Posts tagged ‘computing education’

Why Ed Tech Is Not Transforming How Teachers Teach: Another cost of too little computing literacy

I believe the result described in the article below, that a critical limitation of teacher’s ability to use technology is too little understanding of technology.  In a sense, this is another example of the productivity costs of a lack of ubiquitous computing literacy (see my call for a study of the productivity costs).  We spend a lot on technology in schools.  If teachers learned more about computing, they could use it more effectively.

In 2010, for example, researchers Peggy A. Ertmer of Purdue University, in West Lafayette, Ind., and Anne T. Ottenbreit-Leftwich of Indiana University, in Bloomington, took a comprehensive look at how teachers’ knowledge, confidence, and belief systems interact with school culture to shape the ways in which teachers integrate technology into their classrooms.
One big issue: Many teachers lack an understanding of how educational technology works.
But the greater challenge, the researchers wrote, is in expanding teachers’ knowledge of new instructional practices that will allow them to select and use the right technology, in the right way, with the right students, for the right purpose.

via Why Ed Tech Is Not Transforming How Teachers Teach – Education Week.

July 22, 2015 at 7:25 am 7 comments

Teachers Think Girls Are Bad At Math: Prediction — CS teachers have similar biases

I predict that if we did this study with CS teachers, we’d find the same result.  The belief that CS is for males and not for females is deeply ingrained in the perceptions of our field.  Kahneman would tell us that it’s part of our System 1 thinking (see NYTimes Book Review).  What do you think teachers would draw if asked to “draw a computer scientist“?  I predict that the gender bias that favors males as computer scientists would be greater for post-secondary teachers than for secondary or elementary teachers.  Most secondary school CS teachers that I’ve met are sensitive to issues of gender diversity in computing, and they actively encourage their female students.  Most post-secondary CS teachers with whom I’ve worked are not sensitized to issues of women in computing and have not changed how they teach to improve gender diversity (see example here).

In the study, teachers graded the math tests of 11-year-olds and, on average, the scores were lower for girls. But, when different teachers graded the same tests anonymously, the girls performed far better (out-performing the boys in many cases.)

Dr. Edith Sand, one of the researchers, told American Friends of Tel Aviv University, that the issue wasn’t overt and obvious sexism, but “unconscious discouragement.”

The study goes on to say that the gender biases held by elementary school teachers have an “asymmetric effect” on their students — the boys’ performance benefits and girls’ performance suffers based on the teacher’s biases. Boys do well because teachers believe they will, girls don’t because teachers believe they won’t.

via Yikes! Turns Out Even Teachers Think Girls Are Bad At Math – MTV.

July 10, 2015 at 7:54 am 2 comments

Big win for Computing Education: ACM Appoints New CEO, Bobby Schnabel

Bobby Schnabel has just been named the new CEO of ACM.  This is a big win for computing education.  Bobby has been an innovator and leader in efforts to improve computing education policy and broaden participation in computing.  Now, he’s in charge of ACM overall, the world’s largest computing professional organization.  That gives him a big pulpit for promoting the importance of computing education.

Schnabel has a long history of service to the computing community. He has served in several capacities, including chair, of ACM’s Special Interest Group on Numerical Mathematics (ACM SIGNUM). When Schnabel assumes his role as CEO, he will step down as founding chair of the ACM Education Policy Committee, which led to the creation of Computer Science Education Week in the US, and the formation of the industry/non-profit coalition, Computing in the Core. Schnabel also serves as board member of, and as a member of the advisory committee of the Computing and Information Science and Engineering directorate of the National Science Foundation. He has served as a board member of the Computing Research Association.

Dedicated to improving diversity in computing, Schnabel is a co-founder and executive team member of the National Center for Women & Information Technology (NCWIT), a major non-profit organization in the US for the full participation of girls and women in computing and information technology. He also serves as chair of the Computing Alliance for Hispanic-Serving Institutions Advisory Board.

via ACM Appoints New CEO — Association for Computing Machinery.

June 22, 2015 at 7:55 am Leave a comment

People (scientsts and faculty, too) don’t generally make evidence-based, rational decisions

I found the article below fascinating, but as an instance of a general model.  The article describes how scientists who study gun control have very different opinions about gun control than the general American public — who (presumably) don’t draw on scientific evidence to inform their opinions.  People who draw on evidence have different opinions than those who don’t. Most people do not draw on evidence when informing their opinions.

I don’t see that the story here is “Scientists are smart and the public is dumb.”

I would bet that if you asked these same gun control scientists about something outside of their area of expertise, they similarly ignore evidence. I work with CS professors all the time who draw on evidence to inform their opinions within their area of expertise (e.g., robotics, HCI, networking), but when it comes to education, evidence goes out the window.  Davide Fossati and I did a study (yeah, evidence — we know what that’s worth) describing how CS faculty make decisions (see post here). In my experience, if the evidence is counter to their opinion, evidence is frequently ignored. One of the things we learned in “Georgia Computes!” was just how hard it is to change faculty (see our journal article where we tell this story).  CS teachers are pretty convinced that they teach just fine, despite evidence to the contrary.  I regularly try to convince my colleagues to teach using active learning approaches like peer instruction given the overwhelming evidence of its effectiveness (see this article, for just one), and I regularly get told, “It really doesn’t work for me.”

People are people, even when scientists and CS faculty.

Of the 150 scientists who responded, most were confident that a gun in the home increases the chance that a woman living there will be murdered (72 percent agreed, 11 percent disagreed), that strict gun control laws reduce homicide (71 percent versus 12 percent), that more permissive gun laws have not reduced crime rates (62 percent versus 9 percent), that guns are used more often in crimes that in self-defense (73 percent versus 8 percent), and that a gun in the home makes it a more dangerous place to be (64 percent versus 5 percent).

Eighty-four percent of the respondents said that having a firearm at home increased the risk of suicide.

These figures stand sharply at odds with the opinions of the American public. A November 2014 Gallup poll found that 63 percent of Americans say that having a gun in the house makes it a safer place to be, a figure that has nearly doubled since 2000. According to the same survey, about 40 percent of Americans keep a gun in the home.

via Where does science fall on the gun control debate? –

June 19, 2015 at 8:00 am 4 comments

Little Evidence That Executive Function Interventions Boost Student Achievement: So why should computing?

Here’s how I interpret the results described below.  Yes, having higher executive function (e.g., being able to postpone the gratification of eating a marshmallow) is correlated with greater achievement.  Yes, we have had some success teaching some of these executive functions.  But teaching these executive functions has not had any causal impact on achievement.  The original correlations between executive function and achievement might have been because of other factors, like the kids who had higher executive function also had higher IQ or came from richer families.

This is relevant for us because the myth that “Computer science teaches you how to think” or “Computer science teaches problem-solving skills” is pervasive in our community.  (See a screenshot of my Google search below, and consider this blog post of a few weeks ago.)  But there is no support for that belief.  If this study finds no evidence that explicitly teaching thinking skills leads to improved transferable achievement, then why should teaching computer science indirectly lead to improved thinking skills and transferable achievement to other fields?

Why do CS teachers insist that we teach for a given outcome (“thinking skills” or “problem-solving skills”) when we have no evidence that we’re achieving that outcome?


The meta-analysis, by researchers Robin Jacob of the University of Michigan and Julia Parkinson of the American Institutes for Research, analyzed 67 studies published over the past 25 years on the link between executive function and achievement. The authors critically assessed whether improvements in executive function skills—the skills related to thoughtful planning, use of memory and attention, and ability to control impulses and resist distractions—lead to increases in reading and math achievement , as measured by standardized test scores, among school-age children from preschool through high school. More than half of the studies identified by the authors were published after 2010, reflecting the rapid increase in interest in the topic in recent years.

While the authors found that previous research indicated a strong correlation between executive function and achievement, they found “surprisingly little evidence” that the two are causally related.

“There’s a lot of evidence that executive function and achievement are highly correlated with one another, but there is not yet a resounding body of evidence that indicates that if you changed executive functioning skills by intervening in schools, that it would then lead to an improvement in achievement in children,” said Jacob. “Although investing in executive function interventions has strong intuitive appeal, we should be wary of investing in these often expensive programs before we have a strong research base behind them.”

via Study: Little Evidence That Executive Function Interventions Boost Student Achievement.

June 1, 2015 at 7:44 am 7 comments

Congratulations to Bill Wulf, 2014 ACM Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Awardee

William Wulf is the 2014 recipient of the ACM Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award

Wulf is recognized for contributions as a teacher, author, and national leader who focused attention and changed the national education agenda and in the process supported the needs of underserved and under-represented students. As Assistant Director of the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Computer and Information Science & Engineering (CISE), he understood the role NSF played in supporting science and engineering in the US for both basic research and operation of several high performance computing centers and networks. As President of the US National Academy of Engineering, he advocated for advances in engineering education and technical literacy. Wulf is professor emeritus of Computer Science at the University of Virginia. An ACM Fellow, he received the 2011 ACM Distinguished Service Award.

via Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator Award – ACM Award.

May 20, 2015 at 7:42 am Leave a comment

Using Learning Sciences to Inform Cyber Security Education

I’m giving the keynote talk at the 2015 International Security Education Workshop at Georgia Tech today. I’ve never spoken on cyber security before, so the talk was challenging and fun to put together. I used some of the learning sciences research we’ve done in computing education to draw connections to cyber security education. The lessons I highlight are:

  • Context matters.  People only learn when they understand why the learning is useful.
  • Identity matters.  People who reject computer science (and that’s most people) will likely reject cyber security education, even if they need to know it.  The cyber security learning that they need to know has to meet their identity and expectations. Don’t expect them to change who they are and what they think is important.
  • Structure matters.  Teaching something well, like using subgoal labeling, can dramatically improve learning.


(Click on the image below to get to the Slideshare site)

First slide of talk

May 18, 2015 at 9:30 am 6 comments

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