March 2019 Update

Admittedly, it has been a while since I have posted an update on any of my work. This neglect has not been for a lack of progress! This month I will have two papers published in peer-reviewed publications. Last month I completed and defended my practicum study. Next month I will be taking my comprehensive exams and finishing my final course in my graduate program of study. This all happening with the backdrop of my professional work in educational outreach for Purdue University, where we are seeing some massive changes occurring at the state level for computer science education.

With all that as the backdrop, here are some of the highlights of the past few months…

Purdue K-12 Outreach The bulk of my professional output has been in continuing a couple of the programs that I run to address underrepresentation in computer science. The first is the mentoring program that I started in 2014 to create a bridge between young women in Purdue’s computer science department and high school students in the local Lafayette-area schools. Initially, my focus was on the next generation of computer scientists, hoping that the impact that would be felt by the students that we met with on a weekly basis. What I discovered was that the greatest impact was on the undergraduate students. I watched these amazing young women become more confident in their abilities, and saw how they took ownership of their role as one that the young students looked up to. Within the mentoring group, they also found community with like-minded women who faced the same challenges and struggles that they did. I have now watched my first class of freshmen student from 2014 graduate and enter the work force. I’m excited to say that we retained over 80% of that first cohort! These kinds of successes have validated my time at Purdue and encouraged me to continue to work towards gender equity in ways that have expanded beyond our mentoring efforts.

Another area that I have tried to address with my work at Purdue has been in how students gain access to quality computer science instruction. In 2015, we created an online AP Computer Science A course which mirrored our CS1 course at Purdue. In 2016 we migrated that course to edX, and have had over 35,000 students enroll in the course in the time that has followed. It has not always been successful (I had a particularly bad cohort experience at a local school where cheating was rampant), but we have achieved a high AP pass rate (over 80%) and an good average score from our test-takers (over 4 on a 5 point scale). The next step is to really study who is using the course and whether it is reaching the kids that we intended it for. On a positive note, the course is increasingly reaching teachers who are just starting their computer science teaching careers. These teachers are using the video lectures to flip their classrooms, using the auto-graded assignments and practices to provide more practice to their students, and have participated in teacher cohorts where we discuss pedagogical practice. More information on the course can be found here.

MSU EPET Finishing my practicum study was probably the highlight of the past year in terms of my academic output. The goal of the study was originally to explore the differences in behaviors between adults and high school students in MOOC courses, looking specifically at their self-regulatory behaviors. I was interested in trying to understand what behaviors the successful adult users were engaged with, and then to see if those were mirrored by high school students who may come to MOOC courses with different expectations and goals. In the process of conducting the study, I ran into a number of measurement issues. I eventually pivoted to studying differences between high school students in MOOC and face-to-face courses so that I could get at behaviors between similar populations. The major outcomes revolved around help-seeking, but I have yet to determine whether or not this is truly a motivational difference, or simply a MOOC tool difference. Nonetheless, the study was informative for my personal practice and I am aiming to share some of the outcomes in the upcoming year at some of the major computer science education conferences.

Other major accomplishments were the publishing of two papers, one which I wrote on my own and one which came as a collaboration with a colleague from Purdue University. The first, which you can find in the March 2019 issue of ACM Inroads, is a look at instructional practices that address John Sweller’s Cognitive Load Theory. I am a big believer that the academic community needs to dedicate their energies to communicating their results to the educators who translate the research into action. Hopefully this article will reach the practitioner audience that I intended it for and some of the practices that I described will become part of teacher toolkits. The second article, my collaboration with Dr. Brenda Capobianco, looked at the use of a multi-level cascading mentorship model for engaging women in computer science. I have long been engaged with mentor-based programs, and writing the paper allowed me to dig deeper into the work of others to use mentorship to help engage individuals and address their sense of belongingness, identity, and self efficacy. This paper will be published by the Susan Bulkley Butler Center for Leadership Excellence in their ADVANCE Working Paper series Fall 2018 issue (due in March 2019… don’t be fooled)!