Posts tagged ‘retention’

Why some students do not feel that they belong in CS, and how we can encourage the sense that they do belong

One of my favorite papers at ICER 2019 was by Colleen Lewis and her colleagues, and is available on her website. I’ll quote her first:

Does a match between a students’ values of helping society and their perception of computing matter? Yes! A mismatch between a students’ goals of helping society and their perception of computing predicts a lower sense of belonging. And students from groups who – on average – are more likely to want to help society (women, Black students, Latinx students, and first-generation college students), this may be particularly problematic! (pdf)

  • Lewis, C. M., Bruno, P., Raygoza, J., & Wang, J. (2019). Alignment of Goals and Perceptions of Computing Predicts Students’ Sense of Belonging in Computing.Proceedings of the International Computer Science Education Research Workshop. Toronto, Canada.

I want to expand a bit on that paragraph. I often get the question, “Why aren’t more women and URM students going into CS?” We’re seeing female students and students of color leaving/avoiding CS at many stages, e.g., Barb’s deep analysis of AP CS*. Colleen and her collaborators are giving us one answer.

We know that students who have a sense of belonging in computing are more likely to stay in computing. Colleen et al. found that students who found that their values were supported in computing were more likely to feel a sense of belonging. So, if what you want to do with your life matches computing, you’re more likely to stick around in computing. This is the “alignment of goals” and “perceptions of computing” part of the title.

Next step: Students from demographic groups underrepresented in computing were more likely to value community and helping society than other students. These are their goals. Do students see that their goals align with their perception of computing? If so, then you have an increased sense of belonging. Colleen and her colleagues found that If the students who valued community perceived that they could use computing to support communal values, then they were more likely to stick around.

This result is obviously explanatory. It helps us to understand who stays in computing. It also suggests interventions. Want to retain more under-represented students in your CS classes? Help them to see that they can pursue their values in computing. Help them to update their perceptions so that they see the alignment of their goals with computing goals.

But what if you (as the teacher) don’t? This paper suggests future research questions. What if your CS class is entirely de-contextualized and doesn’t say anything about what the students might do with computing? What perceptions do the students bring to the CS class if nobody helps them to see the possibilities in computing? Which student goals align with these perceived goals of computing? We might guess what the answers might be, but it really does call for some explicit research. What are students’ goals and perceptions of computing in most CS classes today?

* Check out Barb’s blog at As I’m writing this, Barb is finishing up the 2019 AP analysis. The gap between white and Black student pass rates on AP CSP is enormous, far larger than the gap on AP CS A. I’m hoping that she has updates there by the time this post appears.

December 9, 2019 at 7:00 am 3 comments

British girls “logging off” from CS: What’s the real problem?

The BBC reports (in the article linked below) that the “revolution in computing education has stalled.”  The data from England (including the Roehampton Report, discussed in this blog post) do back up that claim — see the quotes at the bottom.

In this post, I’m reflecting on the response from the British Computer Society. “We need to do more with the curriculum to show it’s not just a nerdy boys’ subject. We’ve got to show them it’s about real problems like climate change and improving healthcare.”  There are some interesting assumptions and warrants in these statements.  Do girls avoid CS because they think it’s a boys’ subject, or because it’s not about real problems?  How does the curriculum “show” that it is (or isn’t) a “nerdy boys’ subject”?  If the curriculum emphasized “real problems,” would it no longer be a “nerdy boys’ subject”?  Are these at all connected? Would making CS be like “climate change and improving healthcare” attract more female students?

First, I’d like to know if the girls choosing ICT over CS are actually saying that it’s because CS is “a nerdy boys’ subject,” and if the girls know anything about the curriculum in CS.  In our research, we found that high school students know very little about what actually happens in undergraduate CS, and undergraduate students in CS don’t even know what’s in their next semester’s classes. Changing the curriculum doesn’t do much good if the girls’ decisions are being made without knowing about the curriculum.  The former claim, that CS is perceived by girls as a “nerdy boys’ subject,” is well-supported in the literature.  But is that the main reason why the girls aren’t enrolling?

Do we know that this a curriculum issue at all? The evidence suggests that there are other likely reasons.

  • Maybe it’s not the curriculum’s “problem” focus, but the “learning objective” focus. Do the girls percieve that the point of the course is to become part of the Tech industry as a professional programmer?  Maybe girls are more interested in broadening their potential careers and not limiting their options to IT?  ICT can be used anywhere.  CS might be perceived as being about being a software developer.
  • Are the girls seeing mass media depictions of programming and deciding that it’s not for them?  A 2016 ICER paper by Colleen Lewis, Ruth Anderson, and Ken Yasuhara explored the reasons why students might not feel that they have a good “fit” with CS (see ACM paper link here).  But are those the reasons why women might not even try CS? Maybe they have had experiences with programming and decided that they didn’t fit? Or maybe the decided that syntax errors and unit tests are just tedious and boring?
  • Are the girls seeing mass media depictions of the Tech industry and deciding that they’d rather not be a Googler or work at Uber? They are probably hearing about things like the Damore memo at Google. Whether they think he’s right or not, maybe girls are saying that they just don’t want to bother.
  • Do the girls have more choices, and CS is simply less attractive in comparison?  It may be that girls know that CS is about solving real problems, but they’d rather solve real problems in law, medicine, or business.
  • Do the girls perceive that wages are not rising in the Tech industry?  Or do the girls perceive that they can make more money (perhaps with fewer negative connotations) as a lawyer, doctor, or businessperson?

I have heard from some colleagues in England that the real problem is a lack of teachers.  I can believe that having too few teachers does contribute to the problem, but that raises the same questions at another level.  Why don’t teachers teach computer science?  Is it because they don’t want to be in the position of being “vocational education,” simply preparing software developers?  Or are teachers deciding that they are dis-interested in software development, for themselves or for their students?  Or are the teachers looking at other areas of critical need for teachers and decide that CS is less attractive?

Bottom line is that we know too little, in the UK or in the US (see Generation CS), about what is influencing student and teacher decisions to pursue or to avoid classes in computing. The reality doesn’t matter here — people make decisions based on their perceptions.

In England, entries for the new computer science GCSE, which is supposed to replace ICT, rose modestly from 60,521 in 2016 to 64,159 this year. Girls accounted for just 20% of entries, and the proportion was a tiny bit lower than last year.

ICT entries fell from 84,120 to 73,099, which you would expect as the subject is disappearing from the national curriculum. But it had proved more attractive to girls. Even there, the proportion of female entries fell from 41% to 39%.

Combine the two subjects, and you find that the number studying either subject has fallen by over 7,000 in the past year. Back in 2015 more than 47,000 girls were getting some kind of computing qualification, and that has fallen to about 41,000 – just 30% of the total.

Source: Computer science: Girls logging off – BBC News

September 15, 2017 at 7:00 am 9 comments

Why Students Consider Leaving Computing and What Encourages Them to Stay – CRA

One of my favorite papers is the analysis of Stayers vs Leavers in undergraduate CS by Maureen Biggers and colleagues. This new research published by the CRA explores similar issues.

We also looked at words associated (correlated) with these two sets of words to give us context for frequently cited words. When talking about thoughts about leaving, students were particularly likely to associate “weed-out” with “classes”. They were also likely to use words such as “pretty” and “extremely” alongside “hard” and “difficult”, which sheds light on computing students’ experiences in the major. When talking about staying in their major, students cited words such as “prospect”, “security”, “stable”, and “necessary” along with the top two most commonly used words: “job” and “degree”. For instance, one student said: “[I thought about changing to a non-computing major because of] the difficulty of computing. [But I stayed for] the security of the job market.” Yet another student noted: “The competitive culture [in my computing major] is overwhelming. [But] the salary [that] hopefully awaits me [helped me stay].” Furthermore, students used the words “friends”, “family”, and “support” in association with each other, suggesting that friends and family support played a role in students’ decision/ability to stay in their computing major. As a case in point, one student noted: “The material is hard to learn! I had to drop one of my core classes and must take it again. But with some support from friends, academic advisors, more interesting classes, and a more focused field in the major I have decided to continue.”

Source: Why Students Consider Leaving Computing and What Encourages Them to Stay – CRA

February 20, 2017 at 7:22 am 4 comments

Raising the Floor: Sharing What Works in Workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

A really interesting set of proposals.  I saw many that are applicable to improving diversity in higher-education CS, as well as the stated goal of improving workplace diversity.

Workplace diversity is probably the biggest factor inhibiting women in computing.  We used to say that females avoided CS, not knowing what it is.  I think we can now fairly say that many females avoid CS because they know what it is.

This is a great ending blog post of 2016.  See you in January! Happy Holidays and a Great New Year!

Over the past few months, we and our colleagues at OSTP have had conversations with dozens of Federal agencies, companies, investors, and individuals about their science and technology workforces, and we have consistently heard people express a commitment to bringing more diversity, equity, and inclusion to their workplaces. They understand the strategic importance. Yet often we found that many of the same people who want to create high-performing, innovative teams and workforces do not know the steps and solutions that others are already effectively using to achieve their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.

In order to help accelerate this work, we have compiled insights and tips into an Action Grid designed to be a resource for those striving to create more diverse, equitable, and inclusive science and technology teams and workforces, so that we can all learn from each other.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion work is not one size fits all. We hope this set of potential actions clustered by leadership engagement, retention and advancement, hiring, and ecosystem support provides ideas and a jumping off point for conversations within your team or organization on steps that you can take to increase diversity and to make your workforce more reflective of the communities you serve, customers you sell to, and talent pools you draw from.

Source: Raising the Floor: Sharing What Works in Workplace Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion |

December 21, 2016 at 7:15 am 8 comments

Why we are teaching science wrong, and how to make it right: It’s about CS retention, too

Important new paper in Nature that makes the argument for active learning in all science classes, which is one of the arguments I was making in my Top Ten Myths blog post. The image and section I’m quoting below are about a different issue than learning — turns out that active learning methods are important for retention, too.

Active learning is winning support from university administrators, who are facing demands for accountability: students and parents want to know why they should pay soaring tuition rates when so many lectures are now freely available online. It has also earned the attention of foundations, funding agencies and scientific societies, which see it as a way to patch the leaky pipeline for science students. In the United States, which keeps the most detailed statistics on this phenomenon, about 60% of students who enrol in a STEM field switch to a non-STEM field or drop out2 (see ‘A persistence problem’). That figure is roughly 80% for those from minority groups and for women.

via Why we are teaching science wrong, and how to make it right : Nature News & Comment.

August 3, 2015 at 7:49 am Leave a comment

Researchers cast doubt about early warning systems’ effect on retention

CS researchers have long been interested in what predicts success in introductory computing, e.g., the “camel has two humps” paper, and the Bennedsen and Caspersen review of the literature.  Would knowing who might succeed or fail allow us to boost retention?  A new system at Purdue was claimed to do exactly that, but turns out, isn’t.

Michael Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University at Vancouver, decided to take a closer look at Signals after Purdue in a September press release claimed taking two Signals-enabled courses increased students’ six-year graduation rate by 21.48 percent. Caulfield described Purdue research scientist Matt Pistilli’s statement that “two courses is the magic number” as “maddening.”

Comparing the retention rates of the 2007 and 2009 cohorts, Caulfield suggested much of what Purdue described as data analysis just measured how many courses students took. As Signals in 2008 left its pilot and more students across campus enrolled in at least one such course, Caulfield found the retention effect “disappeared completely.”

Put another way, “students are taking more … Signals courses because they persist, rather than persisting because they are taking more Signals courses,” Caulfield wrote.

via Researchers cast doubt about early warning systems’ effect on retention | Inside Higher Ed.

December 2, 2013 at 1:41 am Leave a comment

Colleges Fight to Retain Interest of STEM Majors: Computing, too

This is our problem in computing, too.  If students have never seen a computer science course before coming to college, they won’t know what hits them when they walk in the door.

Experts estimate that less than 40 percent of students who enter college as STEM majors actually wind up earning a degree in science, technology, engineering or math.

Those who don’t make it to the finish line typically change course early on. Just ask Mallory Hytes Hagan, better known as Miss America 2013.

Hagan enrolled at Auburn University as a biomedical science major, but transferred to the Fashion Institute of Technology a year later to pursue a career in cosmetics and fragrance marketing.

“I found out I wasn’t as prepared as I should be,” Hagan said during a panel discussion today at the 2013 U.S. News STEM Solutions conference in Austin. “I hit that first chem lab and thought, ‘Whoa. What’s going on?'”

via Colleges Fight to Retain Interest of STEM Majors – US News and World Report.

July 15, 2013 at 1:33 am 2 comments

The future of the university with MOOCs: It’s all about the individual

Interesting piece in Inside HigherEd which argues that the real impact of MOOCs on the University is to get the University out of the business of engaging students and working to improve completion, retention, and graduation rates.  Nobody gets into the University until proven by MOOC.  And since so few people complete the MOOCs, the percentage of the population with degrees may plummet.

Constructing this future will take some time, but not much time.  It only requires the adaptation of various existing mechanisms for providing proctored exams worldwide and a revenue and expense model that allows all the providers (university and faculty content providers, MOOC middleware providers, and quality control providers) to establish profitable fee structures.  In this model, the risk and cost of student engagement is borne by the students alone.  The university assumes no responsibility for student success other than identifying quality courses.  The MOOC middleware companies create and offer the content through sophisticated Internet platforms available to everyone but make no representations about the likelihood of student achievement.  Indeed, many student participants may seek only participation not completion. The quality control enterprise operates on a fee-for-service basis that operates without much concern for the number of students that pass or fail the various proctored tests of content acquisition, and many participants in MOOC activities may not want to engage the quality control system.

via MOOCs and the Future of the University | Inside Higher Ed.

January 28, 2013 at 1:18 am 6 comments

Let’s do more on-line learning! But to raise graduation rates?

The University System of Georgia is aiming to provide more online education and figure out ways to improve it.  Great! As way to increase graduation rates?  Really?  Retention rates tend to drop online.  While we don’t know how to interpret the low success rates in the Stanford classes, it’s clear that face-to-face classes have much higher retention rates.  More online education means that you get more access.  Does it follow that you get more graduation?  Other papers around the state are recognizing that more on-line is about access, which is an important goal.

University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby named a task force Thursday to look for ways to improve how the system’s 35 colleges and universities provide online education.

The effort will be part of an initiative aimed at increasing the state’s college graduation rate.

“The economic future of Georgia depends upon more Georgians completing some level of college education,” Huckaby said in a prepared statement. “We have to make better use of our distance education resources and ramp up our efforts to help us meet state workforce needs.”

via Georgia university system to examine online learning – Atlanta Business Chronicle.

March 5, 2012 at 8:24 am 6 comments

Linking funding to colleges’ graduation rates

I’m all for improving retention and success rates, but I found the rhetoric here a little surprising.  We owe students graduation because “we take students’ money”?  Do they pay for graduation, or do they pay for admission and the opportunity?  Clearly, the chairman is right that we have “a moral and ethical obligation to do everything we possibly can to help them graduate.”  But is it because we take their money?

In any case, the Board of Regents in Georgia is making it all about the money.  Funding may be linked to graduation rates in Georgia.

“Let’s be honest, that is an embarrassment,” said Willis Potts, chairman of the State Board of Regents. “If we take students’ money we have a moral and ethical obligation to do everything we possibly can to help them graduate. We haven’t been doing that.”

The regents ordered each college president to explain where their campuses struggle. They had to develop improvement plans, with most calling on graduation rates to improve by 1 percent a year over the next three years. The regents approved those plans earlier this month.

Potts said the next step is to research linking campus funding and presidential compensation to how well colleges meet their  goals.

via Georgia colleges’ graduation rates unsatisfactory  |

October 27, 2010 at 1:19 pm 3 comments

Mobile technology to improve student retention

Georgia Gwinnett College (just up the road from us) is battling low student retention by using smartphones, that they give to the faculty. The phone numbers get listed on the syllabi, and students are encouraged to contact their faculty for help.  It’s a novel use of “educational” technology, but places quite a burden on the faculty.

And so far, they say, it is working. The retention rate for returning sophomores at Georgia Gwinnett stands at 75 percent. That is about double the average rate for noncompetitive-admissions colleges in Georgia, according to Tom Mundie, dean of the school of science and technology at Georgia Gwinnett, and on par with many public institutions that have competitive admissions. In engagement surveys, Mundie says, students have reported “feeling that faculty care about and are accessible to them.”

via News: Can You Hear Me Now? – Inside Higher Ed.

August 19, 2010 at 9:34 am 1 comment

Adjuncts and Retention Rates

Adjunct faculty are particularly important in computing, where we want students to understand something about computing practice and in particular, gain from the experience of those who have developed expertise through years of effort.  However, we already have retention problems in computer science classes.  Studies like these are important for us — we need to figure out how to use adjuncts to enhance the educational opportunities that we offer students, but we need to do that in a way that avoids a rise in failure rates.

Freshmen who have many of their courses taught by adjuncts are less likely than other students to return as sophomores, according to a new study looking at six four-year colleges and universities in a state system. Further, the nature of the impact of adjunct instruction varies by institution type and the type of adjunct used, the study finds. And in some cases, students taking courses from full-time, non-tenure track instructors or from adjuncts well supported by their institutions do better than those taught by other kinds of adjuncts.

via News: Adjuncts and Retention Rates – Inside Higher Ed.

June 21, 2010 at 12:10 pm 1 comment

New report on on-line learning from US Dept of Ed

A new report from the US Department of Education is touting the effectiveness of on-line courses as compared to face-to-face classes.  Note that there’s a significant flaw in the meta-analysis, which appears in the Dept of Ed report (page xvii in the Executive Summary), but not in the “Inside Higher Ed” article: The meta-analysis did not consider failure/retention rates, because too few of the studies controlled for failure rates.  Another meta-analysis that appeared in “Review of Educational Research” a couple years ago found that on-line courses have double the failure rates of face-to-face classes.  If you flunk out twice as many students, yes, you do raise the average performance since you have fewer students left and they’re the ones who scored higher.  Face-to-face classes have the advantage of being a regular constant pressure to stay engaged, to keep showing up.

The grand challenge of on-line learning is how to motivate the students to complete the course without raising costs (e.g., through the teacher spending more time on-line, through production of higher-quality materials, etc.)

August 11, 2009 at 10:36 am 2 comments

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 9,004 other followers


Recent Posts

Blog Stats

  • 1,875,427 hits
September 2021

CS Teaching Tips