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Reflecting on SXSWedu

Hit Refresh: Evolving Computer Science Instruction

By Elliot Mayen

Computational literacy underlies most modern jobs and will become an increasingly important part of the economy, yet many barriers prevent students from accessing high quality computer science education and from being recruited and persisting in related jobs.

These subjects were the focus of the Hit Refresh: Evolving Computer Science Instruction session at this year’s SXSWedu conference.

At the heart of the discussion was the need to bring more diverse students into the world of computer science and the attrition that occurs once students advance into more rigorous courses.

Dr. Charles Severance, an associate professor at the School of Information at the University of Michigan and one of the panelists, said rigorous topics are introduced too quickly in computer science curricula and can disengage students.

Dr. Christine Alvarado, an associate teaching professor at the University of California San Diego, challenged that, saying that students who might initially be interested in careers in computer science are alienated by the idea that the computer science industry is made up of “lone men hacking in their dark rooms.”

Dr. Kara Behnke, a teaching and learning specialist at Coursera, said more students of diverse backgrounds can be attracted to computer science by infusing more fun entry points, particularly for students in the earlier parts of their educational careers.

The panelists agreed that children should be exposed to the simpler elements of computer science, such as tech literacy, adding that such an approach would benefit all students, including those not headed toward computer science careers.

All of the panelists are pushing for more accessible computer science curriculum in their own work. Their course design strives to de-mystify the basics of computer science and spark the seeds of creativity in their students.

“Computer science and programming are fundamentally a creative practice,” Behnke said.

 

Elliot Mayen is the brand manager for the National Math and Science Initative

 



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