US Computing Education Research On The Sly

September 12, 2009 at 12:24 pm 4 comments

Last night was the submission deadline for the ACM SIGCSE 2010 conference, the biggest computing education conference in the world.  I submitted 3 panels or special session proposals, and with graduate students, was part of 4 research papers. There were more research papers submitted to SIGCSE from Georgia Tech that I wasn’t part of.  I’m proud that Georgia Tech has so much work going on in computing education research. What’s perhaps surprising is that none of these graduate students and none of the associated projects are funded to work in computing education research.

To the best of my knowledge, there are no funded computing education research projects in the United States.  All computing education research projects, if funded, are funded to do something else. All computing education research in the US, then, is done on-the-side, even, on-the-sly.  The UK, Germany, and Scandinavian countries do fund computing education research.  Why not in the US?

We have computing education research at Georgia Tech funded by several US National Science Foundation (NSF) programs.

In some sense, all of these efforts are about interventions and outreach.  None of them is about doing fundamental research to inform how people learn about computing and how to improve that understanding.

There are NSF programs focused on education research (like REESE).  To the best of my knowledge, there is no computing education research going on there.  That makes sense to me.  These programs fund all education research, competitively, across disciplines.  Computing education research has few assessment methods (none reliable and valid), is just starting to develop broadly accepted theories and models, and has few people working in the community.  Projects in computing education research are challenged to compete against well-established physics, mathematics, chemistry education (for example) where they have well-established assessment methods, models and theories with lots of support, and research communities that can provide support and fair evaluation of each others’ work.

How do we bootstrap a new education research community, like computing education research?  How do we get funding so that people can focus on it, and not just do it on the side?  How do we convince US policy makers that computing education is important and deserves funding so that we develop the methods, theories, and models that can improve computing education?  Why is this harder to do in the US than in other countries?

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Next great CS1 Context: Statistics Engineering as a Context for Education

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Greg Wilson  |  September 12, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    You say, “To the best of my knowledge, there are no funded computing education research projects in the United States.” What about Beth Simon et al’s work?

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  September 13, 2009 at 8:33 am

      Gary Lewandowski pointed out on Facebook that the 2009 CCLI Solicitation does explicitly allow for education research that informs “Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement.” So, no pure research into how people learn in a discipline, but research that might inform improvement is funded. Beth and Gary’s “Commonsense Computing” is funded under CCLI.

  • 3. Mark Guzdial  |  September 14, 2009 at 10:42 am

    Cameron Wilson had a great detailed reply on Facebook: I don’t know about BR into higher ed learning that well, but two years ago we did a rough analysis of EHR K-12 research. CS participation was poor or non-existent in key programs — confirming your analysis. ITEST 135 records/13 were CS, NSF Grad Teachers 291/20 CS, Noyce 94/2 CS, MSP 78/0 CS, lots of ed tech stuff in there. We didn’t look at CCLI… Read More. I floated a workshop w/NSF to address this issue but it went nowhere. But we have made some progress. This year was the first time a CS proposal was submitted to the MSP program. We’ve also met with a lot of the NSF program directors within NSF to raise the issue. There are also some structural issues within the programs that can make it hard for CS — like MSP you have to baseline improvements in assessments data. But, as you’ve pointed, out there is no assessment data for CS — at least that I’m aware of. Another big issue is getting reviewers from CS on panels. We’ve submitted names in the past, but I believe this remains a big issue.

  • 4. Ian Bogost  |  September 20, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Computing as a Liberal Art …

    Thoughts on Education, Research, and Progress…


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