Four Reflections on the History of ITiCSE
ITiCSE is also an intimate conference with registration counts
typically between 175 and 225. With country representation often over 40, attendees are virtually guaranteed to meet new colleagues from distant lands. More important than just country of
origin, it seems that ITiCSE delegates come looking for projects
to join or collaborators to work with. A very typical ITiCSE story:
two researchers meet face to face for the first time participating in
a working group. A year or two later they have co-authored a paper on a project they first discussed when they met at ITiCSE. A
couple more years pass and one of the researchers is taking a sabbatical at the other’s institution. Personally speaking, all but one
of my sabbaticals was spent working overseas with colleagues I
first met at an ITiCSE. A perennial discussion among the ITiCSE
community is how to measure the full impact of ITiCSE.
Much has been written about the publication model in computer science. Conferences are no longer places where communities gather to discuss ideas or works in progress. Instead,
conferences with their eyes on ever lowering acceptances rates
and ever increasing registration numbers often feel more like
events surrounding the publication of an annual journal. While
ITiCSE is not immune to these pressures, the always welcoming
and ever expanding ITiCSE community, at least to my eye, has
felt, even from the first ITiCSE, like a place where the quality
of discourse among colleagues and the freely shared criticisms
and suggestions regarding each other’s projects is the primary
reason researchers return year after year.
Twenty three years going, ITiCSE still has its “special sauce.”
ITiCSE within its Eurovision boundaries through 2021. Though
I suspect that means Australia is off the table, at least for now.
ITiCSE has grown in other ways as well. Early ITiCSEs had a
predominately USA-based attendee list. At the most recent ITiCSE
(2017 in Bologna, Italy) submissions came in from over 40 countries,
and only 29% of the 228 registered delegates hailed from the USA,
and only 47% came from European countries. Hence a quarter of the
attendees came from regions outside of Europe and the USA.
All successful conferences have their “special sauce.” For
ITiCSE, I believe it is a combination of the working group process coupled with the conference’s size. As has already been described, the working group experience is a cross between closed
door jury deliberations, a hackathon, and a graduate school
weekend seminar. When I elected to pursue a career in the academy I had visions of days filled with intellectual collegial discussions on the technical issues of the day—the Life of the Mind. As
you can see I was very poorly advised! However, participating in
a working group allows one to connect with that vision. Being,
sometimes literally, locked in a room with anywhere from six
to twelve passionate colleagues discussing, debating and sometimes arguing over the technical issues of computer science education over a five-day period is both exhilarating and exhausting.
This crucible of an experience has led to many a lifelong
friendship as well as some of the most respected publications in
computer science education. Some of my closest professional
friends were colleagues I met participating in one of the working groups at the first ITiCSE in Barcelona. While co-leading a
working group at the second ITiCSE, some participants’ passion for the topic at hand almost led to a physical confrontation.
Fortunately, the working group format has changed. By no longer requiring a finished report at the end of the five-day period,
the pressure placed on working groups has lessened. All I can
say is that I don’t miss the days of post-midnight assembly-line
proof reading and am thankful for Bib TeX!
[T]he always welcoming and ever
expanding ITiCSE community, at least
to my eye, has felt, even from the first
ITiCSE, like a place where the quality
of discourse among colleagues and
the freely shared criticisms and
suggestions regarding each other’s
projects is the primary reason
researchers return year after year.
Figure 5: ITiCSE 2001 McKraken et al. Working Group
Figure 6: ITiCSE 2002 Naps et al. Working Group