoid that the same person or author "team" has two papers in parallel sessions. Even then, we cannot easily tell if the two papers will actually be presented by the same author...
Reduce the number of people who want to "change sessions" during a session
In principle, we support attendees who want to swap sessions during a session, for example by attending the first presentation in session A and then change for paper 2 to session B. The session chairs will strive to make this possible by scheduling papers to start at the same time slots in all sessions. Due to the unrest this causes (people rushing in and out during a session, looking for a free chair, etc.), we want to reduce the amount of "cross-session traffic" - but again, we cannot easily predict all attendees' interest areas.
Provide engaging and well-matched sessions
By this, I mean that we want to avoid "hodgepodge" session with at least one "outlier" presentation. For example, two papers present using Lego MindStorms, and the third paper discusses how one can simulate real processors in software. This should be avoided to the extent possible, as it may confuse the attendees, and may also reduce the interest in the complete session: people who are interested in one topic may not care for the other, and either leave early (or come in late), or not show up at all.

In some cases, this will also contradict - to a degree - the "best paper" criterion above: sometimes a paper which is good or very good, but not quite in the "top N" paper range, should be chosen to "flesh out" a session, instead of putting in a (potentially "better") submission that simply does not fit in. Of course, we strive to keep this to the absolute minimum possible!

More details on Working Group announced

Today's change may at first glance be easy to miss. Each of the three great Working Groups that we will host at ITiCSE 2011 now has its own subpage. The pages are directly shown in the "primary links" on the left, as well as on the fold-out menu for "Authors". On each page, you will find...

  • information on the Working Group leaders and a link to their home page, to give you a better impression of who is leading the groups and a look at their recent research and publications,
  • a brief summary of the Working Group goals and plans,
  • information on how to join the Working Group,
  • and last but not least the full text of the Working Group proposal in PDF format, which gives more information than the summary.

Based on this information, finding the best Working Group should be much easier for prospective members. Based on my own experience from the last 10 years of ITiCSE, a Working Group is a really intensive experience that you would be sorry to miss...!

Working Group topics announced

The accepted working group topics have now been announced, and the reviewer feedback should simultaneously be on its way to the proposers. We are glad to have three highly attractive and separate Working Group topics this year:

WG 1: Motivating All Our Students?
This Working Group, led by Janet Carter from the University of Kent at Canterbury (UK), will continue the work of last year's Working Group which had already gathered more than 150 references. They plan to conduct comparable interviews with academics and then compare the results for underlying common issues, problems and themes. The results of this process will provide the shape for the final report.
WG 2: Informatics in Secondary Education
This Working Group, led by four well-established German computer science education researchers, will collect, evaluate, integrate and present research findings about Informatics in secondary schools, based on a theoretical framework for the synopsis. As a result, they expect a comparison of the effects of different organizational conditions, teaching approaches, curricula, teaching methods of Informatics courses in secondary schools in different countries.
WG 3: Information Assurance Education in Two and Four-Year Institutions
This Working Group, led by three of the co-leaders for the last two related Working Groups, will build on the work of the 2009 and 2010 working groups on information assurance (IA) education. The focus of the 2011 working group is the examination of the educational missions and curricula of two and four-year institutions with respect to IA education. More specifically, this working group will define and describe the distinct and complementary missions of two and four-year institutions with respect to IA education, describe the differences and similarities of the educational programs at two and four-year institutions, and document the challenges and opportunities for IA course articulation between two and four-year institutions.

I am certain that these three topics will find a high number of interested participants who will apply to be a member. You should certainly consider joining a Working Group! I personally have found this to be an exhilarating, if also exhausting, intensive experience that I will only miss this year because my administrative duties to the conference prevent my joining a Working Group.

Why are there only 3 Working Groups in 2011?

It is regrettable and at first glance surprising that only three Working Group proposals were accepted for ITiCSE 2011. To dispell a potential myth: we did not arbitrarily reject any submissions, nor were we limited by the number of rooms to "at most 3 groups. Instead, only three Working Group proposals were submitted.

So why were there only three submission?

Here are five theories on this; I will leave it up to the reader to decide for themselves whether any of them contributed, and if so, to what degree, to this low number:

  1. The economic situation in many universities has deteriorated or stagnated compared to its level one year ago in January 2010. At the time that Working Groups were submitted for Ankara, Turkey (due January 15, 2010), some university departments may not have felt the economic downturn as drastically as since then, with cuts in support in place in several universities.
  2. The conference location might be believed to be less attractive or less well-known than in previous years, when ITiCSE went to three capitals in sequence: Madrid (2008), Paris (2009), and Ankara (2010). Of course, Darmstadt, which is a nice and small town by any means, cannot be compared with Paris France, and similarly, the three submissions should not be compared with the surprising all-time submission record of 14 Working Groups for Paris, France - because, well, that was Paris, France, and was likely to attract a high number of interested participants!
  3. Over the last years, the number of Working Groups has been variable (the numbers reflect what I could research on the web and may not be totally accurate):
    Conference Location WGs
    ITiCSE 1996 Barcelona, Spain 5
    ITiCSE 1997 Uppsala, Sweden 7
    ITiCSE 1998 Dublin, Ireland 5
    ITiCSE 1999 Cracow, Poland 8
    ITiCSE 2000 Helsinki, Finland 6
    ITiCSE 2001 Canterbury, UK 3
    ITiCSE 2002 Ârhus, Denmark 5
    ITiCSE 2003 Thessaloniki, Greece 4
    ITiCSE 2004 Leeds, UK 1
    ITiCSE 2005 Monte da Caparica, Portugal 5
    ITiCSE 2006 Bologna, Italy 6
    ITiCSE 2007 Dundee, Scotland 6
    ITiCSE 2008 Madrid, Spain 7
    ITiCSE 2009 Paris, France 6 (14)
    ITiCSE 2010 Ankara, Turkey 8
    ITiCSE 2011 Darmstadt 3

    Thus, even in the past, the numbers have been variable, with only three or four Working Groups in 2001 and 2003, and only a single Working Group in 2004. In total, this makes 85 Working Groups, or an average 5.3 per year. Perhaps the low number this year is "simple statistics": several above-average years (2008-2010) are followed by a "below-average" year to balance out, as also happened in 1998/1999 to 2011, and again from 2002/2003 to 2004.

  4. Some topics may be "finished" based on the last year report, or "typical" authors may be prevented from proposing a Working Group this year. (This is more praise for the work done in past years than anything else). At least two persons who have always been highly likely to submit a Working Group are also simply unable to do so this year - namely, Tom Naps (who took part in, and often (co-)lead, nine Working Groups) and me (six co-led Working Groups). Since Tom is one of the two program co-chairs, and I am conference chair for ITiCSE 2011, we both cannot fully support a Working Group, and thus also did not submit a proposal (which I would otherwise certainly have done!). Other authors may have been prevented from submitting a proposal because their personal schedule did not allow for a Working Group this year.
  5. Finally, ACM has changed its publication policy regarding Working Group reports last year - after the submission (and acceptance) deadline. Before 2010, a Working Group would submit its final report to the Working Group coordinators, who would review it in person or send it along to reviewers. If a given report was accepted, it was assured to be printed in the SIGCSE inroads, which at that time was a newsletter. In this way, up to 8 reports were printed in a given year (see the table above).

    In 2009 or 2010, inroads changed its status from "newsletter" to "magazine", which prevents the printing of all reports. Instead, the SIGCSE board decided in September 2010 (after the final reports were handed in) that only the two best of the accepted working group reports would be formally published in the March (2011) inroads issue, with the other reports planned to be published in some other venue (but in the end also in the ACM Digital Library). This change in policy is also in effect for ITiCSE 2011, since it is a decision of the SIGCSE board and not of the conference, program, or working group chair(s).

    This may well have had an effect on the perceived interest in submitting a proposal. Where before, a publication that "would count" for the university was (almost) assured, the situation has both improved - for the lucky two best reports - and worsened - for the others.

I am not sure that we will ever fully figure out to what percentage these aspects contributed, and what other aspects I may have overlooked. Your comments, however, are very welcome! Please send them to

Another web page work day :-)

Today was (well... still is) another day of working on the conference web page. Two days ago, I wrote a page on the history of Darmstadt (found at Attendees -> Darmstadt -> Town History).

Additionally, and of probably more interest to potential attendees, we now have a small "tour book" that collects a selection of the sights of Darmstadt. At the moment, this only covers a negligibly small portion of the city center (less than a kilometer of length), but already contains six pages describing and in many cases showing sights of interest. I have tried to place these elements in their historic context by providing the "ancestry" of the buildings wherever I could find this information. I hope that you will enjoy looking at these pages and that they will increase your interest in visiting my home town this summer!

How new is the conference center?

The conference center was designed in 2008 and finally opened in 2007-2008, and thus is still very new. In fact, it is obviously much younger than Google's satellite imagery: as of today, the maps we use to illustrate the location only show an empty pit in the location of the conference center. But that is only fair: they also do not show the new entrance area to the TU Darmstadt karo 5 (that locals affectionately call "Super-Tanke", or "super gas station"), either...

Web page work day!

Today seems to be the web page work day for me. Since I could not drive to the university due to a solid but thin sheet of ice covering the car and especially all roads, I decided I might as well work on the conference web page.

Here are some of the things that have happened to the web page today:

  • Detailed maps for each hotel have been provided on the accommodation page, as described in an earlier blog entry.
  • My chair's blog has been started. You can find it in the top navigation links under "Blog" (and you did find it - otherwise you would not read this!).
  • Some incorrect links were corrected.
  • The Call for Participation and submission guidelines pages now clearly state that the deadlines for submitting papers, panels, and working groups is now over.
  • The working groups page as been altered to reflect that while the submission deadline is over, the review deadline has not yet been reached. We anticipate that we will be able to announce the accepted working groups in a couple of days, so keep coming back!
  • Two additional related events have been added: the Heinerfest in the city center starting shortly after the end of ITiCSE, and the FIFA Women's World Soccer Cup in Germany 2011 before, during, and after the conference.
  • I have added a picture of the darmstadtium conference center to the venue page.

Work on the web page about accommodation

Today, I have been busy working on the conference web page, though you may not notice the changes too much at first glance. The accommodation page now contains a link to a map showing the surroundings of each hotel (click on the "detailed map" link following the hotel name). Each maps contains the following pieces of information:

  1. the location of the hotel, also indicated with a bed icon;
  2. the location of the CS department where the Working Groups will meet;
  3. the location of the conference center where the main conference will take place;
  4. the route to the closest (reasonably priced) supermarket from the hotel
  5. walking and tram or bus routes for reaching the CS department and the conference center from the hotel. One hotel - the Welcome Hotel - does not list tram and bus stations, since it is just across the street from both CS department and the conference center.

Additionally, I have linked a map of the local public transport system (busses and trams), which also indicates the approximate location of the CS department and the conference center.

I hope that this service will be helpful for potential and especially actual attendees. Your feedback is welcome!

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