Adrienne Decker

Adrienne Decker Headshot
1. How Do You Teach Applied Critical Thinking?

For most of my career, I have focused my scholarship on teaching introductory courses in computing. These days, people are calling that coding. However, teaching coding (or programming) to novices is a difficult task. You are asking them to think in ways that they have never done before. You need them to think in terms of how the computer would solve the problem and write in a language that is not a natural (spoken or written) language. As a computing education community, we have not still figured out all the exact right ways to do that. So, each time I teach an introductory course, I am refining and learning how to teach these students how to think in this way and how to apply that thinking to solutions. In many ways, I feel, from the moment we start the introductory course, I am teaching applied critical thinking and don’t stop until the end of the term.

2. Why Do You Think Applied Critical Thinking is Important in Your Domain?

In computing, one of the most important skills is problem solving. In fact, when I describe what it is like to program a computer to introductory students, I often use the statement, “It’s solving problems using a computer.” If you are going to solve problems (with or without a computer), you need to spend time thinking through what the solutions is, planning how to get to the solution, and probably most importantly to computing systems, testing out that your hypothesis and solution are working as expected. For many students, thinking through that last step takes time to learn. How do you determine if your program works as expected? In all cases? Under all sorts of interesting circumstances? For any input? Coming up with a strategy for thinking through the testing of a piece of software takes as much time to learn as how to create the code that when executed creates the solution.

3. Can You Share a Story Where Quality Applied Critical Thinking Was Key to Your Success?

One of my proudest accomplishments thus far in my career is the work I’ve done with the flagship conference in my domain of scholarship (computing education). In 2015, I was conference co-chair of the ACM SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education. Doing that job was the culmination of years of working within the conference organization and balancing the goals of the conference with the needs of the community it serves. I needed to balance the oversight of the work of the conference committee (of approximately 50 volunteers), the professional conference management team, the venue, and the work I needed to do for my job here at RIT. And I was not alone. I had a co-chair that I needed to coordinate with. But that chair and I had a significant time zone difference. With the help of my co-chair and the conference volunteers, we were able to facilitate a switch to a new conference submission system and we were able to create and implement processes for the management of the conference that are still in place. Over the course of the three years it took to make the conference a reality, the amount of planning, scheduling and logistics took up a great deal of my time and would not have been a success had I not been able to use my critical thinking abilities to keep things organized, balanced, and running smoothly.

4. How Do You Use Critical Thinking in Other Areas of Your Life Outside of RIT?

I think that because so much of what I do is about defining and executing processes, I design and implement a lot of processes in my personal life. I think, at times, it drives my family crazy, but there are certain ways I do things and that I’ve asked them to do things. What is interesting to me is that I’m constantly refining them to make them work better. I’m constantly thinking about ways to better manage things, coordinate things, and balance things so that I can fully enjoy both my work life and my family life.

5. Any Last Critical Thoughts?

I think that often, as domain experts, we do not see the critical thinking that is going on around us or that others do similar types of thinking in jobs that are not like ours. Throughout this university and others, across all departments and units, people are using critical thinking to accomplish their tasks and achieve their goals. They may not call it that and they may not even think of it in that way, but it’s there and it’s happening. Taking the time to learn from each other and recognize what types of problems are being solved and in what ways can make you a better thinker and solver within your discipline.