CS for What?

New CSforALL Report Shares a Framework and Approach that Promotes Values-Driven Design and Implementation of CS education.

Dec 11, 2019 · 6 min read

Why should students learn computer science? For creativity? Jobs? Justice? Innovation? The answers to this question shape what computer science education (CSed) looks like in practice. A new CSforALL publication explores how the rationales, values, and intended impacts people have for CSEd are linked to their choices for design and implementation of learning experiences.

The Publication:

  • provides a framework for understanding the many reasons for teaching computer science by considering underlying values — beliefs about what is good, worthwhile, and important
  • includes examples of how different CSed curricula, programs, and tools enact particular values and rationales
  • recommends ways that people involved in CS ed at every level can use their community’s values to guide their choices about CS learning opportunities

The ideas in the publication support policymakers, educators, administrators, students, families, and other stakeholders to come together to do the messy and challenging work of hashing out their values. If this happens well, CS education initiatives will better address community needs and issues of equity.

The Four Highlights:

  1. There’s no one reason behind universal computer science education.

There is not one purpose for education, and there shouldn’t be one purpose for computer science education either. Communities across the US are different, face distinct challenges, bring their own strengths and resources to the table, and because of that, may see CS education serving different purposes. We hear lots of arguments around why CS education is important, like:

And while different rationales might be more or less relevant for a given community, it’s important to have clarity around which are driving our work.

2. Common rationales for CSed can be understood through looking at underlying values and projected impacts

While there are many arguments for CS ed out there, the research behind the paper shows how most reasons offered generally draw on some combination of seven core values about the impacts CS education will or could have:

One of the most valuable things about the framework is how it acts as a sort of ‘x-ray goggles’ that can help decode the ubiquitous, but also distinct, values that are present in people’s arguments.

For example, a rationale like “we need to diversify the tech ‘pipeline’ to make the tech sector more inclusive of people of color and women” projects impacts for industry that are related to promoting equity and inclusion. A comment suggesting that CS education would “teach youth to solve problems in their communities through technology” indexes values and impacts related to participation in civic life, production of technological innovations, and potentially making their world more just and equitable through their actions.

3. Rationales aren’t just important to make the case. The values and impacts they reflect should drive learning and implementation on the ground.

If stakeholders don’t clarify the central purposes of CS for All initiatives, their efforts could wind up off course, losing sight of goals and priorities that really matter to their communities. It doesn’t matter if you’re designing CS lessons, curricula, after-school programs, or learning tools, or even broader CS education initiatives within schools and districts. The framework can help anyone — whether they have deep knowledge about CS education or not — make decisions about what type of CS they want to implement.

A vision rooted in labor empowerment may require youth-serving organizations or schools to partner with local businesses. One rooted in broadening participation may entail making connections to racial or gender affinity groups within science and technology sectors. A vision rooted in technology for social impact may require identifying real-life community issues and problems for students to address through their designs. A vision rooted in creative computing may require hiring teaching artists to collaborate with students, or curricula that involve more open-ended projects. We share more concrete examples in the publication.

4. Deliberation around CS Visions is a critical component of any systems change or design effort around CSEd.

Beyond using the CS Visions framework to understand existing arguments and their underlying values, it can also be used to spark collective deliberation. Whether you’re having conversations among district leadership teams, organizations that design CSed curricula or professional development, out-of-school organizations, funders, or policymakers, anyone involved in CS education efforts can do their work better when they have clarity about the visions they have for CS education. These conversations should not just happen at the beginning of an initiative, but throughout, as more is learned and achieved.

Going through existing arguments, like those shared in the white paper, and then debating, discussing, and surfacing those most important to a group can help establish a ‘north star’ that can guide its work.

  1. Download the publication and discuss it with your colleagues.
  2. Visit visions.csforall.org to find more unplugged activities to support deliberation around CS Visions.
  3. Take the CS Visions Quiz and see what your underlying values are for CSed.
  4. Sign up for our webinar on Thursday, December 12 at 3:00 PM EST to dig into the publication.

Authors of the Publication:

CSforALL Stories

Thoughts & conversations on the movement to bring rigorous, inclusive and sustainable computer science to all US students.


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The national hub for the Computer Science for All movement, making high-quality computer science education an integral part of K-12 education in the US.

CSforALL Stories

Thoughts & conversations on the movement to bring rigorous, inclusive and sustainable computer science to all US students.

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