engages students in discussion about
recent literature that relates to HCC.
For me, HCC is an excellent way
to prepare computing education researchers. People have always developed
theories of how their worlds work, from
ancient mythology to modern science.
How are people explaining their computerized world to themselves? How
can we help them develop a better and
more useful understanding? What
gets in the way of that understanding?
Answering these kinds of questions requires knowledge of computer science
(if only to recognize correct from incorrect understandings), but also of how
people learn and how to study humans
and their learning.
Not all HCC students address issues
of computing education research, but
even when that is not the explicit focus, HCC research often offers lessons
about how people learn about computing. People always learn, and in a world
filled with computing, that is often
what they are learning about—though
not always well, clearly, or efficiently.
Here are stories of three HCC graduates
whose dissertations inform us about
how people learn about computing.
Reframing the Computing
Betsy DiSalvo (now an assistant professor at Georgia Tech) starts from an
interesting observation. Many computer scientists (who are mostly white
or Asian, and male) say they became
interested in computing because of
video games. No demographic group
plays more video games than African-American and Hispanic teenagers and
men. But few African-American and
Hispanic males become computer scientists. Why was that?
DiSalvo explored her question with
ethnographic methods. She observed
African-American teen males playing
video games and talked to them about
how and why they played. She found
they were playing video games differently than white teen males. Her participants never used “cheat codes” or
modified their games in any way—they
used video games like athletic competition. Manipulating the football or
the field is cheating, so why would you
change the video game? She used design research activities to explore how
different ways of describing computing would make the technology more
often come to
with a poor
understanding of what
computer science is.
salient while still appealing to the audience she wanted to attract.
DiSalvo built the Glitch Game Testers project. Glitch successfully engaged African-American teen males in
computer science by training and hiring them as game-testers. Game-testers
must see video games as a technology with flaws. Glitch students learned
computer science, motivated to become
better testers. Glitch attracted students
who loved video games, and kept them
involved because it was a paying job.
Most of her students went on to post-secondary computing education.
DiSalvo designed Glitch through a
human-focused design process. She
did not design a technology. She designed a new way for her students to
think about computing. Her design
research activities explored different
ways of describing computer science
with different lenses. Through that iterative design process, she found a reframing that could change who builds
computing in the future.
impact of Not
Unlike science or mathematics, un-
dergraduates often come to computer
science with a poor understanding
of what computer science is. Mike
Hewner (now an assistant professor
at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technol-
ogy) wanted to know what the impact
of that misunderstanding of computer
science had on students who chose to
major in computer science. Hewner
interviewed 33 students at three differ-
ent universities. He used a social science
method called grounded theory to iden-
tify themes, create abstractions, and
eventually come to a well-supported
understanding of how CS majors make