Posts tagged ‘BPC’

Dr. Kamau Bobb Talks Research and Challenges in STEM Education

I’ve talked about Kamau Bobb’s work in this blog previously, when he wrote a depressing but deeply-insightful op-ed about the state of mathematics education in Atlanta public schools. He’s recently been interviewed in a three part series in Black Enterprise about his role as an NSF program officer.  The below quote is from Part II — I recommend the whole series.

The most significant challenge facing STEM education and the workforce is the capacity of the U.S. educational system to produce interested and qualified participants in the STEM enterprise. Here is where the racial and socio-economic challenges facing the nation are most glaring.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics National Report Card, there are some damning realities that significantly challenge STEM education and the STEM workforce. In 2015, only 33% of all eighth grade students in the U.S. were proficient or better in mathematics. Only 13% of black eighth graders and 19% of Hispanic eighth graders were proficient or better in mathematics, which is in contrast to 43% of white students and 61% of Asian students. For students who live in poverty and qualify for the National School Lunch Program, only 18% were proficient in eighth grade mathematics.

According to the College Board, only 16% of black students are college or career ready by the time they take the SAT in eleventh grade. For Hispanic students, 23% are ready. For Asian and white students, 61% and 53%, respectively, are ready for higher education or to take on meaningful work. This landscape is a problem.

Source: Dr. Kamau Bobb Talks Research and Challenges in STEM

June 24, 2016 at 8:03 am 3 comments

Highlighting NSF STEM Education Showcase Videos

Last month, NSF hosted a STEM Education video showcase.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed and learned from these.  They’re only 3 minutes each, so it’s a brief investment in getting a sense of a project — and there are a lot of interesting projects here.  Here are some of my notes on what I found that was cool:

There are a lot more great videos, but I’ll stop there.  Highly recommended viewing!

June 8, 2016 at 7:26 am Leave a comment

What should a post-full Computing Education Researcher do next?

My school chair, Annie Anton (most recently famous for being on a Presidential Commission on Cybersecurity), asked me to think about what I’d like to do, what I’d like to make, and what I’d like to be next — and what are the challenges to those goals. It’s a great exercise for anyone post-full professor. I have no tenure or promotion goals to achieve, but I “am not dead yet.” What comes next?

I’ve been privileged to be part of some significant efforts: From “Georgia Computes!” and “Media Computation,” to “ECEP” and our ebooks. Both of my currently-funded NSF projects (ECEP and our Ebooks) end in Fall 2017. So I have to do something else to fund graduate students and to cover the overhead of being faculty in a research university.

Below are some of the options that appeal to me. It isn’t really a wish list — there are incompatible activities on this list. This is an exploration of possibilities that particularly appeal to me. Many interesting and worthwhile problems that I might pursue aren’t interesting to me because I don’t think I have any useful leverage on the problem, or the problem is too big to make a useful dent in it..

I’m sharing it as a blog post because it might be a useful starting point for similar reflections for other post-full faculty.

To be part of a significantly-sized Computing Education Research group

The last few weeks, I’ve been part of an NSF Expeditions preliminary proposal around computing education research. It’s been a deeply engaging intellectual activity, and one that I’d like to do more often. It’s been terrific to work with a group of faculty who know computing education research (different emphases, different areas of research, but with a common core literature and research values) to have detailed discussions about what we think is known and what’s important to do next.

I see my colleagues around here doing that kind of planning in HCI and in Robotics, and it probably happens in any area with three or more faculty. I used to be a peripheral participant in meetings like that at University of Michigan, when Elliot Soloway, Phyllis Blumenfeld, Joe Krajcik, and Ron Marx were inventing technology-enhanced project-based learning for STEM. We used to have visioning activities like those when Janet Kolodner led the EduTech Institute here at Georgia Tech, but most of those faculty at the heart of the EduTech have moved on. (It’s even hard to find a digital footprint of EduTech today.)

You can do that kind of planning if you have several faculty in an area. It’s harder to do with one or two faculty and some students. It’s still hard to grow CER at scale in research-oriented computing departments. How many CER courses can one department offer, and when you hit that limit, what else will the CER faculty teach? Like any new area, it’s hard to explain it to all the other faculty, to get them to appreciate a candidate.

It would be great to be part of a Center doing the work that pushes the boundary of what we know and what we know how to do in computing education research. I know some universities that are thinking about building a Center that includes computing education research. Others, aren’t. There is some distrust of STEM Ed research — I once had a senior administrator say that an academic unit focused on STEM education research would happen on his campus “over his dead body.” I’d like to work with others to create significant, impactful projects in CER — the kinds of things that are bigger than what one or two people can do.

To create an organization/system to have a lasting impact on Computing Education in the US

Like most people in CER, I hope my work has research value in the future, but I don’t expect any of the particular products to last for long. I expect that no curriculum, assessments, tools, or standards that we’re developing for K-12 schools today will still be in schools in 20 years. All of these will have to change dramatically because the students we’ll be teaching, what we think we ought to teach, and how we teach will change. We’re at the very beginning of growth of the field, so now’s (a) when we expect to realize how little we know, and (b) when I hope that decision-makers will start asking, “What do we already know?” That’s a big part of why I wrote the book last year Learner-Centered Design of Computing Education: Research on Computing for Everyone. I wanted to put a signpost to say, “Here’s where we’ve been and where we are now in figuring out how to teach computing to everybody.”

I’ve got a few more years left in my career. I’d like to leave something of longterm use for computing education. I’m creating a CS Ed Research class at Georgia Tech, but classes come and go. We created a lot of learning science and technologies classes when we had those faculty in years past, but we can’t even teach all of those courses anymore.

We need to create organizations, systems, and programs to sustain computing education. Key to that goal is establishing CER in schools of Education. I would like to be part of that effort. Schools of Education are how we get education reforms to stick around in the United States. We need faculty doing CER in schools of Education. We need computing education in pre-service teacher education. I love the idea of defining introductory computer science classes for teachers. (Hint: “Python or Java?” is completely the wrong question, and not the least because both answers are wrong.)

To be part of growing Computing Education Research globally

My experience in India has me realizing how little I know about how most of the world’s education systems work (see blog post comparing Indian and US Education contexts). I also realize that computing education is growing all over the world. My years spent at the boundary of computer science and education suggest to me that I might have something to share in those efforts.

I was one of the co-founders of the International Computing Education Research (ICER) conference, and that’s the most rigorous CER conference around today. That’s great to have a high-quality conference, but there’s a lot more demand for CER than ICER can meet. The SIGCSE Symposium and ITICSE serve a larger audience than ICER, but are still mostly Western, mostly privileged, and mostly missing most of the world.

I’ve recently joined the program committees of both Koli Calling (Finland) and LaTICE (which has mostly Southeastern Asia, but moving to Saudi Arabia this next year and South Africa in two years). I would like to be involved in more international conferences. I want to understand what parts of the challenge of computing education are due to the design of the educational system and context, and what parts are inherent to the complexity of understanding computing.

The mechanics of being a participant in an international community are challenging. I’ve used NSF funds to go to ICER and Dagstuhl (in Germany), but that’s dissemination on a grant. How does one fund going to international conferences when it’s less about dissemination and more about scholarly exchange — me learning about their context, and us discussing research issues from different contexts? There probably are mechanisms, but beyond the ones used by a traditional US POP (Plain Ole Professor).

To focus on teaching

I still love to teach Media Computation. Every Spring, I get to teach around 150 non-technical majors about computation. There’s a set curriculum that is mostly programming-focused (about 80% intersection with my book), but I still find space to talk about Alan Turing and Claude Shannon, incompleteness theorem, and how “The Matrix” and “Sin City” were created. Could I become a full-time teaching faculty? I don’t like how they get typically treated (see this blog post), so I don’t think I would want to become teaching track.

If I did focus on my teaching, I’d need to do it in a context that values research-based CS teaching methods. I want to be able to say to my colleague teachers, “Did you see what Beth, Leo, and Cynthia are doing with peer-instruction?  Or how about what Leo and Dan are doing from the last SIGCSE proceedings? Let’s try that!” The teaching faculty that I know work very hard and care deeply. Especially with today’s enrollments, few of them have the capacity to read CER, too. I know I’d get bored if I couldn’t talk about the research, try to use it, and to extend it with my colleagues.

To just focus on research

I could hunker down and just do computing education research — no more public policy, no more broadening participation work, only occasional international conferences when we have something big to report. It is so hard to make traction on broadening participation in computing these days — diversity has taken a back-burner in many CS departments because they’re just trying to keep their head above water.

There are lots of research questions I’m interested in:

  • I recently attended a AAAS/NSF symposium on STEM Education (which I blogged about at Blog@CACM), and was struck again about how far behind computing education research (CER) is behind other discipline-based education research (DBER). Too much of what we know about CER is bound to particular classes and languages. (Because novices tend to attend to surface-level features, programming languages likely are important, but then we need to parameterize use the language to understand how different languages interact with student understanding.) So much of computing education is focused on implementation, and there is so much fundamental research yet to do. We know too little about misconceptions, learning progressions, alternative models of big ideas and thinking practices, and even, interaction of different natural languages with learning CS (see Yogendra Pal’s work). There is so much to do, and we are years behind other fields.
  • What is the right media for teaching about computation? I’m working on a couple of different kinds of ebooks now. I’ve always been interested in interactive multimedia (see MediaText that I did as a grad student), and the work of our ebooks is promising. I’ve even been thinking about the interaction between MOOCs and ebooks — how could they aid one another?
  • How do we provide education without a teacher? I think often about my trip to India and the need for learning without teachers. MIT recently produced a tablet that they literally just gave to kids in Ethiopia, and it did lead to gains in literacy (see article here). What would you put on a tablet to self-start learning about computing?

I don’t think I’d stop writing in the blog, at least in the forseeable future, for any of these paths. I like to write. The blog gives me an excuse. I hope it provides a service to readers.

(Thanks to the friends who gave me comments on earlier drafts of this document! I appreciate all of it!)

May 9, 2016 at 7:46 am 8 comments

“I had so many advantages, and I barely made it”: Stanford alumna and Pinterest engineer on Silicon Valley sexism

I’m a believer in empirical evidence, and I worry about getting a representative sample.  Sometimes, the right size sample for the question is one. CS is now the biggest major among women at Stanford (see article here).  Do the issues that Jane Margolis and Alan Fisher described in Unlocking the Clubhouse still exist there?

As the article linked below describes, women don’t always feel welcome in CS at Stanford. It’s hard to address the issues of classroom culture described.  Having separate classes for different groups of students with different backgrounds/interests (as at Harvey Mudd does) might help.

I know of even worse experiences at other CS departments.  The Stanford CS teachers actively encourage women.  There are still CS teachers who discourage women in their classes. It’s hard to get administrators to focus on broadening participation in computing in the face of overwhelming enrollment.  It’s even harder to push better teaching from the top down. “Teachers have academic freedom,” is a common response to requests to change teaching (see my efforts to incentivize active learning) — we allow teachers teach anyway they want. It isn’t clear that still makes sense when there are empirically better and worse ways to teach. That’s like letting modern doctors use bloodletting or not wash their hands (see NPR piece making that argument).

At Stanford, I took two introductory computer science classes. I soon became convinced that I was much too behind my male classmates to ever catch up. I was surrounded by men who’d breezily skipped prerequisite courses. As freshmen, they’d signed up for classes that I was intimidated to take even as a sophomore. They casually mentioned software engineering internships they had completed back in high school, and declared they were unfazed by any of the challenges professors might throw our way. My classmates bragged about finishing assignments in three hours. I told myself that they were quantifiably five times better me. I remember the first “weeder” computer science course I took–meant to discourage the unworthy from pursuing the major. My classmates bragged about finishing assignments in three hours. Listening to them chat, I felt mortified: the same work had taken me 15 hours of anguish at the keyboard to complete. They are quantifiably five times better than I am, I told myself.

Source: “I had so many advantages, and I barely made it”: Pinterest engineer on Silicon Valley sexism — Quartz

May 6, 2016 at 7:45 am 4 comments

Even With Hard Evidence Of Gender Bias In STEM Fields, Men Don’t Believe It’s Real

Research doesn’t influence teaching much (see blog post), or policy (see blog post), and from the article cited below, not even in our daily lives.

So what does convince people about a need to change?  Stories? Personal experiences?  Poking around on the Web, you can find lots of pages about motivating change and salesmanship, but I’m more interested in the question of how do we get people to recognize the Platonic cave.  What they think is true is measurably and provably not true.

Now, a new study published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) shows another level of bias: Many men don’t believe this is happening.When shown empirical evidence of gender bias against women in the STEM fields, men were far less likely to find the studies convincing or important, according to researchers from Montana State University (MSU), the University of North Florida, and Skidmore College.

Source: Even With Hard Evidence Of Gender Bias In STEM Fields, Men Don’t Believe It’s Real | ThinkProgress

May 2, 2016 at 8:11 am 6 comments

What does it mean to reach “all” in #CS4All? Qualify your Quantifiers | blog@CACM

I’ve raised the concern before that the CS for All effort might mean “CS for only the rich” (see post here). Our data from Georgia suggest that few students are actually getting access to CS education, even if there is a CS teacher in the school (see post here).  Kathi Fisler, Shriram Krishnamurthi, and Emmanuel Schanzer offer a Blog@CACM post where they consider how we make sure that #CS4All is equitable.

Mandating every child take a computing class is a great way to ensure everyone takes CS, but very few states, cities, or even school districts are in a position to hire enough dedicated CS teachers or offer dedicated CS classes to reach every child. Recent declarations from several major districts that “every child will learn to code” often place impossible burdens on schools. Similarly, few schools can afford to offer CS programs that require cutting-edge computers, expensive consumables, or technology that requires significant maintenance.

To truly achieve CS4All Students in a sustainable way, equity and scale are issues that must be built in by design. Similarly, initiatives have to think about differently-abled users from scratch, not just bolt them on as an afterthought. Accessibility needs to be designed into software, curriculum, and pedagogy from the earliest stages.

The “move fast and break things” culture of computing is no help here. Right now, computing education has enormous attention. That day will pass. By the time we get around to focusing on equity, we may have depleted the energy left to overhaul computing curricula. Instead, we have to think this through at the very outset. Another computing principle is that products typically get one shot at gaining users’ attention. For the foreseeable future, this is that one shot for computing education.

Source: Qualify your Quantifiers | blog@CACM | Communications of the ACM

April 29, 2016 at 8:32 am 4 comments

LaTICE 2017 in Saudi Arabia: Women must cover up

At the end of LaTICE 2016, the Vice-Rector of Al-Baha University in Saudi Arabia (see information here) welcomed attendees to LaTICE 2017. After the presentation about Al-Baha University, Sahana Murthy of IIT-Bombay stood up and asked, “Can I come to LaTICE 2017 dressed as I am right now, in Indian clothes?” The Vice-Rector replied, “No.” All women, including foreigners, will be required to cover their hair at LaTICE 2017.


That exchange was a central topic of conversation for the rest of the conference and in social media for me. I heard some female computing education researchers say that they would attend anyway. Many I heard from expressed outrage. Several were angry that the organizing committee for LaTICE would even place the conference in Saudi Arabia under these restrictions.

I spoke to Neena Thota about LaTICE 2017 (seen below after my keynote).  She was one of the Chairs for LaTICE 2016 (faculty at Uppsala University and University of St. Joseph in Macau) who went to Saudi Arabia in preparation for the conference.  She felt respected there and taken seriously as a scholar, but she did have to cover-up.  Neena doesn’t expect that the rules for women in Saudi Arabia (see the Wikipedia page here about them) will change for a long time.  Do we simply ignore the scholars there and ostracize them, for rules over which they may have no control?  As in Qatar, computer science students in Saudi Arabia are majority female.


The question is no longer rhetorical for me. I was invited to attend the Program Committee meeting at LaTICE 2016 as a non-voting observer, and I have been invited to serve on the PC for LaTICE 2017. I have already had several people warn me that I should not participate. They urged me to shun the conference publicly, in order to send a clear message against the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia.

I’ve been thinking about this, and discussing it with women in my life (my wife, my daughters, and my colleagues).  I’m not female, and I can’t fully understand my own biases as a male, so I sought advice from women in my life and very much appreciate all the comments I received. I’ve decided that I will serve on the LaTICE 2017 program committee.

I understand the reasons of anyone who chooses not to participate.  Those who choose not to review are sending a message that LaTICE should never have gone to a place that restricts the rights of women.  I can understand why women, especially from the West, might choose not to attend. I don’t think foreign women should go there, unless they’re willing to abide by the laws and customs of the place they’re visiting.

Here are my reasons for thinking it worthwhile to engage in LaTICE 2017:

  1. The female Computing students and faculty in Saudi Arabia might not otherwise be able to attend a conference like LaTICE. Unless LaTICE goes there, they do not get the opportunity to hear other perspectives, to share their practices, and to participate in a community of education scholars. By participating in the PC, I get to share what I know about computing education with the community of scholars in Saudi Arabia, both female and male.
  2. As an education researcher, I know that learning and change occurs from active dialogue, not from passive silence. I doubt that I can change much in Saudi Arabia, either by my engagement or my public refusal to engage. This semester our seminar on Learning Sciences and Technologies at Georgia Tech read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Freire points out that privileged people can’t solve the problems of the less-privileged, nor can the privileged even “help” the less-privileged. All that any of us can do is to create dialogue which creates opportunities for learning for everyone. Freire explicitly includes teachers in that everyone. Teachers ought to aim to learn from students. Dialogue requires engagement.  Reading papers and responding to them with my comments creates dialogue.
  3. Finally, I want to be engaged because of what I will learn. I’m curious. I learned more about India from attending LaTICE 2016 (see the first and second blog posts in this series). I would like to learn more about Saudi Arabia. It makes me a more informed and effective researcher when I am more aware of other contexts.

Neeti Pathak, one of the students with whom I work, pointed out that there is interplay between religion and culture in Saudi Arabia. I also look to my own faith in thinking about LaTICE 2017. Pope Francis, the leading figure in my faith, recently made a proclamation encouraging the Church to be more welcoming, even to those that the Church may have once ostracized (see NYTimes piece). That’s a proclamation that relates to LaTICE 2017. Everyone gains by engaging, even with those whose activities and rules we might not like.

I’m not willing to ostracize a whole country, even if they have rules and customs that I think are wrong. I’m not confident that I understand the issues in Saudi Arabia. I’m not confident that my views on them are more than my Western biases interpreting customs and values I don’t understand. I don’t feel justified in making a statement against LaTICE 2017. I see value in engaging in dialogue.

I shared earlier versions of this post with several colleagues, who are angry with me for the stance I’m taking. These are complicated issues. I am sure that there are many more perspectives that I have not yet considered. I welcome further discussion in the comments, including telling me why I’m wrong.

April 22, 2016 at 7:27 am 19 comments

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