Designing computer education for all

The computer science education landscape is shifting from a historical focus on formal pipelines to train professional software developers to a grassroots literacy approach that recognizes the value of computer science for all students.

Highlighting perspectives on designing tools, curricula, and learning communities for all, Northwestern University’s Center for Human-Computer Interaction + Design (HCI+D) hosted a virtual panel on June 8 to discuss the role of design weighted in achieving interest, engagement, participation, and retention in computing more generally.

A collaboration between Northwestern Engineering and Northwestern’s School of Communication, HCI+D is led by co-directors Elizabeth Gerber, professor of mechanical engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and professor of communication studies at the School of Communication, Darren Gergle, John G. Searle professor of communication studies in the School of Communication, and Bryan Pardo, professor of computer science at Northwestern Engineering and professor of radio, television and film in the School of Communication.

Eleanor O'Rourke“As researchers, designers and HCI professionals, we know that computers increasingly mediate our daily lives. However, relatively few of us get to participate in the design of the systems and interfaces we interact with every day,” said event moderator Eleanor O’Rourke, co-director of the Delta Lab and assistant professor of computer science at Northwestern Engineering and assistant professor chair of learning sciences at the School of Educational Sciences and Social Policies.

The event’s three speakers – Tiffany Barnes, Betsy DiSalvo, and Mark Guzdial – shared their experiences addressing cyber education issues of equity, scale, and context in K-12 and higher education through the lens of responsible computing, learning sciences, participatory design, and human-centered computing.

Attain an equitable education in computer science and artificial intelligence

Barnes is Distinguished Professor of Computer Science at North Carolina State University and co-director of the STARS Computing Corps, a consortium of universities launched in 2006 with support from the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) Broadening Participation in Computing Alliance (BPC-A) program. By engaging students in outreach, research and service, STARS aims to build more equitable and inclusive university computer science departments to increase graduation rates and persistence among historically excluded and underrepresented groups.

“Faculty alone cannot fundamentally change the number and diversity of computer science students,” said Barnes. “Many alliances and initiatives have begun to seek to broaden participation in computing. And we haven’t moved the needle yet. We don’t have diversity. And we don’t have the number of people learning computer science that we really need.”

Barnes suggested that faculty members can be instrumental in broadening participation by enabling student leadership and facilitating student engagement in conversations about big problem-solving challenges like responsible AI and climate change.

“It has always been central to STARS and virtually all of my work to center on student opinions and student work,” Barnes said.

Expand acceptance into IT pathways

DiSalvo is an associate professor and interim president of the School of Interactive Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), where he directs the Culture and Technology Lab (CAT Lab). The CAT Lab team investigates how culture shapes the production and use of technology and applies this knowledge to the development of new socio-technical tools through participatory design methods.

Addressing barriers and formalized gatekeeping within the cyber culture itself that can lead to the exclusion, marginalization, and exploitation of historically minority groups, DiSalvo and his team have developed a data literacy program at Georgia Tech called DataWorks, which trains adults from underrepresented communities and with mid-level data skills. DataWorks data wranglers and data developers, who are employed as full-time Georgia Tech employees with benefits, complete contract-based projects from nonprofit, governmental, and for-profit organizations, and service fees help support the plan.

“Rather than relying on this deficient vision of settling non-IT people by providing new educational technologies or trying to change their perspective on what IT is, we are looking to leverage situated learning environments by offering legitimate work entry-level computer science that builds people’s interests, skills and identity in computer science in a very authentic way,” said DiSalvo.

Support computer education for liberal arts students

Guzdial is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Michigan. He is building the new program in Computing for the Arts and Sciences (PCAS) at the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts (LSA), which focuses on computer science education for students in the liberal arts and sciences.

Through a participatory design process that focused on both the unique computer needs of LSA students and current course offerings, Guzdial and his team identified three topics for computer science education that they felt were not well addressed by computer science programs o University of Michigan Computing: Computing for Discovery Across the Natural and Physical Sciences, Computing for Expression and Communication, and Computing for Justice – a critical examination of the cultural, social, and political influence of technologies .

The PCAS team launched two courses this year — COMPFOR 111: Computing’s Impact on Justice: From Text to the Web and COMPFOR 121: Computing for Creative Expression — that incorporate programming via a scaffolded approach to introduce computing into context through languages specific programming tools for tasks like Pixel Equations and Snap! graphics programming language pioneered by the University of California, Berkeley.

“Rather than trying to bring more diverse students into computer science, I’m trying to go where there is more diversity. The liberal arts and sciences are much more diverse than engineering and computer science programs, and I’m looking to bring computer science to them,” Guzdial said. “What are people really trying to do? And we give them the ability to plan for their tasks.

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Image Source : www.mccormick.northwestern.edu

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