Documenting thought-trails here so I can put these ideas aside and get on with the stuff I'm doing now - if they come up again, they come up again.

First is my classmate Nikitha's project for pedagogy class: redesign Purdue's MATLAB-heavy intro-to-engineering first-year class to use a "flipped" model - view lectures at home, work on homework in class where there's help available. (Mind you, this doesn't mean they'll implement it; she's a TA, not the prof. Still, it's cool.) The conversation took off from there, and...

  • Matlab has a docstrings-like functionality (I knew that). But it also has doctest, which lets you embed testable examples in your docstrings. (I did not know that, but holy shit.)
  • If you must give standardized, identical coding-based homework (and sometimes, for intro programming, you kinda have to), the best format I've ever seen was at Matt Harrison's intro Python workshop at OSCON 2011. It's composed entirely of well-commented unit tests. Good for self-testing and places with a working Honor Code.
  • Which reminded me of Olin professor Mark Chang, who graded our Computer Architecture homework via automatic test. I realize this isn't an original idea, but it's still a damn good one for some things - TDD is a good habit.
  • And how could we forget Allen Downey's Cat Book, which is the current first-year Olin textbook for the class-with-lots-o'-MATLAB? (Comment from one Purdue TA I sent it to: "Can I go back to undergrad and take this class?")

Second was a faculty workshop on curricular change at Rose-Hulman, which sounded like the I2E2 summer workshop (I drool over both of them - faculty development is teh awesum) and my subsequent musing to Sebastian (who's working on I2E2 this term - or rather, continuing to do so but finally getting paid for it). "I wonder how much effect faculty workshops actually have," I wrote. " I mean, does anyone keep track? I've never seen a faculty workshop do longitudinal follow-up.."

I know there are things like Disciplinary Commons (hat tip to Matt Jadud for the pointer) and the Professional and Organizational Development Network in Higher Education (a.k.a. "POD" - hat tip to Ruth Streveler, Alice Pawley, and Matt Ohland for ridiculous amounts of pointers to even more resources on this). There's a similar society centered around TAs. There's a group within ASEE that focuses on it within the engineering education realm. None are online communities, so it's an adjustment to learn how to tap into them, find out about them... I'm still learning of them, barely starting to learn about them, legitimate peripheral participation opportunities seem scarcer, cycles slower...

But there's something here, I think, that catches my interest. Faculty development intrigues me. To understand how professors come to change their teaching practices is to understand a powerful lever for seriously changing the world, long-term. Faculty are generally (1) very smart and (2) resolutely independent as well as (for pre-tenure folks) (3) under a high-stakes gun and (4) perpetually hosed, but they are the teachers and shapers of students who (by and large) immediately go out into the world to do stuff afterwards. They think long and deep about hard problems, and lot of them care - but they care about different things (teaching! research! writing! service! etc), and some of them show it more than others. I like hanging out with them, and maybe that's why I'm training to be one someday. But maybe I'll end up researching them too. Maybe.

Third was an article on the first high school focused on software engineering. New York City. Opens this September. I wonder how they plan on recruiting, how they plan on teaching, and so on... the article reports that "the school was the brainchild of Mike Zamansky, a teacher at Stuyvesant High School," so I'm checking to see if I know any folks who know people involved in this.

Specifically, I wonder if the people working on the school would be interested in teaching open source. TOS has a good base of New York faculty, and starting high school students early in the same (H?)FOSS projects as some nearby colleges could be a nice opportunity for vertical learning, peer teaching, and involving students in a community of practice that is real and also has scaffolding to accommodate them.

Wondering. Not a bad thing. I'm off to class, and then I have some work to do -- but letting these things come up and whirl around as ideas for a bit ain't a bad thing. I'm writing them down so I can find them easily later, and now... it's time to move on to the other things I was to do today.