Posts tagged ‘public policy’

Are you talking to me? Interaction between teachers and researchers around evidence, truth, theory, and decision-making

In this blog, I’m talking about computing education research, but I’m not always sure and certainly not always clear about who I’m talking to. That’s a problem, but it’s not just my problem. It’s a general problem of research, and a particular problem of education research. What should we say when we’re talking to researchers, and what should we say when we’re talking to teachers, and where do we need to insert caveats or explain assumptions that may not be obvious to each audience?

From what I know of philosophy of science, I’m a post-positivist. I believe that there is an objective reality, and the best tools that we humans have to understand it are empirical evidence and the scientific method. Observations and experiments have errors and flaws, and our perspectives are biased. All theory should be questioned and may be revised. But that’s not how everyone sees the world, and what I might say in my blog may be perceived as a statement of truth, when the strongest statement I might make is a statement of evidence-supported theory.

It’s hard to bridge the gap between researchers and education. Lauren Margulieux shared on Twitter a recent Educational Researcher article that addresses the issue. It’s not about getting teachers access to journal articles, because those articles aren’t written to speak to nor address teachers’ concerns. There have to be efforts from both directions, to help teachers to grok researchers and researchers to speak to teachers.

I have three examples to concretize the problem.

Recursion and Iteration

I wrote a blog post earlier this month where I stated that iteration should be taught before recursion if one is trying to teach both. For me, this is a well-supported statement of theory. I have written about the work by Anderson and Wiedenbeck supporting this argument. I have also written about the terrific work by Pirolli exploring different ways to teach recursion, which fed into the work by Anderson.

In the discussion on the earlier post, Shriram correctly pointed out that there are more modern ways to teach recursion, which might make it better to teach before iteration. Other respondents to that post point out the newer forms of iteration which are much simpler. Anderson and Wiedenbeck’s work was in the 1980’s. That sounds great — I would hope that we can do better than what we did 30 years ago. I do not know of studies that show that the new ways work better or differently than the ways of the 1980’s, and I would love to see them.

By default, I do not assume that more modern ways are necessarily better. Lots of scientists do explore new directions that turn out to be cul-de-sacs in light of later evidence (e.g., there was a lot of research in learning styles before the weight of evidence suggested that they didn’t exist). I certainly hope and believe that we are coming up with better ways to teach and better theories to explain what’s going on. I have every reason to expect that the modern ways of teaching recursion are better, and that the FOR EACH loop in Python and Java works differently than the iteration forms that Anderson and Wiedenbeck studied.

The problem for me is how to talk about it.  I wrote that earlier blog post thinking about teachers.  If I’m talking to teachers, should I put in all these caveats and talk about the possibilities that haven’t yet been tested with evidence? Teachers aren’t researchers. In order to do their jobs, they don’t need to know the research methods and the probabilistic state of the evidence base. They want to know the best practices as supported by the evidence and theory. The best evidence-based recommendation I know is to teach iteration before recursion.

But had I thought about the fact that other researchers would be reading the blog, I would have inserted some caveats.  I mean to always be implicitly saying to the researchers, “I’m open to being proven wrong about this,” but maybe I need to be more explicit about making statements about falsifiability. Certainly, my statement would have been a bit less forceful about iteration before recursion if I’d thought about a broader audience.

Making Predictions before Live Coding

I’m not consistent about how much evidence I require before I make a recommendation. For a while now, I have been using predictions before live coding demonstrations in my classes. It’s based on some strong evidence from Eric Mazur that I wrote about in 2011 (see blog post here). I recommend the practice often in my keynotes (see the video of me talking about predictions at EPFL from March 2018).

I really don’t have strong evidence that this practice works in CS classes. It should be a pretty simple experiment to test the theory that predictions before seeing program execution demonstrations helps with learning.

  • Have a set of programs that you want students to learn from.
  • The control group sees the program, then sees the execution.
  • The experimental group sees the program, writes down a prediction about what the execution will be, then sees the execution.
  • Afterwards, ask both groups about the programs and their execution.

I don’t know that anybody has done this experiment. We know that predictions work well in physics education, but we know that lots of things from physics education do not work in CS education. (See Briana Morrison’s dissertation.)

Teachers have to do lots of things for which we have no evidence. We don’t have enough research in CS Ed to guide all of our teaching practice. Robert Glaser once defined education as “Psychology Engineering,” and like all engineers, teachers have to do things for which we don’t have enough science. We make our best guess and take action.

So, I’m recommending a practice for which I don’t have evidence in CS education. Sometimes when I give the talk on prediction, I point out that we don’t have evidence from CS. But not always. I probably should. Maybe it’s enough that we have good evidence from physics, and I don’t have to get into the subtle differences between PER and CER for teachers. Researchers should know that this is yet another example of a great question to be addressed. But there are too few Computing Education Researchers, and none that I know are bored and looking for new experiments to run.

Code.org and UTeach CSP

Another example of the complexity of talking to teachers about research is reflected in a series of blog posts (and other social media) that came out at the end of last year about the AP CS Principles results.

  • UTeach wrote a blog post in September about the excellent results that their students had on the AP CSP exam (see post here). They pointed out that their pass rate (83%) was much higher than the national average of 74%, and that advantage in pass rates was still there when the data were disaggregated by gender or ethnicity.
  • There followed a lot of discussion (in blog posts, on Facebook, and via email) about what those results said about the UTeach curriculum. Should schools adopt the UTeach CSP curriculum based on these results?
  • Hadi Partovi of Code.org responded with a blog post in October (see post here). He argued that exam scores were not a good basis for making curriculum decisions. Code.org’s pass rates were lower than UTeach’s (see their blog post on their scores), and that could likely be explained by Code.org’s focus on under-represented and low-SES student groups who might not perform as well on the AP CSP for a variety of reasons.
  • Michael Marder of UTeach responded with two blog posts. One conducted an analysis suggesting that UTeach’s teacher professional development, support, and curriculum explained their difference from the national average (see post here), i.e., it wasn’t due to what students were served by UTeach. A second post tried to respond to Hadi directly to show that UTeach did particularly well with underrepresented groups (see post here).

I don’t see that anybody’s wrong here. We should be concerned that teachers and other education decision-makers may misinterpret the research results to say more than they do.

  • The first result from UTeach says “UTeach’s CSP is very good.” More colloquially, UTeach doesn’t suck. There is snake oil out there. There are teaching methods that don’t actually work well for anyone (e.g., we could talk some more about learning styles) or only work for the most privileged students (e.g., lectures without active learning supports). How do you show that your curriculum (and PD and support) is providing value, across students in different demographic groups? Comparing to the national average (and disaggregated averages) is a reasonable way to do it.
  • There are no results saying that UTeach is better than Code.org for anyone, or vice-versa. I know of no studies comparing any of the CSP curricula. I know of no data that would allow us to make these comparisons. They’re hard to do in a way that’s convincing. You’d want to have a bunch of CSP students and randomly assign them to either UTeach and Code.org, trying to make sure that all relevant variables (like percent of women and underrepresented groups) is the same in each. There are likely not enough students taking CSP yet to be able to do these studies.
  • Code.org likely did well for their underrepresented students, and so did UTeach. It’s impossible to tell which did better. Marder is arguing that UTeach did well with underrepresented groups, and UTeach’s success was due to their interventions, not due to the students who took the test.  I believe that UTeach did well with underrepresented groups. Marder is using statistics on the existing data collected about their participants to make the argument about the intervention. He didn’t run any experiments. I don’t doubt his stats, but I’m not compelled either. In general, though, I’m not worried about that level of detail in the argument.

All of that said, teachers, principals, and school administrators have to make decisions. They’re engineers in the field. They don’t have enough science. They may use data like pass rates to make choices about which curricula to use. From my perspective, without a horse in the race or a dog in the fight, it’s not something I’m worried about. I’m much more concerned about the decision whether to offer CSP at all. I want schools to offer CS, and I want them to offer high-quality CS. Both UTeach and Code.org offer high-quality CS, so that choice isn’t really a problem. I worry about schools that choose to offer no CSP or no CS at all.

Researchers and teachers are solving different problems. There should be better communication. Researchers have to make explicit the things that teachers might be confused about, but they might not realize what the teachers are confused about. In computing education research and other interdisciplinary fields, researchers may have to explain to each other what assumptions they’re making, because their assumptions are different in different fields. Teachers may use research to make decisions because they have to make decisions. It’s better for them to use evidence than not to use evidence, but there’s a danger in using evidence to make invalid arguments — to say that the evidence implies more than it does.

I don’t have a solution to offer here. I can point out the problem and use my blog to explore the boundary.

June 15, 2018 at 1:00 am 5 comments

Some principals are getting interested in CS, but think pressure for CS is mostly coming from Tech companies

How do high school principals in small, medium and large districts view the Computer Science for All movement?

 

High school leaders in smaller districts are most enthusiastic about the trend, a new survey by the Education Week Research Center found. Overall, 30% of all principals say CS is not “on their radar,” and 32% say CS is an “occasional supplement or enrichment opportunity.”  I found the two graphs above interesting.  The majority of principals aren’t particularly excited by CS, and most principals think that it’s the Tech firms that are pushing CS onto schools, not parents.

Source: Principals Warm Up to Computer Science, Despite Obstacles

May 28, 2018 at 7:00 am 3 comments

Andrew McGettrick receives 2018 ACM Presidential Award for contributions to computing education

Don Gotterbarn, Andrew McGettrick and Fabrizio Gagliardi will receive 2018 ACM Presidential Awards.

Andrew McGettrick, honored for his unwavering commitment to computer science education—particularly in terms of its quality, breadth, and access—for generations of students worldwide. McGettrick served as chair of ACM’s Education Board and Education Council for over 15 years, leaving an indelible imprint as a passionate advocate for equipping computer science students with the knowledge, skills, and tools to succeed in the field. During his tenure, he steered the development of key curricula in computer science and software engineering. In recent years, he has played an instrumental role in championing European educational efforts and professional societies, through his work with ACM’s Europe Council and Informatics Europe. McGettrick was one of the leading forces behind the Informatics for All initiative, an acclaimed report that explores strategies for Informatics education in Europe at all levels.

I am so thrilled to see Andrew receive this award. It’s so well-deserved.  The paragraph above gives a good summary, but doesn’t capture how Andrew has had such an impact in computing education.  He’s a diplomat, tireless and stalwart.  He’s such a nice guy. He draws you in, talks to you, listens to you, recognizes your concerns, and helps reach a position that meets everyones’ needs.  I worked with him for several years on some of his initiatives, and was always impressed with his thoughtfulness, kindness, and work ethic. Few people I know have had such broad impact on computing education, across multiple continents.

Congratulations to Andrew!

Source: Three leaders will receive 2018 ACM Presidential Awards for contributions to computer ethics, education and public policy

May 25, 2018 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Indian Supreme Court rules that CS degrees cannot be provided on-line

On-line CS degrees cannot be on par with face-to-face CS degrees, rules the highest court in India.

What makes an online class worse than a face-to-face class?  I think that there’s a good bit of evidence that they are worse for many students, e.g., the NYTimes article about how on-line classes hinder students needing remedial help. I’m interested in the research question of why on-line classes have such differential results from face-to-face classes — it isn’t obvious to me.  But the court’s rules says that on-line classes always are worse, and even that they always will be.  There’s a design space to explore, and it’s short-sighted to rule that on-line is always worse and never on par.

But how should the court have ruled? We need a measure of quality such that we can compare the results of the two degrees.  It’s hard to figure out what such a measure might be — maybe success in work, or employability, or even a measure of skill or content knowledge.  Any reasonable measure would be better than making a decision based on the medium.

(Thanks to Amy Bruckman for sending me this article.)

The Court affirmed the findings of the Punjab and Haryana High Court which had given a similar ruling two years ago, stating that a degree in the subject of ‘computer science’ from a distance learning course could not be considered on par with one attained by attending regular classes.

The verdict came on a batch of appeals challenging the orders of the High Courts of Orissa and Punjab and Haryana by which the former held the degrees in engineering obtained by serving diploma holders through distance learning mode offered by certain deemed universities to be valid, whereas the latter termed such degrees to be invalid.

The top court also directed the University Grants Commission (UGC) to restrain such institutions from using the word ‘University’ within one month from today, observing that commercialisation of education “seriously affects the credibility of standards in education, eroding power and essence of knowledge and seriously affecting excellence and merit”.

Source: Cannot provide technical education through correspondence, rules Supreme Court

April 30, 2018 at 7:00 am 2 comments

Lack of funding leads to lack of teachers leads to lack of CS classes: We may need to change our strategy

Pat Yongpradit of Code.org linked to this article on Facebook. Cambridge MA schools are turning away CS students because of a lack of teachers.

Eight folks gave urgent pitches for at least one more computer teacher at Cambridge Ridge and Latin School. Teacher Liz Atwood, who said she was “disappointed to hear that our request for another hire was denied,” declared that demand was so high for computer science classes that, based on registration requests for next year from current ninth- through-11th graders, without a new teacher, “we will be turning away six classes of students.”

Atwood, two parents and two current students stressed the importance of access to the classes, and several others appearing for other reasons echoed support after hearing their pleas. “Over 50 percent of students signing up for Level 2 [computer science] courses next year identify as African Americans,” Atwood said, speaking before eighth-graders had registered. “These are high-paying jobs. [State curriculum standards] are moving toward making computer science a graduation requirement. This seems like a step in the wrong direction” to reject a new hire, she said.

From “Shortages in computer education stand out in a swift process for $191.1M school budget” in Cambridge Day

I see this as evidence in support of my previous post that states are making a mistake by requiring CS without funding it.  I don’t think Cambridge schools are requiring CS, but they’re allowing students to sign up for it without the funding and teachers to support those classes.

There are multiple ways to fix this problem.

  • Obviously, we could fund CS classes, but that might mean stealing funding from other important areas that are underfunded.
  • We could increase supply of CS teachers.  If all teachers were taught CS (as part of all undergraduates being taught CS), we would dramatically increase the supply of teachers who could teach CS. Schools wouldn’t have to hire an extra, specialty teacher.  We would also have more teachers who would have the background to integrate computing into their classes.
  • We could (as Emmanuel Schanzer of Bootstrap pointed out in response to Pat) integrate CS into an existing, funded class.

We may not be able to achieve CS for All with CS-specific classes. They’re just too expensive.

 

April 27, 2018 at 7:00 am 4 comments

States requiring CS for all students may be making a mistake: Responding to unfunded mandates

As of this writing, New Jersey and Wyoming are the latest states to require CS for all their students (as described in this article) or to be offered in all their schools (as described in this Code.org post and this news article), respectively.  Wyoming has a particularly hard hill to climb.  As measured by involvement in AP exams, there’s just not much there — only 8 students took the AP CS A exam in the whole state last year, and 13 took AP CS Principles.

In 2014, I wrote an article titled “The Danger of Requiring Computer Science in K-12 Schools.”  I still stand by the claim that we should not mandate computer science for US schoolchildren yet. We don’t know how to do it, and we’re unlikely to fund it to do it well.

I can’t find any news articles describing what funding New Jersey and Wyoming are going to put toward the goal of teaching CS across their state.  How do you teach every student CS or teach CS in every school without any increase in funding?

Based on what we’ve seen in other US states, I predict one of three things will happen:

  • States will have to loosen the definition of “computer science,” as happened in South Carolina.  90 classes count for the CS requirement in South Carolina, and only 6 of which have programming in them.  Most of them are about keyboarding skills or application software use. If a state doesn’t fund real CS, something else will have to count as real CS.
  • States will rely heavily on virtual high schools and on-line classes to provide CS class “access” without hiring more CS teachers, as we are seeing in several states. That is particularly concerning since recent studies are showing that remedial students do poorly in on-line classes.
  • Independent CS classes will be deemed too expensive. Instead, the mandate to teach CS to all will lead to integration into math and science classes, which are already funded. School will have changed the reform, again (see Papert’s “Why School Reform is Impossible.”)

Neither of the first two options furthers the goal of having high-quality CS education for all students. The third one may be the best position, if funding doesn’t appear.

April 2, 2018 at 7:00 am 24 comments

Teasing out the meaning of “online classes” — Online Courses Are Harming the Students Who Need the Most Help: NYTimes

The NYTimes published an interesting piece on the state of online education today. Increasingly, online education is being used in schools as a response to students failing in face-to-face, traditional classrooms.  If you’re not making it in the regular class, try it again in the online class.  The article describes how that’s not working. Students who fail in traditional classes need more personal contact and support, not less.

I love that the name of the column where this article appeared is called “The Economic View,” because that’s exactly what it is.  We do now how to teach every student well — give each child a well-educated teacher for their particular subject (Bloom’s two-sigma effect). We can’t afford that, so we make do with less.  But we should aim to do no harm.  Current practice with online classes is clearly doing harm.

The NYTimes article is reporting on empiricism.  We cannot empirically determine what might online classes become. The author, Susan Dynarski of the University of Michigan, is reporting on current practice and on the result of policy.  Can online classes help students?  Absolutely, and the OMS CS is a good example of that.  Can we build online classes that work better for students who struggle with traditional classes?  Maybe — it’s hard to see them in this study. At the ECEP 2018 meeting, Caitlin Dooley (Associate Superintendent for Georgia) said that their online classes do better than face-to-face classes, in part because of caring (“mama bear”) teachers who support the students outside of the online classes.  The online classes that Susan Dynarski is studying are clearly not working well for struggling students.  There may already be models that work well, but they’re swamped in a general study of policy across different kinds of online classes.  Dynarski’s article may just be telling us that the current average practice is insufficient. There may be better models (maybe still in research) that could correct these ills.

Dynarski’s article is fascinating and is sounding an important alarm. It should be even greater motivation for those of us who are working to invent better online education.

Online education helps school districts that need to save money make do with fewer teachers. But there is mounting evidence that struggling students suffer.

In the fully online model, on the other hand, a student may never be in the same room with an instructor. This category is the main problem. It is where less proficient students tend to run into trouble. After all, taking a class without a teacher requires high levels of self-motivation, self-regulation and organization. Yet in high schools across the country, students who are struggling in traditional classrooms are increasingly steered into online courses.

Source: Online Courses Are Harming the Students Who Need the Most Help

February 12, 2018 at 7:00 am 4 comments

Education is About Providing Hope to Everyone: Contrasting the Lost Einsteins and Kennett, Missouri

I’ve had two articles bouncing around in my head that offer contrasting views of higher education and for me, of the purpose for computing education.

In “Lost Einsteins: The Innovations We’re Missing,” the NYTimes tells us about unequal access to opportunity in the United States.  We do not have a meritocracy. Our inventors, patent holders, and innovators overwhelmingly are male, white, and upper income. Two children of equal ability do not get the same access to opportunity, if one is poor, female, or from a minority group. That opportunity includes higher education, access to funding, and the social capital of figuring out how to file a patent or produce an invention.

Women, African-Americans, Latinos, Southerners, and low- and middle-income children are far less likely to grow up to become patent holders and inventors. Our society appears to be missing out on most potential inventors from these groups. And these groups together make up most of the American population.  The groups also span the political left and right — a reminder that Americans of different tribes have a common interest in attacking inequality.

In “A Dying Town: Here in a corner of Missouri and across America, the lack of a college education has become a public-health crisis,” the Chronicle of Higher Education tells us the story of Kennett, Missouri, a town with little hope and few college degrees.  Perhaps it’s correlation, but maybe it’s causation. Only one in 10 adults in Kennett, MO has a four-year degree.  The article points out the correlates for attaining a college degree. There are decreased mortality rates with college attendance.

It would be easy to say this is just about being poor, but people who study the phenomenon say it’s not that simple. Yes, having a job — and the paycheck and health insurance that come with it — matters. Those aren’t all that make a difference, however. Better-educated people live in less-polluted areas, trust more in science, and don’t as frequently engage in risky behaviors. Have a college degree and you’re more likely to wear a seat belt and change the batteries in your smoke alarm.

Both of them are sad stories. I’m struck by the differences in the desired goal in each.  In “Lost Einsteins,” we are told about the innovations and inventions we all are missing out on, because access to opportunity (including higher education) is so biased. In “A Dying Town,” we’re told that everyone need access to the opportunity for higher education.  In Kennett, MO, a college degree means hope, and hope means life — literally.

In “Lost Einsteins,” opportunities like higher education are about creating inventors and innovators. In “A Dying Town,” opportunities like higher education are about improving quality and length of life.  Contrast these perspectives as being like coaching a sports champion and providing public health. I made a similar contrast in my book Learner-Centered Design of Computing Education in how we think about computing education.  Many CS teachers are trying to produce innovators, inventors, champions, and Tech heroes — they want their students to go to the great Tech companies, or invent the next must-have app, or start a company that will be worth millions if not billions.  I argue that we have a much greater need to provide everyone with the computing literacy that they need to be successful in the 21st Century.  It is important to coach the champions, but not at the cost of providing the public health that everyone needs.

I’m curious about the relationship between college degrees and the health issues in Kennett, MO.  I have taught undergraduates for over 25 years.  I’ve never taught anyone to wear a seat belt or to change the batteries in their smoke alarms.  Where did they learn that?  Is it just because they’re smarter after they get the degree?  Or were they prone to do those things anyway, because they were the kind that sought out higher education?  I don’t know, but if it’s causal, we have to be careful not to lose those important side benefits of a college degree as we downsize higher education.  As we get rid of the teachers for the MOOCs, and get rid of the campus for virtual space, we might also get rid of whatever intangibles that lead a college graduate to make the right choices in life, like wearing a seat belt and having a long, healthy, and productive life.

February 5, 2018 at 7:00 am 1 comment

The pushback begins: Who benefits from the push to teach every kid to code?

The pushback was inevitable.  Slate published a piece in December, “Who Benefits From the Push to Teach Every Kid to Code?” The article provides an answer in the subtitle, “Tech companies, for one.”

The article is more history lesson than explicit argument that the driver behind the current effort to promote computing is simply for Tech companies to bolster their bottom line.  It’s still an interesting piece and worth reading.

For some tech companies, this is an explicit goal. In 2016, Oracle and Micron Technology helped write a state education bill in Idaho that read, “It is essential that efforts to increase computer science instruction, kindergarten through career, be driven by the needs of industry and be developed in partnership with industry.” While two lawmakers objected to the corporate influence on the bill, it passed with an overwhelming majority.

Some critics argue that the goal of the coding push is to massively increase the number of programmers on the market, depressing wages and bolstering tech companies’ profit margins. Though there is no concrete evidence to support this claim, the fact remains that only half of college students who majored in science, technology, engineering, or math-related subjects get jobs in their field after graduation. That certainly casts doubt on the idea that there is a “skills gap“ between workers’ abilities and employers’ needs. Concerns about these disparities have helped justify investment in tech education over the past 20 years.

January 26, 2018 at 7:00 am 6 comments

Should computer science fulfill a foreign language admissions requirement?

An Atlanta-area PBS station did an article at the end of last year praising Georgia’s stance allowing CS to count as a foreign language: Is Computer Science A Foreign Language? Ga. Says Yes, Sees Boost In Enrollment | 90.1 FM WABE

The GT director of admissions was interviewed about this requirement in Insider HigherEd and had a much more reasonable take:

Rick Clark, director of undergraduate admissions at Georgia Institute of Technology, said he saw value in the steps by Georgia to encourage more study of computer science in elementary and secondary school.

“I like that kids, even in eighth and ninth grade, who are planning their path through school would take these courses, because basic coding and language will set them up for opportunities upon high school graduation that they would not have otherwise,” Clark said.

In fact, he said his concern is that access to computer science is unequal in Georgia high schools. Most of those who not only take a course, but are able to take Advanced Placement in computer science, are in the metro Atlanta area, Clark said. Georgia Tech is worried about these inequities and is exploring ways to use online instruction to make sure those outside the Atlanta area have access.

At the same time, Clark said, the push for computer science should not be viewed as either/or with foreign languages. He said Georgia Tech is “looking for students who demonstrate that international vision and interest,” and that he finds many of those applicants who are taking AP computer science in high school are also pursuing foreign language instruction as advanced levels.

More than half of Georgia Tech students participate in study abroad, he noted, and 10 percent of undergraduates are from outside the United States. “We are intent upon enrolling students who in high school chose to seek out that global perspective,” he said.

Source: Should computer science fulfill a foreign language admissions requirement?

January 22, 2018 at 7:00 am 3 comments

What universities can do to prepare more Computer Science teachers? Evidence from UTeach

UTeach has published a nice blog post that explains (with graphs!) the ideas that I alluded to in my Blog@CACM post from last month.  While currently CS teacher production is abysmal, UTeach prepared CS teachers tend to stay in their classrooms for more years than I might have expected.  More, there is evidence that suggests that there is significant slice of the CS undergraduate population that would consider becoming teachers if the conditions were right.  There is hope to imagine that we can making produce more CS teachers, if we work from the University side of the equation.  Working from the in-service side is too expensive and not sustainable.

Michael Marder, Professor of Physics and Executive Director of UTeach, and Kim Hughes, Director of the UTeach Institute, write…

The number of computer science and computer science education teachers prepared per year is smaller than for any other STEM subject — even engineering and physics — and while estimates vary, it is safe to say it is on the order of 100 to 200 per year, compared to the thousands of biology or general science teachers prepared. 

The U.S. has around 24,000 public and 10,000 private high schools. Only 10% to 25% have been offering computer science, so to provide all of them with at least one teacher at the current rate simply looks impossible.

Source: What universities can do to prepare more Computer Science teachers

January 5, 2018 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Require CS at University in order to Get CS into K-12 (Revisited)

I wrote a blog post in Blog@CACM in 2011: If You Want High School CS, Require Undergraduate CS.  Everything we’ve seen since then makes me more convinced this is a viable path to providing high-quality CS education for every student.

There is a growing body of evidence that every student at University will need computing. The recent report from Burning Glass and Oracle Academy shows how much in demand CS skills are, far beyond just those who will be professional software developers. Teaching everyone about computing would help in addressing Cathy O’Neill’s calls for more people to be investigating the algorithms controlling our lives. The argument for why University involvement is necessary for K12 CS Ed is based on an observation made recently by Code.org: We are not producing enough CS teachers in University. If everyone took CS at University, that would also reach pre-service teachers. That would make it easier for those teachers to teach CS in the future.

Requiring CS at University may help with the bigger cultural and perception problem.  In England, we see that schools aren’t offering CS even if it’s part of the required curriculum, and students (especially females) aren’t taking it (see the Royal Society report from last month).  The problem is that we’re trying to shoehorn CS into a culture that isn’t asking for it, or rather, the students (and schools) don’t perceive a need for CS. This is a form of the same problem that came up when we were talking about getting more formal methods into software development practice. All professionals should understand the role of computing in our society and how to use computing as a literacy: To express ideas, to share ideas, and to use in developing ideas.

Schools follow society. Society is rarely (if ever) changed by schooling. If you want a computationally literate society, convince the adults. If most professionals use computing, the same professionals that students want to be like, then there is a social reason to learn computing. Social demand to prepare K-12 students in that literacy makes it more likely for that literacy to succeed in K-12 education.  Trying to teach all students something that society doesn’t value for everyone is counter to situated learning theory.  Students (even K-12 students) are engaged in legitimate peripheral participation — their “job” is to figure out what is expected of them in society. If they don’t see computational literacy broadly in society, students don’t get the message that it’s important for everyone to learn.

When I make this suggestion to University faculty, I often hear the argument, “Anything you require of students, they will hate.” Then they tell me an anecdote of some student who hated a requirement, or of some personal experience of a class they hated. I know of no empirical evidence that says that this is generally true. We do have empirical evidence that says it’s false. Mike Hewner’s work found that US students take required classes in order to discover what they like, and they make curricular choices based on what they like.

We are already seeing students from all over campus flooding into our classes (see the Generation CS report and the National Academies report). We are already learning how to manage the load. It’s already happening in some Universities that most or all students at University are taking CS. Why not require it so that we get the Education students who we may not be seeing yet in CS classes?

Instead of using Universities to make CS education work, we are pouring money into CS Ed via in-service professional development — a tenfold increase in England, and $1.5B in the next five years in the US.  In general, more money in education alone doesn’t change things. We have to think about systems, policies, and our educational ecosystem. Universities are part of that educational ecosystem.

Universities play a role in K-12 education in all other subjects. We have to involve them in order to create sustainable K-12 Computer Science education.

December 15, 2017 at 7:00 am 1 comment

State of Computing Education in the Commonwealth of Virginia: Guest Blog Post from Rebecca Dovi

Rebecca Dovi of CodeVA contacted me soon after my blog post of last Monday, inspired by Virginia’s new CS Education mandate. The story about the Virginia decision was much more complicated and interesting. I invited her to write a guest blog post, and I’m grateful that she agreed. It’s a fascinating story!

In February 2016 Virginia’s legislature passed House Bill 831 making computer science a part of the core instruction that all students in state must learn. The law mandates specifically “computer science and computational thinking, including computer coding,” be integrated into Virginia’s core standards on coequal standing, in the words of Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent, with English and math. (Bill language http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?161+ful+CHAP0472  )

At CodeVA, core standards had been a “maybe someday” issue on our radar. In terms of strategic planning we were not really considering advocating for core standards until several years out. Then the 2016 legislation cycle started, and with it five separate bills to make computer science count as a foreign language credit.

While standards were not yet something we actively sought, we knew all of these foreign language bills – while well intentioned – were not the means to the end the Virginia Assembly sought to achieve.

Armed with information, CodeVA sought to educate legislators, and in the process was asked instead to propose a substitution. The substitution proposed was the language of HB 831, amending the state’s core education standards enabling legislation. At the insistence of legislators, the bill also originally included a high school mandate and a graduation credit requirement, but CodeVA managed to convince legislators to allow it to use these two items as bargaining chips in negotiations with stakeholders. CodeVA knew these two additional requirements were a bridge too far: previous high school mandates requiring economics and personal finance courses for all high school students still cause issues for many districts around the state already struggling to have enough faculty to teach other subjects.

In the end, all stakeholders involved in the legislation were pleased with the law that was adopted, with acceptance of the final language from advocates representing the state’s superintendents, PTAs, teacher groups, school boards and from some of the state’s most influential school divisions.

Once the governor signed the bill into law, it was up to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to write standards for the Virginia Board of Education to approve. Virginia has a very prescribed system for developing and maintaining standards. It starts with creating a steering committee of current classroom teachers to act as the primary writing group. Once they have completed drafts multiple review boards give feedback on the standards. The groups weighing in as a part of this formal process include other teachers, educational stakeholders including groups like the Virginia Association of School Superintendents and the Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice, universities and community colleges and business and industry. Each external review group makes recommendations and the steering committee reviews and responds. Finally all standards go out for open public review, and public meetings are held across the state. The steering committee begin its formal work in March 2017 and the final draft was ready for the VDOE by October 2017.

The final draft went up for a vote by the Board of Education at its November meeting. While the board minutes of this meeting have not yet been posted (as of Dec 11, 2017) you can watch the video here (link: http://www.doe.virginia.gov/boe/meetings/index.shtml# ). CodeVA’s executive director begins his presentation to the board at the 46:30 mark, and the board discussion of the CS standards continue from there.

The mandate for instruction by districts exists for K-8 and means computer science will be integrated into the core subjects students learn in kindergarten through eighth grade. The committee that wrote the standards was very intentional about how these are designed, so there are a few key differences between the Virginia standards and the national standards. First, they are defined for each grade, not by band. Second, in kindergarten and first grade they are written so a teacher may have students coding, or that teacher may choose to guide a lesson with small groups. Third, all non-coding standards were specifically placed so that they aligned with topics currently covered in core areas. Lastly, a sixth strand for cybersecurity was added.

The law also mandates creating standards for middle school and high school electives. These were defined, but the courses are currently optional for schools. CodeVA was intentional in advocating for this tiered approach to Virginia’s mandate: A school division where all students learn computer science concepts early as tools in math, science, language arts and other core subjects, and where parents come to expect quality offerings at the secondary level for their children, and where employers anticipate a CS-literate community, are more likely to ensure those elective offerings exist.

While schools certainly may use our virtual system to offer online high school elective courses, and while Virginia has offered CS through this online instruction platform for over a decade, Virginia’s new CS law includes no mandate to do so. And online instruction options were not in any way a part of the design of the law or of the resulting standards.

The idea is that the integration in K-8 allows students an “informed option” as they move from middle school to high school. By learning computer science early, they have a better idea of what they might want to pursue as an elective. The plan is to measure impact for the next few years, then evaluate the need for high school mandate or graduation requirements. If after data is collected and evaluated it is decided that the mandate needs to be expanded to high school  legislators can certainly go back seeking further requirements. Right now we are asking legislators to hold back from trying to move this process faster. Lawmakers in Virginia have reason for their exuberance for this issue: Virginia has the highest concentration of computer science jobs in the country and with the number of open jobs legislators are under enormous pressure from our business community to act.

Steering away from a high school mandate was a practical choice on two levels. First, we are not near capacity for having enough high school teachers to cover a mandate at that level, the average high school in state would need 4-6 full time computer science teachers to cover a graduation requirement, and an example. CodeVA has trained over 400 middle and high school teachers over the past four years, and this summer will be expanding from one central training to four statewide hubs serving up to 600 teachers. While this moves the state closer towards the goal of having one computer science teacher in each of the state’s 700-plus middle and high schools, that still is enough to meet the demand an immediate high school mandate would create.

Second was the general feeling that it is OK for a student to pursue another field in high school and not want to continue with computer science.This is where measuring the impact of the current initiative becomes vital. We first must explore how exposing all students over several years to ongoing computer science instruction shifts landscape in high school and beyond.

For CodeVA the next step is to continue to work with schools and districts to incorporate computer science in daily instruction. Expanding access to professional development by establishing three new hubs across the state is an important first step. These hubs will continue to run the middle and high school training cohorts we have lead since 2014 and add the new Elementary Coaches Academy we are currently piloting. In addition, to support the K-8 mandate we will be working with teams of teachers to create classroom curriculum that reflects the new standards. Finally, CodeVA is launching a pilot of a Computer Science Roadmap project that helps districts collect the information they need to plan the infrastructure needed for implementation.

While two years ago we did not anticipate needing to build a statewide infrastructure to support the implementation of standards Virginia hopes that the lessons learned through this process can inform other states as they move to truly bring computer science to all of their students.

 

December 14, 2017 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

Advancing Computational Thinking Across K-12 Education, across Many Disciplines – Digital Promise #CSEdWeek

New report on coding, computer science, and computational thinking has just come out from Digital Promise.  I have been critical of some definitions of computational thinking (as I described in my book). I like the way Digital Promise defined them, and particularly how they connect CT to learning in other disciplines.

Advocating for computational thinking throughout the K-12 curriculum does not replace or compete with efforts to expand computer science education: on the contrary, it complements them. Where computer science is not yet offered, integrating computational thinking into existing disciplines can empower educators and students to better understand and participate in a computational world. And schools already teaching coding and computer science will benefit from weaving computational thinking across disciplines in order to enrich and amplify lessons that are beyond the reaches of computer science classes.

We offer a number of recommendations to move this work forward. Among them are advocacy campaigns, curriculum and resource development, professional development for teachers and administrators, and continued research.

Source: Advancing Computational Thinking Across K-12 Education – Digital Promise

December 8, 2017 at 7:00 am Leave a comment

US National Academics Report Investigates the Growth of CS Undergraduate Enrollments #CSEdWeek

The new National Academies report on the growth of CS undergraduate enrollments came out last month. It’s important because it reflects the recommendations of scholars across disciplines in dealing with our enormous enrollment growth (see Generation CS report for more findings on the surge).

I wrote about this report in my Blog@CACM post for this month, The Real Costs of a Computer Science Teacher are Opportunity Costs, and Those Are Enormous.  The report talks about how hard it is to hire new faculty to deal with the enrollment boom, because the Tech industry is increasing its share of new PhD’s and recruiting away existing faculty.

Eric Roberts at Stanford was part of the report writing, and points out that the committee did not reach agreement that there is a problem with participation by underrepresented minorities. Quoting Eric’s message to SIGCSE-members, “the committee did not find comparable evidence that departmental limitations have historically had a negative effect on participation by underrepresented minorities. In fact, the total number of degrees awarded to students in the largest of the underrepresented demographic groups (African American and Latino/Latina) has roughly matched the percentages at which students from those communities obtain bachelor’s degrees.”  It’s surprising, and Eric’s note goes on to explain why that result is so concerning. The report does say clearly, “Institutions should take deliberate actions to support diversity in their computer science and related programs.”

Since 2006, computer science departments in the U.S and Canada have experienced a surge in the number of undergraduate majors and course enrollments. The resulting strain on departmental and institutional resources has been significant for many departments, especially with respect to faculty hiring and overall workload. The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has recently addressed the issue with the release a report titled “Assessing and Responding to the Growth of Computer Science Undergraduate Enrollments.”

The NAS report discusses strategies central for managing enrollment and resources, and makes recommendations for departments and institutions. Its findings and recommendations provide much-needed guidelines on how institutions can allocate resources to meet growing student demand and to adequately support their computer science department in the increasingly central role of computer science in education and research. “The way colleges and universities respond to the surge in student interest and enrollment can have a significant impact on the health of the field,” said Susanne Hambrusch, co-chair of the report’s committee and a professor of computer science at Purdue University.  “While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, all institutions need to make strategic plans to address realistically and effectively the growing demand for the courses.”

Source: NAS Report Investigates the Growth of Computer Science Undergraduate Enrollments

December 6, 2017 at 7:00 am 3 comments

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