Kent State Researcher to Work on Program to Broaden Participation in Computer Science
Information technology drives our global economy and promises transformational approaches to the world’s most serious challenges, including healthcare, education and environmental. Yet a smaller percentage of American high school and university students take computer science courses today than they did 20 years ago.
L. Gwenn Volkert, associate professor of computer science at Kent State University, has been selected to participate in the second phase of a national effort aimed at increasing and broadening participation in computer science.
“One of the big problems in computer science in the United States is that we don’t have enough people that are trained for the jobs that are available,” Volkert said.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) is making a four-year, $5.2 million grant to the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program to fund the creation of AP Computer Science Principles (AP CS Principles). The college-level AP CS Principles course will be introduced into thousands of high schools nationwide in fall 2016.
Unlike computer science courses that focus on programming, AP CS Principles has been designed to help students explore the creative aspects of computing while also providing a solid academic foundation for understanding the intellectual concepts and practical contributions of computing.
“For the next decade, 60 percent or more of the jobs in the STEM area (science, technology, engineering and math) are for computer specialists, and we’re producing less than half of the people we need,” said Robert Walker, director of the School of Digital Sciences at Kent State. “This is an attempt to develop another Advanced Placement course for high schools that instead of focusing on the mechanics of programming focuses on the creative side of computing.”
As the only female Computer Science faculty member at the university’s Kent Campus, Volkert is passionate about reaching out to underrepresented groups in computer science, including women and minorities.
“They’ve been piloting this for a couple of years, and now they are rolling it out to a larger number of high schools and colleges,” Volkert said. “In this phase, there are 36 high schools and 12 universities and Kent State is one of them.”
AP CS Principles includes a curriculum framework designed to promote learning with understanding, a digital portfolio to promote student participation throughout the year, and a course and assessment that is independent of programming language.
Although computing is among the fastest-growing areas of projected job growth, the industry is failing to attract the nation’s most talented students. Of the 1.6 million bachelor’s degrees conferred in 2009-10, only 38,500 (2.4 percent) were earned in computer science — and only 6,894 (slightly over one quarter) of those were conferred to female students.
“This is an alternative path into computer science and computing,” Walker said.
Successful implementation of the course will hinge on the ability to recruit and train qualified teachers with computer science backgrounds to teach the course. Through its CS 10K Project (10,000 computer science teachers in 10,000 high schools by 2016), the NSF has been laying the foundation for an unprecedented, national effort to prepare educators to teach this new material.
In addition, the College Board is building a comprehensive set of online teaching resources and creating professional development curricula for teachers, giving them the support they need to help students succeed in the AP CS Principles course and on the exam. As part of this effort, the College Board will contribute $1.5 million toward the creation of teacher support materials and professional development, and $2 million to develop a platform that will deliver the recommended digital portfolio assessment.
The successful pilots in 2010-11 and 2011-12 have helped to engender widespread enthusiasm for the success of the new AP CS Principles course. In a recent survey of 103 of the nation’s top colleges and universities, 87 percent confirmed that AP CS Principles requires the same content knowledge and skills as the related introductory college course, and 86 percent indicated a willingness to award college credit for qualifying scores on future AP CS Principles Exams.
Research shows that students who took college-level AP math or science exams during high school were more likely than non-AP students to earn degrees in physical science, engineering and life science disciplines — the fields leading to careers essential for the nation’s future prosperity.
Volkert is hopeful that her effort can make a difference.
“I’m energized that we have some solid ideas and methods to address this important issue,” she said.
For more information about the project, visit www.csprinciples.org/home/about-the-project.
For more information about Kent State’s Department of Computer Science, visit www.kent.edu/CAS/CS.
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