The SIGCSE Symposium: A Brief History
their perspectives and insights within an informal framework,
achieving the spontaneity noted in the Electronic Group Interactive Session on SIG activities [ 2]. Within the SIGCSE symposia, SIGCSE 1984 seems to be the first program mentioning
BOFs. At the time SIGCSE symposia represented one component of ACM Computing Week, with SIGCSE events largely
scheduled during the day on Thursday and Friday. For SIGCSE
1984, however, a new program entry appears, “8:00 pm -- 10:00
pm BIRDS -OF-A-FEATHER SESSIONS SALON 10”, with the
additional notation, “Post your proposed topic with a leader’s
name on the bulletin board or sign up to attend one already
posted. Rooms will be assigned to fit the group size.” At the
symposium, groups would identify themselves through an informal sign up, and ad-hoc discussions could be scheduled over
a 2-hour block on Thursday evening [ 9]. A similar notation appears for SIGCSE 1985.
Neither a time nor sign-up process appears in the SIGCSE
1986 Proceedings, but by SIGCSE 1987 a specific contact was
identified for those interested in organizing a BOF, and the program schedule again identifies an evening meeting time. This
general arrangement continued through SIGCSE 1993. Interestingly, BOFs apparently were becoming progressively more
popular through this period, and SIGCSE 1994 identified BOF
sessions on both Thursday and Friday nights—the formal symposium closing session was 5:45-6: 15 pm on Friday, but an af-ter-symposium BOF period still was reserved (in the conference hotel) from 7:30-9:00 pm that evening.
SIGCSE 1995 returned to schedule BOF sessions one evening during the symposium, and the published Proceedings for
SIGCSE 1996 and 1997 both included descriptions of six BOF
sessions. Interest in BOFs continued to expand in the following
years. By approximately 2008, the number of requests for BOF
sessions exceeded the possible spaces and logistics, as shown in
the graph in Figure 6.
Also, by SIGCSE 2008, two “flocks” of BOF sessions were
held, back-to-back, to accommodate as many BOF sessions as
6. 6. FIRST-TIMERS LUNCH
The SIGCSE organization has had a long-standing commitment
to developing a sense of community among its members and
seeking to incorporate new members. As early as SIGCSE 1998,
the symposium committee included two people (Dick Austing
and Cathy Bareiss) who were in charge of first-timers activities. Before long, an important activity included a First-Timers
Lunch, when first-time attendees could meet each other and
become acquainted with some veteran SIGCSE members (e.g.,
SIGCSE Board members and others who had extensive experience with the SIGCSE organization).
By SIGCSE 2009, the number of first-timers reached about
340 attendees, and all received invitations to the luncheon—held
on the first day of the symposium to connect with first-time at-
tendees early in the symposium. To further connect first-timers
with veteran members of the computing-education community,
• All parties (the SIGCSE organization, the symposium
committee, veteran attendees, and first-timers) had a keen
interest in fostering community and encouraging personal
interactions. A reception, particularly near the beginning
of a symposium, brought people together and helped begin
the process of social inclusion.
• Symposium leadership want the reception to be a
welcoming and comfortable opening event, with inviting
and tasteful food and beverage options to meet attendees
needs, but also within in the [sometimes-significant]
constraints of the overall budget.
• Attendees often participate in the symposium with modest
funding and limited travel budgets, and this substantial
group has a strong preference for a reception that can
replace some or all of an evening meal.
For the most part, symposia through SIGCSE 2000 maintained a balance of food and beverage through lovely receptions
of modest scale. In 2001, however, the symposium had to pay
a substantial penalty to a hotel, due to an error in the contract
signed by ACM, but the hotel also agreed that the required payment could be used to cover an expanded reception. As a result, SIGCSE 2001’s reception was substantially more extensive
than similar events in the past—and, as might be expected, the
SIGCSE 2001 reception was greeted with considerable enthusiasm by many symposium attendees.
Of course, once attendees experience a (somewhat) extravagant reception, expectations were raised. Thus, after 2001,
Symposia leadership have faced the challenging assignment of
organizing an evening reception that would fulfill expectations
of attendees while also allowing the overall symposium to stay
within a designated budget. Of course, this planning is just one
of the many competing options that must be addressed by the
leadership of each SIGCSE symposium.
6. 4. NIFTY ASSIGNMENTS
One of the most popular sessions at the Technical Symposium
is the Nifty Assignments organized by Nick Parlante from Stanford. The session started in 1999 and has run every year since
then, except at SIGCSE 2000. Usually six presenters describe
an assignment they have used for a CS1 or CS2 course and
comment on its difficulties, its successes, and its appeal to the
students. The assignments, almost 150 of them, are archived at
nifty.stanford.edu. Some are complex because of their layered
structure, but each layer is rather simple. Some involve clever
uses of data structures. Others involve intriguing applications
and evoke concepts from the computing in context effort.
6. 5. BIRDS OF A FEATHER
“Birds of a Feather” or BOF sessions provide opportunities
for individuals with common interests to gather and discuss