Computer Science for All

Computer science skills are becoming increasingly important not only to national innovation, but also to individual success and career mobility. The projected demand for employees with computer science skills far outstrips the projected number of students who will be trained with these competencies.

But just as importantly, if only privileged students get opportunities to learn computer science, it becomes one more barrier to underserved students looking to enter the working world, especially women and students of color. STEM fields operate best when they include a broad diversity of perspectives.

As the White House implements the Computer Science (CS) for All initiative, University of Washington College of Education researchers are playing an important role in the push for more equitable offerings in computer science education.

Launched in January 2016, the initiative's components include the Expanding Computing Education Pathways (ECEP) project, which brings together educators and researchers from 17 states. October 28-29 marked the first ECEP Alliance Summit, hosted by the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy, the Expanding Computing Education Pathways Alliance, and the Research + Practice Collaboratory with financial support from the National Science Foundation.

The first day of the meeting was held in the White House’s Indian Treaty Room. Throughout the sessions, attendees noted the significance of talking about equity and educational improvement in this setting.

The meeting asked: How can the CS for All initiative use partnerships between researchers and educators to build knowledge around designing, implementing, and evaluating programs that advance equity in computer science education?

To that end, members of the Research + Practice Collaboratory, including several UW researchers, facilitated the kickoff meeting. The Research + Practice Collaboratory brings together educators and researchers to develop, implement, and study more equitable innovations for STEM teaching and learning at systems-level scale, and locally includes a curriculum adaptation partnership between the University of Washington and Seattle and Renton school districts.

The meeting was an opportunity to build bridges between the Collaboratory and the computer science education field. Collaboratory PI Bronwyn Bevan (senior research scientist, UW College of Education) organized and coordinated the event. Co-PI Philip Bell (Shauna C. Larson Chair in Learning Sciences, UW College of Education) participated in a panel on promoting equity at systems-level scale through research-practice partnerships and engaged the group in an activity to identify critical equity-focused questions their projects could address. Co-PI Pam Buffington (EDC) led a panel of researchers who shared the ways in which their research had supported implementation projects. Co-PI William Penuel (Colorado University Boulder) led the CS for All state teams in a process of developing strategies for building research-practice partnerships into their implementation plans.

In a partnership between research and practice, input and ideas from research can help an education improvement project keep best-practices in mind and offer opportunities for reflection and self-evaluation. “As we explore how to diversify STEM fields, like those in computing fields, it is important to build upon research findings and educational approaches that have proven effective in the past,” said Bell. “Educators should shape research priorities and make sure research projects are relevant and meaningful.”

“As computer science starts to scale nationally, there’s an opportunity to build in evidence-based practices (developed through partnerships) from the get-go,” said Bevan. “Research-practice partnerships allow educational leaders to test and refine their ideas in real-time, while they are being implemented, rather than waiting for years to understand what’s working.”

Over the course of the day, Collaboratory researchers and educators shared examples of research-practice partnerships in large-scale, equity-focused initiatives. Seattle Public Schools Director of College and Career Readiness Dan Gallagher, a longstanding collaborator with the University of Washington, described his experiences with the Collaboratory research-practice partnership in science education, which uses a curriculum adaptation approach as a concrete model for how partnership can help urban school districts implement system-wide initiatives.

Collaboratory members also facilitated discussions to help attendees start thinking about key areas of leverage that might be most impactful when implementing CS for All and possible areas for partnership. State teams shared their local successes, struggles, and pressing needs.

U.S. Chief Technology Officer Megan Smith closed the day with a few comments for the group. In her remarks, she relayed a quote from President Barack Obama: “We can solve anything if we get everyone involved.”

Research-Practice Partnership Resources Shared at the Summit

This story is cross-posted from the UW Institute for Science + Math Education.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director for Marketing and Communications