$1.19 Million Study of Impact of Pre-College Computing
$1.19 Million Study of Impact of Pre-College Computing
Written by Sue Gee   
Wednesday, 05 October 2016

The National Science Foundation has awarded a grant of $1.19 Million for research into the long-term effects of initiatives, such as the Hour of Code and summer coding camps, designed to introduce computing to K-12 students.

The 5-year study titled "Collaborative Research: Establishing and Propagating a Model for Evaluating the Long Term Impact of Pre-College Computing Activities" is being undertaken by Adrienne Decker, an assistant professor of interactive games and media at RIT, and Monica McGill, an associate professor of game design at Bradley University. It aims to gauge the impact of the various programs devoted to increasing interest in computing among K-12 students.

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The NSF Award Abstract reiterates the fact that initiatives such as Code.org, Black Girls Code and university-led summer camps have sprung up in response to: 

a critical need to increase the number of skilled technology workers within the United States, with computing skills becoming increasingly important as the nation moves further into the 21st century. This need is fueled by the realization that the number of tech workers needed to maintain political and economic security far outweighs the current workers available now or in the immediate future. To increase interest, commercial, governmental, and not-for-profit educational groups have sponsored numerous initiatives aimed to bring computing to more students, recently with a K-12 emphasis. This project seeks to determine the long-term impact of these activities as a mechanism for growing the skilled technology workforce within the United States. 

Explaining the project background informally, Decker commented:

“Seeing the explosion of these organizations, the questions we naturally asked were, ‘Does this work and what parts are working best?’. There is little to no longitudinal data that exists, so we are setting out to find the answers.”

Having already conducted an online pilot involving six universities, the researchers are now embarking on the NSF-funded project which will have two phases:

1) the identification, review, and analysis of past and current pre-college computing activities and their impact on participants to determine the major influencing variables

2) the creation and implementation of a formal process for collecting data related to pre-college computing activities, including major influencing variables, necessary for educational researchers to be able to evaluate and analyze the long-term impact of these activities. 

The researchers hope to identify best practices for long-term success with the programs and disseminate that information to other educational researchers. The project has a major focus on the demographics of the learners and will analyze data based on gender and ethnicity, in hopes of better promoting computing among underrepresented groups.

This is very much in keeping with the philosophy behind, Black Girls Code, one of the organisations specifically mentioned by RIT's news release. According to Kimberly Bryant:

By launching Black Girls Code, I hope to provide young and pre-teen girls of color opportunities to learn in-demand skills in technology and computer programming at a time when they are naturally thinking about what they want to be when they grow up.

That, really, is the Black Girls Code mission: to introduce programming and technology to a new generation of coders, coders who will become builders of technological innovation and of their own futures.

 

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The goal of reaching underrepresented groups is shared by Code.org, another of the educational initiatives singled out by the researchers:  

The goal of the Hour of Code is not to teach anybody to become an expert computer scientist in one hour. One hour is only enough to learn that computer science is fun and creative, that it is accessible at all ages, for all students, regardless of background. The measure of success of this campaign is not in how much CS students learn - the success is reflected in broad participation across gender and ethnic and socioeconomic groups, and the resulting increase in enrollment and participation we see in CS courses at all grade levels. 

We have previously reported on I Programmer the informal view that the Hour of Code was having a positive impact on the perception of Computer Science and also reported a recent surge in student numbers. Having research that is able to quantify this effect, and also point out best practices is to be welcomed.

The fact that the National Science Foundation is supporting this research can also be seen as a spin off from the Code.org initiative. Getting political leaders personally involved has certainly raised the profile of learning to code and led to significant developments. Since President Obama joined in a much-publicized Hour of Code in 2014, Computer Science has become an official STEM subject in the US and “Computer Science for All” initiative launched. This includes $4 billion in funding for states and $100 million directly for districts to increase access to K-12 computer science education by training teachers and expanding access to instructional materials. All this counts as "pre-college computing activities" and requires the devlopment of materials to evaluate and analyze their long-term impact that this research study sets out to provide. 

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