Automatic code generators have been with us a while, but how do modern AI powered bots perform on introductory programming assignments? Join us to discuss the implications of the OpenAI Codex on introductory programming courses on Monday 4th July at 2pm BST. We’ll be discussing a paper by James Finnie-Ansley, Paul Denny, Brett A. Becker, Andrew Luxton-Reilly and James Prather  for our monthly SIGCSE journal club meetup on zoom. Here is the abstract:
Recent advances in artificial intelligence have been driven by an exponential growth in digitised data. Natural language processing, in particular, has been transformed by machine learning models such as OpenAI’s GPT-3 which generates human-like text so realistic that its developers have warned of the dangers of its misuse. In recent months OpenAI released Codex, a new deep learning model trained on Python code from more than 50 million GitHub repositories. Provided with a natural language description of a programming problem as input, Codex generates solution code as output. It can also explain (in English) input code, translate code between programming languages, and more. In this work, we explore how Codex performs on typical introductory programming problems. We report its performance on real questions taken from introductory programming exams and compare it to results from students who took these same exams under normal conditions, demonstrating that Codex outscores most students. We then explore how Codex handles subtle variations in problem wording using several published variants of the well-known “Rainfall Problem” along with one unpublished variant we have used in our teaching. We find the model passes many test cases for all variants. We also explore how much variation there is in the Codex generated solutions, observing that an identical input prompt frequently leads to very different solutions in terms of algorithmic approach and code length. Finally, we discuss the implications that such technology will have for computing education as it continues to evolve, including both challenges and opportunities. (see accompanying slides)
James Finnie-Ansley, Paul Denny, Brett A. Becker, Andrew Luxton-Reilly, James Prather (2022) The Robots Are Coming: Exploring the Implications of OpenAI Codex on Introductory Programming ACE ’22: Australasian Computing Education Conference Pages 10–19 DOI:10.1145/3511861.3511863
Somewhere between the traditional division of non-programmers and programmers, there is a third category of conversational programmers. These are people who can (or want) to learn programming so that they can speak in the “programmer’s language” and work better with software engineers. Join us to discuss conversational programming via paper by Katie Cunningham et al.  This won a best paper award at SIGCSE 2022: 🏆
As the number of conversational programmers grows, computing educators are increasingly tasked with a paradox: to teach programming to people who want to communicate effectively about the internals of software, but not write code themselves. Designing instruction for conversational programmers is particularly challenging because their learning goals are not well understood, and few strategies exist for teaching to their needs. To address these gaps, we analyse the research on programming learning goals of conversational programmers from survey and interview studies of this population. We identify a major theme from these learners’ goals: they often involve making connections between code’s real-world purpose and various internal elements of software. To better understand the knowledge and skills conversational programmers require, we apply the Structure Behaviour Function framework to compare their learning goals to those of aspiring professional developers. Finally, we argue that instructional strategies for conversational programmers require a focus on high-level program behaviour that is not typically supported in introductory programming courses.
Kathryn Cunningham, Yike Qiao, Alex Feng and Eleanor O’Rourke (2022) Bringing “High-level” Down to Earth: Gaining Clarity in Conversational Programmer Learning Goals in SIGCSE 2022: Proceedings of the 53rd ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, Pages 551–557 DOI:10.1145/3478431.3499370
Computing is too important to be left to men, but where have all the women gone? While women continue to play a key role in computing they are currently under-represented in Computer Science. How can we change this and what evidence is there for practices that get more women into computing? Join us to discuss the subject via a paper by Briana Morrisonet al  on Monday 7th February at 2pm GMT. Here is the abstract of the paper:
Computing has, for many years, been one of the least demographically diverse STEM fields, particularly in terms of women’s participation. The last decade has seen a proliferation of research exploring new teaching techniques and their effect on the retention of students who have historically been excluded from computing. This research suggests interventions and practices that can affect the inclusiveness of the computer science classroom and potentially improve learning outcomes for all students. But research needs to be translated into practice, and practices need to be taken up in real classrooms. The current paper reports on the results of a focused systematic “state-of-the-art” review of recent empirical studies of teaching practices that have some explicit test of the impact on women in computing. Using the NCWIT Engagement Practices Framework as a means of organisation, we summarise this research, outline the practices that have the most empirical support, and suggest where additional research is needed.
All welcome, whatever your gender identity, gender expression or biological sex. As usual we’ll be meeting on zoom, details are in the slack channel sigcse.cs.manchester.ac.uk/join-us
Briana B. Morrison, Beth A. Quinn, Steven Bradley, Kevin Buffardi, Brian Harrington, Helen H. Hu, Maria Kallia, Fiona McNeill, Oluwakemi Ola, Miranda Parker, Jennifer Rosato and Jane Waite (2021) Evidence for Teaching Practices that Broaden Participation for Women in Computing in Proceedings of the 2021 Working Group Reports on Innovation and Technology in Computer Science Education DOI:10.1145/3502870.3506568
Students sense of belonging has been shown to be associated with many attributes such as motivation and persistence. But what makes people feel like they belong in Computer Science? Join us on Monday 6th December at 2pm GMT to discuss belonging via a paper by Catherine Mooney and Brett Becker.  This won a best paper award at SIGCSE 2021.
[There will be no SIGCSE journal club in November, however, we’ll be back in December as usual.]
Sense of belonging, or belongingness, describes how accepted one feels in their academic community and is an important factor in creating inclusive learning environments. Belongingness is influenced by many factors including: students’ backgrounds and experiences; other people; environments (physical and virtual); academic discipline; external factors such as local, regional, and global issues; and time. 2020 has been dominated by several major events including the COVID-19 pandemic which dramatically impacted education. The Black Lives Matter movement has further raised global awareness of equality, diversity and inclusion not just in society, but in educational contexts. Climate change concerns, and politically charged news are also increasingly affecting our students.
We have been monitoring our undergraduate computing students’ sense of belonging for over three years, providing us with a unique opportunity to gauge recent changes during the pandemic. Our results surprised us. We found statistically significant reductions in the belongingness of students identifying as men as well as those not identifying as being part of a minority. However, investigating intersectionality of self-identified gender and minority status revealed more complicated and nuanced trends, illustrating important shifts in the belongingness of our students that we are only beginning to understand.
Catherine Mooney and Brett Becker (2021) Investigating the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Computing Students’ Sense of Belonging. SIGCSE ’21: Proceedings of the 52nd ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, March 2021 Pages 612–618 DOI:10.1145/3408877.3432407
It’s no secret that both Computer Science and engineering have inequalities in their participation. Join us to re-examine and discuss these inequalities via a paper by Maria Kallia and Quintin Cutts  on Monday 4th October at 2pm BST. This won a best paper award at ICER 2021. From the abstract:
Concerns about participation in computer science at all levels of education continue to rise, despite the substantial efforts of research, policy, and world-wide education initiatives. In this paper, which is guided by a systematic literature review, we investigate the issue of inequalities in participation by bringing a theoretical lens from the sociology of education, and particularly, Bourdieu’s theory of social reproduction. By paying particular attention to Bourdieu’s theorising of capital, habitus, and field, we first establish an alignment between Bourdieu’s theory and what is known about inequalities in computer science (CS) participation; we demonstrate how the factors affecting participation constitute capital forms that individuals possess to leverage within the computer science field, while students’ views and dispositions towards computer science and scientists are rooted in their habitus which influences their successful assimilation in computer science fields. Subsequently, by projecting the issue of inequalities in CS participation to Bourdieu’s sociological theorisations, we explain that because most interventions do not consider the issue holistically and not in formal education settings, the reported benefits do not continue in the long-term which reproduces the problem. Most interventions have indeed contributed significantly to the issue, but they have either focused on developing some aspects of computer science capital or on designing activities that, although inclusive in terms of their content and context, attempt to re-construct students’ habitus to “fit” in the already “pathologized” computer science fields. Therefore, we argue that to contribute significantly to the equity and participation issue in computer science, research and interventions should focus on restructuring the computer science field and the rules of participation, as well as on building holistically students’ computer science capital and habitus within computer science fields.
All welcome. As usual, we’ll be meeting on zoom. Thanks to Steven Bradley for suggesting this months paper.
Maria Kallia and Quintin Cutts (2021) Re-Examining Inequalities in Computer Science Participation from a Bourdieusian Sociological Perspective. In Proceedings of the 17th ACM Conference on International Computing Education Research (ICER) 2021 Pages 379–392, 10.1145/3446871.3469763