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Educators at 17th Annual Workshop School Up on Cutting-Edge Software Engineering and Pandemic Teaching

Educators at 17th Annual Workshop School Up on Cutting-Edge Software Engineering and Pandemic Teaching

September 16, 2020—The Software Engineering Institute hosted 47 educators from 14 countries at its annual Software Engineering Workshop for Educators from August 4-6. Each year, the SEI holds the workshop to foster an ongoing exchange of ideas among educators of software engineering, as part of its mission to transition its expertise and support science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education. Participants of the 2020 workshop learned about software engineering for machine learning (ML), quantum computing, and remote teaching.

This year’s workshop was held virtually due to the COVID-19 crisis. “We had to adapt the workshop to a virtual audience spread around the world,” said Grace Lewis, one of the workshop’s facilitators alongside the SEI’s Robert Nord. Lewis is an SEI principal researcher and lead of the Tactical and AI-Enabled Systems initiative. “Although we missed the face-to-face interaction with the participants, it was great to see that we had the largest and most diverse attendance.” The number of participating accredited, college-level educators was the highest in the event’s 17-year history.

Anita Carleton, director of the SEI’s Software Solutions Division (SSD), kicked off the workshop with an update on the SEI’s effort to engage the software engineering community to define a national agenda for software engineering research and development for the next decade. “Today’s educators have the future in their hands when it comes to software engineering research and development because they are guiding and inspiring the students who will bring these ideas to fruition,” said Carleton. “Much of the national strategy for software engineering research and development we’re discussing today revolves around the advanced technology at the heart of this year’s workshop, and I’m so pleased to have educators engaged with our vision for the future.”

Lewis led the first training, on software engineering for ML systems. Her presentation gave preliminary results on a study to identify and address common mismatches that occur in the development of ML-enabled systems. These mismatches arise from incorrect assumptions made by data scientists, software engineers, and operations staff during the development process. Workshop participants characterized the issue as an opportunity for data scientists and software engineers to teach each other.

“I got some direct value from Grace’s session on software engineering gaps in ML,” said workshop participant and presenter Steve Chenoweth, of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. “Though we’ve had communication and translation problems since forever, having data and ML people involved adds a new dimension. I’ll be emphasizing the communications issues in my ML course.”

The second day of the workshop provided a 101 on quantum computing. Carnegie Mellon University’s Len Bass introduced participants to the concepts of qubits, gates, superposition, and entanglement, among others. The SEI’s Daniel Justice then led a hands-on lab session covering amplitude amplification and Grover’s algorithm.

This day of the workshop impacted Rajendra Raj, of the Rochester Institute of Technology, in his role with ABET, a higher education accreditation body. “I have been part of a group charged to investigate new directions in computing,” said Raj. “I now have a better sense of how quantum computing will fit into the overall future of computing, armed with the knowledge to separate hype from reality.”

In past years, participants spent the third day sharing artifacts from their software engineering curricula. This year, long-time workshop participants Martin Barrett, of Carnegie Mellon University, and Shawn Bohner and Steve Chenoweth, both of Rose-Hulman, facilitated an interactive session on teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pedagogy of software engineering encourages real-world experiences and interactions, which remote teaching complicates. The facilitators led a panel discussion on tools, student engagement, and evaluation in a remote-education or hybrid-education environment.

“Remote education is an opportunity to reach many people around the world,” said Lewis. “It has the potential to help fill the software engineer and developer gap, especially for a profession that already works across distributed teams.

“The last session will be the most useful in the near future,” said Paula Morais, of Universidade Portucalense, Portugal, echoing the sentiments of several participants. “The exchange of experiences was very enriching. It was great to share resources, some of which I will use in the next school year.”

Claudine Allen, of the University of the West Indies, Jamaica, agreed with many fellow participants that knowledge wasn’t the only valuable outcome. “The camaraderie is my favorite part of this workshop,” she said. “On both occasions that I have participated, I have felt a sense that these were my colleagues and not just other participants. I like that the SEI team not only shares current topics and research, but I appreciate the way in which they facilitate interaction and ideas from participants. I leave feeling empowered.”