Join us to discuss the role of storytelling and drama in the lecture theatre on Monday 6th November at 2pm UTC

Theatre masks image from

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances. And one teacher in their time plays many parts.

As students watch academic actors enter and exit their lecture theatres on University campuses around the world, what role can drama play in their teaching and learning? How can theatre and storytelling facilitate students understanding of whatever is they are supposed to be learning?

Are we walking shadows and poor players that strut and fret our hour upon the stage, and then are heard no more? Do we tell tales like an idiot, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing? In short, how much should teachers embrace theatricality, both amateur and professional, on their respective stages? Can drama and storytelling actually improve students learning and if so, how? 🎭

Join us on Monday 6th November at 2pm UTC for our monthly ACM SIGCSE journal club meetup on zoom to discuss a paper on this topic by David Malan. [1] From the abstract

In Fall 2020, Harvard University transitioned entirely from on-campus instruction to Zoom online. But a silver lining of that time was unprecedented availability of space on campus, including the university’s own repertory theater. In healthier times, that theater would be brimming with talented artisans and weekly performances, without any computer science in sight. But with that theater’s artisans otherwise idled during COVID-19, our introductory course, CS50, had an unusual opportunity to collaborate with the same. Albeit subject to rigorous protocols, including face masks and face shields for all but the course’s instructor, along with significant social distancing, that moment in time allowed us an opportunity to experiment with lights, cameras, and action on an actual stage, bringing computer science to life in ways not traditionally possible in the course’s own classroom. Equipped with an actual prop shop in back, the team of artisans was able to actualize ideas that might otherwise only exist in slides and code. And students’ experience proved the better for it, with a supermajority of students attesting at term’s end to the efficacy of almost all of the semester’s demonstrations. We present in this work the design and implementation of the course’s theatricality along with the motivation therefor and results thereof. And we discuss how we have adapted, and others can adapt, these same moments more modestly in healthier times to more traditional classrooms, large and small.

This paper was presented at the SIGCSE 2023 Technical Symposium in Toronto, a video presentation of the paper is also available below. All welcome, as usual, we’ll be meeting on zoom, details at


  1. Malan, David J. (2023). Computer Science with Theatricality: Creating Memorable Moments in CS50 with the American Repertory Theater during COVID-19. SIGCSE 2023: Proceedings of the 54th ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education, New York, NY, USA. DOI:10.1145/3545945.3569859 non-paywalled version at

Join us to discuss ungraded assessment on Monday 4th January at 2pm GMT

Image via Good Ware and monkik edited by Bruce The Deus, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The more time students spend thinking about their grades, the less time they spend thinking about their learning.

Ungraded (pass or fail) assessment provides an alternative to letter grading (A, B, C etc) which can address this issue. Join us on Monday 4th January at 2pm to discuss a new paper by David Malan which describes removing traditional letter grading from CS50: An introduction to Computer Science [1]. Heres is the abstract:

In 2010, we proposed to eliminate letter grades in CS50 at Harvard University in favor of Satisfactory / Unsatisfactory (SAT / UNS), whereby students would instead receive at term’s end a grade of SAT in lieu of A through C- or UNS in lieu of D+ through E. Albeit designed to empower students without prior background to explore an area beyond their comfort zone without fear of failure, that proposal initially failed. Not only were some concentrations on campus unwilling to grant credit for SAT, the university’s program in general education (of which CS50 was part) required that all courses be taken for letter grades.

In 2013, we instead proposed, this time successfully, to allow students to take CS50 either for a letter grade or SAT/UNS. And in 2017, we made SAT/UNS the course’s default, though students could still opt out. The percentage of students taking the course SAT/UNS jumped that year to 31%, up from 9% in the year prior, with as many as 86 of the course’s 671 students (13%) reporting that they enrolled because of SAT/UNS. The percentage of women in the course also increased to 44%, a 29-year high. And 19% of students who took the course SAT/UNS subsequently reported that their concentration would be or might be CS. Despite concerns to the contrary, students taking the course SAT/UNS reported spending not less but more time on the course each week than letter-graded classmates. And, once we accounted for prior background, they performed nearly the same.

We present the challenges and results of this 10-year initiative. We argue ultimately in favor of SAT/UNS, provided students must still meet all expectations, including all work submitted, in order to be eligible for SAT.

As usual, we’ll be meeting on zoom, see for details.


  1. David Malan (2021) Toward an Ungraded CS50. In Proceedings of the 52nd ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE ’21), March 13–20, 2021, Virtual Event, USA. ACM, New York, NY, USA. DOI:10.1145/3408877.3432461

Join us to discuss how video production affects student engagement Monday 3rd August at 11am

As Universities transition to online teaching during the global coronavirus pandemic, there’s increasing interest in the use of pre-recorded videos to replace traditional lectures in higher education. Join us to discuss how video production affects student engagement, based on a paper published by Philip Guo at the University of California, San Deigo (UCSD) from the Learning at Scale conference on How video production affects student engagement: an empirical study of MOOC videos. (MOOC stands for Massive Open Online Course). [1] Here is the abstract:

Videos are a widely-used kind of resource for online learning. This paper presents an empirical study of how video production decisions affect student engagement in online educational videos. To our knowledge, ours is the largest-scale study of video engagement to date, using data from 6.9 million video watching sessions across four courses on the edX MOOC platform. We measure engagement by how long students are watching each video, and whether they attempt to answer post-video assessment problems.

Our main findings are that shorter videos are much more engaging, that informal talking-head videos are more engaging, that Khan-style tablet drawings are more engaging, that even high-quality pre-recorded classroom lectures might not make for engaging online videos, and that students engage differently with lecture and tutorial videos.

Based upon these quantitative findings and qualitative insights from interviews with edX staff, we developed a set of recommendations to help instructors and video producers take better advantage of the online video format. Finally, to enable researchers to reproduce and build upon our findings, we have made our anonymized video watching data set and analysis scripts public. To our knowledge, ours is one of the first public data sets on MOOC resource usage.

Details of the zoom meeting will be posted on our slack workspace at If you don’t have access to the workspace, send me (Duncan Hull) an email to request an invite to join the workspace. The paper refers to several styles of video production, some examples below.

Khan style tablet drawings

The paper refers to Khan style videos, this is an example, taken from Khan Academy course on algorithms,

What is an algorithm? Video introduction to Khan Academy algorithms course by Thomas Cormen and Devin Balkcom

Talking Heads

Some examples of talking head videos:

How to frame a talking head with Tomás De Matteis

There’s more than one way to do talking head videos, see Moving to Blended Learning, Part 3: Types of Video at

Making video-friendly slides

Steve Pettifer explains how to make video-friendly slides

Lose the words! Your PowerPoint / Keynote presentation should not be a script or a handout


  1. Guo, Philip J.; Kim, Juho; Rubin, Rob (2014). “How video production affects student engagement: An Empirical Study of MOOC Videos “. Proceedings of the first ACM conference on Learning @ scale conference: 41–50. doi:10.1145/2556325.2566239. see also for online attention score