Outlier Research & Evaluation at the University of Chicago is carrying out a two and a half year research study for the computer science (CS) education community. Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the BASICS Study (Barriers and Supports to Implementing Computer Science) will examine the status of implementation of an introductory CS course, Exploring Computer Science (ECS), and the supports for and barriers to that implementation and endurance in sites using ECS across the US.
Those already working to make K12 CS education happen know that bringing change to school systems is difficult and making change that will last is even harder. And yet, the CS education community has steadily been making progress bringing computer science to individual teachers, schools, and districts.
Understanding how ECS came to be implemented in a range of sites can have great impact on the use and endurance of ECS and other introductory CS courses today, and in the future. This study will generate findings to help grow CS education. It will shed light on the challenges to systemic efforts to increase accessibility, quality and quantity of CS education and offer recommendations for meeting those challenges.
We believe that for most education innovations and interventions, there is no single, “correct” way to implement a program. The intent of the BASICS Study is to document implementation of the ECS program and to identify the factors that affect that implementation in schools and districts, not the quality of the implementation. The BASICS Study is not an evaluation of the ECS program; rather, our research seeks to provide a deeper understanding of the supports for and barriers to ECS and other introductory CS efforts and description of the steps schools and entire sites using ECS have taken to develop those supports.
The fundamental goal of all Outlier Research & Evaluation projects is to provide schools, districts, and policy makers with useful, timely information to continually improve education efforts. In the BASICS Study, we collaborate with NSF CS10K project leaders, CS education advisors, and school and district practitioners to produce findings and share relevant and practical information with CS education community stakeholders. We will contribute to the growing portfolio of CS education efforts through resource and tool development, publications, presentations, webinars, and on-going, in-person discussions. We encourage feedback on our project throughout the research study.
How did ECS implementation begin in each study site and what does it look like now?
What is the status ECS use in each site? What does use look like?
What supports and barriers affect ECS use and its potential endurance?
What factors (contexts and conditions) contribute to or inhibit the implementation and endurance of introductory CS, like ECS?
Do the identified supports and barriers differ by site and/or years of ECS use?
To what extent do these supports and barriers differ by location and over time?
The BASICS Study is a mixed-methods research study. We use a range of both qualitative and quantitative strategies to answer our primary research questions and accomplish our project goals. Our research design collects data via teacher and student questionnaires; ECS developer, school district personnel, school leader, and teacher interviews; student focus groups; informal observations; and document reviews.
This project builds on Outlier's previous NSF-funded work rigorously studying implementation of educational innovations (new practices and programs) and the factors (contexts and conditions) that affect innovation implementation and sustainability. Earlier projects yielded a suite of instruments for measuring implementation of science and mathematics programs and a conceptual framework and accompanying instruments for identifying and measuring the factors that support and inhibit implementation of school-based innovations. The BASICS Study began with these instruments and customized them for use with a CS-specific innovation (the ECS program). The project also stems from a previous CS-focused study (OS4CS) that established a more comprehensive understanding of our nation’s current high school CS teaching and learning environment.
Although implementation measures can be used to examine program impacts, for the purposes of this research, we are interested in looking at the relationships between supports and barriers to implementation and implementation itself, not the quality, efficacy or impact of ECS on student outcomes in CS courses or pursuance of CS careers.
Sarah is a researcher at Outlier committed to improving STEM education. Prior to joining Outlier in 2010, Sarah worked in the Education Department of the Field Museum of Natural History, where she collaborated with Illinois Institute of Technology Math & Science Education faculty to develop materials and PD experiences for Chicago Public Schools science teachers, and lead social science programming for educators. Sarah was an Associate Instructor at Indiana University and continues to serve as an adjunct researcher at The Center for Archaeology in the Public Interest, IU. She has worked on archaeology projects in Belize, Egypt, the Southwest, and Midwest US. Sarah received her MA and PhD in Anthropology from Indiana University.
Prior to coming to the University of Chicago in 2005, Jeanne Century was a Senior Researcher at Education Development Center (EDC) in Waltham MA. Jeanne has a BA in general science from Brandeis, and a MEd and doctorate in science education curriculum and teaching from Boston University. During her 25-year career, Jeanne has developed science instructional materials for the elementary and middle school levels and has provided professional development, technical assistance and strategic planning for teachers and school, district, and state administrators. Her research has focused on the impact of inquiry science instruction, strategies for improving utilization of research and evaluation, sustainability of reform efforts, measurement of intervention fidelity and innovation implementation, STEM schools, and computer science education. Century served on the Education Policy and Department of Education Agency Review transition teams for the Obama-Biden administration where she was responsible for STEM education and education research and development issues. In 2010, she shared the National Association for Research in Science Teaching award for the most significant publication that year. Jeanne has served on numerous committees and advisory boards for work focused on improving STEM education.
Heather is a researcher with nearly ten years of experience in biology. She came to Outlier after completing her Ph.D. in Organismal Biology and Anatomy at the University of Chicago in 2012. Heather’s graduate work focused on the evolution of locomotion, and her 2011 paper on walking in lungfish received attention from the international press. She created and led dozens of hands-on, student-centered science lessons for middle and high school students in collaboration with Project Exploration during graduate school. These experiences were partly facilitated through her position as an NSF IGERT (National Science Foundation’s Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship) fellow. Heather is also the co-founder of the STEM Bridge Network, an emerging group of scientists that work in education, and who are committed to making education career paths accessible and transparent to early-career scientists.
Maurice Samuels, PhD, has led several of Outlier’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) program evaluations that have focused on teacher professional development, out-of-school programing, and teacher education. Currently he is a co-principal investigator of an evaluation research project funded by National Science Foundation (NSF), through which he and his colleagues are engaging in a full-scale study aimed at demonstrating and further developing Outlier’s implementation instruments. Maurice joined Outlier in 2009 after serving as a postdoctoral fellow on a multi-site NSF grant that conceptualized and field-tested an evaluation approach to STEM. He has published in the areas of school-based evaluation, the role of culture in evaluation, and is an active member of the American Evaluation Association and serves on the American Journal of Evaluation’s editorial advisory board. Maurice has a PhD in Educational Psychology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Before entering graduate school, Maurice taught middle and high school firstname.lastname@example.org
Computer Science teachers in Chicago and Washington, DC completed a questionnaire in Spring 2014 that, among other things, asked them to identify the three biggest supports for and barriers to their computer science classes. All of the teachers were using Exploring Computer Science (ECS) instructional materials.
Click here to see what teachers said were their biggest barriers to teaching computer science.
Click here to see what teachers said were their biggest supports to teaching computer science.