Slow pace of higher-ed reform costs STEM majors: CS needs context
The argument being made here in this NYTimes piece suggests that the sluggish response to calls for higher-education reform has a real cost. We know how to make STEM classes more successful, in terms of motivation and learning, but higher-education institutions are not willing to change.
What does this mean for Computing Education? How do we avoid being “too narrow” and having a “sink or swim” mentality? We are encouraged to have CS education that has “passion” and includes “design projects for Freshmen.” Sounds to me that contextualized computing education, which includes efforts like Media Computation and robotics, is the kind of thing they’re encouraging.
No one doubts that students need a strong theoretical foundation. But what frustrates education experts is how long it has taken for most schools to make changes.
The National Science Board, a public advisory body, warned in the mid-1980s that students were losing sight of why they wanted to be scientists and engineers in the first place. Research confirmed in the 1990s that students learn more by grappling with open-ended problems, like creating a computer game or designing an alternative energy system, than listening to lectures. While the National Science Foundation went on to finance pilot courses that employed interactive projects, when the money dried up, so did most of the courses. Lecture classes are far cheaper to produce, and top professors are focused on bringing in research grants, not teaching undergraduates.
In 2005, the National Academy of Engineering concluded that “scattered interventions” had not resulted in widespread change. “Treating the freshman year as a ‘sink or swim’ experience and accepting attrition as inevitable,” it said, “is both unfair to students and wasteful of resources and faculty time.”