These are likely positive steps toward addressing clear gaps in the field.
But it will likely be a series of small
steps until the community can start
leveraging other parts of NSF. Compared to the relatively small CISE budget for education, EHR has over $850
million for education research, which
is where we need to turn our attention.
Not all of this funding goes into education research, but in looking where
Congress is investing federal education research money, it is clear they
are looking to EHR for those answers.
EHR funds both higher education and
K– 12 research programs through various programs.
The program that probably does
the most for higher-education computer science is the Course, Curriculum, and Laboratory Improvement
(CCLI) program. It seeks to improve
undergraduate education across
STEM through proposals on how interventions work and how they get
disseminated, and funds the development of new assessment techniques
and instruments. It funds applied
research that informs interventions,
and doesn’t fund computing education research that helps us develop
new theory about how people come to
The state of computing education research and teacher support at
the K– 12 level is more complicated.
There are several relevant EHR funding programs. ACM staff analyzed
abstract summaries from NSF’s “
Fastlane” within EHR to better understand where computer science education research is funded or where
computer science teacher support
existed. The scope of EHR programs
was limited to: funded proposals that
had a significant K– 12 focus, or those
that prepared or continually trained
K– 12 teachers. Abstracts are only a
brief representation of the plan, so
the analysis tended to be more inclusive—“close” was good enough. However, the analysis specifically excluded grants that were primarily focused
on getting computing into the classroom or getting teachers prepared to
use computing in the classroom.
The results of the analysis appear in
the table here. Of the 1,839 proposals
funded across seven programs, only 67
(4%) had an explicit computer science
it isn’t enough to rely
on general education
research. We need
research specific to
component. Our analysis of abstracts
could not tell us which of these projects had any kind of research component, nor where the research informed
our understanding of learning computing specifically.
Regardless of the limitation of the
analysis, it is clear—there is far too little
computing research or teacher support
being done by the key agency charged by
the federal government for understanding how to improve STEM education.
making Progress in
Funding is important. Funding allows
researchers to make progress on problems that are a priority. Funding is recognition that a particular discipline or
strategy is worthwhile. Funding can
create a virtuous circle, where funded
work attracts more funded work. Lack
of funding creates a vicious circle, when
the lack of theory and of assessment prevents other projects from being funded.
The computing education research
is concerned with how to sustain interest and progress in the research community. Few of the U.S.-based presenters at the International Computing
Education Research Workshop have
NSF funding to work in computing
education research. Those that have
received NSF funding do the computing education research component
on the side. Few Ph.D. students focus
on computing education, and those
that do focus on this area rarely obtain
faculty slots in research institutions.
Working in an area without explicit
funding programs is dangerous for an
untenured assistant professor at a research institution.
Funding is particularly important
to bootstrap a field. Computing education research seems to be in a vicious
cycle. As a community we need to take
some basic steps to break the cycle:
˲ ˲ Learn what NSF programs are available and aggressively go after funding. NSF CCLI Program Officers regularly offer SIGCSE workshops walking
through the various NSF programs that
are available for education research to
˲ ˲ Sit on NSF review panels when
asked, particularly in EHR. There
should be a computing voice at these
review panels. The best way to learn
what gets funded (and how to write a
fundable proposal) is to sit on these
˲ ˲ Encourage fundamental research
in computing education. As teachers
of computing, we want to know what
language, IDE, book, and curriculum
works best in our classroom. We also
need the theory that helps us make
these choices, and the assessment that
gives us data on what works best. We
want students to start successfully and
to develop expertise and skill.
˲ ˲Look for opportunities to work
with other domain-specific education
groups. Mathematics education, for example, has funding sources, and computing education research could grow
in combined projects.
˲ ˲ We must stand together. Reform
proposals supported by many institutions carry weight. Shared goals and
strategies lead to proposals that reviewers can support.
Computing education research is
an important investment in innovation and competitiveness. If the U.S.
wants to remain the world leader in
computing, it ought to be making that
investment and the community needs
to aggressively go after funding. Other countries are making that investment. Growing computing education
research in the U.S. would improve
teaching and learning in computing
nationally and inform the research
Cameron Wilson ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is director of
the acm u.s. Public Policy office in Washington, d.c.
Mark Guzdial ( email@example.com) is a professor
in the college of computing at georgia institute of
technology in atlanta, ga.