Growing Computing Education Research to Critical Mass at UNO and UCSD

June 3, 2016 at 7:04 am 5 comments

I recently posted a piece about my personal plans for the future, and I talked about how great it would be to be at a place where there were three or more CS Ed faculty — a critical mass. Kevin rightly called me out on that in the comments, suggesting that it would be hard to get more than a couple Computing Education researchers in a US CS department. (Outside the US, there are multiple institutions with critical mass CER communities, including U. Kent at Canterbury and U. Adelaide.)

With this year’s hires, there are now two US campuses with that kind of depth! In both cases, they’re avoiding the problem Kevin describes by spreading across multiple departments, not just in CS.

University of Nebraska at Omaha: I knew that my PhD student, Briana Morrison (dissertation proposal is described here, and her award-winning ICER paper is described here) was joining (my former student) Brian Dorn (here’s a post on his dissertation) in the CS department at UNO. Then I learned that Michelle Friend (whose work with middle school girls in CS was presented at ICER 2013 and mentioned in this post) just finished her PhD at Stanford is also joining UNO in teacher education.  They are well-situated to become a (the?) major player in research on CS teacher professional development.

University of California – San Diego: Leo Porter (winner of many SIGCSE and ICER best paper awards, including work described in this post) is in CS, Christine Alvarado (who was key to the growth of women in computing at Harvey Mudd), Scott Klemmer (who gave the keynote at ICER 2012) is in the Design Lab, and Beth Simon (whom still probably has the most ICER publications of anyone) has just returned to UCSD (from Coursera) to join Education. And now, Philip Guo just announced that he’s joining UCSD in Cognitive Science. Philip built the Python Tutor that we use in our ebooks, blogs frequently on CS Ed issues, and has been publishing a ton recently (including four papers at VL/HCC last year) on issues related to learning programming.

While I’m jealous that I’m not part of a critical mass CER group, it’s a great thing for the field — more students, more CS teachers, more development and evaluation of interventions and curricula, more answers for the growing demand for computing education research, and more attention to the issues of computing education.

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Amy Ko’s sabbatical research pivot into Computing Education The programming guild doesn’t want you to learn to code

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  June 3, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Sounds like it is time for you to take a sabbatical in Omaha or San Diego. The weather is better in San Diego, but Omaha is a lot cheaper to live in if you decide to take a partial-salary sabbatical.

  • 2. Brett Becker  |  June 4, 2016 at 8:12 pm

    I think that one of the biggest challenges in getting a critical mass of CS Ed faculty together is the common reaction that I have heard from several faculty members when explaining CS Ed research: “But we all teach already”. I this misconception (CS Ed research == teaching) is a big problem. I think we also face another problem, perceived by researchers with their teaching hats on, which is “The CS Ed research people are going to tell me that I am teaching wrong”.

    • 3. Briana Morrison  |  June 6, 2016 at 9:55 am

      When I encounter either of these objections I reply with questions to which we have no empirical evidence:
      1) How do you know if your students are learning the material that you’ve taught them?
      2) How do you know you are using the appropriate language/environment/learning progression to ensure maximum learning?
      3) How would you teach computing to K-12th graders? Any different that what you are doing with undergraduates? What should they know and when?
      4) What should a non-major know about computing versus a computing major? What about a teacher with no computing background that wants to teach computing – what do they have to know to be successful?

      When faced with these kinds of questions, they begin to realize the type of research that we do and why it’s important.

  • […] — some big wins, and some intriguing puzzles for the next researchers to wrestle with. Briana has now joined the computing education research group at U. Nebraska – Omaha, where I expect to see more great […]

  • […] now, some positions like that do exist.  There are faculty who have been hired at US higher-education institutions to focus on CS Ed.  My new job at the University of Michigan is a joint position between CS and their Engineering […]


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