Posts tagged ‘computing education research’
Research+Practice Partnerships and Finding the Sweet Spots: Notes from the ECEP and White House Summit
I wrote back in October about the summit on state implementation of the CS for All initiative which we at Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) alliance organized with the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). You can see the agenda here and a press release on the two days of meetings here.
I have been meaning to write about some of the lessons I learned in those two days, but have been simply slammed this month. I did finally write about some of the incremental steps that states are taking towards CS for All in my Blog@CACM post for November. That post is about the models of teacher certification that are developing, the CSNYC school-based mandate, and New Hampshire’s micro-certifications.
In this post, I want to tell you about a couple of the RPC ideas that I found most compelling. The first part of the day at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building (EEOB) on the White House grounds was organized by the Research+Practice Collaboratory (RPC). I was the moderator for the first panel of the day, where Phil Bell, Nichole Pinkard, and Dan Gallagher talked about the benefits of combining research plus practice.
I was excited to hear about the amazing work that Nichole Pinkard (pictured above) is doing in Chicago, working with Brenda Wilkerson in Chicago Public Schools. Nichole is a learning scientist who has been developing innovative approaches to engaging urban youth (see her Digital Youth Network website). She has all these cool things she’s doing to make the CS for All efforts in Chicago work. She’s partnering with Chicago parks and libraries — other than schools, they’re the ones who cover the city and connect with all kids. She’s partnering with Comcast to create vans that can go to parks to create hotspots for connectivity. Because she’s a researcher working directly with schools, they can do things that researchers alone would find hard to do — like when a student shows up to a CS activity, she can email the student’s parents to tell them the next steps to make sure that they continue the activity at home.
There was a second panel on “Finding the Sweet Spot: What Problems of Practice are Ripe for Knowledge Generation?” I didn’t know Shelley Pasnik from the Center for Children and Technology, and she had an idea I really liked that connected to one of Nichole’s points. Shelley emphasizes “2Gen learning,” having students bring with them parents or even grandparents so that there are two generations of learners involved. The older generation can learn alongside the student, and keep the student focused on the activity.
I know that the RPC folks are producing a report on their activity at the summit, so I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about their work.
This is the work that most impresses me about OMSCS — that it attracts a different group of students that might get a face-to-face MS in CS. I’m not sure that I buy “equivalent in all ways to an in-person degree,” but I do see that it’s hard to measure and the paper makes a good effort at it.
Previous research has shown that most users of online education look fairly similar to the average college graduate — suggesting that digital learning isn’t yet the great educational equalizer it has the potential to be. But in a study of Georgia Tech’s hugely successful online master of science in computer science (OMSCS) program, educational economists Joshua Goodman and Amanda Pallais and public policy expert Julia Melkers found that digital learning can tap into a new market of students by offering an online degree that is equivalent in all ways to an in-person degree, at a fraction of the cost.
Ruthe Farmer let me know that the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is explicitly interested in getting research commitments in response to this call:
In less than two months, there will be another opportunity to celebrate, to mark progress, and to grow the coalition working to expand computer science. This Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), taking place from December 5-11, schools, community organizations, families, companies, and government agencies-including the White House and Federal agencies like NASA, the National Science Foundation, the US Patent and Trademark Office, and the Department of Energy-will host events and activities to give students direct access to CS. This will include everything from Family Code Nights that engage parents and students in learning computer science together, to Hour of Code events at schools, in homes, and online worldwide, to events here at the White House highlighting making and computer science, bringing broadband internet access to all Americans, and using open data to drive innovation.
With your help, this upcoming CSEdWeek has the potential to be the largest and most successful to date and we look forward to hearing about your plans. One of the ways your organization can get involved is to commit to expand computer science in your community or nationally, with measurable, specific goals that uniquely utilize what you can do to spread opportunity.
If you have an action you want to undertake to support CS education, submit it here by November 14, 2016. We want to hear about remarkable strides being made in your community and how we can build on them!
The Research+Practice Collaboratory led the ECEP State Teams last week in framing research questions relevant to the President’s CS for All initiative. Below are some of my pictures from that effort, to prime thinking about the research questions that surround CS for All. (I have a lot more to tell about last week’s meetings, but first I have to recover and recoup time lost to planning/logistics/travel.)
Stephen Wolfram has published an essay arguing for a programming language as key to teaching computational literacy. He says computational thinking — I think he means the same thing as I do with CL instead of CT. I agree with him, and made a similar argument in my book. He goes on to argue that Wolfram Language (and the Mathematica infrastructure behind it) is particularly good for this.
He may be right. I don’t know of any studies of the Wolfram Language in any setting. The idea of providing a programming language with such rich knowledge behind it is intriguing and promising — so much there for just about any kind of inquiry, for any kind of context.
Hadi Partovi, CEO of Code.org, wrote an essay in response, where he similarly agreed with Wolfram on the issues of what we’re trying to teach and the importance of a programming language to teach those concepts. I disagree with Hadi on his critique of Wolfram, which is that the Wolfram Language is functional and lacks loops and declarations, and is inappropriate for use with learners. It’s totally true that most professional software engineers use procedural programming. But that doesn’t mean we have to.
If we’re teaching computational literacy or computational thinking, it’s not clear why the practices of professional software engineers should influence what we teach or how we teach it. That’s not what we are teaching. I argue that we need to take a learner-centered approach, where we recognize that learners are not professionals or experts, and particularly in computing, may not want to become professional software engineers.
What gets used in daily practice by professionals is the result of historical and cultural factors that in no way imply that we made choices optimized what is best for learners. Fortran won over Lisp because (in part) we didn’t know how to compile Lisp efficiently, but we do now and we know how to teach Lisp well. C++ and then Java won over Pascal because of perceptions of what industry wanted, not because of data and not because Pascal was shown to be ineffective for learners. What we know about what is “natural” for learners when they are first thinking about programming strongly implies that Wolfram’s functional structures are easier for learners than loops and declarations. We should strive to make decisions for what we use in classrooms based on evidence, not on what is professional practice, nor what we decide based on social defense mechanisms.
More importantly, there is no “best” platform for teaching computer science. As a functional programming language, the Wolfram Language is fantastic for data analysis and exploration, but it can’t be used to create a traditional “app.” Most professional software engineers use procedural programming, using exactly the same concepts that Wolfram criticizes: loops, conditionals, event-handlers, and such. Without these concepts, none of today’s software would function. The debate about which is better—functional vs procedural programming—has raged for decades without an answer.
Google’s latest reports from their collaboration with Gallup lines up with Miranda Parker’s research interests in privilege in CS education (see preview of her RESPECT 2015 paper here). I invited her to write a guest blog post introducing the new reports. I’m grateful that she agreed.
Google, in collaboration with Gallup, has recently released new research about racial and gender gaps in computer science K-12 classrooms. A lot of the report confirms what we already knew: there are structural and social barriers that limit access to CS for black, Hispanic, and female students. I don’t mind the repeated results though–it helps form an even stronger argument that there is a dearth of diversity in computing classrooms across the country.
The report does highlight interesting tidbits that may not have been as obvious before. For example, black and Hispanic students are 1.5 and 1.7 times more likely than white students to be “very interested” in learning computer science. This knowledge, combined with the data that black and Hispanic students are less likely to have access to learning CS, creates a compelling argument for growing programs focused at these groups.
Research like this continues to push the envelope of what is known about racial and gender gaps in computer science. However, it may be time to dig deeper than visible identities and explore if there are other variables that, independently or together with the other traits, create a stronger argument for why the diversity gap exists. Does socioeconomic status better explain racial gaps? What about spatial ability? These are variables that we at Georgia Tech are looking at, as we hypothesize about what can be done to level the playing field in computing.
Today, we’re releasing new research from our partnership with Gallup that investigates the demographic inequities in K-12 computer science (CS) education in two reports, Diversity Gaps in Computer Science: Exploring the Underrepresentation of Girls, Blacks and Hispanics and Trends in the State of Computer Science in U.S. K-12 Schools. We surveyed 16,000 nationally representative groups of students, parents, teachers, principals, and superintendents in the U.S. Our findings explore the CS learning gap between white students and their Black and Hispanic peers as well as between boys and girls and confirm just how much demographic differences matter. We’re excited to share this data to bring awareness to issues on the ground in order to help expand CS education in meaningful ways.
I’m not a big fan of the method in this paper — too little was controlled (e.g., what was being taught? how?). But I applaud the question. Where are things working and where are they not working when using coding to help students learn something beyond coding? We need more work that looks critically at the role of introducing computing in schools.
Nevertheless, there is a lack of empirical studies that investigate how learning to program at an early age affects other school subjects. In this regard, this paper compares three quasi-experimental research designs conducted in three different schools (n=129 students from 2nd and 6th grade), in order to assess the impact of introducing programming with Scratch at different stages and in several subjects. While both 6th grade experimental groups working with coding activities showed a statistically significant improvement in terms of academic performance, this was not the case in the 2nd grade classroom.
Maryland school district showcases computer science education at all levels: ECEP’s role in Infrastructure
The Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) Alliance, funded by NSF to support broadening participation in computing through state-level efforts, is one of the more odd projects I’ve been part of. I don’t know how to frame the research aspect of what we’re doing. We’re not learning about learning or teaching, nor about computer science. We’re learning a lot about how policy makers think about CS, how education is structured in different states (and how CS is placed within that structure), and how decision-making happens around STEM education.
It’s not the kind of story that the press loves. We’re not building curriculum. We don’t work directly with students or teachers. We fund others to do summer camps and provide professional development. We help states figure out how to measure what’s going on in their state with computing education. We help organize (and sometimes fund) meetings, and we get states sharing with each other how to talk to policy makers and industry leaders.
So it’s nice when we get a blurb like the below, in a story about the terrific efforts to grow CS for All in Charles County, MD. It’s amazing how much Charles County has accomplished in providing computing education in every school. I’m pleased that ECEP’s role got recognized in what’s going on there.
Expanding Computer Education Pathways (ECEP) provided grant funding for summer camp computer programs. CCPS’s facilitators participate in their Train-the-Trainer webinars to design and plan an effective workshop, build an educator community, increase diversity in Computer Science and teach Computer Science content knowledge. ECEP also funded the Maryland Computer Science Summit in a joint effort with Maryland State Department of Education to bring over 200 attendees from every county in Maryland to share and set priorities for Computer Science education.