Professor portrait: Teaching and teaching teaching is Claus Brabrand’s hallmark
On March 23, Claus Brabrand, Head of the Center for Computing Education Research (CCER) and member of the Computer Science Department at the IT University of Copenhagen, will present his inaugural lecture as professor. He has spent the past twenty years working in educational research and is today considered a thought leader in the field. The lecture will take place at 14:00 in Auditorium 0 (zero).
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Written March 6, 2023 11:10 AM by Theis Duelund Jensen
In teaching, many researchers work to disseminate the knowledge they (and others) produce in their research. In the case of Claus Brabrand, who will present his inaugural lecture as full professor at the IT University of Copenhagen March 23, teaching itself is his area of research.
The professor, who completed his PhD in Computer Science at Aarhus University and currently heads up the Center for Computing Education Research at ITU, started his research career by developing his own programming language – essentially a collection of domain-specific languages each dedicated to a specific aspect of web-service development. From there, he moved into the field of software variability and grammatical ambiguities in programming languages in order to optimize the robustness of software. This is also where Claus Brabrand made a key insight that would plot out a new trajectory for his career:
“I realized that bugs occur because of programmers and that there are patterns in the way programmers create bugs. As much as it is a question of optimizing programming languages and compilers, it is also a question of optimizing the way programmers conceptualize programming,” says Claus Brabrand.
The project resulted in a widely acclaimed variability bug collection and bug finding tool, but it also set Claus Brabrand out on a new path in his research. He became increasingly interested in the way we learn, perceive, and adopt new knowledge and apply it in reality. What are the ideal conditions for learning programming? Which pedagogical approaches work better, what does better even mean, and how may we change the way we teach in order to accommodate different kinds of students?
Departure from one-way communication
In 2005, during a teaching development programme, Claus Brabrand was introduced to the concept of constructive alignment and student-learning perspective, it was a revelation that came to affect his own practices greatly. Effective teaching is not predicated on good one-way communication from the teacher. Rather, it is about adopting a student learning perspective and understanding what motivates students. In fact, good teaching is much more about the students and what they are doing than it is about the teacher.
“I realized that knowledge is constructed as a result of the learner’s activity. As teachers, we provide the knowledge building blocks, but in order for the students to learn you have to ensure that they utilize the right cognitive processes,” he says.
One result of Claus Brabrand’s work on the topic is the award-winning educational film Teaching Teaching & Understanding Understanding which is used for educating university teachers world-wide today, and has secured Claus Brabrand’s position as a thought-leader in the field of education.
When the professor was asked to head the newly founded Center for Computing Education Research at ITU in 2019, it was with the stated goal of providing evidence-based research on teaching practices, but Claus Brabrand also aimed his academic scope on diversifying the way we teach programming specifically:
“It is of the utmost importance that we have a diverse workforce in IT because the digital artifacts and infrastructure we create has to apply to everyone and not just one gender exclusively. There has traditionally been a large gender gap in tech, and I was very interested in examining why that is and how we can make a change.”
Taking a cue from the Canadian-American scholar Steven Pinker, Claus Brabrand began a research project entitled PEOPLE vs. THINGS, which based on statistical evidence, demonstrated that by focusing both communication about and the teaching of IT on people-related problems – as opposed to things-related problems – not only were IT studies more appealing to women, but also to students without prior programming experience. The new approach became part of ITU’s overall recruitment and retention diversity efforts which have resulted in an increased number of women students to the university’s degree programmes every year.
Claus Brabrand’s competences as a teacher were recognized in 2020, when he was the first ever recipient of the Danish National Teaching Award presented at a ceremony by H.R.H. Crown Princess Mary of Denmark.
“I have always loved teaching,” says the professor. “Teaching others, is one of the most meaningful things I can think of.” Theis Duelund Jensen, Press Officer, tel: 2555 0447, email: email@example.com