Naming a field: “CS Ed Research” isn’t going to work
Last month, Steve Cooper organized a remarkable workshop at Stanford on the Future of Computing Education Research. The question was, “How do we grow computing education research in the United States?” We pretty quickly agreed that we have a labor shortage — there are too few people doing computing education research in the US. We need more. In particular, we need more CS Ed PhD students. The PhD students do the new and exciting research. They bring energy and enthusiasm into a field.
We also need these students to fit into Computing departments, where that could be Computer Science, or Informatics, or Information Systems/Technology/Just-Information Departments/Schools/Colleges. Yes, we need a presence in Education Schools at some point, to influence how we develop new teachers, but that’s not how we’ll best push the research.
How do we get there?
Roy Pea came to the event. He could only spare a few hours for us, and he only gave a brief 10 minute talk, but it was one of the highlights of the two days for me. He encouraged us to think about Learning Sciences as a model. Learning Science grew out of cognitive science and computer science. It’s a field that CS folks recognize and value. It’s not the same as Education, and that’s a positive thing for our identity. He told us that the field must grow within Computing departments because Domain Matters. The representations, the practices, the abstractions, the mental models — they all differ between domains. If we want to understand the learning of computing, we have to study it from within computing.
I asked Roy, “But how do we influence teacher education? I don’t see learning science classes in most pre-service teacher development programs.” He pointed out that I was thinking about it all wrong. (Not his words — he was more polite than that.) He described how learning sciences has influenced teacher development, integrated into it. It’s not about a separate course: “Learning science for teachers.” It’s about changing the perspective in the existing classes.
Ken Hay, a learning scientist (and long-time friend and colleague) who is at Indiana University, echoed Roy’s recommendation to draw on the learning sciences as a model. He pointed out that Language Matters. He said that when Indiana tried to hire a “CS Education Researcher,” faculty in the CS department said, “I teach CS. I’m a CS Educator. How is s/he different than me?”
We started talking about how “Computer Science Education Research” is a dead-end name for the research that we want to situate in computing departments. It’s the right name for the umbrella set of issues and challenges with growing computing education in the United States. It includes issues like teacher professional development and K-12 curricula. But that’s not what’s going to succeed in computing departments. It’s the part that looks like the learning sciences that can find a home in computing departments. Susanne Hambrusch of Purdue offered a thought experiment that brought it home for me. Imagine that there is a CS department that has CS Ed Research as a research area. They want to list it on their Research web page. Well, drop the word “Research” — this is the Research web page, so that’s a given. And drop the “CS” because this is the CS department, after all. So all you list is “Education.” That conveys a set of meanings that don’t necessarily belong in a CS department and don’t obviously connect to our research questions.
In particular, we want to separate (a) the research about how people learn and practice computing from (b) making teaching and learning occur better in a computing department. (a) can lead to (b), but you don’t want to demand that all (a) inform (b). We need to make the research on learning and practice in computing be a value for computing departments, a differentiator. “We’re not just a CS department. We embrace the human side and engage in social and learning science research.” Lots of schools offer outreach, and some are getting involved in professional development. But to do those things informed by learning sciences and informing learning sciences (e.g., can get published in ICER and ICLS and JLS and AERA) — that’s what we want to encourage and promote.
I was in a breakout that tried to generate names. Michael Horn of Northwestern came up with several of my favorites. Unfortunately, none of them were particularly catchy:
- Learning Sciences of Computing
- Learning Sciences for Computing
- Computational Learning and Practice (sounds too much like machine learning)
- Learning Sciences in Computing Contexts
- Learning and Practice in Computing
- Computational Learning and Literacy
We do have a name for a journal picked out that I really like: Journal of Computational Thinking and Learning.
I’d appreciate your thoughts on these. What would be a good name for the field which studies how people learn computing, how to improve that learning, how professionals practice computing (e.g., end-user programming, computational science & engineering), and how to help novices join those professional communities of practice?
I can’t remember the last time I learned so much and had my preconceived notions so challenged in just two days. I have a lot more notes on the workshop, and they may make it into some future blog posts. Kudos to Steve for organizing an excellent workshop, and my thanks to all the participants!