CS92 Course Missive

Spring, 2001
Class Meetings: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 4:10-5:25 p.m., in 227 CIT
Roger B. Blumberg
Department of Computer Science

Objectives of Seminar:

The first objective of this seminar is to bring together students interested in computer programming and education for a discussion of the design, production, and use of educational technology in general, and educational software in particular. The seminar will cover a broad range of topics, including the the history of classroom technology in the US, theories of learning, paradigms of instructional technology design, the evaluation of educational technology, the sociology of classrooms and schools as it relates to attitudes concerning technology, the process of authoring educational software, and the state of the art in educational technology.

A second objective of the seminar is to synthesize approaches and considerations in software design with those of educational theory and practice, through the project teams' experiences observing and working with teachers. Combining principles with practice is always difficult, especially when you are under constraints imposed by a client, but it is crucial to the work of both theorists and practitioners, and we expect you to fill both roles.

The third objective is to promote and develop sound analytical and design skills for educational software. This will be accomplished through the study of educational software design criteria, including pedagogical, cognitive and aesthetic theories, as well as the use of empirical studies to infer principles of successful design.

The three objectives will be pursued in parallel during the semester. Analytical skills will be sharpened and awareness heightened as relevant topics and applications are presented, discussed, and critiqued. These issues will be presented through the readings and discussions by members of the seminar, by guest lecturers and guided discussions, and of course by your experiences in the classroom and with your project team. We expect that the final products of the semester -- the implementation of your educational software in local classrooms -- will exhibit a synthesis of these objectives.

Why a Seminar?

While it would be possible to teach this course through a series of lectures, we believe the objectives of the course, the variety of the topics covered, and the diversity of the perspectives and abilities of the students who typically enroll in CS92, make the seminar a more desirable and effective model. In a seminar, all students are active participants and have intellectual responsibilities to each other, and the goal of a seminar, as opposed to a lecture, is to have each student advance his/her understanding rather than merely absorb a particular body of material. As "educational software" is not an intellectual discipline so much as an activity that draws on numerous disciplines, it will be up to the students in the seminar to synthesize the material from these different disciplines and propel the discussion as they think most appropriate.

People to Know

Roger B. Blumberg is a Lecturer in the Computer Science Department and is teaching the Seminar. A former New York City public high school teacher, he was an Associate in Science at Columbia College for many years, teaching the general education science course "Theory and Practice of Science". His college teaching experience also includes courses and seminars in the history and philosophy of science at Empire State Labor College and Eugene Lang College at the New School for Social Research in New York, as well as a "core curriculum" Humanities course at Columbia. In 1996 and 1997, he was Senior Hypermedia Researcher at Brown's Scholarly Technology Group, working with the U.S. Department of Education's Regional Technology consortium, NetTech, which provides technical assistance to K-12 educators throughout the Northeastern U.S. As the author of MendelWeb, he has been involved in the development of Web resources for K-12 science and mathematics education since 1994. Finally, since coming to Brown, he has been a Visiting Scholar at the Institute for Brain and Neural Systems, and was a Senior Fellow at the Sheridan Center for Teaching and Learning at Brown (1999-2000). In addition to his current work at Brown, he teaches at the Rhode Island School of Design, in the History, Philosophy and Social Sciences Department. Finally, he continues to teach secondary school mathematics in Columbia's Summer Program for High School Students each July.

Ben White, Ranyee Chiang, Ross Lipsky and Will Heublein are the Teaching Assistants in CS92 this year. All have taken CS92 and have been involved in extremely successful projects. On a more personal note, I've had good TAs in past years, but this is the first semester I've been able to recruit TAs who have all taken CS92 with me and done extremely well, and I'm thrilled with the staff.

One TA will be assigned to each project group. Throughout the development of your final project, weekly meetings with your TA will provide guidance and feedback on your progress and direction.

Roger x37619, rbb@cs.brown.edu
Ben bwhite@cs.brown.edu
Ranyee Ranyee_Chiang@brown.edu
Ross Ross_Lipsky@brown.edu
Will William_Heublein@brown.edu

Please feel free to get in touch with us about any problem that you may have with the course or to ask for help with any of the ideas presented in class, the readings, or the assignments.

What you learn and gain from the Seminar will depend largely on the time and effort to put into the class. Our belief is that in order to absorb and understand all this material you must be prepared for each class and actively participate in the discussions. Similarly, you will need to commit yourself to the work of your project team. Because class participation is an essential component of the Seminar, attendance should be considered mandatory and your participation will be a significant part of your grade in the course. Your final grade will be determined by your participation in the seminar, your software/technology evaluation assignment, and your work on all the components of the final project.

This course is a very different sort of enterprise than most CS courses, and in order for you to have a successful time of it, the seminar will have to hold a high priority in your schedule. Your careful attention to the seminar materials will determine the quality of our discussions, and your interactions with teachers reflect not only on you, but also on the Computer Science Department and Brown as a whole. Many university-school technology projects involving have failed because of an insensitivity to the realities of schools' and teachers' needs. We are depending on you to show your commitment to the goals and methods of the course, and to do your best to establish a good and creative working relationship with your teacher.

In addition to the teaching staff, your team partners in the seminar will serve as your partners throughout the creation of your software project. They will also act as a sounding board for your ideas, will sincerely but constructively critique your every decision in putting together your design, and will otherwise support you as a colleague. You will, of course, critique your partners' portions of the work, and your final project should reflect this mutual criticism. Being able to work in a group is a skill that is often underestimated. You will need to be conscious of your group's dynamics, and may need to solve difficult problems and resolve conflicts so that you can deliver you final product on time.

Another person assisting you will be your sponsoring teacher. You will work with this teacher on a constant basis throughout the semester. In fact, you should think of the teacher as the lead member of your design team. The teacher will actively assist you in designing a piece of educational software for his or her students. You should feel comfortable asking for advice (based on his or her experience in teaching the subject) on how to structure and present the material, how to evaluate the students' understanding of it, and how the software will fit into the classroom. This relationship should be built over time, and your mutual goal should be to present your work as part of the teacher's class by mid-April.

The Course Readings

It is in the nature of a seminar to make texts the anchors of discussion. As we will be surveying topics drawn from computer science, cognitive science and the history and philosophy of education, there will be a good deal of reading, but we believe all of it is potentially inspiring. Each student will have the responsibility of leading the discussion about the readings in at least one class session, but everyone is expected to do all of the assigned reading before each class. When doing the reading, you should bear in mind issues you might want to discuss during the seminar, and come prepared to raise these issues. In a seminar, it is unfortunately obvious who has and who has not done the reading, and the discussion will suffer a great deal when you are not prepared.

The required books for the seminar are available in the Bookstore, and most of these are also on reserve at the Rock or in the Science Library. Additional articles will either be available in class, at Graphic Services, or on the Web. The Reserve lists include books that are not required but may be useful to particular projects and/or students who wish to investigate one of the seminar topics in greater depth.


It is suggested that you have an ability to program, such as you would get from an introductory CS class like cs2, cs4, cs15, or even a high school programming class. If you have never programmed but are still interested in taking the course, we encourage you to do so, but it will require a concerted effort on your part to get up to speed. Previous education courses are not a prerequisite, though we expect you to have an interest in educational issues, and here too you will need to make the time to get up to speed. Finally, regardless of your academic background(s), you must be open to working with and learning from a "client," in this case a local teacher and the people with whom you share the seminar.

Assignments and Due Dates

In addition to being responsible for presenting the readings at one class session, there is an evaluation exercise, and components of the final project (described in the syllabus). The course runs on a tight schedule and due dates will be strictly observed.

Participation and Presentation

The seminar provides a chance for you to express and explore a variety of ideas concerning computers and education, and you and your group will give presentations to the seminar during the semester about the progress of your work. We expect that you will try hard to articulate your views during the seminar, and will respect and feel obliged to respond to the views of others. Participation in a seminar is a learning experience regardless of the subject matter, and we recognize that, if you have never been in a seminar setting before, it may take time to find a style that is both successful and satisfying for you and for your classmates.


Unlike other CS courses, this course depends on a particular type of collaboration. To complete your project, you are expected to work with the members of your team, your group's TA, and your sponsoring teacher. To complete the ambitious goals we have set, we will need a high degree of cooperation. If you are having problems with the dynamics of your group, please see your TA immediately. Obviously, the collegial collaboration of people sharing ideas to assist one another is very much encouraged.

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