Sign In

Communications of the ACM


Why Doesn't the ­U.S. Fund Computing Education Research?

View as: Print Mobile App Share:
Mark Guzdial

Georgia Institute of Technology professor Mark Guzdial

The group of students and faculty at Georgia Tech submitted a large number of proposals for ACM SIGCSE 2010 in time for the deadline last week -- over a half dozen.  What's striking is that none of those students is funded to do work in computing education research.  In fact, I know of only one research project in all of the United States that is explicitly funded to do computing education research, the Commonsense Computing group.  All the rest of it is on-the-side, even on-the-sly. Funding for computing education research happens in the UK, Germany, and is really strong in the Scandinavian countries.  Not so in the United States.

We have computing education research at Georgia Tech funded by several US National Science Foundation (NSF) programs.

  • The Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) funds Georgia Computes! which is about creating programs and classes and teaching teachers to make computing more accessible and inviting for everyone. That program allows for some research, and we can do evaluation which can inform research efforts, but the program isn’t about doing research.
  • We have funding from Course,  Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement (CCLI) to disseminate work about Media Computation, keep improving JES, and evaluating results. One student is funded on that program to work on JES, but his research is on end-user programming.  Now the 2009 CCLI solicitation does allow for funding research: "Research to explore how effective teaching strategies and curricula enhance learning and attitudes, how widespread practices have diffused through the community, and how faculty and programs implement changes in their curriculum are appropriate."  That's still not the fundamental research on how people come to understand computing, but that is the research on how to improve that understanding. That's where the Commonsense Computing group gets their funding.
  • We also have funding from CISE Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education (CPATH) to improve computing education by create communities of computing teachers.  I fund two students under that program, one of whom is actually doing research on teachers' sense of identity (teachers who see themselves as "computing educators" stay longer in the field and pursue professional development opportunities to become better) and another on language-independent CS1 assessment.  They work on supporting teachers for their jobs, and do their research on the side.

There are NSF programs focused on education research (like REESE).  To the best of my knowledge, there is no computing education research going on there.  That is not unexpected.  These programs fund all education research, competitively, across disciplines.  Computing education research has few assessment methods (none reliable and valid), is just starting to develop broadly accepted theories and models, and has few people working in the community.  (You can get more people, if there's funding to pay for those people.) Projects in computing education research are challenged to compete against well-established physics, mathematics, chemistry education (for example) where they have well-established assessment methods, models and theories with lots of support, and research communities that can provide support and fair evaluation of each others’ work.

Cameron Wilson's ACM Education Policy group has explored just how much funding goes into K-12 computing education in NSF's education directorate.  From their reading of abstracts two years ago, they found that "CS participation was poor or non-existent in key programs — ITEST 135 records/13 were CS, NSF Grad Teachers 291/20 CS, Noyce 94/2 CS, MSP 78/0 CS."  ACM, NCWIT, and and CRA have made an explicit call for more funding for K-12 computing education. It's a real Catch-22 situation.  The education programs only want to fund work that will actually get into schools, but schools only want to adopt classes and best practices that have research support, but we can't get research support when it's not in the schools, and...

How do we bootstrap a new education research community, like computing education research?  How do we get funding so that people can focus on it, and not just do it on the side?  How do we convince US policy makers that computing education is important and deserves funding so that we develop the methods, theories, and models that can improve computing education?  Why is this harder to do in the US than in other countries?


No entries found