Critical questions for computer science education research

Over the past two years, we have seen wholesale reform of computing (and more specifically, computer science) education in the UK. In England from September 2014, a new national curriculum subject Computing, with a challenging and aspirational programme of study (“A high-quality computing education equips pupils to use computational thinking and creativity to understand and change the world.”) will replace ICT; in Scotland, we see Computing Science forming part of their Curriculum for Excellence; in Wales, September’s review of the ICT curriculum is shaping the ongoing Curriculum for Wales review; along with burgeoning activity in Northern Ireland.

While there is a large corpus of computing education research, along with national and international policy reports, such as the ACM/CSTA’s Running on Empty (2010), the Royal Society’s Shut down or restart? report (2012) and ACM Europe’s informatics education report (2013), there still remain a number of critical questions in computer science education. The recent announcement of the UK Forum for Computing Education provides an opportunity to support this important research agenda. Further to a group discussion led by members of the CSTA at a recent ACM Education Council meeting, the following list of questions cover a breadth of issues and reflect the deep need for further research-grounded solutions to the issues we face.

  • What are the indicators of incoming student success in introductory level computer science in colleges and universities?
  • Does computer science learning in schools contribute to success/improvement in other disciplines, especially mathematics and science?
  • What is the link between age/educational development and the potential to learn and master computer science concepts?
  • Are there issues of ergonomics in the introduction of computing devices with young children?
  • Is there a link between previous mathematics learning and success in computer science at school level?
  • What are the major factors that lead to students making early choices not to pursue computer science?
  • What is the role of informal education programs in scaffolding learning in computer science, especially in communities where access to computer science learning in school is limited?
  • What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of MOOCs in school student learning?
  • What are the potential benefits and drawbacks of MOOCs for the professional development of computer science teachers?
  • What models professional development are most effective for improving teacher mastery of computer science concepts and pedagogy?
  • What are the impacts of current efforts to market computer science to students?
  • To what extent do poverty and lack of home access to computer science tools impact computer science performance and or interest in school?
  • Do one-to-one devices per child programs have any impact on computer science interest or performance?
  • What are the major factors in computer science teacher retention?
  • What is required to increase the availability of teacher preparation programs for computer science teachers?
  • What is the impact of transitioning the the content of teacher preparation courses in “educational technology/AV” to a focus on computational thinking across STEM?
  • What is the ideal balance between content knowledge learning and pedagogical learning in computer science teacher preparation and alternative certifications?
  • Do hybrid programs (educators and volunteer partnerships) improve student access to rigorous computer science courses and increase the pool of well-prepared computer science teachers?

Which of these do you think is most important? And what is missing? (the questions are listed in no particular order and have been labelled alphabetical for easy referencing in the comments)

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4 thoughts on “Critical questions for computer science education research

  1. Hannah says:

    What about the girls, Tom? I don’t think you can talk about CS-education without being concerned about the way in which we’re missing out on half the population.

    • Tom says:

      I totally agree Hannah, this is a key issue for computer science (and more generally STEM). I think the changes to the primary (KS1/KS2) curriculum will have a significant effect, but it will take a while for this widening of the pipeline to be seen in increased uptake of post-16 qualifications (and then hopefully in industry).

      N.B. This list was by no means exhaustive, but aimed to stimulate debate and aid identification of key research questions.

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