Posts tagged ‘outreach’

Computer Scientists: do outreach or your science dies

All the more reason for more computer scientists to answer Cameron Wilson’s “All Hands on Deck!” call, and to get involved in the CS10K effort.

The scientific community must also do the same, by convincing the public that it is worth spending tax dollars on research. Scientists: this isn’t someone else’s job – this is your job, starting immediately. If you personally hope to receive government research funds in the future, public engagement is now part of your job description. And if you and your colleagues don’t convincingly make the case to the public that your discipline should be funded, well then it won’t be. Without a public broadly supportive of funding science, it is all too easy for politicians looking for programs to cut to single out esoteric-sounding research programs as an excuse to further slash science funding.

via Scientists: do outreach or your science dies | Guest Blog, Scientific American Blog Network.

August 16, 2013 at 1:56 am 1 comment

Secret Sauce of Successful Summer Camps

Barb and I were invited to give a talk at Stanford earlier this month.  (The week after SIGCSE, and the week before our NSF site visit — March has been crazy.)  Scott Klemmer asked a really good question about Barb’s sustainable, effective, and replicable summer camps.  “So, what inference should we take from your work?  That we should do summer camps? That we should use your curriculum to get these camps?  Or that there’s a secret sauce for getting these results?”  Barb had a cute answer: “Do summer camps! That’s what’s most important. Please offer summer camps!”

Afterward, Barb and I talked about what the secret sauce is.  What leads to the results that Barb and Tom are seeing in the camps?  I think that we have a good answer, and it’s one that Scott, as an HCI guy, would like:

  • First, build on the research.  Kids who come to computing summer camps aren’t interested in lectures.  They want hands-on, project-based, discovery-driven learning opportunities.
  • Second, use formative evaluation and iterative development.  What made Barb’s camps work was the rapid feedback loop between Tom’s formative evaluations and Barb’s redesign of workshop content.  Sometimes, Tom got her feedback from one week, and Barb changed the summer camp design or curriculum before the next offering of the same camp.  Not everything worked.  Some camp leaders lectured too much.  Others had a dry sense of humor that turned off some students.

Here’s an example of something that wasn’t working.  One of the results that we talked about at our NSF poster session was that we found that girls were sometimes coming away with a greater sense that computing was “too hard.”  Tom did some observation studies, and found that that was happening in workshops where female leaders were saying, “Yeah, this is hard…but it’s really fun!” while male leaders only emphasized how fun it was!  Just that slight emphasis on “Yeah, it’s hard” interplayed with issues of self-efficacy and fixed mindset, and girls became more discouraged.  That’s something that’s hard to figure out, but easily fixed with some improved training of workshop leaders.

I’m hoping that Barb and Tom can write up this “secret sauce” when they do the larger, journal version of the SIGCSE paper.  It’s an important story of how they got there, because that’s even more of the “secret sauce” than just using Barb’s models and curricula.

March 27, 2012 at 6:35 am 5 comments

The Best CS Summer Camp Paper: Sustainable, Effective, and Replicable

I’ve got a lot out of SIGCSE 2012, and I have several posts that I’d like to share. But I became ill on the last day of the conference, and am just now recovering.

I really do mean what I wrote in the title.  I am, of course, biased towards the paper by my wife, Barbara Ericson, and our external evaluator on Georgia Computes, Tom McKlin, but I still think that this is the best paper on computing summer camps yet published at SIGCSE.

There are lots of people creating computing summer camps these days, and for good reason.  They really can work for increasing student interest and providing some real education about computer science, which is missing from most U.S. schools.  What makes Barb’s summer camp program so good that it really works on several levels:

  • First, it is effective.  They have reliable measures that students improve their attitudes about computing in pre/post comparisons.  Women and members of under-represented groups in particular improve their attitudes about further study in computing.  But even better: The students learn something about computer science.  Barb and Tom have measures of learning about computer science and programming that indicate that the students in the summer camps are learning, too.
  • Second, they are sustainable.  Barb has created a business plan that makes these camps work continuously after only a $5K seed grant.  Barb has been doing this for a long time, and she’s figured out several rules of thumb.  For example, don’t have University faculty teach your camps.  Faculty are too expensive, and high school teachers need and want the summer work — and it gives them the chance to learn something new to take into their classroom.  Another example: Always offer both high school and middle school camps.  High school camps give you the best chance to recruit undergrads into your program, but middle school camps can charge more (since the kids are too young to stay at home) and help cover the cost of the high school camp.
  • Third, they are replicable.  Through Georgia Computes, Barb has now given seed grants to start 11 more camps around Georgia.  Some of these have been running for several years now.  Better yet — they’re effective, too.  The paper shows that the seed grant camps are returning results comparable to Barb’s original camps.

One of the things that I like best about Barb’s camps (besides the fact that they work) is that they benefit multiple levels of the computing education pathway.  Barb offers workshops on “How to Run a Summer Camp” to higher-education faculty in Georgia, on logistics, curricula, and business plans.  The faculty can apply for seed grants, keeping them involved.  To get a seed grant, they have to show that they will have a sustainable business plan, that they will gather data for the evaluation effort, and that they will do something useful during the academic year with any robots or other kits that they purchase with the seed funds.  We encourage faculty to set up “Lending Libraries” where the robots are made available to local teachers to use in their classes.  The faculty then hire high school teachers, which gives them a chance to learn something new.  Finally, the students get the camps.

It’s the combination of sustainable, effective, and replicable that really makes this a striking result.  Summer camps can really work, and here’s a good paper on how.  Sure, summer camps could be done even better, but I think that Barb has the current state-of-the-art.

March 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm 9 comments


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