Report to the Field: CSforOST Research Findings

CSforALL Summit 2018, Detroit MI

The Need

Technology has become an integral and ubiquitous part of society. Not only is it important to have a skilled workforce, but computer science’s ways of thinking, problem solving, and creating are invaluable to all parts of life. Equitable access to and participation in the virtual environment are essential for inclusion and success in education, employment, finance, health and wellness, civic engagement, and a democratic society. Without computational thinking, young people and especially those in marginalized populations will be left behind without the core critical thinking and innovation skills that the digital world requires.

Educators, policy makers, families, and business leaders are increasingly recognizing that computer science (CS) is a “new basic” skill fundamental to STEM and other careers, civic engagement, and equity. Hence CSforALL’s mission to make high-quality computer science an integral part of the educational experience of all K-12 students and teachers and to support student pathways to college and career success.

With the rapid expansion of computing education in mainstream K-12 schools, the out-of school time (OST) education community is a vital actor to ensure that all students learn, particularly those at risk. OST can provide opportunities for interest-driven real-world learning, problem-solving, creativity, experimentation, agency, flexibility and equity that may not be possible in schools. As the K-12 CS Framework states: “Informal education (OST) organizations are essential to the CS education ecosystem and should be included as critical stakeholders in state and district implementation.”

CSforOST Research Summary

To gain a better understanding of the state of CS education in OST and gather insights for how best to systematically engage the OST field in the CSforALL movement, we embarked on a series of research projects and convenings in 2018.

The first project involved interviewing forty individuals comprised of practitioners, technologists, advocates, policymakers, funders, and researchers who represented nonprofit and government institutions at the local, state, and national levels as well as private and corporate philanthropies, and who have some knowledge or experience with CS in K-12 or OST. The purpose was to gain a better understanding for how and what is understood about CS in the OST setting, what and where CS education is currently taking place, and what resources are needed to engage and sustain OST educators in CS education.

Findings

Overall, those interviewed view CS education as positive, and fundamental knowledge needed for all students in a digital world. Examples of quotes:

  • Functionally STEM is marketing idea, CS is a discipline
  • CS is a way of thinking — computational thinking
  • CS needs to be integrated into all disciplines
  • CS needs to be relevant and move from hour of coding to scope and sequence

The majority agree that providing core CS education is essential, needs to be relevant, and linked to workforce and career development. Those who have experienced CS education both in-school and OST, believe schools should introduce concepts during the day, while OST gives students opportunities for deeper, project-based real world learning. As one interviewee stated, “OST can use more content, and in-school needs more creativity.”

Although CS education has been happening in some OST programs, it is not widespread nor traditionally labeled as CS. For example, Robotics, Girls Who Code, Black Girls Code, Minecraft, Scratch, Fab Labs, Makerspaces, Boys and Girls Clubs, 4-H, Girl Scouts, and museums are all good examples of programs and organizations that engage young people in some kind of CS education, but may not identify as such. However, OST practitioners agree that much of what is happening in OST is either CS adjacent — i.e. students may be participating in digital storytelling but not understand its relevancy to CS, or the content is introductory. Some OST practitioners see what is happening in schools as being more intentional because they are linked to CS standards.

The following challenges often plague in-school CS education as well. Some of the challenges are based on misperception, e.g., “CS is just computer programming” rather than a broader set of concepts and practices. In addition, OST staff are often not prepared nor qualified to teach CS. OST leaders know that in order to implement CS education successfully, professional development needs to be designed and implemented with “staff we have, and not the staff we wish we had.” Most interviewees say that a top priority is a need for programming or curriculum that is concise, relevant, project-based, and doable in OST. Furthermore, there is no unifying framework on what is appropriate and achievable in the OST.

Women and underrepresented minority groups also face particular challenges. Despite national efforts to diversify computing in recent years, only 20% and 21% college graduates with computing degrees are women and minorities, respectively. Under-served minority populations and girls often face negative stereotypes about their ability to succeed in computing or feel as if they do not belong in the field. However, research suggests that more family engagement is vital for boosting girls’ participation in STEM learning and careers. In addition, ensuring a greater sense of belonging among women and minorities leads to more inclusive environments in the tech workforce. OST programs designed for girls and under-served populations such as Girls Who Code and Black Girls Code have been an important factor in making a positive difference.

Hack the Framework Convening

To begin exploring the opportunities of CS education in OST, we convened a small group of those who have been working in the New York City CS ecosystem. The goal was to develop a shared understanding of the characteristics, opportunities and challenges, and the added value of the K-12 CS Framework, which is designed for traditional school settings. At the end of the day, the group was enthusiastic and energized by the prospects and potential of CSforOST. Participants discussed next steps that included developing practice briefs and process maps for different learning environments, and creating an addendum to (or hacking a version of) the K-12 Framework specifically for OST that would also be inclusive of what’s missing from the current Framework.

For many of the participants, the day gave them the opportunity to delve into the Framework and discover alignments they hadn’t considered previously. For those from the traditional school day, it gave them a glimpse of the possibilities of learning and partnering with the OST educators. In addition, participants discussed the importance of the CSforALL community serving as a convener and ally of CS for OST educators, as well as the bridge-builder between OST and the traditional school day.

A more detailed recap of the day is captured in this blog.

CSforALL Summit 2018, Detroit MI

Mo’Time for CS Education Working Summit

Data from the interviews and NYC convening was the underpinning for the national Mo’Time for CS Education Working Summit. To create a shared understanding of CS education in OST and imagine a future for CSforOST, a group of 75 experts from across the country including content and program providers, researchers, technologists, policymakers, and funders gathered to share research, policy, promising practices, and generate a blueprint for action. Many of the invited participants had never met but soon discovered a common interest, i.e. CS for under-served youth.

Participants spent the morning hearing about the foundations of the CSforALL organization, highlights of research interviews, and from a panel of experts who provided a tapestry of youth-centered research, promising practices, the importance of public policy to reach all youth, and the critical need for professional development for both school day and OST educators. These conversations served as background for the beginnings of a “blueprint for action” focused on the below topics:

  • communication and public awareness,
  • professional development and capacity building,
  • promising practices,
  • evaluation and standards, and
  • program and public policies.

For many participants, the working summit was a great “first date.” Many left with an eagerness to find more time to continue learning, networking, and being part of building and executing a blueprint for action. Details of this summit can be found in this blog.

Gwynn Hughes, Charles Stewart Mott Foundation and Laveta Wills-Hale, Arkansas Out of School Network CSforALL Summit 2018

Next Steps

What evolved from the research and convenings is a clearer roadmap of the challenges, potential solutions, and desired outcomes for a CSforALL blueprint.

Messaging Challenge: Confusion about the definition of CS and what CS can mean for OST.

Potential Solutions

  • Develop messages for communicating with different audiences that also includes a state of CS for particular communities and linked to impact areas such as economic development, civic engagement, equity and social justice, school reform, personal agency, and competencies and literacies.
  • Make the case for why CSforOST: (1) build capacity to serve more kids by leveraging existing OST infrastructure, i.e., summer, afterschool, museums, libraries, makerspaces, etc., (2) take advantage of the flexibility and youth-centered practices of OST to engage more kids in CS and provide them with engaging, hands-on, deeper learning experiences, and (3) use the K-12 CS Framework to help articulate how OST networks and orgs can connect with in-school CS.

Desired Outcome

OST field and the public have shared understanding of what CSforOST is, how to articulate it, and how it furthers the CSforALL vision.

Equity Challenge: Lack of access to CS education for all youth especially for youth at risk, and under-served and under-represented populations such as girls, and youth from low-income and minority populations.

Possible Solutions

  • Create intentional strategies and action plans to reach above populations.
  • Develop accessible resources specific for above populations.
  • Partner with different networks and organizations to inform, reach, share promising practices.

Desired Outcome

Reach and improve access to CS education opportunities for under-served and under-represented youth populations.

Capacity Challenge: Lack of qualified staff with knowledge and tools to provide youth with effective and meaningful CS education experiences.

Possible Solutions

  • Convene practitioners, researchers, technologists, experts to develop a guidelines/framework for CSforOST aligned with CS K-12 Framework.
  • Gather and consolidate existing curriculum/programming and training opportunities focused for program staff that align with TBD CSforOST guidelines/framework.
  • Gather case studies, and develop examples of learning pathways.

Desired Outcome

Provide the OST field with case studies, guidelines, programming, and “how-to” practical guides for integrating CS education into OST linked to impact areas such as workforce development, civic engagement, literacy skills etc.

Resource Challenge: Lack of dedicated funding, partnerships, and meaningful opportunities to incorporate CS education into OST.

Possible Solutions

  • Identify and convene different networks to connect opportunities for learning, innovation, and sustainability including bridging in-school and OST CS education.
  • Bring experts, funders, researchers, content providers, practitioners and technologists to the same table to create practices and strategies for implementation, quality, and public policy.

Desired Outcome

OST field will have access to experts to co-design resources and tools, partners for content and reach, opportunities to learn from others and share, and prospects for long-term sustainability.

We will continue to refine CSforOST next steps, and invite you to share your comments on the above findings, and any ideas or thoughts on how to further CSforOST. Connect with me on twitter: @anmechung. I look forward to hearing from you!