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C'est la Z

SIGCSE 2023 - Nifty Assignments

The final session I wanted to talk about was Nifty Assignments. Nifty has gone from a session that went through the approval process each year until it's popularity ended up with it being a regularly scheduled part of the show.

It used to be my favorite session but it's slipped behind "It seemed like a good idea at the time" and a couple of others this year - including "Microteaching." That's not a knock on Nifty assignments, it's still a fun session but when you combine the fact that the presentations are discrete assignments and Nick Parlante and team have both put together a nice web site to present all the assignments and have the submissions follow a standardized format, the session has become less necessary. Still fun and worthwhile but if I missed it, I know I'd be able to get most of the value of the session from the web site. Oh, and the site can be found here:

The session is pretty straightforward. Each speaker walks the audience through their assignment. One point that Nick Parlante brought up, though, that I never thought about before was that these are all packaged assignments - that is, you could adapt them but you could also use them as is. This was not about pedagogy or instruction. In fact, he said something to the effect of - you're lectures are your lectures just like you've always done but you can make part of the class memorable with a really nifty assignment. I disagree in that a class itself can be interesting, memorable, and even perhaps fun but Parlante had a valid point that even if a class is old school lecture based, an interesting assignment can always spice things up in a positive way.

Back in the day a lot of Nifty assignments were just take a regular assignment and add graphics on top. I guess it was a step in a new direction but not really that nifty.

Now, there's a much wider range of topics and a wider range of "niftiness."

Some still leveraged graphics, and that's fine - that will certainly motivate a subset of students but it was nice to see other, non graphics approaches that will excite others.

Many of the assignments relied on relating to current real world topics or by using real world data. Others, like the Enigma Machine simulation was rich with history. Still others used games and one focused on music.

Looking over the web site, most of the assignments are for CS1 but there are a bunch for CS2 and some for CS0. Personally, I've been using the Linked List Labyrinth with my CS2 students since I first saw the assignment.

If you teach CS1, CS2, or even a CS0, take a look at the site. Lots of fun stuff there.

Nifty, along with ISLaGIATT and Microteaching formed a nice little unofficial track for actual teaching and that's what I'll explore in my final SIGCSE 2023 post.

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