People of ACM - Judy Sheard

July 12, 2018

What is one of the most significant ways computing education has changed since you began your career?

Computing education is characterized by change – new technologies, tools, curricula, and dramatically fluctuating student enrolments. Probably the most significant change since I began my career has been the advances in information and communication technologies that have profoundly influenced the ways students learn and the ways we teach. I think this is where computing education research plays an important role in enabling us to gain understanding of how new technologies can be best used to enhance students’ learning and learning experience.

You’ve recently co-authored an article on how professors assess student programming competency, emphasizing that, in certain ways, academic integrity in computing education is not the same as academic integrity in other disciplines. Will you explain this challenge and how professors may better communicate their expectations to students?

Violation of academic integrity is a problem in computing courses, with a number of large studies showing the computing discipline having among the highest rates of cheating. Maintaining academic integrity is a critical issue for universities to address for a number of reasons. Cheating can damage the reputation of the course, institution, discipline and profession. An important issue is that the student who cheats misses out on a learning experience. Furthermore, the presence of cheating can harm the educational environment, ultimately affecting all students.

There are particular challenges that computing academics face in maintaining academic integrity in their courses.  For example, with the emphasis on code reuse in industry it is not easy for students to determine what level of code reuse is acceptable in their assessment tasks. A further difficulty is that institutional guidelines and policies typically focus on text-based assessments, which are not easily applied to computer programs. How does one cite computer code?

There are many strategies for maintaining academic integrity. Some are focused on detection but there has been a trend towards more positive approaches that focus on prevention through education and deterrence. In a study of first-year computing programs in Australia, 30 academics were interviewed and we identified 21 different strategies which focused on education, discouraging cheating, making cheating difficult, and empowering students to take responsibility for their learning. An important message was the need for computing educators to consider carefully their learning objectives and specify clearly acceptable sources of help, level of collaboration, and acceptable code reuse for each assessment task.

In another article, you and your co-authors examined the problem of low student engagement among first-year Information and Communication Technology (ICT) university students. Based on your research at 25 Australian universities, what are some effective approaches to boosting engagement among ICT students in their first year?

Engaging students in their learning is vital for successful learning outcomes and a satisfying learning experience. Low levels of student engagement is a much-discussed issue among computing educators. Computing as a discipline has consistently performed poorly in student engagement studies. The most obvious indicator of low engagement is poor attendance on campus, particularly at traditional- style lectures. In our study of 25 universities in Australia, most initiatives to increase student engagement were concerned with on-campus experiences. A number of educators had explored new ways to encourage engagement and some success was reported with active and collaborative learning activities such as peer instruction or pedagogical approaches such as portfolio assessment. However, many reported difficulties with encouraging student engagement with their university’s push for more online presence in their courses.

You serve as the Director of the Monash Museum of Computing History, and you have conducted research on this topic. What can university students, and the wider public, gain from an appreciation of computing history?

I established the Monash Museum of Computing History at Monash University in 2001 and have directed all activities for the Museum since this time. The Museum presents a chronology of computing from the early 1950s to the present. The Museum is open to the students at Monash and available for tours by schools and community groups. Having a physical display is a valuable resource to show the evolution of computing technology and demonstrate past trends in developments and use of computing technology.

A study of the history of computing is important for giving students a perspective on the huge impact that the technology has had on education, the workplace, society, and everyday life. Studying the history can help students understand how innovation happens, in particular the influences on ideas and the process of change. It is an old adage that to predict the future it is important to understand the past!

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Judithe “Judy” Sheard is an Associate Professor and until recently Head of School in the Faculty of Information Technology at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia. Her research interests include computer science education, educational technology and the history of computing. As Leader of the Education group in her Faculty at Monash, she works to provide a vision for the pedagogical future of computing. She has authored or co-authored over 150 publications on topics related to educational technology and the teaching and learning of computing.

Sheard is currently Vice Chair of the ACM Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE), having earlier served as Secretary. She is a former Chair of the Australasian Chapter of ACM SIGCSE. She has chaired the International Computing Education Research Conference (ICER) (2015 – 2017), Koli Calling International Conference on Computing Education Research (2015 to 2016), the Australasian Computing Education conference (ACE 2000) and Melbourne Computing Education Conventicals (local forums) on three occasions. She was Working Group co-chair at the Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education conference (ITiCSE) in 2017. A member of the Australian Computing Society, Sheard was also named an ACM Distinguished Member for educational contributions to computing.