Archive for February 1, 2011

At the NSF CE21 Community Meeting: We have such a long way to go

I’m in New Orleans at the first NSF Computing Education in the 21st Century (CE21) community meeting. Three communities have been invited to this meeting:

  • People funded under the old CPATH (CISE Pathways to reinvigorate undergraduate education) program.  These are people that you typically see at the SIGCSE Symposium, and others interested in CS education invited by NSF program officer Harriet Taylor.  I walked into the hotel to see Mary Beth Rosson, Jack Carroll, and Margaret Burnett, whom I think of as CHI (Computer-Human Interaction) researchers who focus on end-user programming.
  • People funded by the old BPC (Broadening Participation in Computing) program.  Alex Reppening (of AgentSheets) was chatting with Mary Beth and company when I came in. I sat on a panel with Jane Margolis and Lucy Sanders, and co-facilitated a session with Joanna Goode yesterday.
  • Education researchers, people who have been or who are now funded by the NSF EHR (Education and Human Resources) Directorate.  So, these are people I might see at AERA (American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting) or ICLS (International Conference of the Learning Sciences).

The day for me was enormously intellectually stimulating, but also constantly confusing. There are 400 people here! I know many people here, but from these different communities. I went for a run yesterday morning with Tom McKlin (who is our external evaluator on “Georgia Computes!”) and Cameron Wilson (with ACM on the Educational Policy Committee).  I go to NCWIT and BPC meetings with Tom all the time, and I go to SIGCSE and ACM Ed Board meetings with Cameron all the time, and it never occurred to me that the two of them didn’t know each other previously.  Don’t we all go to the same meetings?  But CE21 is merging communities.

There were so many great moments yesterday, and I don’t have much time now before today’s sessions start.  But three people yesterday told me that I had to blog on the meeting, so I want to keep some of that promise this morning.

Jan Cuny started the session with the basic premise of CE21.  Only 1/3 of computing-related jobs are fillable by 2018 with the students currently studying computing, but 70% of the population (women, under-represented minorities, disabled) are missing from computing.  Now, Engineering is as bad as Computing in diversity, but all their trends are positive.  All our trends are getting even worse.

She then made the point that was perhaps the most startling to many of the attendees: CE21 requires CS Education Research, a focus on Broadening Participation, and real Education Research.  Without all three pieces, proposals will be returned un-reviewed.  Now, everyone knew why everyone was in the room.  I heard several people complain yesterday, “I’m in education and I don’t know anything about CS” or “I’m doing great things in my CS classes, but I don’t have the time to write it up and I don’t know Education methods.”  That was the point of the meeting.

Two moments really stood out for me yesterday.  Jim Hamos is the CE21 program officer from the Education-side of the house (with Jan Cuny of the CS-side of NSF, and Joan Peckham from the Office of Cyberinfrastructure).  He gave a frank talk about how behind CS is in the STEM education game.  He said that Engineers are just now figuring out how to do Engineering education in K-12, and they’ve been at it for 20 years.  He said that mathematics education is by far the most advanced, in terms of having cognitive developmental models and knowing what makes for effective pedagogical methods for their discipline.  Physics is way up there.  CS is not yet even on the map.  He was clearly speaking to the CPATH/SIGCSE audience when he pointed out all the benefits to higher-education faculty within the STEM disciplines of working with education faculty and researchers and with high school teachers.  He told us that we had to improve our own higher-ed classes (and that these partnerships will help), that we had to engage in qualitative methods to study the partnerships, and that we had to revise our standards for promotion and tenure to value scholarly contributions to advancing STEM education.  He didn’t pull his punches: CS has not yet been in the game, and CE21 is providing the resources and motivation to start.

There were then two parallel plenary sessions.  One was aimed at the CS Education audience, and featured Joan Ferrini-Mundy.  Joan is a mathematics education researcher, and she was able to explain what they have in math education that we need in CS Ed.

I was in a panel in the other plenary session, aimed at the education researchers.  Lucy Sanders convened the panel of Valerie Barr, Jane Margolis, Owen Astrachan, and me, to explain the issues of CS education to education researchers.  My favorite moment on that panel was when Jane answered the question (which I’m paraphrasing, describing the question that Jane answered, not necessarily what she was asked), “So why is CS education in such a bad shape with regards to diversity?”  She said that it’s culture.  She said that we are in such a “Male Day” today, especially with regard to technology and computer science.  She described CS as “pumped-up” and “testosterone-filled.”  It’s all about keeping up, working huge numbers of hours, always trying out the latest and greatest.  We always emphasize to our students about how they have to be constantly working to learn the new things, to be on top of the latest developments.  She asked, “How do you make long-term, family-oriented, stable life decisions in that culture?”  It isn’t an inviting culture if you are thinking about those values.  She really made her point for me when she pointed out that medicine is also long hours, go-go-go, and always about staying on top of the latest advances — but for the purpose of caring and supporting the community.  Computer science doesn’t advance those values.  It’s there, but it’s not front-and-center like it is in medicine.  Here’s how I interpreted Jane’s comment. In computing, the primary motivator is the start-up and the IPO.  In medicine, it’s about people.  That makes the effort worth it, and changes the culture equation.

The rest of the day was a dynamic schedule of meetings being defined, and rooms shifting as the crowds grew large, and fascinating chats everywhere. There was so much more that I could blog about, from BPC Alliances meetings; meetings with the folks of the CAITE alliance on how we support statewide pipelines in the future (I think “California Computes!” got its start in the hallways yesterday); great discussions with researchers like Jill Denner, Christy McGuire, Jeff Forbes, and Betsy DiSalvo on their work directions; explaining the dissertation studies of Allison Elliott Tew, Brian Dorn, and Mike Hewner over-and-over (Lijun is here, so she could explain her own); so many people coming to our “Georgia Computes!” poster; and so much discussion about CS10K and the new APCS effort.  (I got teased at dinner last night, for talking in a session about the great work of Barbara Ericson, co-PI on “Georgia Computes!” and Director of CS Outreach at Georgia Tech…and not mentioning that she’s my wife.  The ladies at the dinner said that they thought I did the right thing, but the guys thought I was withholding information.)  And day two starts in 30 minutes.

February 1, 2011 at 8:08 am 21 comments


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