On Wednesday, September 25, 2013, authors of the Building an Operating System report presented their findings in a special webinar.
Watch that webinar here.
Building an operating system for
Computer Science Education
“Stories from the Field” shares the experiences of people who have acted locally to advance computer science education nationally. The sites represent a range of locations, institutions, and strategies that demonstrate some of the different pathways others can take to further computer science education in their own communities. University faculty, curriculum developers, district administrators, teachers and others share their perspectives, their successful strategies, their biggest challenges and offer insights and recommendations for others.
In April and May 2013, researchers interviewed 3-7 individuals per site. The interviews began with a single, primary leader who then recommended others to participate. Researchers also reviewed effort artifacts and on-line resources.
Misconceptions about CS education abound
Misperceptions about CS may be the biggest barrier to growing computer science education. Students perceive computer science is lonely and dull; parents aren’t aware of employment opportunities; teachers don’t view it as a core academic subject; and administrators and policy makers perceive it as low level IT. To paraphrase Chris Mayfield from James Madison University, it doesn’t have a very clear definition in the masses’ mind so it is left out. People just don’t think of it. There’s no letter in the acronym, STEM, that associates with CS. Efforts to communicate what CS actually is, how it is applied in a variety of contexts, and what the nature of computer science work is needs to improve and continue.
CS education growth depends on more quality materials and resources
There are many valuable, growing resources. Mark Guzdial’s blog , code.org, national organizations such as CSTA (the Computer Science Teachers Association), NCWIT (National Center for Women and Information Technology), SIGCSE (ACM’s Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Google’s CS4HS are all making contributions to the field.
However, as demand for computer science expands, the success of that growth will depend on access to more thoughtfully developed, principled, practical, and applicable instructional materials and resources. Teachers should not be burdened with the task of creating their course materials from the ground up, particularly those who are new to the discipline (as many new CS teachers are likely to be). The stories describe a start, with ECS, media computation and AP, but there remains significant need and opportunity for growth.
Recruitment & preparation requires communication, flexibility, & support
CS teacher recruitment faces several challenges. First, potential CS teachers don’t see an enormous demand. Second, individuals with CS preparation have opportunities in more visible and higher paying fields. Third, current computer science professionals don’t have many pathways toward the preparation and certification they would need to teach. Teacher recruitment and preparation programs need multiple, flexible entry points to reach the broadest audiences.
Further, once in the field, CS teachers (as all teachers) need and deserve quality, engaging and enduring professional development. With many potential CS teachers coming from other disciplines with a range of teaching experience, CS professional development efforts can capitalize on the growing knowledge base of quality professional development in other disciplines to meet CS teachers’ wide ranging, continuous needs.
There are unintended consequences of graduation policies, schedules, & requirements
As of May 2013, ten states (Georgia, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Washington) allow CS courses to count toward either a math or science graduation requirement. In other states, computer science competes for space in a student’s elective schedule and even in the states that do count it, students’ misconceptions can stand in the way of choosing CS.
Other challenges come from where CS lives within a school. As the Teacher Capacity Study demonstrates, CS courses reside in a wide range of departments from CS to mathematics to CTE, business, and science. Decisions about where CS courses reside can impact the availability of teachers, course enrollment, and schedule availability.
Finally, while there are some teachers who have the opportunity to teach multiple sections of a CS course and more than one CS course, that is not the norm. More often, teachers teach primarily in another field, or they teach CS as part of their teaching portfolios that might include other business or CTE courses. Creating opportunities for teachers to garner more instructional experience and disciplinary knowledge will require continued effort to shift current policies and practices.
Partnerships can take different forms and all of them can be helpful
Partnerships were key elements of sustaining and expanding the CS education efforts in all four sites. Each partnership varied by the needs of all parties involved, and the evolution of the CS effort. Partners included universities, corporations, policy makers, schools and school districts and computer science professional and advocacy organizations and support took many forms including financial support, motivation, facilities, human resources and materials.
It appears that the most productive partnerships are those that grow through compatible if not common goals, communication, and on-going demonstration of how working together benefits all parties involved. Partnerships will be necessary for CS education growth; decision about how to develop, focus and maintain those partnerships will need to target the customized needs of each partner and community. New efforts can take a lesson from the Chicago leaders – they made a commitment to their common goal and to one another to persist and today, they have much to show for their efforts.
CS leaders must collaborate with and build the local teacher community
Because they reside in a variety of departments and often teach in isolation, CS teachers can sometimes be hard to find. Thus, leaders can’t always identify them and it’s also difficult to find one another. In some cases, developing a local teacher community and network can be a first step to growing and developing computer science education; in others, it follows other strategic steps. Regardless of the particular strategy, working to develop and support a CS teacher professional community can be an important key to developing CS teaching knowledge and skills and to developing future leadership.
Computer science education isn’t a priority for many faculty
Higher education institutions’ conditions and contexts are not always conducive to working with K-12 education. Some faculty simply aren’t interested; others feel conflicted about their personal beliefs and interests and the constraints and demands they have as university faculty. Mark Guzdial at Georgia Tech offers some practical advice – rather than try to change faculty, find those that are interested and start by working with them.
Leaders need to consider sustainability from the outset
Any educational improvement effort that has the benefit of external funding also faces the challenge of how to navigate the inevitable reduction or removal of that funding. There are no simple solutions to this dilemma, but general principles such as building broad, shared vision; developing partnerships; collecting evidence on and communicating successes; and developing mechanisms for continuous improvement can help create a foundation for a more enduring effort.