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Barker, Gruning receive Dasher Best Paper Award at FIE conference


University of Texas School of Information Associate Professor and iSchool doctoral student Jane Gruning won the Benjamin J. Dasher Best Paper Award at the 2015 Frontiers in Education conference in El Paso in October.

Barker and Gruning wrote “The Student Prompt: Student Feedback and Change in Teaching Practices in Postsecondary Computer Science” in spring 2014 based on research they conducted on what influences computer science faculty to potentially change their current teaching practices.

Barker flew all around the country to conduct the bulk of the interviews with 66 faculty members from 36 schools participating in the study. “Our economy is increasingly dependent on computation,” Barker said. “It affects national security, health care and economic well-being in general. Also, studies suggest that diverse teams create better solutions. So not only do we need to work harder to fill the workforce demand, but we need to increase the diversity of the information technology workforce. Understanding how to influence choice of teaching approaches has a direct impact on how many and what types of students receive undergraduate degrees in computer science.”

Gruning and Christopher Hovey, a colleague at Northeastern University, conducted the remainder of the faculty interviews. Gruning recruited these faculty participants and provided organizational support while the pair worked together to analyze the data before writing the paper.

“While Lecia (Barker) and other computer science education researchers have made huge strides in learning what kinds of teaching practices tend to retain underrepresented groups in undergraduate computer science, there is still a relatively low adoption of them by faculty,” she said. “The study this paper is based on is geared toward understanding why faculty may be reluctant to change their teaching practices, and finding ways they might be encouraged to adopt new teaching strategies, therefore making computer science as a field more inclusive and representative.”

“We wrote this paper because we realized, while analyzing our data, student input played a much larger role in faculty's decisions about making changes to their teaching than the research literature in computer science education would have led us to expect,” Gruning said. “The whole paper is actually about something the study wasn't designed to look for, which was a bit of surprise, but ended up being so important it came through very strongly in the interviews with faculty.”

Benjamin Dasher Award committee members choose the winners of this award for the best paper presented at the previous year’s FIE conference. First, committee members complete a blind peer review of submissions. Then they attend the presentations of selected papers at the conference to judge based on criteria such as communication style, interaction with the audience and ability to answer questions about the work. The committee then chooses the winning paper and notifies them before the next conference, where they are then presented with the award. Committee members first saw Barker present about the paper at the FIE conference in Madrid, Spain in October 2014.

Committee members first saw Barker present about the paper at the FIE conference in Madrid, Spain in October 2014.

“Receiving this award is extremely gratifying because it means the computer science education community recognizes the importance of this kind of work, and other members of the wider community believe this research is worthwhile, necessary and worthy of recognition,” Gruning said. “It also signals the community is dedicated to make continued improvements in increasing representation of diverse groups in computer science and to supporting research that works toward that goal.”

Dasher served as an associate professor at Georgia Tech from 1951 to 1954 and as the director of the School of Electrical Engineering from 1954 to 1969. His fields of interest included advanced network theory, electronic theory, electronic circuits, electrical engineering education, machine translation, speech analysis and pattern recognition. He organized the first FIE Conference in Atlanta in 1971.