Research Questions from CS Ed Research Class

November 20, 2015 at 8:30 am 16 comments


My CS Ed research class did lots of reading in the first half, and then are developing research plans in the second half.  In between, I asked the students to develop research questions (faces deliberately obscured in picture of the class above), and several colleagues asked me, “Please share what they came up with!”

  • Do we need to teach CS to everyone?
  • How do we make CS education ubiquitous, and what are the costs and benefits of doing so?
  • How effective is Media Computation (and like courses) in “tech” schools vs. liberal arts schools?
  • How do we make individualistic (contextualized, scaffolded, etc.) CS experiences for everyone?
  • What are equal vs just interventions?
  • What is the economic cost of not teaching computing to all?
  • How do we create a community of practice among non-practitioners?
  • How to make CS teachers adopt better teaching practices?
  • How we incorporate CS learning into existing engineering courses vs. create new courses for engineers?
  • How does teaching to all high school students differ from teaching undergraduates?
  • How do people learn CS? Define a CS learning progression.
  • Are those AP CS Principles skills transferable to college CS courses? Or anywhere else?
  • How does programming apply to everyone?
  • What are the enduring computer science/splinter areas?
  • How does the content and order of teaching computing concepts affect retention and transfer to other disciplines?
  • How do we scaffold from problem-based learning to culturally relevant computing projects?
  • What characteristics do successful CS teachers who transition from other disciplines exhibit?
  • Is metaphor useful in learning CS?  Which metaphors are useful?


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16 Comments Add your own

  • 1. thinkingwiththings  |  November 20, 2015 at 9:56 am

    Mark, these are great questions. But for me, they miss the biggest question, which is whether math is truly a prerequisite for computing. This is an important question because it’s my guess that many people, especially women and other under-represented folks, wash out or are turned off by math classes that come across as irrelevant hurdles. Because women are more likely than men to go into computing for what they can do with it, rather than because of an intrinsic interest, making them jump the math class hurdles (sometimes in the face of math anxiety) and wait for computing applications is particularly harmful.

    At NCWIT (National Center for Women in IT, on whose social science advisory board I sit) I’ve had many debates on the necessity of math, with no resolution. The clearest statement I’ve heard from a senior man arguing for the necessity of math is that it teaches you to think logically. My answer was that I learned that from studying philosophy. I’ve always hated math but taught myself Fortran in 1970 because there was something I wanted to do with a computer (analyze data on activity cycles of Vervet monkeys…wasn’t I a geek!)

    Sarah Kuhn
    UMass Lowell

    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  November 20, 2015 at 11:03 am

      The math question matters for CS degrees and CS classes. The focus of our class is much broader. For example, if you’re going to talk about computing education in K-12, then you can’t require a math pre-requisite. I agree that the math question is important for CS education. This was a class on computing education research, so it wasn’t the most important question.

    • 3. kickrg  |  November 21, 2015 at 5:43 pm

      From a personal perspective, mathematics has enabled me to do more in computer science than I would have been able to accomplish without that knowledge and experience. In particular, computer graphics are built upon, and require the application of, mathematical abstractions for any significant work. Understanding efficiencies and formulating effective alternative algorithms also requires a strong mathematical understanding. But it is an understanding of statistical concepts that probably most enhances the general capabilities of a computer scientist.

  • 4. lenandlar  |  November 20, 2015 at 10:43 am

    That math question is an old one isn’t it. If I recall there’s a very old and long thread of discussion about this topic on the sigcse mailing list.

  • 5. lenandlar  |  November 20, 2015 at 10:50 am

    10 years or so ago I did an exploratory study and found very low correlation between grades in algebra, calculus and trigonometry in year 1 and cs1, cs2 in year 2. Of course it’s only correlation.

    Much of the argument seems to be centered around “what kind of math, what kind of cs”.

  • 6. gflint  |  November 20, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    The biggest question I think that they missed is “What is CS?” A big chunk of it always seems to be programming. Is this the biggest topic? Should it be the biggest topic? Can it be the only topic that matters? I have been in the CS teaching field for 30 years and there is still the CS=Programming discussion going on. I look at the curriculum I teach at high school; it is roughly Prog 1 – Scratch and Small Basic, Prog 2 – Python, Prog 3 – Java. Isn’t this sort of like Math 1 – English, Math 2 – same stuff in French, Math 3 – same stuff again in Arabic? Admittedly I do wander around in the different classes to different places but I do still end up with doing the same project in two or three different languages. Get a bunch of math teachers together and a 4 year curriculum and the accompanying syllabi can be whipped up pretty quickly from scratch. What is done when is pretty much agreed upon. Get some CS teachers in a room and I do not think the same thing can happen, other than not agreeing on which is the best programming teaching language. I search the net constantly for new ideas on how to teach CS at the high school level. Not much is out there except for hottest way to teach programming language X.

    • 7. Mark Guzdial  |  November 20, 2015 at 1:38 pm

      That’s not a research question. It’s a philosophy question.

      • 8. gflint  |  November 20, 2015 at 4:12 pm

        “What is CS?” is a philosophy question? Bummer. I think we need to get a bit more firmer description of CS if we are really going to do something with CS.

  • 9. Mike  |  November 20, 2015 at 1:16 pm

    I can help you out with one of them:

    “How to *make* CS teachers adopt better teaching practices?”
    “How to *help* CS teachers adopt better teaching practices?”

    Unless you’ve got control over funding and can go around threatening people you won’t be able to make anybody do anything (and I’d wonder both about setting such a precedent and about the long-term effectiveness of it).

    • 10. Mike  |  November 20, 2015 at 1:20 pm

      It’s might also be worth pointing out that using the phrase “better teaching practices” seems to imply that the current practices are bad. I wonder about phrasing the goal more like “improving teaching practices” – we can all get behind improving things, without the pre-judgement about the current state of affairs.

      • 11. Mark Guzdial  |  November 20, 2015 at 2:14 pm

        “Help” implies that CS teachers want to develop better teaching practices. That’s not clear.

        I didn’t wordsmith these questions. I put them just as they were on the board. This one might be better phrased “How do we motivate CS teachers to adopt better teaching practices?” or “How do we get better teaching practices to be adopted?” because I do agree that you can’t “make” undergraduate teachers do anything.

        As a research question “to adopt better teaching practices” is more accurate. There are several studies on the poor teaching practices of average CS teachers at the undergraduate level. From a research perspective, using “improving” does not mesh with the current research literature. I agree that it’s better marketing. It’s easier to convince a teacher to be involved in “improving teaching practices.” As a researcher, it’s better to build on what’s been learned previously.

        • 12. Mike  |  November 21, 2015 at 2:38 am

          Oh, yeah – I remember that post. My main take away was that people seemed surprised that teachers aren’t actively looking for (and incorporating) research-based educational practices.

          I wonder if there’s an interesting research question in asking why people aren’t doing that, specifically. I remember, years ago when I first started teaching, being shocked by the phrase “educational research is doomed to succeed”. The quote in the paper from the person who didn’t find educational research credible might have been echoing a cultural disbelief in educational research, and/or there might be other factors.
          (I wonder how many teachers already have the skills needed to review the literature, to figure out what’s useful, to figure out how to incorporate it into their teaching, etc)
          (I also wonder how many schools would offer institutional support for such free-ranging inquiry)

          At any rate, if people aren’t taking up science-based instructional advice, it would be interesting to know why.

    • 13. Mike  |  November 20, 2015 at 1:21 pm

      My other comments aside, this would be a fascinating topic for research effort.
      If anyone decides to go with this topic I think that their lit review would itself be a valuable artifact. (I know that I’d love to read it!)

  • […] a blog post offering my students’ take on research questions in computing education (see post here), which serves to update the previous post. In this blog post, I’m going to go more […]

  • […] Education Research question class in 2015, we generated a list of open research questions (see post here).  We’ve got even more students this time in the class, so our list of questions is even […]

  • […] the questions that this class thinks are interesting and still open (see 2017 edition here and 2015 edition here). This is my first time teaching the class at the University of Michigan. It’s a joint […]


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