Posts tagged ‘K-12’

A theory for why there’s so little CS Ed in the US

I have a theory that predicts when (if?) we will see more computing education research students in the US.  I think that it might also help understand when computer science education (e.g., an AP course in CS) might reach the majority of US high schools.

Why are there so few CS Ed research students in the US?

Recently, I hosted a visit from Dr. Nick Falkner (Associate Dean (IT), Faculty of Engineering, Mathematical and Computer Sciences) and Dr. Katrina Falkner (Deputy Head and Director of Teaching, School of Computer Science) from the University of Adelaide. We got to talking about the lack of CS education research (CER) graduate students in the United States. There are lots of PhD students studying CER in Australasia, Europe, and Israel. To offer a comparison point, when we visited Melbourne in 2011, they had just held a doctoral consortium in CS Ed with 20 students attending, all from just the Melbourne area. The ICER doctoral consortium at UCSD in August had 14 students, and not all 14 were from the US. The Australasian Computing Education will have its own DC, and they’re capping enrollment at 10, but there are far more CER PhD students than that in the region. I get invitations regularly to serve on review committees for dissertations from Australia and Europe, but rarely from the US.

Why is CER so much more popular among graduate students outside of the US? I’ve wondered if it’s an issue of funding for research, or how graduate students are recruited. Then it occurred to us.

Check out the Falkners’ titles: Associate Dean, Deputy Head (Katrina will be Head of School next year), Director. I remarked on that, and Nick and Katrina started naming other CS education research faculty who were Chairs, full Professors, and Deans and Directors in Australia. We went on naming other CS education researchers in high positions in New Zealand (e.g., Tim Bell, Professor and Deputy Head of Department), England (e.g., the great Computing Education Group at Kent), Denmark (e.g., Michael Caspersen as Director of the Center for Science Education), Sweden (e.g., CS Education Research at Uppsala), Finland, Germany, and Israel.

Then I was challenged to name:

  1. US CS Education researchers who are full Professors at research intensive universities;
  2. US CS Education researchers who are Chairs of their departments or schools;
  3. US CS Education researchers who are Deans or Center Directors.

I’m sure that there would be some quibbling if I tried to name US researchers in these categories. I don’t think anyone would disagree that none of these categories requires more than one hand to count — and I don’t think anyone needs more than a couple fingers for that last category.

We have great computing education researchers in the United States. Few are in these kinds of positions of visible prestige and authority. Many in the ICER community are at teaching institutions. Many who are at research intensive universities are in teaching track positions.

Computing Education Research is not as respected in US universities as it is in other countries. In these other countries, a graduate student could pursue computing education research, and might still be able to achieve tenure, promotion, and even an administrative position in prestigious institutions. That’s really rare in the United States.

There are many reasons why there isn’t more CER in research-intensive universities.  Maybe there’s not enough funding in CER (which is an outcome of lack of respect/value).  Most people don’t buy into computing for all in the US.  Unless there’s more CER in schools, maybe we don’t need much CER in Universities.  I’m actually not addressing why CER gets less respect in the US than in other countries — I’m hypothesizing a relationship between two variables because of that lack of respect.

The status of CER is definitely on the mind of students when they are considering CER as a research area. I’ve lost students to other areas of research when they realize that CER is a difficult academic path in the US. My first CS advisor at U-Michigan (before Elliot Soloway moved there) was strongly against my plans for a joint degree with education. “No CS department will hire you, and if they do, they won’t tenure you.” I succeeded into that first category (there was luck and great mentors involved).  It’s hard for me to say if my personal path could ever reach categories 2 or 3, and if barriers I meet are due more to my research area than my personal strengths and weaknesses.  All I can really say for sure is that, if you look around, there aren’t many CER people in those categories, which means that there is no obvious evidence to a graduate student that they can reach those kinds of success.

So, here’s my hypothesis:

Hypothesis: We will see more computing education research graduate students in the US when CER is a reasonable path to tenure, promotion, and advancement in research-intensive US universities.

Why is there so little computing education in US high schools?

Other countries have a lot more computing education in their high schools than we do in the United States.  Israel, New Zealand, Denmark, and England all have national curricula that include significant computer science.  In Israel, you can even pursue a software engineering track in high school.  They all have an advantage over the US, since we have no national curricula at all.  However, Germany, which has a similarly distributed education model, still has much more advanced computing education curricula (the state of Bavaria has a computing curriculum for grades 6-12) and CS teacher professional development.  What’s different?

I suspect that there are similar factors at work in schools as in Universities.  Computing education is not highly valued in US society.  That gets reflected in decisions at both the University and school systems.  I don’t know much about influence relationships between the University and the K-12 system. I have suggested that we will not have a stable high school CS education program in the United States without getting the Schools of Education engaged in teacher pre-service education. I don’t know how changes in one influence the other.

However, I see a strong correlation, caused by an external social factor — maybe some of those I mentioned earlier (not enough funding for CER, don’t need more CER, etc.). Professors and University administrators are not separate from their societies and cultures. The same values and influences are present in the University as in the society at large. What the society values has an influence on what the University values.  If a change occurs in the values in the society, then the University values will likely change.  I don’t know if it works in the other way.

So here’s where I go further out on a limb:

Second Hypothesis: We will see the majority of US high schools offering computer science education (e.g., AP CS) when CER is a reasonable path to tenure, promotion, and advancement in research-intensive US universities.

Here are two examples to support the hypothesis:

  • Consider Physics. No one doubts the value of physics. Within society, we’re willing to spend billions to find a Higgs Boson, because we value physics. Similarly, we strive to offer physics education to every high school student. Similarly, physics faculty can aspire to become Deans and even University Presidents. Physics is valued by society and the University.
  • Consider Engineering Education Research. Twenty years ago, engineering education research was uncommon, and it had little presence in K-12 schools. Today, there are several Engineering Education academic units in the US — at Purdue, Clemson, and Virginia Tech. (There’s quite a list here.) Engineering education researchers can get tenured, promoted, and even become head of an engineering education research academic unit. And, Engineering is now taught in K-12 schools. Recently, I’ve been involved in an effort to directly interview kids in schools that offer AP CS. We can hardly find any! Several of the schools in the Atlanta area that used to offer AP CS now offer Engineering classes instead. (Maybe the belief is that engineers will take care of our CS/IT needs in the US?)  Engineering has a significant presence in K-12 education today.

I don’t think that this hypothesis works as a prescriptive model.  I’m not saying, “If we just create some computing education research units, we’ll get CS into high schools!”  I don’t know that there is much more CS Ed in schools in Australia, Sweden, or Finland than in the US, where CER is a path to advancement. I  hypothesize a correlation.  If we see changes at the Universities, we’ll be seeing changes in schools.  I expect that the reverse will also be true — if we ever see the majority of US high schools with CS, the Universities will support the effort.  But I thnk that the major influencer on both of these is the perception of CER in the larger society.  I’m hypothesizing that both will change if the major influence changes.

(Thanks to Briana Morrison, Barbara Ericson, Amy Bruckman, and Betsy DiSalvo on an earlier draft of this post.)

October 28, 2013 at 1:48 am 45 comments

One schoolgirls’ story: Why schoolgirls are not interested in studying IT

An interesting though somewhat sad story from a school-age girl (probably high school level?) about why she’s not interested in Information and Communications Technology.  A good part of her story has to do with self-efficacy — how do you get better at this?

Throughout my first two years, my ICT assessment levels have always been much lower than other subjects and this can put you in the frame of mind that you’re bad at ICT, and if there are other subjects you’re better at, surely it’s simpler to take them for GCSE. And of course, IT is not the ideal job for me if I can’t even pass an exam.

Unless computing was made a compulsory subject like a language or maths, I don’t think this will change. To improve your English you can read, and to improve your ICT there are particular websites, but I certainly would not spend time on them and I’m sure my friends wouldn’t either

via Why schoolgirls are not interested in studying IT – WITsend.

October 8, 2013 at 1:02 am 9 comments

Why we want more girls interested in computing

Nice new infographic from NCWIT making the case for engaging more women in computing, and giving tips on how to do it.

Just 9 states allow computer science to count towards high school graduation requirements.

Just 9 states allow computer science to count towards high school graduation requirements.


If technology is designed mostly by the half of our population that’s male, we’re missing out on the innovations, solutions, and creations that 50% of the population could bring.

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates that by 2020 there will be more than 1.4 million computing-related job openings. At current rates, however, we can only fill about 30% of those jobs with U.S. computing bachelor’s grads. Girls represent a valuable, mostly untapped talent pool.

With computing jobs among the fastest-growing and highest-paying, more women should benefit from these occupations.

via infographic | National Center for Women & Information Technology.

November 14, 2012 at 8:56 am 1 comment

Moving the Needle Across Georgia in K-12 Computing Education

Nice piece with how-to lessons from Barb, based on her Grace Hopper talk.

From advocacy to action. In the previous session I attended at #ghc12, Are we there yet: education & innovation for women & girls?, I heard a clarion call for moving from advocacy to action. In this session, Barbara Ericson, newly minted A. Richard Newton Educator award winner, answers the question – how? First, I think it is interesting that she is a women who did not start out in education, but comes from industry. She also didn’t start out to pursue computing as a career, horses and therefore becoming a veterinarian was her passion. As with many women of my generation, she stumbled unto computer science in college and she also remembers that in the “early days” it was not such a male-dominated field. Somewhere along her journey, she became passionate about addressing the gender equity issues that arose. Barbara is a great role model for the rest of us that are also passionate about this issue and want to take action.

via shining like the sun • Moving the Needle Across Georgia in K-12 Computing Education.

October 15, 2012 at 2:45 pm 2 comments

Planet CAS: Blogs About Computing At School in the UK

I’ve been enjoying the Community pages for the UK Computing at Schools effort — so much going on there!  I just saw a link from Michael Kölling referencing the blog linked below — an aggregator of UK computing education blogs.  Really interesting set!

This is a blog aggregator collecting together the latest content from various blogs relating to computing in schools in the UK. The aggregator is maintained by Neil Brown (@twistedsq), who decides which blogs to include. Roughly, the inclusion criteria are that the blog should:

be related to computing (not just ICT or the use of technology) at school, with a UK focus,

be at least semi-regularly updated (a new post at least every 90 days),

have several posts already,

feature original content (not just links or quotes).

via Planet CAS: Blogs About Computing At School in the UK.

September 27, 2012 at 9:06 am 3 comments

Survey on Scaling K-12 Computer Science Education: Please Complete!

NSF has reached out to the education side (yay — we really need that!) to start to get a handle on what it will take to scale CS education across the US in schools.  Cameron Wilson wrote a blog post on the effort (quoted and linked below).  The University of Chicago “landscape survey” that they’re asking everyone involved in K-12 CS Education to take is here.  Please do fill it out and help U. Chicago get a picture of what’s going on now.

It’s a comprehensive survey — be sure to leave enough time for it.  The goal is to get a handle on our overall capacity to offer professional development.  So, the survey is asking for details on every offering of every professional development session across the country, including uploaded agendas (i.e., you can’t provide a URL to a webpage).  We’re still trying to understand some of the terms in the survey, e.g., an on-line component seems to imply a webinar or using a tool like Piazza outside of the face-to-face time.

Ensuring wide-spread access to rigorous and engaging K-12 computer science education is a grand challenge, and this challenge revolves around key questions: How much professional development around new curricular approaches do we need and what models are out there? How are we going to directly engage with states, school districts and teachers on these issues? What will campaigns of sustained advocacy and awareness look like that will ensure the policy environment supports reform? If we are successful in scaling, how do we sustain reform?

The University of Chicago’s Urban Education Institute (UEI) and the University of Chicago’s Center for Elementary Mathematics and Science Education (CEMSE) are carrying out an 18-month study for ACM’s partnership to better understand the answers to these questions and the availability and nature of computer science professional development for K-12 teachers.

via All Hands on Deck! Scaling K-12 Computer Science Education | blog@CACM | Communications of the ACM.

September 17, 2012 at 10:22 am 1 comment

Weekend newspaper coverage on computing for all, especially kids

The NYTimes had an article on Saturday on “Computer Science for the Rest of Us” which was all about broad introductory computing classes at the college level.  I exchanged email with the author before the column came out, pointing out several sources and mentioning Media Computation. Randy felt that Georgia Tech’s experience with computing for everyone was less compelling, because Georgia Tech is an “engineering school.”  He said that he was more interested in programs that cater to humanities majors — which is what MediaComp is, because we developed it to reach Liberal Arts, Architecture, and Management majors.

More interesting is the whole section of The Guardian focused on computing education. I learned about it from Nick Falkner’s post on CS as a fundamental 21st century skill, and then from other readers who forwarded me the link — thanks!  I was most impressed by the open letter to the UK Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove, “A manifesto for teaching computer science in the 21st century.”  John Naughton really gets why CS in K-12 matters, and understands (better than most programmers) that teaching computing is not about threatening the programmer elites.

[T]hey are not the most important justification, which is that in a world shaped and dependent on networking technology, an understanding of computing is essential for informed citizenship.

3. We believe every child should have the opportunity to learn computer science, from primary school up to and including further education. We teach elementary physics to every child, not primarily to train physicists but because each of them lives in a world governed by physical systems. In the same way, every child should learn some computer science from an early age because they live in a world in which computation is ubiquitous. A crucial minority will go on to become the engineers and entrepreneurs who drive the digital economy, so there is a complementary economic motivation for transforming the curriculum.


April 2, 2012 at 10:25 am 3 comments

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