A CS Education Research Class Syllabus

November 18, 2015 at 8:22 am 2 comments

I’m teaching a graduate special-topics course on Computer Science Education Research this semester.  Several folks have asked me about what goes into a class like that.  Here’s the syllabus (from our “T-Square” Sakai site).  The references to “Guzdial” below are to my new book, Learner-Centered Design for Computing Education that I just turned in to Morgan & Claypool on Nov. 15. Should be available by the end of the year.

This class would look different if it was in Education, rather than in Computer Science.  For example, there might be less on tools.  The sessions where we consider how CS Ed Research appears at CHI and IDC may no longer be relevant.  Instead, I could imagine work contextualizing CS Education Research in mathematics education or science education.  I would expect to see sessions on equity, on teacher development, and on computing in schools.


CS8803: Computer Science Education Research

College of Computing Building Room 52, 9:35-10:55 T/Th

Teacher: Mark Guzdial, guzdial@cc.gatech.edu, TSRB 324/329

Office Hours:: By appointment

Course Overview: Introduction to computing education research (CER). History and influential early work. Learning goals for different populations, with particular attention to broadening participation in computing. Connections to research in learning sciences, educational psychology, science education. Design of research studies in CER, including Multi-Institutional Multi-National, laboratory, and classroom studies.

Textbook: We’ll be using readings from the ACM Digital Library (feely available on campus), and Guzdial’s new monograph Learner-Centered Design of Computing Education (draft available here in Resources, and eventually at the Morgan & Claypool site http://www.morganclaypool.com/toc/hci/1/1). We’ll use other readings that are available on the Web or via the Resources folder on T-Square.


  • 30%: Do 5 Reading Reflections. There are 6 opportunities for reading assignments. Students can skip one. Reading reflections are marked check or minus (something needs to be fixed). All reading reflections should be typed, with font >= 11 pt. No reading reflection should be longer than 3 pages typed and single spaced.
  • 15%: Class participation. Class time will be interactive, with little lecture. It’s a significant part of the learning in the class to participate. (The programming assignment is part of class participation.)
  • 10%: Research Study Re-Design. Redesign a research study from a published paper (referenced in Guzdial or published in ICER, SIGCSE, RESPECT, or ITICSE), to improve on the scope and findings. Due Oct 20.
  • 10% Where would you use this?. Try out any of Scratch, Alice, App Inventor, Snap, StarLogo, NetLogo, Blockly, or Pencil Code. Knowing what you know from class, would you recommend this environment? When? For whom? To learn what? Write a short (2-3 page) paper. Due Nov. 19.
  • 10%: Research Question White Paper. Write a short (3-4 pages) white paper defining a research question that’s worth exploring in CER. Explain why it’s an important, interesting, and answerable question. Identify the research community that you are speaking to with this research question. Think first section of an NSF proposal. Due Nov 12.
  • 25%: Research Study Design. Propose a study to explore the your unique research question. Think NSF proposal. Plan on 6-10 pages. 15% on paper due Nov 24. 10% on 10 minute presentation (5 minute Q&A) during last week of class.


Week 1

Aug 18: Introduction to class

  • Who are you and what is your experience with computing education?
  • Small Group Discussion: What do you want to know about computing education research? What do you think is unknown and worth exploring?

Aug 20: Computing for Everyone. Read Chapter 1 of Guzdial.

  • Come in with a quote that’s “interesting”
  • Pro/Con Debate: “We should teach computing to everyone.”

Week 2

Aug 25: Learning Sciences

Aug 27: The Challenges of Learning Programming. Read Chapter 2 of Guzdial.

  • Come in with a quote that’s “interesting”
  • Small group activity: What’s your hypothesis for why programming is hard? How would you test your hypothesis?
  • Reading Reflection: Using ideas and quotes from Chapter 1 and 2 of “How People Learn” to explain what’s hard about learning to program.

Week 3

Sep 1: Read Multi-institutional, multi-national studies in CSEd Research: some design considerations and trade-offs (ACM DL link)

  • Come in with a quote that’s “interesting”
  • Compare and contrast: Randomized-control trials (see definition) vs. longitudinal studies (see definition) vs. MIMN studies.
    • What are each good for?
    • Why not use more RCT and longitudinal studies in computing education?

Sep 3: Read Computational Thinking and Using Programming to Learn in Guzdial

  • Generate a list: What are examples of computational thinking?
  • Small group activity: Have you ever used programming to help you learn something else? What are the characteristics of when programming helps and when it gets in the way?

Week 4

Sep 8: Read the first Chapter of Changing Minds at this link and Weintrop and Wilensky from ICER 2015 (ACM DL link)

  • Generate a list: What are characteristics of programming environments that support learning?
  • Small group activity: How do characteristics of programming for software development and for learning differ?
  • Reading Reflection: Identify some testable claims about Boxer in diSessa’s chapter. How would you test that claim?

Sep 10: Read Media Computation and Contextualized Computing Education in Guzdial

  • Come in with a quote that’s “interesting”
  • A mini-lecture with peer instruction and prediction using Media Computation.
  • Reading Reflection: When might contextualized computing help, and where might it not?

Week 5

Sep 15: Write a program to create something of interest or answer a question of interest before coming to class.

  1. Either download JES (from Github link) and create a picture or sound that you find interesting.
  2. Or Download Python (recommend using the Enthought install) and use the Computational Freakonomics website and course notes to answer a question of interest.
  3. Or use the CSPrinciples Ebook Data Chapters to answer a question about pollution in states.

Be prepared to show what you made or what you learned in class.

Come to class ready to answer two questions:

  • Did this motivate you to learn more about CS or the context?
    • Where did programming get in the way, and where did it help?

Sep 17: Read Adults as Computing Learners in Guzdial.

  • Come in with a quote that’s “interesting”
  • Small group activity: What’s similar and dissimilar between the teachers and the graphic designers? Identify another class of adults who might need to learn computing. Which group are they more like?

Week 6

Sep 22: Read The state of the art in end-user software engineering (ACM DL link)

  • Come in with a quote that’s “interesting”
  • Build two lists: Features of a programming environment that support end-user programming and those that support learning about computing by end-user programmers.

Sep 24: Read Learner-Centered Computing Education for CS Majors by Guzdial

  • Come in with a quote that’s “interesting”
  • Small group activity: Come up with examples from your own experience of (a) CS education that you see as learner-centered and (b) CS education that was not learner-centered.
  • Reading Reflection: Contrast the adults in Chapter 5 and the non-majors in Chapter 6 with the CS majors in Chapter 7. What’s similar and what’s different about their learning and the support that they need?

Week 7

Sep 29: Read one of:

  • Spatial Skills Training in Introductory Computing (see ACM DL link)
  • Subgoals, Context, and Worked Examples in Learning Computing Problem Solving (see ACM DL link)
  • Boys’ Needlework: Understanding Gendered and Indigenous Perspectives on Computing and Crafting with Electronic Textiles (see ACM DL link)

Come to class ready (a) to summarize your paper and (b) to support/refute these three hypotheses:

  • We ought to add spatial skills training in all introductory CS courses.
  • We ought to use subgoal-labeled worked examples in all introductory CS courses.
  • We have to consider gender and cultural relevance in designing all introductory CS courses.
  • Reading Reflection: You are the Director of Georgia Tech’s Division of Computing Instruction. You may implement one change across all of your introductory courses, and you have very little budget. What will you change?

Oct 1: Read Towards Computing for All in Guzdial.

  • Come in with a quote that’s “interesting”
  • BIG list: What do we most need to know to advance computing for all? Where are the research gaps?
  • Everyone leave with a personal list of the top three research gaps that you find most interesting.
  • Reading Reflection: Pick any paper referenced in Guzdial that we did not read separately in this class. Read it and summarize it for me.

Week 8

Oct 6: Read Margulieux and Madden’s “Educational Research Primer” (in class Resources)

  • Small group activity: For your favorite research gaps, what research methods would you use to fill some of that gap?
  • Group activity list: What are the research methods that we need to learn more about?

Oct 8: RESEARCH METHODS: Based on the Oct 6 discussion, we’ll pick a paper or two to read here to inform our knowledge of research methods.

Newer Research

Week 9

Oct 13: No class! Fall Break.

Oct 15: RESEARCH METHODS: Based on the Oct 6 discussion, we’ll pick a paper or two to read here to inform our knowledge of research methods.

  • Discussion of Research Project: You don’t have to do it. You do have to design it.
    • First step: Define your question (due Nov 10), and make it answerable.
    • Second step: Tell us how you’d answer it.

Older Research

Week 10

Oct 20: Research Re-Design Due Here By 5 pm.

Oct 22: Read CE21 and IUSE proposals in Resources. (Note: They both weren’t funded in this form.)

  • Group Dissection:
    • What are the research questions?
    • What are the hypotheses?
    • What are the research methods?
  • Small group: Is this do-able? Would you give it a thumbs-up or a thumbs-down?

Week 11

Oct 27: What’s involved in reaching and studying populations at large-scale? Large scale: Read 37 Million Compilations: Investigating Novice Programming Mistakes in Large-Scale Student Data (ACM DL link) and Programming in the wild: trends in youth computational participation in the online scratch community (ACM DL link)

  • Come in with a quote that’s “interesting”
  • Two lists: What can we know from looking at these kinds of data, and what can’t we know?

Oct 29: What’s involved in reaching and studying populations at small-scale? Small scale interviews/phenomenography: Read Graduating students’ designs: through a phenomenographic lens (ACM DL link)

  • Come in with a quote that’s “interesting”
  • Small group discussion: What can we answer with a phenomengraphic approach that we can’t learn (easily) in other ways?

Week 12

Nov 3: What’s involved in reaching and studying populations in high school? In the High School: Read A Crafts-Oriented Approach to Computing in High School: Introducing Computational Concepts, Practices, and Perspectives with Electronic Textiles (ACM DL link)

  • Come in with a quote that’s “interesting”
  • Storytime: Sharing stories about getting into K-12 schools.

Nov 5: CS Education Research in CHI. Read Learning on the job: characterizing the programming knowledge and learning strategies of web designers (ACM DL link) and Programming in the pond: a tabletop computer programming exhibit (ACM DL link)

  • Come in with a quote that’s “interesting”
  • Group list: What makes a CHI paper different from an ICER paper?

Week 13

Nov 10: CS Education Research in IDC. Read Strawbies: explorations in tangible programming (ACM DL link) and “Let’s dive into it!”: Learning electricity with multiple representations (ACM DL link)

  • Come in with a quote that’s “interesting”
  • Group list: What makes an IDC paper different?

Nov 12: Research White Paper Due Here

CS Ed Research at Georgia Tech. Read one of Betsy DiSalvo’s papers — your choice.

  • Come in with a quote that’s “interesting”
  • Small group: Contrast Betsy’s research questions and methods with those of Mark’s and his students.

Week 14

Nov 17: CS Ed Research at Georgia Tech. Read Engaging underrepresented groups in high school introductory computing through computational remixing with EarSketch (ACM DL link) and EarSketch: A Web-based Environment for Teaching Introductory Computer Science Through Music Remixing (ACM DL link)

  • Group list:
    • What are the research questions for EarSketch?
    • What are the research hypotheses?
    • What are the research methods?

Nov 19: Try it out! Hand in your Where would you use this? papers before class. Come to class prepared to demo the environment you picked.

  • Debate: For a set of audiences and learning goals that we define in class, argue for your environment to meet that need.

Week 15

Nov 24: Research Design Paper Due Here.

Nov 26: No Class! Eat Turkey.

Week 16

Dec 1: Present Research Designs

Dec 3: Present Research Designs

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You Don’t Have to Be Good at Math to Learn to Code – The Atlantic Research Questions from CS Ed Research Class

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