The GHC schedule leaves the lunches free for attendees, but also defines events for particular groups to socialize. One of these is the faculty lunch on Friday, which I attended. I sat at a table with Linda Sellie (NYU Tandon School of Engineering and, to my surprise, Occidental alum; she’s the second alum I ran into), Deb Richardson (UC Irvine), Soha Hassoun (Tufts), Marie desJardin (University of Maryland, Baltimore County), Aaron Gember-Jacobson (Colgate), Alexa Sharp (Oberlin), David Liben-Nowell (Carleton), and several others whose names I have forgotten.
There were two main topics of discussion at my table. The first was how GHC could be improved for faculty. All of us felt that the GHC was heavily industry focused, and that there were not many events for faculty to learn something. Accord to Deb, who has been at all but the first two GHCs, this trend towards commercialization is not new. We were surprised to hear that only about a third (5000 of the 15000+ attendees) were from academic (ie. faculty and students). Some thought that the number of company recruiters made up for the rest, but having been in some of the more professional-development-like sessions (like the technical career session), I actually believe that a significant number of attendees are early-career workers, looking to switch into a more technical position. I think this is evident in the sessions as well: some are entirely non-technical, otherwise require only an undergraduate-level of knowledge. Very few sessions are targeted at the PhD level, however, and Deb suggested (although she said it was not her idea) that Anita Borg should create a technical track taking female-authored best-papers from ACM and IEEE conferences.
It’s a good idea, but it doesn’t help the second problem: GHC is too crowded. The most popular talks had lines that wrap around the hallways, and apparently this was already happening last year when there were 4000 fewer attendees. (GHC was also at the same location last year.) None of us had good solutions to this problem: there was the suggestion of separating into multiple local conferences, but I suspect the West Coast (Silicon Valley) celebration would remain equally well-attended. One good thing about local conferences is that it would reduce travel costs for students and schools, especially since GHC is a major factor in attracting and retaining female CS students.
From there, the table turned to discussion strategies for teaching CS1 and CS2. There was a general consensus that we need to put the most personal, least scary professors in CS1, so that beginners are not scared off. Most of the other pedagogical strategies, however, are already well-known (to me, at least): encouraging in-class group discussions, soliciting multiple answers first (potentially then asking students to convince each other who is correct), and incorporating real-world scenarios and datasets into assignments. I got the feeling that none of us are satisfied with the literature, and are hoping that others will have additional ideas that would help.
I enjoyed the short hour that I got to talk to other faculty, and I wish there were more events where faculty can learn from each other. But, I understand that GHC is mostly an event aimed at students, and I’m glad to have any formal opportunity to meet faculty at all.