Archive for May, 2022

Ruthe Farmer’s important big idea: The Last Mile Education Fund to increase diversity in STEM

I met Ruthe Farmer (Wikipedia page) when she represented the Girl Scouts in the early days of the NSF Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) alliances. She played a significant role in NCWIT. I had many opportunities to interact with her in her roles at NCWIT and CSforAll. Ruthe organized the White House summit with ECEP in 2016 (see blog post) when she was with the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Obama administration. Her latest project may be the one that’s closest to my heart.

Ruthe has founded and is CEO of the Last Mile Education Fund. Their mission is:

The Last Mile Education Fund offers a disruptive approach to increasing diversity in tech and engineering fields by addressing critical gaps in financial support for low-income underrepresented students within four semesters of graduation.

I was still at Georgia Tech when I heard about the completion microgrant program at Georgia State. Georgia State was (and still is) making headlines for their use of big data to boost retention and get students graduated. Georgia State is the kind of institution where over half of their students are classified as low-income. There is a huge social benefit when GSU can improve their retention statistics. The completion grant program was started in 2011 and focuses on students who could graduate (e.g., their grades were fine), but they had run out of money before they finished. The grant program gave no more than $2,500 per student (Inside Higher Education article). Today, we know that the average grant has actually been $900. That’s a shockingly low cost for getting students the rest of the way to their college degree. It’s a great idea, and deserves to be applied more broadly than one university.

The Last Mile Education Fund especially focuses on getting students from diverse backgrounds into STEM careers. These last gaps in funding are among the barriers that keep girls out from STEM careers (where Ruthe’s focus was in the Girl Scouts and NCWIT) but also low-income students and people of color.

I was reminded to write about the Last Mile Education Fund by Alfred Thompson’s blog (see post here). He’s got a lot more information about the Last Mile Education Fund there.

I am a first generation graduate. My parents and I had no idea how to even apply to college. I am forever grateful that Wayne State University found me in my high school, guided me to applying, and gave me a scholarship to attend. I’m a privileged white guy. Not everybody gets the opportunities I had. It’s critical to extend the opportunity of a higher education degree to a broader and more diverse audience.

The Last Mile Education Fund is important for closing the gap for students from diverse backgrounds. I’m a monthly supporter, and I encourage you to consider giving, too.

May 26, 2022 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Three types of computing education research: for CS, for CS but not professionally, and for everyone

In February, I was invited to give a lecture at the University of Washington’s Allen School. I had a great day visiting there, even though it was all on Zoom. My talk is available on YouTube:

I got a chance to talk to Jeff Heer and Amy Ko before my visit. The U-W CSE department had been thinking about making a push into computing education research. They suggested that I describe the lay of the land — and particularly, to identify where I fit in that space. What I do these days (e.g. Teaspoon languages for history and mathematics classes) isn’t in the mainstream of computing education research, and it was important to tell people unfamiliar with the field, “There’s a lot more out there, and most of it doesn’t look like this.”

CS Education research dates back to the late 1960’s (see the history chapter that Ben du Boulay and I wrote). ACM SIGCSE started in 1968 with a particular focus on how to teach Computer Science and Information Technology majors. Much of what SIGCSE has published is focused even more specifically on the first course, which we now call CS1. This is a big and important space. These majors will be significant drivers of the world’s infrastructure.

There is a growing trend in computing education research to look at people who are learning programming (like in the first circles), but not for the purpose of becoming technology professionals. This includes K-12 CS teachers, end-user programmers, and conversational programmers. This kind of research sometimes appears in venues like CHI, CSCW, and VL/HCC, and occasionally in venues like SIGCSE, RESPECT, and ITiCSE. These circles aren’t scaled correctly by size of potential student population. By most measures, the outer circle (of people learning programming but who aren’t going to become technology professionals) is at least ten times the size of the student population inside the first circles.

My research is one level further out. I’m interested in studying what should we be teaching to everyone, whether or not they’re going to program like professionals, and how do we facilitate that learning. These students might not use the same tools or languages, and certainly have different goals for studying computing. I offer three reasons for the broader “everyone” to learn computing (drawn from the work of C.P. Snow, Alan Perlis, Peter Naur, and Seymour Papert — see this earlier blog post):

  • To make sure that technology is controlled by a democracy.
  • To support new ways of thinking and learning.
  • To be part of a new computational literacy, a new tool for human expression.

This outer circle is far bigger in terms of number of students potentially impacted than any of the inner circles. But it’s also where we know the least in terms of research results.

Take a look at the talk for more on this way of thinking about the field, and how I connect that to existing research. I’d be interested in your perspective on this framing.

May 25, 2022 at 7:00 am 2 comments

College Board stops sharing data on Advanced Placement Computer Science exams

Barb Ericson has been gathering data on the Advanced Placement exams in Computer Science for a decade. The College Board made available data about who took the exam (demographic statistics) and how well they did for each state, for AP CS Level A and then for AP CS Principles when that exam started. When she first started in 2010, she would download each state’s reports, then copy the data from the PDF’s into her Excel spreadsheets. By the time she processed the 2020 data, it was mostly mechanized. Her annual reports on the AP CS exam results were posted here until 2018. She now makes her reports and her archived data collection available at her blog.

However, the 2020 data she has posted are now the last data that are available. The College Board is no longer sharing data on AP CS exams. The archive is gone, and the 2021 data are not posted.

Researchers can request the data. Barb did several months ago. She still hasn’t received it. She was told that they would sign an agreement with the University of Michigan to give her access to the data — but not to her personally. She would also have to promise that she wouldn’t share the data.

Barb talked to someone at the College Board who explained that this is a cost-saving measure — but that doesn’t make much sense. The College Board still produces all the reports and distributes them to the states. They have just stopped making them publicly available.

I agree with Joanna Goode in this tweet from April:

The National Science Foundation paid for the development of the AP CS Principles exam explicitly to broaden participation in computer science. The goal was to create an AP CS exam that any high school could teach, that would be welcoming, and that would encourage more and more diverse students to discover computing. But now, the data showing us whether that’s working are being hidden. Why?

May 17, 2022 at 7:00 am 7 comments


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