Posts tagged ‘public policy’
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 code.org, 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.
I don’t think that MOOCs are a good solution for required classes. I agree with the idea that MOOCs are for people who want to learn something because they’re interested in it, and that completion rates don’t matter there.
That suggests that we shouldn’t use MOOCs where (a) the students don’t know what they need to know and (b) completion rates matter.
- Thus, don’t use MOOCs for intro courses (as we learned at GT with English composition and physics) where students don’t know that they really need this knowledge to go on, and the completion rates are even worse than in other MOOCs. The combination hurts the students who want to go on to subsequent courses. Using MOOCs to provide adults with content that might be covered in an intro course isn’t the same thing. For example, an intro to programming course for adults who want to understand something about coding, but not necessarily continue in CS studies, makes sense for a MOOC. If they’re not trying to prepare for a follow-on course, then the completion rate doesn’t really matter. If the MOOC learners are adults who are foraging for certain information, then the even-lower completion rate in intro-content MOOCs makes sense. There may only be a small part of that content that someone doesn’t already know.
- Thus, don’t use MOOCs to teach high school teachers about CS, where they don’t know what CS they need to know, they’re uncertain about becoming CS teachers, and a lack of completion means that the teachers who don’t complete (90-95% of enrollees) don’t know the curriculum that they’re supposed to teach. Using MOOCs to provide existing CS teachers with new opportunities to learn is a good match for the student audience to the affordances of the medium. Trying to draw in new CS teachers (when they are so hard to recruit) via MOOCs makes little sense to me.
Setting aside my concerns about MOOCs, it’s not exactly clear what’s going on in the below article. I get that it’s not good that California had to just forgive the loan of $7M USD, and that they will likely to continue to lose money. I get that the quote below says, “we got extremely little in return.” I don’t see what was the return. I don’t see how many students actually participated (e.g., we’re told that there was only 250 non-UC students, but not how many UC students participated), and if the courses they created could continue to be used for years after, and so on. It doesn’t look good, but there’s not enough information here to know that it was bad.
“We spent a lot of money and got extremely little in return,” said Jose Wudka, a physics professor at UC-Riverside who previously chaired the Systemwide Committee on Educational Policy of the Academic Senate, which represents faculty in the UC System.
The project, which cost $7 million to set up at a time when the state was cutting higher-education funding, aspired to let students take courses across campuses.
Oklahoma isn’t the only state picking a fight over AP US History. Georgia’s legislators just introduced a similar bill (see article here). I disagree with what they’re doing, but I do agree with the argument below. The Advanced Placement program is a kind of “national curriculum.” That’s why efforts like CS Principles are so valuable — they impact many schools across the country all at once. My PhD advisor, Elliot Soloway, argues that it’s past time to establish national curricula (see article here), and he’s probably right. The American political sentiment goes strongly against that perspective.
For other lawmakers, however, Fisher is thinking too small. Oklahoma Rep. Sally Kern (R) claims that all “AP courses violate the legislation approved last year that repealed Common Core.” She has asked the Oklahoma Attorney General to issue a ruling. Kern argues that “AP courses are similar to Common Core, in that they could be construed as an attempt to impose a national curriculum on American schools.”
Back at the NCWIT meeting last May, we in ECEP (Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance) started promoting a four step process for starting to improve computing education in your state (see blog post here):
- Find a Leader(s)
- Figure out where you are and how you change
- Gather your allies
- Get initial funding.
Part of Step 2 includes writing a Landscape Report. Does your state count CS towards high school graduation? As what? Who decides? Who can teach CS? Is there a CS curriculum? Do you have a Pathway? Do you have a certificate or endorsement to teach CS in your state? There are several of these available at the CSTA website, such as one from South Carolina and another on Maryland.
ECEP now has a page with resources for gathering data for a landscape report — see below.
Where is your state now? The resources linked below can help you quickly find state-level data about the status of computer science education in your state. These are good starting points for putting together a landscape report that answers common questions on CS education in your state.
The Individual Teacher versus the Educational System: What if Finland’s great teachers taught in U.S. schools?
I highly recommend the article below, for the perspective above all. The issue of “If we fix teachers, do we fix the American educational system” is discussed below and in a recent Freakonomics podcast (see link here). The Freakonomics team comes to the same conclusion as below — no, the home life is a far bigger factor than any particular teacher.
But I’m more struck by the focus on the education system more than the individual teacher in the below essay. If your focus is on the education system, then the goal shouldn’t be to identify and get rid of the “bad” teachers. In the end, that’s just one teacher in a whole system. You’re better off improving the system, by making the teachers as good as possible (e.g., with high-quality professional development, and lots of it). Develop your teachers, and the system improves itself.
The comments about Teach for America are relevant to the TEALS program, too. If we value teaching as a profession and want highly-skilled, prepared, and experienced teachers, then you don’t take newbies and make them teachers. Make them assistants, or make them para-professionals. Take a legitimate peripheral participation approach and let them help on the edges. But keep the teacher front-and-center, valuing her or him for the experience and development that she or he brings to the classroom — don’t try to replace the teacher with someone who doesn’t have that experience and preparation.
When I told Barbara Ericson about these comments, she countered that I’m assuming that (with respect to computer science) schools have these well-prepared and experienced teachers. She says that she’s seen whole districts without a single teacher with preparation as a CS teacher — but they’re teaching CS. She argues that in most schools, a TEALS professional could not be just an assistant or para-professional, because the teacher can’t adequately support the course on his or her own.
In recent years the “no excuses”’ argument has been particularly persistent in the education debate. There are those who argue that poverty is only an excuse not to insist that all schools should reach higher standards. Solution: better teachers. Then there are those who claim that schools and teachers alone cannot overcome the negative impact that poverty causes in many children’s learning in school. Solution: Elevate children out of poverty by other public policies.
For me the latter is right. In the United States today, 23 percent of children live in poor homes. In Finland, the same way to calculate child poverty would show that figure to be almost five times smaller. The United States ranked in the bottom four in the recent United Nations review on child well-being. Among 29 wealthy countries, the United States landed second from the last in child poverty and held a similarly poor position in “child life satisfaction.” Teachers alone, regardless of how effective they are, will not be able to overcome the challenges that poor children bring with them to schools everyday.
Ian Bogost believes that an “algorithmic society” is a myth, and believes that we treat algorithms as a religion.
I don’t want to downplay the role of computation in contemporary culture. Striphas and Manovich are right—there are computers in and around everything these days. But the algorithm has taken on a particularly mythical role in our technology-obsessed era, one that has allowed it wear the garb of divinity. Concepts like “algorithm” have become sloppy shorthands, slang terms for the act of mistaking multipart complex systems for simple, singular ones. Of treating computation theologically rather than scientifically or culturally.
This attitude blinds us in two ways. First, it allows us to chalk up any kind of computational social change as pre-determined and inevitable. It gives us an excuse not to intervene in the social shifts wrought by big corporations like Google or Facebook or their kindred, to see their outcomes as beyond our influence. Second, it makes us forget that particular computational systems are abstractions, caricatures of the world, one perspective among many. The first error turns computers into gods, the second treats their outputs as scripture.
I respond with another quote:
“And this is that decision which are going to affect a great deal of our lives, indeed whether we live at all, will have to be taken or actually are being taken by extremely small number of people, who are normally scientists. The execution of these decisions has to be entrusted to people who do not quite understand what the depth of the argument is. That is one of the consequences of the lapse or gulf in communication between scientists and nonscientists. There it is. A handful of people, having no relation to the will of society, having no communication with the rest of society, will be taking decisions in secret which are going to affect our lives in the deepest sense.”
That’s C.P. Snow in 1961 (Computers and the World of the Future, ed Martin Greenberger, MIT Press), talking about why everyone on campus should (explicitly) learn algorithms. He foresaw the “algorithmic culture” where algorithms control “a great deal of our lives, indeed whether we live at all.” He had two concerns. One was that the people writing those algorithms are making decisions when they implement them that don’t reflect social or political will. The second was that the “nonscientists” were unwilling to learn the algorithms. Explicitly, Snow’s argument was that those who don’t understand algorithms are at the mercy of those who do. His book, The Two Cultures, blamed the nonscientists for not making the effort to learn the science and algorithms so that they could participate in scientific discourse.
Today, Snow might agree with Bogost. When we don’t understand the algorithms that control our lives, we might see them as divine or magical. Arthur C. Clarke famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” The corollary (see here) is a better explanation of the phenomena that Bogost describes, ” Any technology, no matter how primitive, is magic to those who don’t understand it.”
I use the above quote in my talks on why we need computing for everyone. Snow is arguing that CS Education is a critical part of a functioning “algorithmic society.” If our social processes and rules are built into the software, not understanding algorithms keeps you from understanding and influencing the algorithms that control your life. Thomas Jefferson said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” Knowledge about computing is part of that education that keeps the citizenry free in today’s algorithm-driven world.
The onus to enable citizens to be free in an algorithm-driven world is on us in computer science, not on the citizenry alone. We have too much power to hide our algorithms behind interfaces and firewalls. We have a responsibility to make the computational world (and the algorithms that run it) accessible and understandable. As Diana Franklin said in her recent CACM essay (which I mentioned here), it’s up to computer science to make computing education work.
There are lots of these kinds of lists around the beginning of a new year, but I thought that these predictions were interesting. I’m betting that the first one below is right, but I know a lot of people are betting against it. I’m seeing the second one in my discussions with K12 education policymakers in states. They want their students to come out with “job skills,” which is hard to do with an introduction to computing designed for students who have no previous background.
10. Online learning will grow modestly (Eduventures): The company predicts that enrollment in wholly online degree programs will be modest this year, with only 2 percent growth due mostly to uncertainty and indecision among adult learners. At the same time, the percentage of colleges entering the online market will grow very little, if at all. “Growth will be stunted due to increased regulatory concerns such as state authorization, competition from large adult-serving providers, and enrollment strategies incapable of keeping pace with the savvyness of today’s adult learners,” it stated. “Institutions will back away from online programming to focus on blended learning and improving quality and access for traditional age students.”
11. Outcomes will dominate (Eduventures): Eduventures research shows that in 2013, “career preparation” surpassed “academic strength” as the top priority for both students and parents in selecting a school. Adding to parent and student concerns, the government has increased its focus on this issue, including the possibility of Title IV funding consequences. “Look for schools to become more aggressive in differentiating themselves in reporting outcomes data in 2015,” said the company.