Before diving into the content I thought I'd share my thoughts about SIGCSE as a hybrid conference. Prior to Covid, SIGCSE was pushing 2,000 in person participants. This time around ther were a little under 800 in person and a number of hundreds more remote. The in person numbers mirrored what CSTA has grown to. It's a nice size. Not overwhelming but manageable. It's at the upper edge of possibly feeling intimate. Once you get into the thousands things feel far less personal. You can go the entire conference not finding people you want to connect with. On the other hand you can also blend into the crowd should you choose that route.
Things basically ran as usual. Opening announcements and keynote, coffee break, sessions and so on but remote was interjected throughout. There were also remote only sessions but I can't speak to those.
We started out with the opening keynote. Barbara Liskov Zoomed in from her home. She gave a great talk going through her history which in many was is the history of some key aspects of computer science, programming languages, and programming.
There was zero downside to having a remote keynote speaker. Barbara was intersting and engaging. I was blown away. The only thing I found a bit weird was that I kept glancing over to the dias where the speaker would normally stand and it was empty. That's on me though.
At the end we had Q&A from both people in the live audience and people on the remote platform. This was an all around win.
The first thing that somewhat irked me about virtual was at a paper session. The second paper was presented as a video. This part was fine, maybe even preferable since it allows the presented to make sure the video is set up the way they want and it also keeps within time limits. The problem was that there was no Q&A. If you're going to do a video presentation, the presenter should hop on some platform at the end for Q&A. There is zero value added to just showing the video. I could do that from home.
I'm not criticizing SIGCSE here. They tried something. In my opinion it didn't work. In the future, I'd love to see video presentations but with a live, in person or via some Zoom platform Q&A. In theory there could be some "flipped sessions" (although I think a lot of the flipped classroom concepts are bunk) where you could watch the video or read the paper prior to the session and then have a meaty discussion.
The second hybrid thing that I didn't like was a hybrid BOF. I just think it din't work. It basically turned into a few small mini presentations by the organizers. All the prior SIGCSE BOFs I've attended had the hosts facilitating a room wide discussion. This was similar but slightly more awkward in the few virtual group discussion sessions I've taken part in. This was a case of hybrid not working. With some people in the room and some people at home you just couldn't have meaningful discussion. The people in the room couldn't talk without excluding the remote people and remote conversation wasn't available easily to the in person crowd.
Birds of a feather just don't fly mixed. Do them remote or do them in person.
A third thing that didn't really bother me but I found weird was one panel where one person was in person and the rest were remote while I knew that at least one of the remote people were attending in person. The mix just didn't flow as well for me. I've attende all in person panels, all remote panels, and panels where all the panelists were in a room together but presenting remotely. All of these formats worked. It think the mix of in person and remote was just kindof weird. In future, I'd say either have all the presenters in a room together at a big table even if it's remote or have them all "dial in."
Overall the conference was great so these are really nitpicks.
With this post out of the way I can get to the content posts but I feel it would be remiss if I didn't mention a couple of non content related highlights that the SIGCSE organizers provided.
First, the opening evening reception had a bacon bar. All receptions, coffee breaks, snack times, and I'd even say sessions should provide bacon.
The other thing which I'm more serious about is that they provided coffee and tea before the opening sessions rather than their usual practice of withholding caffeine for the 10:00 break. I can't imagine it would cost much to just put out the urns early.
Overall, great conference and great job by the organizers.
Content related posts to come.