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What Universities Must Do to Prepare Computer Science Teachers: Networked Improvement in Action

by Kimberly Hughes, Director of the UTeach Institute at The University of Texas at Austin

It is clearer now than ever before. What universities must do to address the challenge of preparing significant numbers of qualified computer science teachers for the U.S. is work together.

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Attendees at the Bridging UTeach and Engineering and Computer Science workshop in Boulder

Last week, 60 representatives from 22 universities convened — along with key stakeholders from the broader computer science education and engineering education communities — at the University of Colorado Boulder. The challenge was to attract more STEM teachers from engineering majors and to significantly strengthen the preparation of computer science teachers. The meeting was planned by representatives from UTeach programs at Boise State University, CU Boulder, and Drexel, with support from the UTeach Institute at The University of Texas at Austin. In total, about half of the national network of universities implementing the UTeach secondary STEM teacher preparation model were represented. A couple of other universities learned of our meeting and we were thrilled to have them join.

This meeting built on the CSforAll movement, which after decades of reports recommending high school CS education for all US students, is finally making headway. Federal agencies and STEM and CS education organizations (UTeach included) have been broadening participation in CS by integrating industry expertise into classrooms, training in-service teachers, integrating CS into existing STEM courses, and implementing introductory CS courses like AP CS Principles and Exploring Computer Science.

In-service teacher professional development has been key to the explosive growth of K–12 CS education offerings, but the role of universities in the preparation of computer science teachers is absolutely critical if we are going to address the current shortage of CS teachers at scale and with any kind of lasting impact. Yet there are precious few exemplars on which to model new programs. Partly this has been a chicken and egg problem. For example, the UTeach program at UT Austin has had an undergraduate pathway to CS certification for more than ten years. But with so little demand for CS teachers at secondary schools throughout the state, very few students were recruited and prepared. Now that the demand for CS teachers is increasing, UTeach Austin and other UTeach partner universities are ramping up and expanding their efforts.

There was widespread consensus among our group at CU Boulder last week that a variety of pathways were needed in order to recruit and prepare excellent CS teachers. All the universities in attendance described either new pathways that had been implemented within the last two years, or pathways currently under development. These included:

  • Undergraduate, four-year degree plans that add teaching to a CS major. (YES, CS majors CAN be recruited into teaching.)
  • Undergraduate, four-year degree plans that add a CS concentration to a math major with teaching.
  • Undergraduate CS certificate programs that any teaching major could add (not clear if this can all be done in four years, however).
  • Post-baccalaureate pathways designed for career-changers or new graduates with no teaching background. These pathways included streamlined preparation lasting between 1 and 1.5 years, designed to lead to a full CS teaching certification/credential.
  • Post-baccalaureate pathways designed for in-service, fully credentialed teachers. These pathways could lead just to additional CS credentials or also to a Master’s degree. These pathways might comprise a series of micro-credentials intended for in-service teachers to add over time and leading to various levels of expertise, and ultimately to full CS teaching certification in states that offer it.

There was also widespread agreement that, in addition to the development of various pathways leading to both adequate CS content and pedagogical preparation, the following considerations are critical to successful implementation:

  • Attention to the integration of computational thinking into the preparation of ALL future STEM teachers.
  • Attention to proven strategies for recruitment of students/professionals into pathways, especially developing partnerships between colleges of education/teacher preparation units and CS departments and advisors.
  • Attention to informing CS research faculty about high school teaching, so that CS majors are exposed to this career possibility.
  • Attention to providing adequate support, including financial, to students pursuing these pathways.
  • Attention to further development of the CS education research community.
  • Attention to issues of equity and diversity both from a pedagogical perspective and also as a teacher workforce concern. Broadening participation in CS should include explicit strategies to attract and prepare a diverse CS teaching corps.
  • Attention to the unique needs and issues of capacity of rural schools and districts.
  • Creative solutions to the need for adequate CS education field placements.
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Engineering students at the University of Colorado, Boulder discuss their experience preparing to also become teachers.

UTeach programs at universities across the nation are well-positioned to develop and implement these CS teaching pathways. The UTeach STEM Educators Association, made up of 45 UTeach programs and affiliated organizations, is a robust networked improvement community that promotes and supports university-based, secondary teacher preparation in STEM. The UTeach program model has been proven effective and has already been customized to meet the unique needs of undergraduate STEM majors and future STEM teachers. Further customization to bolster recruitment and preparation of CS teachers is not such a huge lift. Additional funding, however, will be necessary to design and successfully launch new pathways, particularly with regard to hiring clinical and research faculty with CS expertise, developing coursework, and recruiting and supporting students.

In the months following this meeting, a UTeach CS Education Working Group will be developing a white paper to be published this summer. A follow-up meeting is also planned for May 24, in conjunction with the annual UTeach Conference in Austin, Texas. If you are interested in joining us to continue these discussions about how colleges and universities can work together to design and develop excellent CS teaching preparation pathways, contact Kimberly Hughes.

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