Cultivating Interest and
Competencies in Computing
AUTHENTIC EXPERIENCES AND DESIGN FACTORS
Barbara M. Means and Amy Stephens, Editors
Committee on the Role of Authentic STEM Learning Experiences in
Developing Interest and Competencies for Computing
Board on Science Education
Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education
Computer Science and Telecommunications Board
Division on Engineering and Physical Sciences
A Consensus Study Report of
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS
THE NATIONAL ACADEMIES PRESS 500 Fifth Street, NW Washington, DC 20001
This activity was supported by contracts between the National Academy of Sciences and Google (Award # 552112 and Award # 638539) and Grable Foundation (Award # 193D18). Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for the project.
International Standard Book Number-13: 978-0-309-68215-2
International Standard Book Number-10: 0-309-68215-0
Digital Object Identifier: https://doi.org/10.17226/25912
Library of Congress Control Number: 2021933324
Additional copies of this publication are available from the National Academies Press, 500 Fifth Street, NW, Keck 360, Washington, DC 20001; (800) 624-6242 or (202) 334-3313; http://www.nap.edu.
Copyright 2021 by the National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America
Suggested citation: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2021). Cultivating Interest and Competencies in Computing: Authentic Experiences and Design Factors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25912.
The National Academy of Sciences was established in 1863 by an Act of Congress, signed by President Lincoln, as a private, nongovernmental institution to advise the nation on issues related to science and technology. Members are elected by their peers for outstanding contributions to research. Dr. Marcia McNutt is president.
The National Academy of Engineering was established in 1964 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to bring the practices of engineering to advising the nation. Members are elected by their peers for extraordinary contributions to engineering. Dr. John L. Anderson is president.
The National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine) was established in 1970 under the charter of the National Academy of Sciences to advise the nation on medical and health issues. Members are elected by their peers for distinguished contributions to medicine and health. Dr. Victor J. Dzau is president.
The three Academies work together as the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine to provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation and conduct other activities to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions. The National Academies also encourage education and research, recognize outstanding contributions to knowledge, and increase public understanding in matters of science, engineering, and medicine.
Learn more about the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine at www.nationalacademies.org.
Consensus Study Reports published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine document the evidence-based consensus on the study’s statement of task by an authoring committee of experts. Reports typically include findings, conclusions, and recommendations based on information gathered by the committee and the committee’s deliberations. Each report has been subjected to a rigorous and independent peer-review process and it represents the position of the National Academies on the statement of task.
Proceedings published by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine chronicle the presentations and discussions at a workshop, symposium, or other event convened by the National Academies. The statements and opinions contained in proceedings are those of the participants and are not endorsed by other participants, the planning committee, or the National Academies.
For information about other products and activities of the National Academies, please visit www.nationalacademies.org/about/whatwedo.
COMMITTEE ON THE ROLE OF AUTHENTIC STEM LEARNING EXPERIENCES IN DEVELOPING INTEREST AND COMPETENCIES FOR COMPUTING
Barbara M. Means (Chair), Digital Promise, San Mateo, CA
Karen Brennan, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Stephanie Chang, Maker Ed, Berkeley, CA
Shaundra B. Daily, Duke University, Durham, NC
Cheri Fancsali, Research Alliance for New York Schools
Juan E. Gilbert, University of Florida, Gainesville
Joanna Goode, University of Oregon, Eugene
Mark Guzdial, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
Mizuko Ito, University of California, Irvine
Leah H. Jamieson, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN
Eric Klopfer, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
Irene Lee, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA
Victor Lee, Stanford University
Rebecca Maynard, University of Pennsylvania
Daniel A. Rabuzzi, Indigo Pheasant, LLC, New York, NY
Mega Subramaniam, University of Maryland, College Park
Amy Stephens, Study Director, Board on Science Education
Kerry Brenner, Senior Program Officer, Board on Science Education
Emily Grumbling, Program Officer, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board (until August 2019)
Judith Koenig, Senior Program Officer, Committee on National Statistics (starting February 2020)
Leticia Garcilazo Green, Research Associate, Board on Science Education
Clair Geary, Mirzayan Fellow (January through April 2020)
Jon Eisenberg, Director, Computer Science and Telecommunications Board
Heidi Schweingruber, Director, Board on Science Education
BOARD ON SCIENCE EDUCATION
Adam Gamoran (Chair), William T. Grant Foundation (president), New York, NY
Megan Bang, Learning Sciences, Northwestern University
Vicki L. Chandler, Dean of Faculty, Minerva Schools at Keck Graduate Institute
Sunita V. Cooke, Superintendent/President, MiraCosta College
Maya M. Garcia, Science Content Specialist, Colorado Department of Education
Rush Holt, former Chief Executive Officer, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Cathy Manduca, Science Education Resource Center, Carleton College
John Mather, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
Tonya Matthews, STEM Learning Innovation, Wayne State University
William Penuel, School of Education, University of Colorado Boulder
Stephen L. Pruitt, President, Southern Regional Education Board
K. Renae Pullen, K–6 Science Curriculum-Instructional Specialist, Caddo Parish Schools, LA
K. Ann Renninger, Social Theory and Social Action, Swarthmore College
Marcy H. Towns, Department of Chemistry, Purdue University
Heidi Schweingruber, Director
COMPUTER SCIENCE AND TELECOMMUNICATIONS BOARD
Farnam Jahanian (Chair), Carnegie Mellon University
Steven M. Bellovin, Columbia University
David Culler, University of California, Berkeley
Edward Frank, Cloud Parity, Inc.
Laura Haas, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
Eric Horvitz, Microsoft Corporation
Beth Mynatt, Georgia Institute of Technology
Craig Partridge, Colorado State University
Daniela Rus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Fred B. Schneider, Cornell University
Margo Seltzer, University of British Columbia
Moshe Vardi, Rice University
Jon Eisenberg, Director
This page intentionally left blank.
In a world increasingly shaped by digital technologies, the size and composition of the workforce in computer science and computing-intensive fields is of great importance on grounds of both economic competitiveness and social justice. Computing fields are projected to grow in terms of number of job openings and are among the best-paid occupations. Failing to provide opportunities for all young people to discover these fields and to develop expertise in them if they so choose means limiting the size of our computing workforce and missing out on the creative contributions of individuals with diverse experiences and perspectives. It also reinforces existing income inequalities and stereotypes. And beyond concern with the computing workforce, there is the realization that full and effective participation in social, civic, learning, and financial aspects of life today requires everyone to have a basic understanding of computing. If this imperative was not obvious before the COVID-19 pandemic, the months when students could participate in schooling only through the Internet have provided ample proof.
The question addressed by this consensus study is whether authentic science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning activities can provide an entree to the development of interest and competencies in computing. Broadening participation of groups historically underrepresented in computing fields—students of color, women, and those from low-income backgrounds—was emphasized in the charge to the committee and in the committee’s deliberations over a period of 15 months.
This consensus report calls on readers to critically examine the concept of authentic STEM learning experiences. While some have used the phrase to denote certain pedagogies involving inquiry or project- or problem-
based learning, the committee asked the question “Authentic to whom?” In dealing with authenticity both from the perspective of authenticity to the profession as it is practiced today and from the perspective of authenticity to the learner, the committee brought together empirical findings from different research traditions and weighed the evidence on the importance of both kinds of authenticity. The committee found that programs and learning experiences stressing professional authenticity may be uninteresting and unwelcoming in the eyes of learners from groups underrepresented in STEM. Programs and learning experiences designed to reflect the interests and cultures of particular underrepresented groups, on the other hand, may engage these learners but impart few of the skills and competencies used in computing-intensive professions. The committee concluded that personal and professional authenticity do not need to be in opposition to each other, and that learning experiences can and should be designed to embody both forms of authenticity.
This report was written with multiple audiences in mind. Researchers studying computational thinking, the acquisition of computer science knowledge and skills, or participation in computer science and related fields will find a conceptual framing of the development of computing expertise and engagement as well as a summary of the available evidence for the effectiveness of different kinds of programs.
Policy makers and funders will find recommendations as to the kinds of efforts that are intense enough and of sufficient duration to plausibly influence the course of a young person’s life.
Those designing programs and learning activities to foster interest and competencies in computing will find descriptions of a wide array of existing programs, a summary of available evidence on their impacts, and a set of design principles they can use in designing and implementing new programs and activities.
This consensus study would not have been possible without the sponsorship of Google and the Grable Foundation. These organizations worked with the Board on Science Education of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, in collaboration with the Computer Science and Telecommunication Board to develop the charge to the study committee, but were not involved in shaping the way in which the committee went about its work or in influencing committee findings and recommendations.
Soon after the committee’s fourth meeting in February 2020, the world changed with the spread of COVID-19. Two virtual meetings replaced the committee’s planned fifth in-person meeting, and both committee members and National Academies staff performed the necessary integration of the different themes in this report while working from home.
Members of the National Academies staff played significant roles in production and refinement of this report. Throughout the process, I was
grateful for the tireless work of Amy Stephens, the National Academies study director, who integrated and aligned the written contributions of committee members as well as keeping the committee’s work organized and on schedule. Heidi Schweingruber, director of the Board on Science Education, and Kerry Brenner, senior program officer, participated in committee meetings, sharing their insights and making the committee aware of other, related work going on within the Academies.
Most importantly, I want to express my gratitude for the wisdom, open-mindedness, and hard work of the committee members themselves. Having served on a number of National Academies committees in the past, I can say with confidence that these members were outstanding in their commitment to making a significant contribution with their report and in their willingness to seek out information sources that were new to them, challenge each other’s assumptions, and write and rewrite as the committee’s thinking evolved over time.
In the end, the committee found support that personally and professionally authentic STEM learning experiences, when well implemented, can increase participants’ knowledge, skills, and participation in STEM. Evidence regarding the impacts of specific programs or practices specifically for computing knowledge, skills, and participation was sparse, however, and judged to be suggestive rather than definitive. Nevertheless, the committee’s examination of the range of in-school and out-of-school contexts in which children and young people encounter computing and computational thinking enabled it to identify conditions and practices associated with greater professional and personal authenticity.
I know I speak for the entire committee in expressing my excitement about the potential for multiple formal and informal education institutions to work together to broaden access and incorporate the authentic assets that underrepresented youth can bring to computing. By leveraging the contrasting strengths of different organizations within a coordinated, developmental and ecological approach to designing and implementing authentic learning experiences in computing, communities can make a difference in the opportunities available to their young people.
Barbara M. Means, Chair
Committee on the Role of Authentic STEM Learning Experiences in Developing Interest and Competencies for Computing
This page intentionally left blank.
This report would not have been possible without the many individuals who provided their expertise, including those who served on the committee as well as those who participated in discussions with the committee. We recognize their invaluable contributions to our work. The first thanks are to the committee members, for their passion, deep knowledge, and contributions to the study.
This report was made possible by the important contributions of Google and the Grable Foundation; in particular Jen Phillips (Head of Program Management, Open Source Programs Office) and Calvin Johnson (Program Manager, Open Source) at Google and Gregg Behr (Executive Director) at The Grable Foundation.
Members of the committee benefited from discussion and presentation by many individuals who participated in our fact-finding meetings.
- At the first meeting, we had the opportunity to talk with our contacts at Google, Jen Philips and Calvin Johnson, to get further clarity on the statement of task. We also heard from Kamau Bobb (Georgia Institute of Technology), Carrie Tzou (University of Washington Bothell), and Sepehr Vakil (Northwestern University) who spoke to considerations around equitable access to authentic STEM learning opportunities.
- At the second meeting, the following topics were explored:
- Robotics Competitions and Engineering Programs: Reaching Diverse Populations. Presenters included Alan Melchoir (Brandeis University) and AnnMarie Thomas (University of St. Thomas).
- Hobbies, STEM Outcomes, and Implications for Computing and Technology. Presenters included Gail Jones (North Carolina State University) and Flávio Azevedo (University of Texas at Austin).
- The third meeting included a workshop featuring three panels followed by open discussion:
- Panel 1 discussed Authentic STEM Activities for Computing and Technology—Defining “Authentic,” including Tamara Clegg (University of Maryland), Ron Eglash (University of Michigan), Emmanuel Schanzer (Bootstrap), and Shirin Vossoughi (Northwestern University).
- Panel 2 described Authentic STEM Outcomes for Computing and Technology. Panelists included Jill Denner (ETR), Sonia Koshy (Kapor Center), Keliann LaConte (Space Science Institute), Jean Ryoo (University of California, Los Angeles), and David Weintrop (University of Maryland).
- Panel 3 focused on Designing and Implementing Hands-on STEM Learning Experiences—Implications for Computing and Technology, including Lisa Brahms (Monshire Museum of Science), Loretta Cheeks (Strong TIES), Amon Millner (Olin College), and Kylie Peppler (University of California, Irvine).
The committee is very grateful for additional discussions with experts to include Kate Aubin (Teen Educator) and Karisa Tashjian (Director of Education) at the Providence Public Library, Juan Rubio (Digital Media and Learning Program Manager) at the Seattle Public Library, and Claudia Haines (Youth Services Librarian) at the Homer Public Library in Alaska. We would also like to thank the students who spoke to members of the committee to share their experiences with computing to inform the cases used in this report.
This Consensus Study Report has been reviewed in draft form by individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise. The purpose of this independent review is to provide candid and critical comments that will assist the institution in making its published report as sound as possible and to ensure that the report meets institutional standards for objectivity, evidence, and responsiveness to the study charge. The review comments and draft manuscript remain confidential to protect the integrity of the deliberative process. We thank the following individuals for their review of this report: Jan Cuny, Khoury College of Computer Sciences, Northeastern University; Colleen Lewis, Department of Computer Science, Harvey Mudd College; Amon Millner, Computing and Innovation, Olin College of Engineering; Kylie Peppler, Informatics and Education, University of California, Irvine; Nichole Pinkard, Learning Sciences, Northwestern
University; Emmanuel Schanzer, Office of the Co-Director, Boostrap; Steve A. Schneider, Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, WestEd; and Brett Wortzman, Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Washington.
Although the reviewers listed above provided many constructive comments and suggestions, they were not asked to endorse the content of the report nor did they see the final draft of the report before its release. The review of this report was overseen by Marcia C. Linn, Graduate School of Education, University of California, Berkeley, and Edward D. Lazowska, Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Washington. They were responsible for making certain that an independent examination of this report was carried out in accordance with institutional procedures and that all review comments were carefully considered. Responsibility for the final content of this report rests entirely with the authoring committee and the institution.
Thanks are also due to the project staff. Amy Stephens, senior program officer for the Board on Science Education directed the study and played a key role in the report drafting and review process. Kerry Brenner (senior program officer for the Board on Science Education) and Judith Koenig (senior program officer for the Committee on National Statistics) provided critical assistance in project direction, organizing the report, and revising the writing. Emily Grumbling (program officer for the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board) helped early on in the study process, in particular with thinking through setting up the committee. We also thank Clair Geary (Christine Mirzayan science and technology policy fellow) who assisted with information gathering during the report writing process. Leticia Garcilazo Green, research associate with the Board on Science Education, managed the study’s logistical and administrative needs. Jon Eisenberg (director of the Computer Science and Telecommunications Board) and Heidi Schweingruber (director of the Board on Science Education) provided thoughtful advice and many helpful suggestions throughout the entire study.
Staff of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education also provided help: Laura Elisabeth Yoder substantially improved the readability of the report; Kirsten Sampson Snyder expertly guided the report through the report review process; and Yvonne Wise masterfully guided the report through production. The committee also wishes to express its sincere appreciation to Rebecca Morgan in the National Academies Research Center for her assistance with helping to identify potential committee members and conducting literature searches.
This page intentionally left blank.