Assessment, Collaboration and Diversity Take Center Stage at SIGCSE 2016

The annual SIGCSE Technical Symposium is the flagship conference of the ACM Special Interest Group in Computer Science Education. SIGSCE 2016, to be held from March 2-5 in Memphis, Tennessee, will feature a program designed appeal to the broad range of interests of the 1,200 expected attendees. We asked Symposium Co-Chairs Carl Alphonce (State University of New York at Buffalo) and Jodi Tims (Baldwin Wallace University) a few questions to give readers a primer on this year's event.

The program for SIGSCE 2016 reflects the wide breadth of issues around computer science education. That said, are there any areas of focus to this year's symposium and, if so, why are those areas coming to the fore now?

There is a truly impressive breadth to the offerings, which is a testament to the richness of talent within the SIGCSE community. For example, there are sessions on topics as diverse as Computational Thinking, Big Data, Engagement and Diversity, Software Testing, Security, CS Principles, K12 Teaching and CS Education Research. And that's just scratching the surface.

We would have to say that crosscutting themes in the program include increasing the diversity of the students we already serve, opening doors to new populations of students in the K-12 arena, and handling large and rapid increases in enrollments.

The new AP Computer Science Principles exam and corresponding coursework will be introduced nationwide this year. Will the 2016 SIGSCE program reflect this?

Absolutely! We have presentations and activities related to AP-CS Principles in essentially every category, through the schedule: several workshops, many papers, a poster, a sponsored lunch event, an NSF showcase presentation and a special session.

One of the Student Research Competition Posters that will be presented at SIGCSE 2016 examines learning computer science through online forums and open-sourcing. What are a few of the key issues the SIGCSE community grapples with when evaluating the potential benefits of these kinds of learning vehicles?

One challenge with any new approach is how we evaluate its success, and whether the approach will work in other environments. But sharing new ideas and novel approaches with the community to spark discussions and further exploration of them is of course the point of the symposium!

What is an example of a hot topic in post-secondary computer science education that will be explored at SIGSCE 2016?

Looking at the program it seems like presentations on Assessment, Collaboration, Diversity and Dealing with Increasing Enrollments are all well represented. But many of the hot topics are explored not only in the formal sessions, but in informal discussions between sessions, at lunch or dinner, or over drinks at the end of a long day!

The opening keynote address, to be delivered by John Sweller of the University of New South Wales, is titled "Cognitive Load Theory and Computer Science Education." What is cognitive load theory and how is it shaping computer science education?

Referring to Sweller's 1994 paper "Cognitive Load Theory, Learning Difficulty, and Instructional Design" [Learning and Instruction, Vol. 4, pp. 295-312, Elsevier Science Ltd], "cognitive load theory deals with learning and problem solving difficulty that is artificial in that it can be manipulated by instructional design." As an increasingly diverse group of learners is welcomed into the discipline we must ensure that our course offerings and pedagogical approaches help rather than hinder everyone, regardless of their background preparation and previous experience, to be successful in the field.

Welcome one and all to SIGCSE 2016!

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