bridging the teaching gap
If computer science is to welcome a more diverse audience of students, change must start with educators. Many teachers tasked with delivering computer science instruction come into the classroom with backgrounds in career and technical education but without specific preparation in computer science. Clemson researchers know that the first step in broadening the range of students interested in computer science is to address the preparation gap for teachers.
Sherri Smith has been involved with the Pickens County school district steering committee for the Clemson research project. When she came into R.C. Edwards Middle School with a background in business education, she saw the need to begin exposing children to computer science concepts.
However, Smith’s lack of knowledge in the subject meant she had to seek online training and summer classes in order to get up to speed to understand these concepts before relaying them to her students. She’s bridged the gap on her own, so she’s happy to be a part of a project that will make that process easier for future educators.
“Many of us teach computer science now because we love it and see the value in it, but more future teachers need to feel competent,” Smith says. “We need to expose students to these concepts as early as possible to pique their interest so that they will jump at the chance to explore computer science in high school or even earlier.”
Smith had to essentially learn a new language in the classroom in order to teach computer science, so one of the main research goals is to help teachers discover what translates to the subject from disparate disciplines. According to Eileen Kraemer, professor in Clemson’s School of Computing, increasing the teachers’ comfort levels is the first hurdle to clear.
“We want to design development strategies that get these teachers comfortable teaching computer science concepts,” Kraemer said. “Once their confidence increases, the teachers can then concentrate on teaching computer science in a way that resonates with underrepresented students.”
The research team is working with high school teachers from project partners Pickens County and the adjacent Anderson District 5 as well as districts across the state with the help of the South Carolina Coalition for Mathematics and Science. Through surveys and classroom video analysis, researchers will collect data regarding teacher attitudes toward instruction and how it should be improved.
Clemson researchers are already well versed in teacher development for computer science. Kraemer’s research examines human aspects of software development in the contexts of computer science education and software engineering. She currently serves as the vice chairperson of CSEdSC, an organization of South Carolina educators and businesses dedicated to increasing the number and diversity of South Carolina students enrolled in computer science courses in public schools.
Murali Sitaraman, another School of Computing faculty member involved in the project, studied undergraduate computer science education for nearly 25 years with support from NSF grants. Sitaraman’s research has focused on helping diverse learners reason about their code correctly through engaging pedagogical methods and tools.
Che has previously aided educators and faculty members in writing computer science standards for education, and through that process has gained perspective on the state’s long-term goals with the subject. Her educational research focuses on equity, access and critical perspectives, a crucial component of the current project’s emphasis on attracting diverse learners to computer science.
Anna Baldwin, director of e-learning and integration for Anderson School District 5, doesn’t think the transition to computer science has to be difficult for teachers. Baldwin is another district representative who is closely involved in the research, and she sees the teacher development aspect as a means to give already-excellent teachers the tools they need in the classroom.
“Effective teachers already know how to reach kids,” Baldwin says. “What they need is the content knowledge for computer science. Once they have what they need to make that transition, they can leverage student interest and motivation to drive learning.”