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Steps Toward a computing education for all


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Over 90% of all high schools in the United States do not offer computer science education. Computing is key to innovation and productivity throughout modern economies, and knowledge of how to use computing is creatively and economically powerful. Computing education is necessary far beyond the many computing professionals our societies need, because *most* people who program are *not* professional software developers.

My research group at Georgia Tech has been pursuing the goal of computing education for everyone, not just for the computer science major. In this talk, I will tell four stories in pursuit of this goal: About creating a computing education for liberal arts, architecture, and business students; meeting the needs of high school teachers learning to teach computer science; helping graphic designers learn computer science beyond coding; and identifying unanswered research questions in the concerns of education policymakers working to improve computing education access in their states.


Mark Guzdial is a Professor in the School of Interactive Computing in the College of Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology. He has a joint PhD in Education and Computer Science from the University of Michigan. He is a learning scientist who focuses on computing education research. He invented “Media Computation” and has published several books on the use of media as a context for learning computing. Preparing more high school computing teachers is critical to improve access to computing education, so he co-leads an effort to develop electronic books to support teacher learning about computing ([]). He is one of the leads on the NSF-funded Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) alliance to help US states improve and broaden participation in computing education ([]). He serves on the ACM's Education Council, and is on the editorial boards of the "Journal of the Learning Sciences," "ACM Transactions on Computing Education," and "Communications of the ACM." With his wife and colleague, Barbara Ericson, he received the 2010 ACM Karl V. Karlstrom Outstanding Educator award.  He was also the recipient of the 2012 IEEE Computer Society Undergraduate Teaching Award, and is an ACM Distinguished Educator and a Fellow of the ACM.

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Steps Toward a computing education for all

  2. 2. Why teach CS in Schools? 2 In US, CS is about jobs. • Provide access to inculcate interest. In Germany, Denmark, and UK (Computing at School), CS is a rigorous field that helps students understand their world. Jeanette Wing: CS is for transferable Computational Thinking. My argument: Many will need to program later in life. Over 12 million views
  3. 3. Computing education by-the-numbers 3 • ~25,000 high schools in the United States. • 2,525 AP Computer Science teachers in the United States. • NCTM founded in 1920 • American Association of Physics Teachers (AAPT) founded in 1930. • Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA) founded in 2005. • In 2012, there were 3 million professional software developers in the United States. • There were 13 million professionals who programmed as part of their jobs, but were not professional software developers.
  4. 4. Thanks to Brian Danielak
  5. 5. Histogram of who took AP CS 2012 in US States % female exam-takers # Black exam-takers # Hispanic exam-takers Ericson, Guzdial, SIGCSE 2014
  6. 6. How do we meet society’s need for computing education? 6 • We need classes that show CS to be a possible career path, a rigorous domain, and a useful set of skills and knowledge. • We need teachers—more well-prepared, confident, and retained computing teachers. • We need to find ways to help adult professionals learn computing when they discover that they need it. • We need to answer the questions of policymakers who want computing education in their states.
  7. 7. Meeting the Challenges 7 1. Curriculum: What does undergraduate computing education look like that everyone can succeed with? 2. Teachers: How do we meet the unique needs of computing teachers? 3. Adult learners: How do we help adults meet their computing education needs after their school years? 4. Research and Policy: What are the research questions we have to answer to support computing education policy?
  8. 8. Story #1: Curriculum: Context Matters Fall 1999: All students at Georgia Tech must take a course in computer science. – Considered part of General Education, like mathematics, social science, humanities… 1999-2003: Only one course met the requirement. – Shackelford’s pseudocode approach in 1999 – Later Scheme: How to Design Programs (MIT Press)
  9. 9. One-class CS1: Pass vs. WDF Success Rates in CS1 from Fall 1999 to Spring 2002 (Overall: 78%) Architecture 46.7% Biology 64.4% Economics 53.5% History 46.5% Management 48.5% Public Policy 47.9%
  10. 10. Contextualized Computing Education What’s going on? – Research results: Computing is “tedious, boring, irrelevant” Since Spring 2003, Georgia Tech teaches three introductory CS courses. – Based on Margolis and Fisher’s “alternative paths” Each course introduces computing using a context (examples, homework assignments, lecture discussion) relevant to majors. – Make computing relevant by teaching it in terms of what computers are good for (from the students’ perspective)
  11. 11. Media Computation: Teaching in a Relevant Context Presenting CS topics with media projects and examples – Iteration as creating negative and grayscale images – Indexing in a range as removing redeye – Algorithms for blending both images and sounds – Linked lists as song fragments woven to make music – Information encodings as sound visualizations 11
  12. 12. 12 Open-ended, contextualized homework in Media Computation Sound collage
  13. 13. Results:CS1“Media Computation” 86.5% 88.4% 84.7% 89.9% 91.9% 87.5% 80.3% 82.9% 77.5% 12.5% 10.3% 14.7% 9.4% 7.6% 11.4% 19.7% 17.1% 22.5% TotalFall03 Fem alesFall03M alesFall03 TotalSp04Fem alesSp04M alesSp04TotalFall04 Fem alesFall04M alesFall04 WDF Pass Change in Success rates in CS1 “Media Computation” from Spring 2003 to Fall 2005 (Overall 85%) Architecture 46.7% 85.7% Biology 64.4% 90.4% Economics 54.5% 92.0% History 46.5% 67.6% Management 48.5% 87.8% Public Policy 47.9% 85.4%
  14. 14. Voices from Media Computation Students “I just wish I had more time to play around with that and make neat effects. But JES [IDE for class] will be on my computer forever, so… that’s the nice thing about this class is that you could go as deep into the homework as you wanted. So, I’d turn it in and then me and my roommate would do more after to see what we could do with it.” “I dreaded CS, but ALL of the topics thus far have been applicable to my future career (& personal) plans—there isn't anything I don't like about this class!!!" "Media Computation is a CS class but with less severity. The media part of the class is extremely visually interesting. I would only take another CS class if it were Media Computation."
  15. 15. Table 1: R et ent ion dat a for Geor gia Tech’s M edia- Com p cour se from Fall 2006–Fall 2012 Fem ale M ale Tot al Passing grades 2102 1659 3761 Failing grades 208 235 443 Withdraw 30 46 76 DFW Total 238 281 519 % DFW-total 5.5% 6.5% 12% % DFW-set 10.1% 14.5% 12% that we were wrong. Whatever incites plagiarism, Media- Comp does not seem to impact plagiarism. Guzdial, ICER 2013
  16. 16. Story #2: Providing Teachers Support for Reflection and Community We need CS teachers to have a sense of identity: • More professional learning • Greater retention • Retention of CS teachers is exceedingly bad Where does that sense of identity come from? • For US CS teachers, from community and role models. (Lijun Ni, 2011) 16
  17. 17. Teachers need their Communities “I’m a better Math teacher, just because I’ve had so much support. Whenever I have problems, I can talk with the people that I work with, most of who have taught for many years in Math.…Every day, I’m eating lunch with Math teachers. With Computer Science, I’ve got nobody to talk to.” 17 From Lijun Ni’s 2011 thesis on CS teacher identity
  18. 18. Disciplinary Commons Group of educators from diverse institutions who teach within the same subject area meeting monthly over an academic year. In monthly increments, the participants prepare a course portfolio. Goals 1. To document and share knowledge about student learning in Computer Science classrooms. 2. To establish practices for the scholarship of teaching by making it public, peer-reviewed, and amenable for future use and development by other educators. [1] [1] Tenenberg, J. and Fincher, S. Opening the door of the computer science classroom: the Disciplinary Commons. SIGCSE Bull., 39, 1 2007, 514-518.
  19. 19. DCCE in Georgia Disciplinary Commons for Computing Educators Adaptation – High School teachers AND University Goals 1. Creating community 2. Sharing resources and knowledge of how things are taught in other contexts AND… 3. Supporting student recruitment within the high school environment Work by Briana Morrison, Lijun Ni, Ria Galanos, & Allison Elliott Tew
  20. 20. Creating DCCE Mtg Month Original DC Topic DCCE Schedule 1 Oct Institutional Context & personal trajectory into teaching Personal trajectory into teaching 2 Nov Curricular Context Institutional Context, Recruiting 3 Dec Course Content Curricular Context, Course Content 4 Jan Instructional Design Instructional Design 5 Feb Student Assessment Teaching Philosophy, Reflection Log 6 Mar Evaluation Student Assessment, Grading Rubrics 7 Apr Delivery (including debrief of peer observation) Peer Observation Debrief 8 May Complete “first draft” overview Student Feedback 9 June Portfolio Presentations Portfolio Presentations GA specific: GA university computing curricula, HS competitions, field trip possibilities
  21. 21. Year 3 HS teachers only Outside GA Mtg Month Portfolio Section 1 Sept Personal trajectory into teaching, Selection Structures 2 Oct Institutional & Curricular Context, Repetition Structures 3 Nov Instructional Design, Recruiting, Teaching Classes 4 Jan Teaching Philosophy, Reflection Log, Arrays and Sorting 5 Feb Student Assessment, Grading Rubrics, Recursion 6 Mar Student Feedback, Inheritance / Polymorphism 7 Apr Peer Observation Debrief 8 May Portfolio Presentations • Discipline specific content area • Mini-conference to bring in University teachers
  22. 22. Building Community Partnerships Before (PRE) DCCE Partnerships After (POST) DCCE Overcoming isolation (comments) Feedback, diversity in environments Morrison, Ni, & Guzdial, ICER 2012
  23. 23. Improving Recruiting 302% increase in number of AP CS students in the year following their participation in the DCCE • Year of participation – 122 students enrolled • Next year – 491 students pre-registered • One teacher 700% increase (3 to 24 students) Reasons: 1. Venue to share recruitment ideas 2. Sense of community (keep up morale during recruiting)
  24. 24. Teacher Confidence “I think DCCE definitely did help [me feel more confident]. I think it was just being a part of a community of teachers that you can actually talk with about teaching. That gives you confidence when you don’t teach it in a vacuum.”
  25. 25. Teaching CS Teachers online 25 We had a six-year effort NSF BPC alliance which provided in-service teacher professional development in-person: “Georgia Computes!” • $6M USD • Reached 36% of schools in Georgia. Can we reach more online, by emphasizing the skills and knowledge of successful CS teachers?
  26. 26. An Ebook for Teaching CS Teachers
  27. 27. Story #3: Fitting into existing adult practice: Graphics designers who program Brian Dorn studied graphics designers who program. Conducted a series of interviews and assessment activities. Found that these subjects want more CS (Dorn & Guzdial, ICER 2010) P10: So, that was a really long way of saying yes, I think that an academic study would make me a better programmer, but not by a whole lot.
  28. 28. Where are they getting their CS knowledge? They program a lot, with all participants writing programs over 100 lines of code. They learn mostly on-line: – FAQs and other documentation – Books (when applicable) – Lots of examples and networking. Not so much classes Dorn & Guzdial, CHI 2010
  29. 29. What do software engineers do? Answer: The Boring Stuff. P2: I was able to take different samples from different places and instead of just being let's say an MIS major, or computer science major, you know it's—you're not going to be front-end anything with computer science. You're going to be back-end everything. P4: I think as a front-end developer, you focus more on the design and the usability, and you're focusing more on the audience. And then on the back-end I think you're focused on more, these are like the software developers. And they're programming something, and they don't really see what it's gonna look like; they're just making it work.
  30. 30. Who is in CS? P2: I went to a meeting for some kind of programmers, something or other. And they were OLD, and they were nerdy, and they were boring! And I'm like, this is not my personality. Like I can't work with people like that. And they worked at like IBM, or places like that. They've been doing, they were working with Pascal. And I didn’t…I couldn't see myself in that lifestyle for that long. P5: I don't know a whole ton of programmers, but the ones I know, they enjoy seeing them type up all these numbers and stuff and what it makes things do. Um, whereas I just do it, to get it done and to get paid. To be honest. The design aspect is what really interests me a lot more. 30
  31. 31. They are not afraid of coding “What interests you about web design?” P12: The coding! I don't like to code. But the things that the code can do is amazing, like you can come up with this and voila, you know, it's there. Javascript for one. The plugins and stuff. I think that's very interesting, intriguing and stuff. Because I mean like the code is just, there's so much you can do with code and stuff. It's just like wow.
  32. 32. They’re Lost without Initial Knowledge Learning less than they might because of a lack of deep knowledge. – For example: Exploring code by searching Google for function and variable names. – Learning about Java when programming in JavaScript Brian’s experiment: Given a case library with conceptual information vs. a code repository alone, what gets learned, used, and liked? (ICER 2011)
  33. 33. 33
  34. 34. Bottomline: Cases work They like the case library and the code respository. They coded the problems the same. Case-users learn the concepts, while repository users do not. Key: We are providing computing education within the graphics designers world view. 34
  35. 35. Story #4: Answer Policymakers Questions Two NSF BPC Alliances: • “Georgia Computes!” emphasized activities in middle and high school: Summer camps, weekend workshops, after-school programs. • Lots of teacher professional development. • CAITE emphasized higher-education pathways (recruiting, retention, advising, alignment, institutional change) focused on community colleges in underserved regions. • Regional outreach and teacher PD 35
  36. 36. Refine and integrate CAITE & Georgia Computes! interventions and practices Take to other states & regions via partners (SC & CA), associates (IN, AL & PR/USVI), and others (CSTA & STARS) • Our experiences, practices and outcomes • And those of our “experts bureau” (includes CAHSI, AccessComputing, & Into the Loop experts)
  37. 37. What We’ve Learned: States are Diverse • In some states, the Department of Education controls everything. In other states, individual districts make most decisions, and the state Department of Education controls little. • In some: Advanced Placement is valued. In others: Advanced Placement is considered elitist. “Not for our kids.” • In most states, Computer Science is classified as Career and Technical Education. In some: CTE teachers are in schools, so CS can integrate with math and science. In others: CTE is in separate vocational high schools.
  38. 38. Issues from States • SC: Requires CS for graduation, for over 30 years. • But most classes that meet requirement are not really CS. Should they change? • Can we teach CS to everyone? • Research Questions: • Can we teach CS to special needs students? How much CS? • What are the challenges of teaching CS to English Language Learners (ELL)?
  39. 39. Issues from States • UT: Focusing on K-5 CS. • Only 104 students took AP CS in 2014, only 4 female. • Research Questions: • How much of CS can we teach in K-5? • Does teaching CS in K-5 lead to long term improved attitudes towards CS? • How is the cost different of scaling CS in K-5 rather than high schools?
  40. 40. Issues in States • Georgia Computes had significant impact on women and Hispanic AP CS exam- takers. • Less impact on Black. • Most states have lower AP CS participation and pass rates for Black students than Hispanic and female students. • Why? 0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800 900 1000 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 Total in Georgia Women Black Hispanic
  41. 41. Being a CS Ed Researcher in the US Most CS Ed researchers are in CS Departments in the US. • Few in research universities. • Many in teaching track positions. • Less than 10 in Education faculty slots: Makes pre-service CS teacher professional development difficult. • In comparison: Over a dozen CS Ed Professors in each of Germany and Israel. CS Education as a research area is much bigger in Europe and Australasia in US. • CS Ed Doctoral consortia are larger. • More CS Ed faculty. CS Faculty do not value BPC or Computing Education efforts. • Many don’t want CS in high schools. They’re sure the high schools will do it wrong. My View: Computing is a valuable literacy. It will become ubiquitous. 41
  42. 42. Conclusions 1. Curriculum: Providing a context for computer science education has had a dramatic impact on retention. 2. Teachers: Creating a community is key to increasing teacher success. 3. Adult learners: Adult learners may reject CS even more than high school students. We have to place educational opportunities in their context. 4. Research and Policy: We mostly understand computing education from research on undergraduates. We have many unanswered researcher questions for policymakers to create computing education for all. 42
  43. 43. Many thanks! Colleagues: Barbara Ericson, Tom McKlin, Rick Adrion, Renee Fall, Brian Dorn, Allison Eliott Tew, Lijun Ni, & Briana Morrison Our Funders: US National Science Foundation – Statewide BPC Alliance: Project “Georgia Computes!” – Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance, – CCLI and CPATH Grants, and now CE21 and IUSE to produce ebooks Georgia’s Department of Education GVU Center, and Institute for People and Technology (iPaT) at Georgia Tech
  44. 44. Thank you! – Lab: – Ebook Access: – Media Computation: Institute for Computing Education at Georgia Tech: – Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP): –