PhD candidate Elizabeth Patitsas (with Jesse Berlin, Michelle Craig, and Steve Easterbrook) won the John Henry Award at the International Computing Education Research Conference (ICER) in Melbourne, Australia. The conference offers two awards each year: a best paper chosen by the conference chairs, and the John Henry Award, for innovation and new directions, which is voted for by the conference attendees.
Patitsas who is studying computer science education (co-supervisors Michelle Craig and Steve Easterbrook) describes two empirical studies that explore the belief in a "geek gene" among computer science instructors – the belief that some students seem to have an innate ability and "get" computer science, while others don’t.
Patitsas' research shows that in most cases, this is an illusion. In her study a bi-modal distribution was detected in only around 5% of courses, about the same as the expected false positive rate, meaning it’s likely none of them were really bi-modal.
Furthermore, the research shows that instructors who believe in the geek gene tend to believe their grades are distributed bi-modally, and vice versa. The study has important implications for how we think about the geek gene hypothesis and how computer science courses are taught.
Patitsas’ further research interests include gender issues in computer science education, how departments make policy decisions about their undergraduate programs, and how instructors, including teaching assistants, understand their teaching practices.