I get email. And I get twitter followers. Often these new followers or email senders are promoting some new gadget for teaching. This week it was RobotIX and Hackball. Hackball is looking to get funded via Kickstarter so it’s not available yet and most of the information about it is at the Kickstarter link. The RobotIX web site talks about some robots that are “coming” but doesn’t include pictures or really any data about them. That obviously makes it hard to review them.
Why are there more and more of these sorts of things all the time? Well, I guess because they are cool and fun. Lots of people want to create the magic bullet to make teaching easier. There are already a lot of robots and what not out there (I list many at Robots For Teaching Programming) so it feels like people are “reinventing the wheel.” This is the case even though we don’t really know if any of this really works as advertised.
We seem to do a lot of things based on intuition or because we want it to work. Mark Guzdial wrote about this recently at Computing Education Must Go Beyond Intuition: The Need for Evidence-Based Practice on the Blog at CACM. That lack of evidence for most new things is what worries me. Yes I love to try new things and there are others out there like me who will. But in the end how do we know it is working? Not all teachers are trained researchers with well defined environments that allow for serious evidence gathering.
I suspect I am not alone in wishing that universities would step up and take on the task of researching what works and what doesn’t in computer science education. So far at most universities there is a lot of finger pointing and saying let the other guy do it. CS departments think Education departments should do it and Education departments think that CS departments should do it. Few schools are willing to fund real CS education research. And so we keep doing things by trial and error and hoping that the things we think are cool are also working.