Posts tagged ‘CS10K’

Why MOOCs don’t help CS Education: Learning to lighten up

Last year, Peter Denning approached me about contributing a post to an on-line Symposium that he was going to hold in the  ACM Ubiquity magazine.  The opening statement was written by Candace Thille  — I am a big fan of Candace’s work, and I really liked her statement. I agreed to provide a response for the symposium.

My article has just been published (here). The whole symposium with all the preceding posts is here.  But the ending I quote below is not the ending it had originally.

Back in May, when I originally wrote the ending, I was concerned that so many Computer Scientists were working in MOOCs.  MOOCs don’t address the critical needs of CS education, which are broadening participation and preparing more teachers. The real worry I had was that MOOCs would suck all the air out of the room. When all the attention is going to MOOCs, not enough attention is going to meeting our real needs. MOOCs are a solution in search of a problem, when we already have big problems with too few solutions.

My original ending took off from Cameron Wilson’s (then director of public policy for ACM, now COO of call for “All Hands on Deck” to address issues of broadening participation and teacher professional development. Extending the metaphor, I suggested that the computer scientists working on MOOCs had gone “AWOL.” They were deserters from the main front for CS education.

This was the first article that I’ve ever written where the editor sent it back saying (paraphrased), “Lighten up, man.” I agreed. I wrote the new conclusion (below).  MOOCs are worth exploring, and are clearly attractive for computer scientists to work on. Researchers should explore the avenues that they think are most interesting and most promising.

I’m still worried that we need more attention on challenges in computing education, and I still think that MOOCs won’t get us there.  Critiquing MOOC proponents for not working on CS ed issues will not get us to solutions any faster.  But I do plan to keep prodding and cajoling folks to turn attention to computing education.

Here’s the new ending to the paper:

MOOCs may be bringing the American university to an end—a tsunami wiping out higher education. Given that MOOCs are least effective for our most at-risk students, replacing existing courses and degrees with MOOCs is the wrong direction. We would be tailoring higher education only to those who already succeed well at the current models, where we ought to be broadening our offerings to support more students.

Computer science owns the MOOC movement. MOOC companies were started by faculty from computing, and the first MOOC courses were in computer science. One might expect that our educational advances should address our educational problems. In computing education, our most significant educational challenges are to educate a diverse audience, and to educate non-IT professionals, such as teachers. MOOCs are unlikely to help with either of these right now—and that’s surprising.

The allure of MOOCs for computer scientists is obvious. It’s a bright, shiny new technology. Computer scientists are expert at exploring the potential of new computing technology. However, we should be careful not to let “the shoemaker’s children go barefoot.” As we develop MOOC technology, let’s aim to address our educational problems. And if we can’t address the problems with MOOC technology, let’s look for other answers. Computing education is too important for our community and for our society.

via Ubiquity symposium: MOOCs and technology to advance learning and learning research.

July 31, 2014 at 8:54 am 4 comments

Hands up who likes PHP? The role of popular programming languages in Computing Education

I was at the NSF CS10K Evaluators meeting earlier this summer, and we got to talk about important research questions. Someone suggested the issue of learning progressions. How do students move from Scratch or Alice or Blockly to Java or C++? One of the evaluators, whose background is entirely in education and evaluation, asked, “Professional programmers don’t use Scratch and Alice?” We explained what professional programmers really do. “Then why are we teaching Scratch and Alice, especially if we don’t know how the transfer works?!?”

The tension between what languages are “useful” (read: “we use them today in industry”) and what languages are helpful for learning has always existed in CS Ed. I’ve recommended the blog below to several people this summer, including reading  the comments from the developers who push back — “Yeah, stop with Alice and teach real languages!”  I agree with the post’s author, but I see that, even in the CS10K project, the notion that we should teach what’s vocationally useful is strong.

At the NSF CS10K Evaluators meeting, I got to wondering about a different question. Most of our evaluators come from science and math education projects, where you teach the way the world is.  If you have trouble teaching students that F=ma, you better just find a new way to teach it. I told the evaluators that I hope their results inform the design of future programming languages. Computer science is a science of the artificial, I explained. If you find that mutable variables are hard to understand, we can provide programming languages without them. If the syntax of curly braces on blocks is too subtle for novices to parse (as I predict from past research findings), we can fix that, too. I got confused looks. The idea that the content and the medium could be changed is not something familiar to this audience. We have to figure out how to close that loop from the evaluators to the designers, because it’s too important an opportunity to base our language design for novices on empirical results.

It is a school’s job to churn out students who will be able to walk into a job in industry on day one and work in whatever language/paradigm is flavour du jour.
WRONG! We’re here to teach children the core concepts of Computer Science. Working on that basis to produce someone with employable skills is your job. Do you expect Chemistry students to walk out of school ready to begin work in a lab? Should we stop using Scratch as a teaching language because nobody programs with it in industry? Of course not, so please stop recommending that we should be teaching using Scala/JSON/whatever is currently flavour of the month.

via Hands up who likes PHP? | Code? Boom..

June 8, 2014 at 7:30 am 20 comments

NSF STEM-C Partnerships Program Solicitation Released: New form of CE21

Just posted by Jeff Forbes to the SIGCSE-Members list.

NSF has released a new solicitation relevant to CS education.

STEM-C Partnerships: Computing Education for the 21st Century (14-523)

The STEM-C Partnerships combines and advances the efforts of both the former Math and Science Partnership (MSP) and Computing Education for the 21st Century (CE21) programs. STEM-CP: CE21 modifies the earlier CE21 program by:

- Merging the previous Broadening Participation (BP) and Computing Education Research (CER) tracks into a single Broadening Participation and Education in Computing (BPEC) track focused on building an evidence base for student learning of computing fundamentals applicable to the elementary, middle, or high school levels;
– Requiring a Broadening Participation component for all proposals on the CS 10K track; and
– Adding a third track, STEM-C Partnerships Computer Science Education Expansion, that aims to expand the work of previously funded NSF MSP Partnerships to increase the number of qualified computer science teachers and the number of high schools with rigorous computer science courses.

Please review the solicitation for the requirements and goals of the three tracks.

The next deadline for proposals is March 18, 2014.

December 19, 2013 at 10:08 pm 5 comments

CSTA Blog on new UChicago study of US CS high school teachers

The University of Chicago has released their latest study on the state of CS Education in US high schools. This one is a survey of CS teachers around the country, and Baker Franke introduces the study on the CSTA Blog.

Two things stood out to me when I looked at survey results. First, computer science teachers, despite still reporting that they are the only CS teacher (or one of a few) in their community, reported feeling supported by their schools and administration. This was completely surprising to me. (Perhaps, it is the self-selecting nature of survey respondents, who are more likely to feel happy, satisfied and proud of the fact that they teach CS.) But, maybe this is evidence that the advocacy work of CSTA has been working and the shifting public view of computer science education has led to more schools supporting the teaching of computer science.

Second, we have a real problem with misconceptions about computer science, still, in 2013. And as the survey results show, as a community, we are still not on the same page about what computer science education is either. At the moment, the word “code” is gaining attention as the stuff students should learn with computers, and whatever stigma used to be attached to programming seems to be dissipating – which is good. But we have a long way to go in clarifying what a high-quality, rigorous computer science education is and that that includes more that just programming.

via Computer Science Teachers Association Blog “Who is Teaching CS?”.

August 28, 2013 at 1:15 am 1 comment

Why we need schools of education for a stable future for computing ed

I’ve mentioned before how much we need schools of education to guarantee the future stability of computing education.  The new CSTA report on certification makes the point better than I do.

I just wrote a Blog@CACM post explaining why we in CS need collaboration with schools of education.  We don’t want to be in the business of certifying teachers.  We certainly do not have the background to prepare teachers for a lifelong career in education.  That’s what pre-service education faculty do.

How we get from here to there is an interesting question.  Michelle Friend suggests that we start by finding (or getting hired) faculty in science and mathematics education who are interested in starting computing programs.  Few schools would be willing to take the risk of establishing computing education programs or departments today.  They might exist one day, but they’ll probably grow out of math or science ed — just as many CS departments grew out of math or science or engineering roots.

Given that (in the US) we lose close to 50% of our STEM teachers within the first five years of teaching, we have to establish reliable production of CS teachers, if we don’t want CS10K to be only CS5K five years later.  To establish that reliable production, we need schools of education.



August 23, 2013 at 1:39 am 4 comments

Computer Scientists: do outreach or your science dies

All the more reason for more computer scientists to answer Cameron Wilson’s “All Hands on Deck!” call, and to get involved in the CS10K effort.

The scientific community must also do the same, by convincing the public that it is worth spending tax dollars on research. Scientists: this isn’t someone else’s job – this is your job, starting immediately. If you personally hope to receive government research funds in the future, public engagement is now part of your job description. And if you and your colleagues don’t convincingly make the case to the public that your discipline should be funded, well then it won’t be. Without a public broadly supportive of funding science, it is all too easy for politicians looking for programs to cut to single out esoteric-sounding research programs as an excuse to further slash science funding.

via Scientists: do outreach or your science dies | Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network.

August 16, 2013 at 1:56 am 1 comment

NCTQ and US News Report on Teacher Prep: Making CS Teacher Prep Better

The National Council on Teacher Quality and US News and World Report have  released a state-by-state report on teacher preparation — and it’s pretty dismal.  I’ve copied some of the top “take-aways” below.

Important “take-aways”

  • In countries where students outperform the U.S., teacher prep schools recruit candidates from the top third of the college-going population. The Review found only one in four U.S. programs restricts admissions to even the top half of the college-going population.

  • A large majority of programs (71 percent) are not providing elementary teacher candidates with practical, research-based training in reading instruction methods that could reduce the current rate of reading failure (30 percent) to less than 10 percent of the student population.

  • Only 11 percent of elementary programs and 47 percent of secondary programs are providing adequate content preparation for teachers in the subjects they will teach.

via Teacher Prep: Findings.

There is some significant critique of the NCTQ study, particularly on its methodology. This is from Diane Ravitch’s blog:

NCTQ is not a professional association. It did not make site visits. It made its harsh judgments by reviewing course syllabi and catalogs. The criteria that it rated as most important was the institution’s fidelity to the Common Core standards.

As Rutgers’ Bruce Baker pointed out in his response, NCTQ boasts of its regard for teachers but its review of the nation’s teacher-training institutions says nothing about faculty. They don’t matter. They are irrelevant. All that matters is what is in the course catalog.

via That NCTQ Report on Teacher Education: F | Diane Ravitch’s blog.

I’d rather see the NCTQ study as pointing out problems for computing education programs to avoid. Given the results coming in from the UChicago Landscape study, I doubt if we’re doing much better now in computer science.  From a positive perspective, the best practices identified in the NCTQ report can inform what we do in computing education teacher professional development.  As Jeanne Century said at SIGCSE this last year, one advantage we have is that we’re starting from a pretty much clean slate — there’s not much out there.  We can try to build it right from the start.

June 24, 2013 at 1:18 am Leave a comment

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