Research+Practice Partnerships and Finding the Sweet Spots: Notes from the ECEP and White House Summit
I wrote back in October about the summit on state implementation of the CS for All initiative which we at Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) alliance organized with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). You can see the agenda here and a press release on the two days of meetings here.
I have been meaning to write about some of the lessons I learned in those two days, but have been simply slammed this month. I did finally write about some of the incremental steps that states are taking towards CS for All in my Blog@CACM post for November. That post is about the models of teacher certification that are developing, the CSNYC school-based mandate, and New Hampshire’s micro-certifications.
In this post, I want to tell you about a couple of the RPC ideas that I found most compelling. The first part of the day at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB) on the White House grounds was organized by the Research+Practice Collaboratory (RPC). I was the moderator for the first panel of the day, where Phil Bell, Nichole Pinkard, and Dan Gallagher talked about the benefits of combining research plus practice.
I was excited to hear about the amazing work that Nichole Pinkard (pictured above) is doing in Chicago, working with Brenda Wilkerson in Chicago Public Schools. Nichole is a learning scientist who has been developing innovative approaches to engaging urban youth (see her Digital Youth Network website). She has all these cool things she’s doing to make the CS for All efforts in Chicago work. She’s partnering with Chicago parks and libraries — other than schools, they’re the ones who cover the city and connect with all kids. She’s partnering with Comcast to create vans that can go to parks to create hotspots for connectivity. Because she’s a researcher working directly with schools, they can do things that researchers alone would find hard to do — like when a student shows up to a CS activity, she can email the student’s parents to tell them the next steps to make sure that they continue the activity at home.
There was a second panel on “Finding the Sweet Spot: What Problems of Practice are Ripe for Knowledge Generation?” I didn’t know Shelley Pasnik from the Center for Children and Technology, and she had an idea I really liked that connected to one of Nichole’s points. Shelley emphasizes “2Gen learning,” having students bring with them parents or even grandparents so that there are two generations of learners involved. The older generation can learn alongside the student, and keep the student focused on the activity.
I know that the RPC folks are producing a report on their activity at the summit, so I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about their work.
Steps Teachers Can Take to Keep Girls and Minorities in Computer Science Education | Cynthia Lee in KQED News
So glad to see Cynthia Lee’s list (described in this blog post) get wider coverage.
Last summer, Cynthia Lee, a lecturer in the computer science department at Stanford University, created a widely-circulated document called, “What can I do today to create a more inclusive community in CS?” The list was developed during a summer workshop funded by the National Science Foundation for newly hired computer science faculty and was designed for busy educators. “I know the research behind these best practices,” said Lee, “but my passion comes from what I’ve experienced in tech spaces, and what students have told me about their experiences in computer science classrooms.”
Too often students from diverse backgrounds “feel that they simply aren’t wanted,” said Lee. “What I hear from students is that when they are working on their assignments, they love [computer science]. But when they look up and look around the classroom, they see that ‘there aren’t many people like me here.’ If anything is said or done to accentuate that, it can raise these doubts in their mind that cause them to questions their positive feelings about the subject matter.”
My ECEP colleagues at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, Rick Adrion and Renee Fall, led a successful NSF alliance called CAITE. One of CAITE’s most successful strategies to improve diversity at university-level CS was to make it easier for students to transfer from community colleges. Community colleges are much more diverse.
The latest reports from Google tell us more about the obstacles that CS students still face in moving from community colleges to bachelor’s degrees, and how to make it easier.
Our latest research shows that students who attend community colleges on the way to computer science (CS) bachelor’s degrees encounter many challenges and obstacles along the way. But there are many ways for community colleges and four-year colleges to work together and with industry to remove these obstacles and support students seeking to transfer into CS majors. Today, we are releasing two complementary research reports that explore the pathways that community college students follow to a bachelor’s degree in CS. The reports also examine the experiences of these students and the opportunities that exist or that might be created to ensure their successful career advancement. Longitudinal Analysis of Community College Pathways to Computer Science Bachelor’s Degrees investigates the national landscape of CS students at community colleges in order to better understand student behaviors and institutional characteristics that support or hinder community college students’ efforts to attain a CS bachelor’s degree. The companion report, Student Perspectives of Community College Pathways to Computer Science Bachelor’s Degrees, takes a complimentary in-depth and qualitative look at the experiences of students from underrepresented groups at community colleges in California, a state that enrolls one quarter of all community college students in the U.S.
Margaret is a remarkable researcher whose work has influenced that of me and my students. Her interview linked below is worth reading. It’s the particular point I quote below that connects to ideas that I’ve been introduced to lately.
I’ve been working with a group that’s developing a proposal that will get reviewed across NSF CS, and it’s been eye-opening and a bit depressing. I’ve learned that “core CS” researchers (e.g., programming languages, theory, systems, software engineering) don’t see much value in computing education research. Margaret below is talking about the interaction between software engineering and end-user programming researchers. One perspective I have now heard is that “core CS” faculty don’t believe end-user programmers exist, and if they do exist, the faculty wish they didn’t because they’ll write cruddy code (a perspective I have heard before). People whom I trust have significant insight into NSF reviewers across CS have told me that talking about “diversity” will turn off “core CS” reviewers. Much of what I do can’t be part of the proposal.
I didn’t realize my CS Ed “bubble” — I’m in a School of Interactive Computing, and my proposals are mostly reviewed as ed research. Margaret has explicitly been working at building bridges across communities.
End-user software engineering (EUSE) is important not only because of the number of people it impacts—end-user developers outnumber professional developers by an order of magnitude—but also because it can bring useful ideas back to traditional software engineering. EUSE is about technologies that collaborate with end users engaging in aspects of software development to improve the quality of the software they shape, using programming devices like spreadsheet formulas, macros by demonstration, setting configurations, and adding customizations. Thus, EUSE approaches do not attempt to impose work practices on end-user developers; rather, they attempt to blend in seamlessly with their existing work practices.
Looking toward the future, EUSE research is at a crossroads. Aligning its work too closely to the classic software engineering lifecycle raises a risk of over-siloing the area, restricting future EUSE researchers’ vision of what can be achieved. By a silo, I mean a system, process, department, etc. that operates in isolation from others. Silos raise the risk that an area can become overly narrow, and in doing so, become disconnected from the way users really work. One strategy that can help researchers guard against such siloing is to focus on intents of end-user developers (e.g., “update my spreadsheet to meet my company’s standards”) instead of lifecycle stages (e.g., a requirements engineering tool for spreadsheets). Guarding against overly siloed thinking by incorporating more user-intent thinking can open the door to big gains that are cross-cutting and impactful, for both EUSE and for software engineering in general.
Source: People of ACM – Margaret Burnett
African-Americans gain more in CS MS but not CS Bachelors: Minorities Gain Some Ground in CS&E Degrees
We’re seeing this in the AP CS data, too — more minority students are entering CS, but at different levels.
For African Americans, the picture in computer science is mixed. The share of bachelor’s degrees they receive has fallen off since the high point of 2007, but new data suggest that their share of master’s degrees surged for almost a decade before retreating somewhat after 2013. African Americans are actually overrepresented among Americans who receive master’s degrees.[i] Why? A report in Science Magazine cited this trend in Master’s degrees as early as 2011 and speculated that efforts to attract more African Americans into computer science graduate degrees were bearing fruit. That may well be true, but disappointing trends in bachelor’s degrees will surely thwart further progress in advanced degrees.
Turkle and Papert’s paper on epistemological pluralisms is one of my favorite by Seymour (which I talked about here). This is the first paper I’ve read about how to encourage them.
I remember a math teacher I once had. He would ask students to go up to the board and explain how they solved the problem. But he wouldn’t stop there. He would then ask if someone else had a different way of solving the problem and allow the different approaches to be shared with the class. This validated that there were multiple ways a problem can be solved, and that it was not enough to know just one way… It also meant no one remained in doubt about whether their (different) approach was “incorrect” (there was room to clear up misconceptions, for example). It’s not as deep as epistemology, but it’s a start. A start to plurality of the “how”, but we should consider maybe also the plurality of the “what” and “why” (because which questions we choose to pursue for learning and why they matter to us are deep ontological and epistemological questions).
This is the work that most impresses me about OMSCS — that it attracts a different group of students that might get a face-to-face MS in CS. I’m not sure that I buy “equivalent in all ways to an in-person degree,” but I do see that it’s hard to measure and the paper makes a good effort at it.
Previous research has shown that most users of online education look fairly similar to the average college graduate — suggesting that digital learning isn’t yet the great educational equalizer it has the potential to be. But in a study of Georgia Tech’s hugely successful online master of science in computer science (OMSCS) program, educational economists Joshua Goodman and Amanda Pallais and public policy expert Julia Melkers found that digital learning can tap into a new market of students by offering an online degree that is equivalent in all ways to an in-person degree, at a fraction of the cost.