SIGCSE: Now and Moving Forward
The SIGCSE Symposium:
A Brief History
Robert E. Beck, Villanova University and Henry M. Walker, Grinnell College
Historically, within the framework of the Association for Computer Machinery (ACM), events were labeled
according to their anticipated size. For example, large events
were “conferences,” smaller events (a few hundred attendees)
were “symposia,” and quite small events were “workshops.”
Decades ago, events sponsored by SIGCSE drew only a
few hundred attendees (143 at SIGCSE 1970), and this
participation level led SIGCSE’s annual event to be called a
“Technical Symposium.” Although attendance now regularly
exceeds 1200 (and was over 1500 in the past two years), the
title, “Technical Symposium,” remains and its formal name,
the SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science
Education, is shortened to SIGCSE <year>.
This document reviews the history of the SIGCSE Techni-
cal Symposia, from their first beginnings in 1970 through cur-
rent times. To organize the review, we divide the history of the
SIGCSE symposia into four main phases:
• the early years (Section 1),
• co-location with the ACM Computer Science Conferences
(and ACM Computing Week) (Section 2),
• the transition from SIGCSE as a co-located conference to a
standalone event (Section 3), and
• growth to a regular attendance of 1200 [and more] (Section 4).
After this historical overview, the article focuses upon several components of the symposia, as they have evolved over the
• symposium scope and statistics (Section 5) and
• conference sessions, exhibits, and other events (Section 6).
We conclude by looking ahead to future symposia (Section
7) and offer a list of references (Section 8).
1. THE EARLY YEARS
The first SIGCSE Technical Symposium was held 48 years ago
on November 16, 1970, at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas.
The 1960’s brought a cultural shift in the US, and it seems only
right that Unix time and SIGCSE Symposia both began in 1970.
Many universities were starting computer science degree pro-
grams, and, as noted by Nell Dale as part of the CS oral history
project [ 6], SIGCSE provided a community for computer scien-
tists interested in effectively teaching post-secondary computer
science. SIGCSE 1970 co-chairs were Peter Calingaert, at the
time teaching for the University of North Carolina at Chapel
Hill, and Edward A. Feustel from Rice University. It is a testi-
mony to their dedication to service to computer science that
neither can remember too many details; however, Ed remem-
bers that he and Bob Jump handled the local arrangements. Pe-
ter was responsible for the technical content, and Robert M.
Aiken from the University of Tennessee served as Editor of the
Proceedings. More than 40 papers were submitted, with 18 ac-
cepted. According to Bob Aiken there were 143 attendees at the
first Technical Symposium.
The program of the first Technical Symposium shows that the
areas of concern then remain areas of concern now. Our understanding of computing has evolved as have the platforms on which
we perform the computing. But the general questions, paraphrased from the first Symposium program, have not changed.
• What is computing? Do we take a “big tent” view (e.g., do
we consider computing as a broad subject that includes
numerous elements from partner disciplines)?
• What should be taught in our computing courses? Where
does assembly language fit? How about machine learning?
• How do we design and execute the first course in
computing? Fortran? COBOL? Basic?
2. CO-LOCATION WITH ACM COMPUTER
The ACM Computer Science Conference (CSC) over its history from 1973 through 1996 was closely associated with the
SIGCSE Technical Symposium. The focus of CSC was computing technology interchange [ 1]. A supporting goal was communication between researchers and educators across the spectrum of areas that made up computer science in the 1970’s to
the 1990’s. This two-way communication would lead to continually updated curricula and educational practices.
The first ACM Computer Science Conference, labeled optimistically as the “First Annual,” was held in February 1973 in Columbus,
Ohio. It overlapped on Thursday with the third SIGCSE Technical