Building evidence and building practice in Computer Science education


Bienkowski, M. & Snow, E. (2014). Building evidence and building practice in Computer Science education: White paper presented at the 2014 CS education research summit.


The Computer Science education and practice community has made clear the need to increase the size and diversity of US-trained computer science professionals (e.g., see the December 2012 special issue of ACM Inroads magazine and the formation of Computer science is intricately involved in our politics, our social lives, and our science, and its failures and successes are equally denounced (Disruptions: More Connected, Yet More Alone, New York Times, September 1, 2013) and celebrated (Stanford’s Nobel chemistry prize winner honors computer science, San Jose Mercury News, October 9, 2013). And the public is all too ready to treat software failures as indicators of larger issues at play (Poll: Majority believe health-care Web site problems indicate broader issue with law. Washington Post, October 21, 2013; Obamacare’s Black Box, FoxNation website.)

Given events such as these, hosting a summit to prepare for the future of computer science education is timely. The call for white papers asks for research questions that, when answered, “will contribute evidence-based findings to the body of knowledge on teaching and learning of Computer Science within diverse student and teacher populations.” We believe that is a goal that is not ambitious enough, and that the research program should contribute substantially to the practice of computer science education at the same time as the field builds knowledge and findings through research. Therefore, in addition to presenting our research topics, we propose that when applicable, they be studied using the latest design-based education research methodologies that serve the dual role of building theory and improving practice at scale (Penuel, Fishman, Cheng, & Sabelli, 2011).

We recommend research in areas involving the early portion of the pathway to computer science as a profession: K-12 education. We propose the following as critical research topics to advance the field of computer science education research and learning science theories of computational thinking and related practices. After describing these topics (in varying degrees of details due to space and time limitations), we talk about an overall approach to researching these questions based on the most current education research methodologies. We define education practice as encompassing a range of important activities in the K-12 education ecology, including classroom enactments, ways of teaching and learning, and administrative level policies and actions that shape institutional cultures.

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