Another conference has come and gone. I attend a great many of these over the course of a year and one thing I have noticed is that most of them are too big. TCEA is a wonderful place to share and learn but it is very easy to get lost. Bringing thousands of people together to share ideas, oddly enough, makes sharing those ideas much more difficult. This is not the case with the WeTeach_CS Computer Science Summit, held each year in Austin at the J. J. Pickle Research Campus. (That name appeals to me for some reason).
WeTeach_CS is a program sponsored through the Center for STEM Education by the University of Texas in Austin with the express purpose of promoting Computer Science Education in Texas High Schools. They are deeply involved in promoting Professional Development for Texas Computer Science Teachers and probably are best known for providing $1000 stipends for teachers who are willing to become certified in Computer Science and to teach it in the State of Texas. WeTeach_CS provides training and resources in all aspects of Computer Science with a focus on helping teachers successfully pass the TEA 141 exam to become a certified Computer Science Teacher in Texas. They provide support and resources for currently employed CS teachers to insure that students in Texas High Schools have the best access to Computer Technology and Education available. They also act as advocates for Computer Science Teachers and educators in general.
To those ends, the staff of WeTeach_CS, led by Dr. Victor Sampson, Director of the Center for STEM Education, and Dr. Carol Fletcher, the Deputy Director of the Center for STEM Education, sponsor a summit meeting of interested Computer Science Teachers, Administrators, Technology Support Staff, and Vendors from across the State and around the Nation. This event, ably organized behind the scenes by Amy Werst, Manager of Programmatic Operations for the Center, is a great opportunity for educators to share techniques and ideas with their peers from across the state as well as a place be become informed on the condition of Computer Science Education in Texas.
I have been privileged to attend this summit for the last two years (2015/16 and 2016/17) and I can say that, unlike many conference type events, this one is worth the time and effort to attend. In the past I have attended trainings where the primary function seemed to be getting as many potential customers in front of as many vendors as possible. Many of the “educator sessions” turned into sales pitches for whatever product the vendor was selling. While I recognize the need for sponsors and that sponsors should receive benefits for the investment they make, it is very easy to take this to a level so extreme that it ceases to have any educational value at all. (Advice to all event organizers of this type: Limit vendor/sponsors to the absolute minimum necessary to fund the event and make sure that the content they are providing in their sessions is actually useful to people who aren’t going to buy their products.)
I believe WeTeach_CS Summit organizers hit the balance perfectly. Aside from main corporate sponsors (IBM and Oracle this year – Thank You Both Very Much!), there were only about 6 vendor sponsors in attendance. This for a conference of a couple of hundred attendees. The tables were located in the common break area and the vendors were not intrusive at all. The sessions they presented were informative and useful, even to people with no intention of purchasing anything. In short, they were an asset to the meeting and not a distraction. It would have been very easy to fill the common area up with vendor tables and the organizers could possibly have made more money but I believe that the conference would have suffered. Hats of the Amy, Carol, and everyone involved for doing a great job organizing.
The facilities provided by UT were, as usual for the university, top notch. I am an Associate Faculty with the OnRamps program as well as a budding Bootstrap presenter and so I frequently attend meetings and presentations at various locations within the University of Texas. I have never had a bad experience with any UT sponsored event. The WeTeach_CS Summit for 2016/17 was an excellent reflection upon the University of Texas and the value it places on education in the State of Texas. (I’m saying this even though I graduated out of the A&M system so you know it has to be true).
If Carol, Amy, and the other attendees of this conference are any indication, the future of Computer Science, and education in general, in Texas, is bright. Given the projected growth of the Computer Industry and all things digital, I would say that the future of the economy and the welfare of the people of Texas is also bright. At least it will be if Carol Fletcher has anything to say about it.