WiPSCE 2019 – a ceilidh and more!

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I’ve just attended WIPSCE 2019 at the University of Glasgow, UK, hosted by Quintin Cutts and Peter Donaldson and team at the Centre for Computing Science Education.  I really enjoyed the conference, as I do all WIPSCE conferences! In fact it was my 8th, as I have been every year since 2012, the first year the conference became international.  WIPSCE stands for Workshop in Primary and Secondary Computing Education, but has been more of a conference than a workshop for several years. It’s an ACM-affiliated conference with papers published in the ACM Digital Library.

The conference kicked off with a keynote by Beth Simon, of the University of California, who got us thinking right away about what we should include when we prepare to train a new generation of computer science teachers for the K-12 classroom.  We then had three papers focusing on the perceptions of primary school children around computing and programming. In fact overall, I worked out that more than 50% of the papers presented related to primary education – it’s great that WIPSCE has become the place where developments in primary computing can be shared and discussed. There were some really interesting papers over the three days and it’s difficult to single out just a couple, but I found the impact of action research on high school computing teachers by Ofra Brandes and Michal Armoni very relevant to our work as we are planning to integrate classroom-based research into our National Centre work. There were two interesting papers looking at different ways of representing the processes and products of Scratch programs, one using learning analytics by Max Kesselbacker and Andreas Bollin, and another using visualisation by Alexandra Simon et al, and presented by Katharina Geldreich.  I also enjoyed a paper about the challenges we face around language and computer science: a paper by Fatma Batur and Jan Strobl addressed a genre-based approach to supporting learner’s problems with the way that computer science tasks are written. Finally Sarah Twigg and Lynne Blair had us all very engaged in a very interactive presentation around children’s books and how we can use them to demonstrate sequence, selection and iteration in the primary classroom. Oliver Quinlan presented a paper about our new project at the Raspberry Pi Foundation around developing quizzes and badges for Code Clubs. It’s a new project, and work-in-progress, but we were pleased to be able to share the results so far.

I was thrilled to be invited to give the second keynote (my slides are here), and I introduced the new National Centre for Computing Education project that has recently launched in England – running until July 2022 with ambitious aims. I particularly focused on the need for research in our field and how we hope to use this large-scale initiative to make a significant contribution to research relating to bringing computing to all young people, through our work on progression, pedagogy and diversity and inclusion.

On the middle day, there were four two-hour workshops held in parallel, covering Scratch Maths with Celia Hoyles, Data Education with Judy Robertson and Kate Farrell from Edinburgh University, the role that industry can play in computing education with Robbie Robinson from JP Morgan, and a workshop on spatial skills in computing led by Jack Parkinson.  I attended the workshop on data skills in Scotland and was very impressed with the ambitions of this 8-year project focusing on data across the curriculum. The new NPA qualification in Data Science in Scotland looks really interesting too.

The entertainment was truly Scottish, with some beautiful Celtic harp music on the first evening and a fairly raucous Ceilidh on the second night. WiPSCE is the friendliest conference I have ever attended (every year!) and I think that  galloping around a hall with a bunch of other researchers and teachers is definitely to be recommended! I am pretty sure that all the swinging and stomping will lead to many future research collaborations and mutual support!

Next year, WiPSCE will be in Essen in Germany from 28-30 October 2020. Keep an eye on http://wipsce.org/2020 for announcements about paper deadlines to follow soon! I definitely recommend it.

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