Disciplinary Commons: Participants

"Another one of those ventures in the general direction of the unknown"

Frank Lloyd Wright, The Architectural Forum, January 1948

James Bown (Abertay Dundee)
I am a lecturer (of 6 years) in Computing. My teaching interests lie in introductory programming, and I have recently taken on our second year programming in addition. We teach Java using a very simple IDE (JCreator). I have, over the years, developed novel teaching approaches to explain the underlying concepts of programming to 1st year students. The approaches centre around visual feedback - students write programs and their execution is graphically depicted. Problems are also expressed in terms of the visual environment. For example, the first environment is a Robot that can move, turn left and right and see the colour of the area in front of it. Students are asked to write a program to make the Robot follow a path of a particular colour. My other introductory teaching tool is a Cow, to highlight data (including arrays - the Cow's multiple stomachs). Later on students program a Connect4 game, again visual.
My research interests actually centre in Theoretical Systems Biology, using individual-based models to understand emergent behaviour in complex ecological systems. Having established ourselves in environmental systems modelling in the UK (the SIMBIOS Centre), we as a group are now exploring the transport of our computational and statistical modelling approaches out to other areas, notably healthcare systems and education. With respect to education, I am currently developing a proposal to address the difficulties that students have in interpreting error messages using approaches derived from our research work in SIMBIOS.
Mark Ratcliffe (Aberystwyth)
I am Director of Teaching in Computer Science at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. I have been teaching Computer Science for almost 20 years though it is in the last 12 that I have concentrated all my efforts into introductory programming courses. During 1992-93 I spent a year teaching in Washington State, an experience which led me to revise my whole approach to teaching. I have a reputation for having an effective, interactive teaching style.
Pete Bibby (Bolton)
I've worked with computers since the early seventies, the last fifteen years teaching at Bolton. I've specialised in programming, program specification and, to a lesser extent, database design. Over the last few years I seem to have gained a reputation for working with beginner programmers, so much so that as well as "straight" programming, I'm now involved with introductory teaching for games programmers and, from October, web-based programmers.
At first I regretted not teaching the more advanced courses. Then I began to realise the challenges I was faced with on introductory courses. And also realise that - reputation notwithstanding - I didn't do it very well at all. And I've only got ten years at the most to get it right.
Michael Jones (Bournemouth)
I am the architect of the revised computing undergraduate framework at Bournemouth and the unit leader for the Programming unit in year 1. Reviewing what constitutes a modern computing syllabus was a challenging task, and we had to make some difficult decisions. I look forward to discussing these, and other matters, in the meetings.
Thomas Lancaster (Central England)
I am a Lecturer in the Department of Computing at the University of Central England, starting my third year in the post and for the first time will be in charge of the introductory degree programming modules. Traditionally students have studied a double credit Java programming and HCI module in the second semester and this will continue to be the case for the majority of students. This year a new degree scheme, the Information Technology Management For Business degree supported by eSkills is being run for the time with a small cohort. They will be taking a single credit Java module in semester two, followed by an intensive three week programming project. I will be interested to compare the two approaches. My other related interests include individualised assignment and alternative assessment, e-learning support and plagiarism prevention and detection.
Stephan Jamieson (Durham)
Stephan Jamieson is a teaching fellow with the computer science department at Durham University. He coordinates undergraduate teaching and learning at level one and the departments teaching of programming. He has a keen interest in the experiences of novice programmers and the demands placed on the learning environment. The results of work in the area have been presented at the HEA-ICS annual conference and at HEA-ICS workshops on the teaching of programming.
Quintin Cutts (Glasgow)
I've been teaching ITP for 9 years. I've experimented in many different ways with the course, sometimes reviewing content and teaching approach, sometimes concentrating more on motivational, study and assessment aspects. I've tended to be a bit of a loner in my exploration, and I'm looking forward to being part of a wider group exploring the issues. I'm heading up a review of programming languages in our curriculum just now, (we're heading towards Python in Level 1 and Java then C in Levels 2,3,4) and so the DC project coincides with the design phase of the new Level 1 course. Perfect. Other interests include improving interactivity in classrooms using electronic voting systems, closer integration of face-to-face teaching/learning environments with on and off-line self-study sessions, and public understanding of computing science, led particularly through schools initiatives.
Vicky Bush (Gloucestershire)
I am a lecturer at the University of Gloucestershire. I have been teaching introductory programming for over 20 years now, in a range of higher education institutions from old to new universities, using a variety of languages and styles. I have taught Java using an 'objects first' approach but now find that concentrating on the basic data types and control structures first works better with my students. I am a firm believer in students being able to visualise what is going on in their programs and use a logo style Turtle class in my classes so that students get visual feedback. Though I have been teaching programming for so long, I feel that there is still a lot to learn about how to do it and projects such as the Disciplinary Commons can help with this.
David Barnes (Kent)
I have been teaching introductory programming for over 20 years. Hence I have survived at least two of the language wars that afflict our discipline from time to time, and still emerged feeling enthusiastic about ITP! My practice has been shaped throughout that period by the ideas of others and I look forward to this experience as a further opportunity to learn more.
I regularly teach on a course which is the second half of an introduction to object-oriented programming in Java.
Tony Jenkins (Leeds)
I am currently a Senior Teaching Fellow in the School of Computing at the University of Leeds. I have been teaching introductory programming since about 1995, first using Pascal, then C++ and now Python and Java. I have spent a fair bit of time thinking and writing about various aspects of introductory programming teaching including motivational issues, the impact of platform and language, the difficulty of the subject and gender-related issues. Recently I have pioneered the use of Python as an introductory language. Much of this work has been reported at SIGCSE and HEA events. I am quite often invited to other institutions to talk about programming and more general retention and motivation issues.
Dermot Shinners-Kennedy (Limerick)
My name is Dermot Shinners-Kennedy and I work in the Computer Science and Information Systems (CSIS) department of the University of Limerick, Ireland. I am a humble programmer who tries to teach programming to novices and anyone else prepared to listen. I am influenced by the constructivist approach and my main interests relate to the conceptions and misconceptions of novices and exploiting the analogical and metaphorical basis of everyday examples a la Papert and others. I am not a member of a programming language sect and therefore have no evangelical baggage for a particular programming language . I am a member of the language of programming sect, which currently has a membership of one!
Phil Campbell (London South Bank)
I have been teaching Software Development in various languages for the past 20 years. I am currently responsible for the first year undergraduate Software Development units at London South Bank University and I am always looking to include any innovations which will ameliorate the learning environment, especially that of struggling beginners. The main challenge always seems to be engaging students with the material in an interesting and relevant manner. I am interested in aiding learning in the areas of abstraction in general and in creating programs as models in particular.
I prefer to focus on Objects first and GUI late when teaching Software Development and I am concerned that students gain a solid engineering perspective in this pursuit.
Clarifying what we are trying to achieve and how we may succeed in achieving it within a diverse and rapidly changing discipline is a worthwhile pursuit I feel and is at the heart of what makes teaching this subject so interesting.
Monika Seisenberger (Swansea)
I studied Mathematics (with Physics and Computer Science) and completed a PhD in Mathematical Logic in Munich in 2003. My research interests are logic, machine supported theorem proving, program extraction from proofs, specification and verification of programs.
Since 2004, I hold a tutorship at the University of Wales Swansea. This year, I am teaching courses on Algorithms, Cryptography and IT Security, System Specifcation, and Introduction to Computing.
Chris Whyley (Swansea)
I work as a tutor at the Department of Computer Science, University of Wales, Swansea.
I have taught programming to first year undergraduates (BSc) and MSc students, both for three years.
I taught the undergraduates for the first year in Pascal and was then instrumental in the Department's change of language to Java. Dissatisfied with the way we were teaching programming I introduced a "portfolio" system of teaching which has proved very successful and has now been emulated by teachers of other courses. I am always keen to receive constructive criticism of the way I teach and contribute ideas to others.
Linda White (Sunderland)
I have taught introductory programming for over 20 years in all, using a variety of languages, both at further education level and university level. In all that time, although I have tried numerous approaches to the teaching, learning and assessment methods I have applied, I can still often feel that I have yet to 'get it right'! No matter how good I think my teaching is, the fact is that some students will really struggle on my module. I've often puzzled as to why learning to program seems so difficult for some students. Even for the majority of the group, there are difficulties. In my experience on business computing-type courses, most students at introductory level avoid using arrays and procedures and find those concepts difficult. What is the best way to get the more abstract concepts on computing across? At a more general level, what balance should there be between teaching the fundamental, generic concepts in programming as opposed to teaching the specific features of the programming language being used?
My most recent teaching has been using Visual Basic (versions 3,4,5,6 and in the coming year VB.NET); also to a less extent C++. On Visual Basic modules, I have not covered object-orientation at introductory level, because the syllabus was already so full, but with the move to the .NET framework, the need for some understanding of the methodology is greater. So how best to do so in a way that does not lose three-quarters of the class? The intake of students that we normally take at Sunderland includes students without the traditional A level background, coming through from foundation courses and the ability range of the group can be very varied. This also poses challenges to the teaching programming, as there is a big variety of prior knowledge as well as motivation levels of students.
Dimitar Kazakov (York)
I teach the introductory Principles of Programming course (Aut/Year 1) at CS Dept, UoYork. At the moment, POP teaching is based on the SICP book (2nd edition, MIT, 1996. http://mitpress.mit.edu/sicp/full-text/book/book.html). The teaching materials (lecture notes, practicals) have been developed by my colleague Alan Wood in the course of nearly 10 years. POP has been been one of the most popular courses among the students. Despite that, I am a bit concerned that the course could become a victim of its own success, if it stayed unchanged in the next few years. Some of my concerns include giving the students a flavour of OOP using an OOP language - at the moment, they get a wonderful insight into the basic mechanisms of implementing objects at the most basic level (using Scheme to define object constructors, implement calls to methods, etc.), but this degree of detail can be off putting if not combined with a hands-on experience with a specialised OOP language/platform. I am also interested in hinting in an accessible manner at some of the ideas behind multi-agent systems, a topic I teach the MEng students in their fourth year. I have collected alternative course materials from publishers, and will be developing my ideas about course changes in the course of the forthcoming Autumn term, which I hope to discuss with my colleagues on the project.