US Computing Education Research On The Sly
Last night was the submission deadline for the ACM SIGCSE 2010 conference, the biggest computing education conference in the world. I submitted 3 panels or special session proposals, and with graduate students, was part of 4 research papers. There were more research papers submitted to SIGCSE from Georgia Tech that I wasn’t part of. I’m proud that Georgia Tech has so much work going on in computing education research. What’s perhaps surprising is that none of these graduate students and none of the associated projects are funded to work in computing education research.
To the best of my knowledge, there are no funded computing education research projects in the United States. All computing education research projects, if funded, are funded to do something else. All computing education research in the US, then, is done on-the-side, even, on-the-sly. The UK, Germany, and Scandinavian countries do fund computing education research. Why not in the US?
We have computing education research at Georgia Tech funded by several US National Science Foundation (NSF) programs.
- The Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) funds Georgia Computes! which is about creating programs and classes and teaching teachers to make computing more accessible and inviting for everyone. That program allows for some research, and we can do evaluation which can inform research efforts, but the program isn’t about doing research.
- We have funding from Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) to disseminate work about Media Computation, keep improving JES, and evaluating results. Brian Dorn is funded on that program to work on JES, but his research is on end-user programming.
- We also have funding from CISE Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education (CPATH) to improve computing education by create communities of computing teachers. Lijun Ni is using that program to do research on computing teacher’s sense of identity, but she’s funded to keep that program going. Allison Tew also works on that program, but her research is on assessment.
In some sense, all of these efforts are about interventions and outreach. None of them is about doing fundamental research to inform how people learn about computing and how to improve that understanding.
There are NSF programs focused on education research (like REESE). To the best of my knowledge, there is no computing education research going on there. That makes sense to me. These programs fund all education research, competitively, across disciplines. Computing education research has few assessment methods (none reliable and valid), is just starting to develop broadly accepted theories and models, and has few people working in the community. Projects in computing education research are challenged to compete against well-established physics, mathematics, chemistry education (for example) where they have well-established assessment methods, models and theories with lots of support, and research communities that can provide support and fair evaluation of each others’ work.
How do we bootstrap a new education research community, like computing education research? How do we get funding so that people can focus on it, and not just do it on the side? How do we convince US policy makers that computing education is important and deserves funding so that we develop the methods, theories, and models that can improve computing education? Why is this harder to do in the US than in other countries?