Future of Computing Education Summit: A New Computing Education Organization!

June 27, 2009 at 1:51 pm Leave a comment

I’ve spent the last two days in Washington DC at the Future of Computing Education Summit.  Organized by the ACM Education Board with funding from the National Science Foundation, the goal was to get computing organizations (from Computer Science  to IS to IT to Computer Engineering) to work collaboratively to solve challenges facing computing education.  Each organization wrote a two page position paper (drafts available here) describing how they saw the challenges.  The process of the workshop was aimed at developing a consensus view of the challenges, identifying common strategies, then creating action items for next steps using those strategies, and finally, to make a commitment to  execute those action items.

I was one of the organizers, with high hopes, but I  was still amazed to see it work.  On Friday morning, we had organizations commit to taking charge of some really significant action items that could have far-reaching impacts on computing education!  There’s going to be a formal report (likely before the end of the summer).  I’m going to exercise the blog-writer’s prerogative to just talk about the action items that really spoke to me personally.

Clearly the biggest action item was “to create the [ ] for Computing Education” where “[ ]” is to be filled in with words like “National Center” or “Coalition” or “Consortium.”  Amy Sharma of AAAS/NSF spoke for the group who proposed this action item which she described as “The Entity to Speak with a United Front. This is the ‘go-to’ clearinghouse/repository of ideas, policy recommendations, curricula etc.  When the ‘Computing Education Act of 2012’ gets written, which it will, this will be the organization that writes it.”  Andy van Dam of CRA-E and Brown explained the need for this new organization in these terms: other education groups (like math, chemistry, physics) have advocacy groups that speak for the concerns of that field.  They may squabble internally, but when they speak about standards or tests or whatever, they speak with one voice. Computing Ed organizations tend to squabble in public without a united voice.  “Other groups circle the wagons and shoot outward.  We circle the wagons and shoot inward.”  Heikki Topi of ACM Ed Board and Bentley University and Lucy Sanders, CEO of NCWIT, also spoke forcefully for this proposal.

What blew me away was the backing behind this effort.  Heikki, Jane Prey, and Boots Cassel of ACM Ed Board were completely convinced that ACM had to agree to “own” this, to commit to making it happen. So we did — after IEEE Computer Society committed  first (which indicated how much they were bought in to this), and just before NCWIT committed too!  Those are three powerful organizations agreeing to make this idea happen.  Organizations could also sign on as “participants,” saying “We want to be part of making this happen.”  ACM  SIGCSE, CSTA, and SIGITE, and CRA and ASEE all signed on as participants.  Wow!  Tom Hilburn of IEEE signed on as the “convener” — he’ll make sure that we come to the table and take action.

While that was the biggest one, there were all the other action items which could have a dramatic impact.  ACM Ed Board also committed to work with the iCaucus (coalition of Information Schools) to write a white paper, with representatives from other organizations, to identify the top five research questions whose answers would have the greatest impact on computing education.  John Unsworth of U. Illinois Urbana-Champaign agreed to convene that one, where the audience would be NSF, the US Department of Education, and other funding agencies, to tell them what we really need to have happen.  SIGCSE took charge of producing a survey of what’s going on in non-majors and gen-ed computer science classes, to make it easier for more of these to be built.  I’m excited about that one — this is SIGCSE extending out from their traditional focus of CS-for-CS-majors.

Not all the action items won “owners.”  One that I really liked was matching up university faculty with CSTA Cohort Leaders.  Most curricular change has to occur at the level of states, since that’s where standards and curriculum requirements exist in the US education system. CSTA has “Cohort Leaders” in most states who are trying to get computing into the curriculum. It can be hard for a K-12 teacher (which CSTA cohort leaders typically are) to convince state departments of education to change.  A university and K-12 coalition has much more  oomph, which has had a real impact in Georgia.  The action item was to find university faculty matches for existing CSTA cohort leaders.  While that action item got no “owners,” there was discussion about how we might still make this happen.

This is less than half of the action item list,  each of which, if executed and if successful, could have a powerful impact on computing education. I’m really pumped-up over the level of commitment to action with a goal of improving computing education which I witnessed over the last two days.

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