Category Archives: Computer Science Education

ITiCSE 2017 in Bologna

I spent the last week in Bologna at the ITiCSE 2017 conference. This is one of the computer science education conferences that I usually try to attend. It is quite a small conference, and the papers normally have high quality. It’s indeed a nice community and a conference with a great atmosphere. Someone said that the reject rate this year was around 70% so those who present have usually done good studies. There were indeed many nice discussions at the conference, and I made a few new acquaintances who do research related to my area.

One of the coming years I will have a look at the working groups at ITiCSE and participate in one. They seem to do really good work in interesting areas, and some people spend most of the time at the conference attending these working groups that result in publications related to computer science education and often long lasting collaboration groups. Seems awsome!


Workshop on Education in a New IT system

I attended a workshop about education in the new economy system this week.  It was a very well organised workshop with representatives from all stakeholder groups involved in the education of the system. The discussion was facilitated by a workshop leader, and we discussed who would get education and and what the education should contain.

The workshop started with a presentation by me and Annika Björklund from the local Ladok project. I presented some general ideas from a study I did on economical staff and IT a few years ago, and Annika presented the ideas they are working with in relation to the Ladok project.

Annika has asked users what they want from education, and they said what is found in this slide:

  • Local support. How do we solve that?
  • Screen sharing with the support people
  • Courses that go deep into topics
  • Workshops where it’s possible to discuss your day to day problems with an expert.

workshop Ekonomi .png

I am very much looking forward to following this project. One part of the project will be rolled out in October, and the rest later on next spring.

Hello World! – Experiencing Usability Methods without Usability Expertise

During my PhD studies we did a very interesting study on how system developers understand and experience usability methods. The paper was written by Elina Eriksson, Jan Gulliksen and me and it gives some answers to interesting questions. 

This paper was one of the hardest papers to publish, mostly due to the use of several methods for data collection which is a bit non-traditional. However, after a few submissions and re-submissions it ended up being a paper well worth reading. You find the paper here:

The paper’s abstract: 

How do you do usability work when no usability expertise is available? What happens in an organization when system developers, with no previous HCI knowledge, after a 3-day course, start applying usability methods, and particularly field studies?

In order to answer these questions qualitative data were gathered through participatory observations, a feed back survey, field study documentation and interviews from 47 system developers from a public authority.

Our results suggest that field studies enhance the developer’s understanding of the user perspective, and provide a more holistic overview of the use situation, but that some developers were unable to interpret their observations and see solutions to the users’ problems. The field study method was very much appreciated and has now become standard operating procedure within the organization.

However, although field studies may be useful, it does not replace the need for usability pro fessionals, as their knowledge is essential for more complex observations, analysis and for keeping the focus on usability.

Success, Having a Fighting Spirit and the Mindset of YET – and one of our research studies

There are researchers such as Angela Duckworth who argue that success is more about effort and a fighting spirit than it is about talent, genius or any other predictor such as health or looks. Her research shows that this particular fighting spirit called “grit” is more important to success than talent. She has done a very interesting Ted talk on the topic that can be found on her home page, here. Recommended! There was also a recent radio program in Swedish on the topic, and Angela Duckworth is interviewed on the show. You find the Swedish show here

One way of helping students, or yourself, attain more grit is to aim for the “Growth mindset” developed by Carol Dweck and others. A key word in this way of thinking is the word YET, and that even though you don’t know everything you have the possibility to learn. Carol Dweck has also done a very insipiring Ted Talk about this found here.

In short the Growth Mindset as presented by Carol Dweck includes the following key elements or ways of thinking:

  • We can all get smarter. Abilities can develop.
  • We know what efforts make us better, and we are aware of what we can do to practice.
  • We put in extra time and effort when we want to achieve things since we know this will pay off.
  • We focus on the learning process, and not the end results. Focus on the “I’m not there YET, but I will reach there”.

The opposite of having the growth mindset is a fixed mindset where you believe that basic qualities or skills such as intelligence or talent, are fixed traits. With this mindset you also believe that talend alone will create success and for those who are gifted success comes without any effort at all.  They’re wrong, and this mind set does not help you much. 

Note! In the context of the fixed mindset it should be noted that there is a gender issue with the fixed mind set. Studies by Ann-Sofie Nyström have investigated why boys have a tendency to believe that “Smart students get perfect scores without studying much” and there is a norm that the best boy should be an effortless achiever.

Our Study on Conscientiousness, Grit and Programming Achievement

In a study that was published at the 2015 ITiCSE conference we tried to find correlations between conscientiousness, grit and programming achievement. The study was driven by Roger McDermott, and Mats Daniels and I collaborted with Roger McDermott on  writing it up.  Our study did find weak but significant correlations between conscientiousness, grit and programming achievement and from the study one can draw the tentative conclusion that having a fighting spirit and not give up is a key success factor in computer science and that we need to provide learning opportunities for our students to practice.


We investigate the link between concepts of perseverance such as conscientiousness, tenacity, and grit, and the academic attainment of first year computing students. We give a review of the role that perseverance plays in learning models as well as describing the role of conscientiousness in the Five Factor Model of personality. We outline research that links this trait with academic success before focussing on recent, narrower conceptualisations of perseverance such as academic tenacity and grit. We describe one of the questionnaire tools that have been used to assess one such aspect of perseverance. We give details of an investigation that looked for correlations between student responses to Duckworth’s Grit Survey, the Big Five Inventory (BFI) Personality Survey and summative attainment scores in a first year programming course. The results suggest a weak but significant correlation between conscientiousness, grit and programming achievement. We discuss these results as well as the limitations of the method used. Finally, we make some observations about the importance of these concepts in Computer Science education and outline further work in this area.


Meet Our Students at Vitalis 2017. They will present “Envisioning Technology in Healthcare in 2025”

The students of the IT and Society Class of 2017 will present their work at Vitalis 2017 in Gothenburg. I wrote about the start of this years’ course in this blog post. This years’ student project was lead by Mikaela Eriksson (who has a bright future ahead of her as a leader). She worked hard in the project, and togehter with a team of around 30 students they have reserached the future of technology in healthcare in 2025. They also produced a YouTube film. This project was a collaboration with the county council in Uppsala and the topic of the project was set by them.

If you are interested in our work with this course, we have written several papers about it, and constantly improve it.

Below is the abstract to the student presentation.

See you at Vitalis! 

As a part of an interdisciplinary course, students from Uppsala University, Gannon University (US) and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (US), have collaborated with the Uppsala university Hospital to work on a vision for how healthcare can look like in 2025. With a technical background, our work has a different view on the field of healthcare. Not being limited by the present boundaries of healthcare regulations, we will present technologies from various areas and how they can be applied in future healthcare. With the patient in mind, we will answer questions such as:


  • What are the possibilities provided by technologies such as drones and artificial intelligence?
  • Can technology from the retail and banking sector be used in healthcare?
  • How can the gaming industry influence the patient experience?

In order to explore healthcare services and understand the patient’s needs we made field visits, which included observing current ways of working and interviewing involved stakeholders. In order to summarise and conclude this research, we conducted vision seminars. As a method for participatory design, we invited healthcare professionals and patients to discuss the current situation and future visions together.

In our research we have observed a very scattered patient experience, involving long waiting times and misleading and/or limited information exchange between patient and healthcare professionals. Our research has shown that today’s healthcare could be improved by increasing patient involvement. Inefficient systems take time away from staff and current technology limits communication.
Based on our research regarding technology in healthcare, we will present different scenarios to describe our vision for how healthcare can look like in 2025. Using examples from chronic diseases (diabetes), temporary severe diseases (cancer), and accidents (head trauma), the goal was to cover multiple aspects of healthcare – before, during and after a hospital visit. Having real life situations allows us to illustrate how various kinds of technologies can improve the patient experience in different scenarios. The idea is to give examples of how future everyday life technology such as self-monitoring devices or virtual and augmented reality could be used to generate a more patient-centered and technology enhanced care.

Gamification and Learning of Human Computer Interaction

Last semester Diane Golay and I was responsible for the basic human computer interaction course at the department where we work. The course runs in several instances every semester, and we were in charge of the computer science students’ course instance.

The course has not been very popular, and this semester we did some changes to the course. The changes were based on how the course is run at KTH where it has been awarded “best course of the programme” for several years, and we had discussions with Jonas Moll  who has been a teacher there about the recommended set up of things.

In short the changes were:

  • Adding a gamification component to the course in the form of a competition and a jury.
  • Adding a final presentation in front of a jury consisting of three prominent people from academia and industry who listen to the best projects being presented and decides on a winner.

Last week the best teams of the course presented in front of a jury. The presentations were really impressive, and the students were very professional when describing their work with redesigning health apps. The winning team did a redesign of the health app “Zombie Run“, and won a cinema voucher each (see the picture of this blog post).

It was really an interesting learning experience to teach the course, and I hope that we can make use of what we learned for the next course instance. Diane Golay and I will also write a didactic paper based on this experience, so there will be more to come about this!


Students Envisioning the Future of University Studies – Paper presented at the Frontiers in Education Conference 2016

This paper that was presented last week at Frontiers in Education reports on a study addressing how students can be included as critical stakeholders in the systems and services provided by a university. We view this as an element of institutional democracy, and investigate how insights from the computing disciplines can inform this discussion.

The paper can be found here. 

I still remember how I had planned quite a wild didactic  idea about making the students act their future scenarios in a role play for each other. I was in charge of the student group, and worked together with my PhD student Thomas Lind on this. I was not sure about how the students would like this approach to presenting their visions, and I had had little time to prepare it. On my way to the vision seminar sessions the very morning of the role play my car broke down completely. I needed to call Thomas Lind,t  and say that unfortunately I would not show up. So I left him with the quite role play idea , and he was completely unprepared. Good thing he is excellent at improvising, and he made the best out of the situation. 🙂

When the paper was presented by Thomas Lind it was especially appreciated that the students were involved in the work, and that they were collaborative partners when the visions of the future were developed. There were other groups of users too, such as study administrators and study administrators.

The paper is written collaboratively by a whole group of people:

  • Thomas Lind, Åsa Cajander, Bengt Sandblad & Mats Daniels from Uppsala University
  • Marta Lárusdóttir from Reykjavik University
  • Roger McDermott from The Robert Gordon University
  • Tony Clear from Auckland University of Technology

In order to address the whole student experience we engaged students and employees at a large Swedish university in a vision seminar process to elicit how these groups envisioned an ideal future version of the university, and the necessary changes to technology and organisational structures required to achieve this ideal version.

The vision seminar process entailed six four-hour workshops with four groups consisting of six participants each. A survey instrument was used to follow up on the participants’ experiences of participating in the vision seminar process and their thoughts on the future of the university.

The results from the survey show that the participating students had a more positive view of the future in comparison to the university employees. The students envisioned systems to be harmonized at an interdepartmental level, as well as a seamless integration of a variety of services into one technical solution provided by the university.

For university employees the future work was viewed as being very flexible, made possible by information systems capable of providing excellent support whilst not hindering pedagogical and organisational development.

Finally we discuss the broader implications of these differing visions on the future of university education, and how such a visioning process may be successfully adopted in other institutions.

A Framework for Writing Learning Agreements – Paper Presented at Frontiers in Education 2016

I work together with colleagues and students on learning agreements in the IT in Society class, and we have developed a framework for writing these agreements that we use. The framework developed to support the students in writing learning agreements in the IT in Society course has been built on past cycles of experience in OEGP courses, theoretical insights from the HCI field and based on discussions with students.

Students often find it very difficult to write learning agreements as they are very unused to setting up goals for their own development, instead of being given these goals by a teacher.

We wrote a paper based on the development of the learning agreements that was presented at the Frontiers in Education conference in Erie last week. The paper is written collaboratively by Tony Clear from Auckland University of Technology, Roger McDermott from Robert Gordon University Aberdeen and the group of facutly and students from Uppsala University: Elin Parsjö, Mats Daniels, Nanna Lagerqvist and me. The paper has the title: “A Framework for Writing Learning Agreements”.

You find the paper here

The idea is to build an IT based system for this framework as an element of a research based development.  We have implemented this as a course Wiki set of pages. These pages contain:

  1. General information about the assignment of writing a learning agreement.
  2. Descriptions of the different professional competencies involved in the learning agreement (the nine graduate attributes from Curtin University).
  3. A template for writing learning agreements.
  4. Resources for developing different aspects of professional competencies.
  5. A reflection section with specific questions related to what has been developed for each of the professional competencies.
  6. A set of personas and scenarios.

We are still working on the implementation of the framework, and one step had been to try the personas in two course instances. So there is more to come in this area of didactic research 🙂


Experiences from Assessment of Teaching Skills at the University Level

In Sweden there has been a stronger focus on teaching skills at the university level during the last 10-15 years. One of the changes is the introduction of courses in teaching and learning in PhD education at most universities, and another is a career path including a title connected to salary raise for Excellent teacher. A large majority of the universities have also added “teaching skills” as a part of the requirements when employing university senior lecturers, and it is a part of the promotion to Associate Professor and full Professor.

Since 2010 I work with assessment of teaching skills for employments or promotion at the university level. I have done a few hundred assessments by now, and worked for around eight different universities. When employing a senior lecturer, for example, there is often team of 2-3 external exerts who do assessments for a committee in charge of the employment process. Sometimes they have asked me to do the assessment of teaching skills, and then the other two experts to do an assessment of both teaching skills and research excellence. Often the other experts then write a couple of pages describing and evaluating the research contribution from different perspectives, and then by the end add two sentences on teaching describing the teaching experiences of the applicant. A typical assessment in this context looks something like this:

The applicant has taught four courses at the university level (2010-2016), and supervised 5 bachelor students and 3 master students.

My assessments are usually around 2-3 pages only looking at the teaching skills in relation to the criteria made up by this specific university (there are no universal criteria in Sweden for teaching skills), and the criteria specified text in the advertisement for the position.

Q &A related to Assessment of Teaching skills

Isn’t it very subjective to do these kinds of assessments?

  • Well, not more than the assessment of scientific skills. Often the criteria used for assessment of teaching skills are much more elaborated and transparent than the ones used for scientific skills. So sometimes the assessment of scientific skills is really based on hidden norms and expectations, and that is really subjective.

The assessment is only based on what people claim they do, not reality what they have done.

  • The assessment is based on the text, but claims made need to be supported by the material provided in the portfolio such as course descriptions, development work done and letters of recommendation. Sometimes the assessment is also made through a test lecture and an interview.

Is teaching skills really valued as much as research skills when employing senior lecturers?

  • My experience is that sometimes it is, but often not. 🙁

The Future of Health Care: Student eHealth Project Kick off with the County Council in Uppsala

Now we have had a kick off day for this year’s project course in the IT in Society Class at Uppsala University. This is a collaborative class with students from thee different universities: Uppsala University, Gannon University and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.  Their project course is based on a student-centric learning philosophy, and open ended group work. Previous years the students have worked on various topics that are related to eHealth systems. 

We are constantly working on improving the course and the learning experience, and we have published some papers on the collaboration in the area of Computer Science Education.
This year 20 Uppsala University students will collaborate with 12 Americans on the topic:

Health systems in the future and possibilities with digitalization- Integrating systems

During the kick off day, there were a large number of people presenting their perspective of this years’ project. Annemieke Åhlenius who is the head of IT at the hospital was first and presented the Uppsala County Council’s . Some of the challenges that Annemieke and the county council face are in relation to:

  • co-ordination and interoperability
  • usable to whom?
  • integrity
  • prioritisation

This was an interesting presentation with some of the ideas similar as in this YouTube film, ending with “We need your help!” and some topics that the County Council would like the students to work on are:

  • Best in breed or best in sweet? (Standard systems or uniquely designed software)
  • For whom are we documenting in the Electronic Medical Records (EMR)?
  • How to archive one EMR instead of several professional-based ERM:s in one system?

Åke Nilsson who is a senior advisor at the County Council, was the second presenter, and he presented the national services that we have in Sweden. The most striking part of his presentation was the dependency map that he showed that clearly illustrated the complexities of eHealth. He also mentioned “the double work” that is a result of all these dependencies. People add the same information in many different systems.

Gustaf Hedström works with computer based decision support and Birgitta Wallgren who nowadays works with IT,  also did a very motivating presentation for the students. Gustaf presented how the work as a health care professional has changed, and the history of Electronic Medical Records (EMR).

Birgitta Wallgren describes that health care professionals want to work with patients, and they do not want to do the documentation. She presents the problem of documentation during surgery where one person documents what happens. Today they have many systems where they need to document, and there is very little integration between the systems.

Gustaf Hedström continued by describing the complexity of being a health care professional and being up to date, and that 1.244.252 papers were published in the Life Science area. Today it takes about 17 years for research in these papers to be implemented in the health care systems, according to Gustaf Hedström. And this is of course too long!

He also continued describing the health care system in the US, and had a fantastic quote from a physician that he had met:

There is no way I can summarize the health care system in the US, it is chaos

I am really looking forward to this years’ project, and for sure will blog about it some more.