Now’s the time to hire Computing Education faculty!

February 22, 2010 at 2:46 pm 2 comments

Warning! The following post is even more self-serving (or at least, student-serving) than usual! I have two PhD students on the market this year. A former student is on the market (just finishing his post-doc). I know a very good new PhD in computing education from another institution who is also now on the market.  I was bemoaning their luck this weekend, at going on the market at such an awful time for US academia.  But as I started thinking about the points against hiring in computing education, I suddenly realized that I had it backwards.  There could hardly be a better time to hire computing education faculty!

For the first time perhaps ever, there are multiple sources of funding for computing education.  NSF has announced not one but two new funding programs that will fund work in computing education: One focused on the whole pipeline from middle school up, and another focused on tools.  DARPA has a solicitation out now in computing education, and rumor has it that more is in the pipeline.

The journal ACM Transactions on Computing Education is in its second year.  The conference International Computing Education Research Workshop is entering its fifth year.  There are now good publication venues, appropriate for earning tenure for junior faculty in computing education.

It would be a great thing for the field of computing education for some school to develop strength in computing education.  To have some big wins, to scale up some efforts to go after big goals (like CS 10K) would be a benefit for everybody.  Who should go after this win?  What would be the criteria for a school that should go after some serious depth in computing education?

  • More than one faculty member — a more senior person and a new hire, at least.  There are few institutions with more than one research faculty member in computing education (by some measure, e.g. funded by NSF and publishing at ICER and ACM ToCE).  To have that depth would be a great start.  That gives the junior person someone to help with those first proposals to NSF and DARPA. Two (or three or four) can do more than one.
  • Have a strong Computer Science Department.  The funding programs I mentioned are coming out of CISE (Computer and Information Sciences and Engineering) Division.  It’s going to be hard for an Education school, or maybe even an IS/IT department, to get CISE reviewers to buy into a big effort.  You’ll frankly need a CS department that reviewers will recognize as being high-quality.  There are a bunch of interesting research questions in computing education which can only be answered from computing expertise.  What is pedagogical content knowledge for computing education?  How do we use new media (from Kindles, and video games, even to YouTube) to teach computing well?  (Where are today’s Rocky’s Boots and the Schoolhouse Rock of computing education?)
  • Finally, and this part may not be obvious: A strong Education school.  Cameron Wilson and I have a piece coming out in CACM about funding for computing education.  The budget in the EHR (Education and Human Resources) Directorate at NSF is some 50 times larger than what CISE can put into computing education.  EHR is necessary to roll out nationwide scale-up.  It’s going to be hard to convince EHR reviewers to fund really big grants (e.g., tens of millions) in scaling up computing education efforts without serious education involvement.  CS-based researchers can figure out the basic computing education mechanisms, but it’s Education that knows how to scale.  A CS department will be hard-pressed to make a strong case for, say, a large-scale teacher education effort if it has never done pre-service or in-service teacher development, and has no existing courses or instructors in teacher professional development.  There are some great education research questions in scaling up computing education efforts.  How do you grow computing education when its identity is confused?  How do you create a community of CS teachers, and create a strong identity as a CS teacher? How do we get to 10K CS teachers in only five years?

Just to identify the limit of my self-serving nature, I don’t see Georgia Tech making these hires.  We’re a state school, so we’re in very tight times.  We have no education program.  (By the way, I’m not looking to move to help someplace build up this CS Ed depth — especially with our son starting Georgia Tech in the Fall!)  However, I do think that this is a great time for somebody to put these pieces together, make some new hires, and further computing education.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. William Doane  |  February 22, 2010 at 7:36 pm

    Can I join the self-serving bandwagon, pretty please? I’m a recently minted PhD in just that boat, and the market has been a killer. A series of good interviews followed by canceled searches (in one case, an expected 8% cut turned into a 22% cut, and the position turned into vaporware) or hiring of internal candidates. My primary area of interest is CSEd research, although I have a lot of side experience in SciEd research, EdTech research, and teacher education.

    I think you’re exactly right about the need for a blending of a strong CS department and a strong Education school… both in terms of reputation and self identity… with the addition that each should be able to respect the methods of the other. CSEd Research needs to be more than EdTech and CSEd needs to be more than CS.

    To borrow a phrase, “I can’t think of a time when it’s been more important to be good at what we do.”


  • […] 2, 2010 The second expected new NSF program that might fund computing education research has just been released. Very exciting!  What a great time to do work in computing education […]


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