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Major Issues in Computer Science Education

For the last six years, I have been involved in Computer Science Education (CSE) as a teacher; the last two years, additionally as a researcher and a student. Here are the major issues in CSE I have stumbled upon as a relative newcomer:

In higher education, CSE research continues to be severely undervalued and underfunded, resulting in a lack of positions for CSE researchers and a lack of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK) (Shulman, 1986). CSE has been stunted through years of neglect in CS departments and is still primarily dependent on students learning through experimentation instead of instruction. What other educational field expects students to figure out fundamental concepts out by themselves, using tools, demos, and persistence? This would be akin to offering a child a mathematical tool, like a calculator or a protractor, and asking them to figure out the Pythagorean theorem. Stuck? Oh well. Keep trying. Tragicomically, “Keep trying” in CSE is a relatively new mantra. The refrain used to be “Maybe you should try something else!”

The lack of PCK hampers CSE at the primary and secondary level. Teachers are left to fend for themselves to research, evaluate, and develop instructional material at all grade levels, or attend conferences to find the new and improved. This also is progress, as CSE has recently supplied all sorts of instructional tools and recommendations, but after years of research and evaluation and experimentation, I find myself longing for research-supported and cohesive CS instructional curriculum and details as I tinker with my haphazard collection of tools and methods. Common Core Math Ed never looked so inviting!

I also suspect the lack of PCK might be one of the reasons for the well-recognized problem of low overall engagement and representation. Here’s a theory: students will stay in CS, if they understand it. And students will understand it, if it’s taught better. And teachers will teach better, if they’re equipped not just with tools, but given the pedagogical knowledge of a fully valued and funded educational field.

Oh jeez. The problem is money, isn’t it?!

References

Shulman, L. S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher15(2), 4-14.

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