Bui, Rebelsky - IRC in the Curriculum (Proposal)

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Peter Bui has developed a wide variety of ways to use IRC in his teaching - as a location for office hours, as a place to build community within the department and between current students and alumni, as a domain that empowers and motivates students to write interesting programs (e.g., bots that monitor the page and respond to various commands). Peter described this approach at the POSSE 2013 retreat and many of the faculty present were intrigued. In this project, Peter and Sam Rebelsky will develop resources to support enhanced use of IRC by CS faculty. These resources include guides for faculty (technological and pedagogical), technological resources for faculty (e.g., customized bots), and a year-long study of student use of IRC in different courses and different departments.


Why incorporate IRC in the CS curriculum? First, it helps meet FOSS goals. That is, if students are used to working with a common FOSS tool, they will be more comfortable working within FOSS communities and may be more likely to form their own. Second, because it reminds students of the power of simple and open tools. In particular, a logged IRC channel can provide many of the features of a tool like Piazza, but with more individual control and less overhead. Third, use of IRC can motivate students to consider societal and professional issues. In the POSSE workshop, we talked about ways a technology like IRC serves a broader community of people (low bandwidth, low technological requirements, ease of using translators, etc.). There are also opportunities to talk about what it means to work "in public" and to consider issues of academic honesty in an open environment. Finally, IRC can provide exciting project opportunities for students such as custom bots or web services.


An Instructor's Guide to IRC in the Classroom
Using the Technology (Bui & Rebelsky)
A guide for faculty on how to set up an IRC, associated technologies they might want to use, tips and tricks, and so on and so forth.
An Instructor's Guide to IRC in the Classroom
Pedagogical Approaches (Bui & Rebelsky)
A higher-level guide to IRC, one that focuses on why and how IRC is a useful tool. Includes reasons to use IRC (see summary in "Motivation" above), a taxonomy of approaches (e.g., virtual office hours, community building, visiting other communities), a set of discussion questions, sample assignments, and so on and so forth.
An Instructor's Guide to IRC in the Classroom
Writing Bots and interacting with web services (Bui)
A guide for instructors on how to have students write their own bots. Includes sample code and sample assignments.
TAbot - An instructor's IRC assistant
A bot that provides facilities likely to be useful to faculty. For example, the bot will provide facilities for logging discussions, sending SMS messages when keywords (e.g., the faculty member's name) are mentioned, and so on and so forth.
IRC as Instructional Tool - A Report from the Field
A SIGCSE-style paper that reports on what we've learned.

Approximate Timetable

Late summer - Preliminaries
Write basic instructions for students
Sketch primary documents
Develop/install bot to log classes
Develop/install notification bot
Set up channels.
Fall - Initial Course Usage
Run IRCs for classes: CS0 (Bui), Computer Architecture (Bui), CS1 (Bui & Rebelsky), CS2 (Rebelsky), Learning from Alumni (Rebelsky)
Run IRCs for informal department chats (Bui & Rebelsky)
Run IRCS for student organizations: LUG (Bui), SACM (Bui)
Develop instructor materials (Bui & Rebelsky)
Develop materials for teaching students to write bots (Bui)
Winter- Wrap Up
Analyze logs (e.g., identify common patterns of usage (e.g., question/answer, open discussion), quantify student usage)
Sketch SIGCSE paper
Polish materials

We also plan to do followup work in the spring. In part, the followup work will depend upon what we learn in the fall semester. (However, for the purposes of the funding, we would expect our work do be considered complete once the deliverables are done.)


Our primary assessment will come from the exploration of the IRC logs. E.g., How are students using the logs? What is the range of usage?

We also expect to include Likert-style assessment questions on the End-of-Course evaluations, questions of the form, "Using the IRC channel helped me learn the subject matter of the course - 1. Strongly Disagree, 2. Disagree, 3. Neutral, 4. Agree, 5. Strongly Agree".

Funding Requested

Stipend for Peter Bui: $1000

Stipend for Sam Rebelsky: $1000

Travel to attend SIGCSE2015 (if paper is accepted) or POSSE2014 (if this material will be useful at POSSE)

Travel for one in-person meeting over Winter break to go over logs and finalize materials

Contact Information

Peter Bui
131 Phillips Hall
University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire
Eau Claire, WI 54702
Office: 715 836 4165
IRC: pnutzh4x0r on Freenode

Samuel A. Rebelsky
Department of Computer Science, Grinnell College
1116 8th Avenue
Grinnell, IA 50112
Office: 641-269-4410
Cell: 641-990-2947
Email address via reCAPTCHA™ Mailhide
IRC: rebelsky on Freenode

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