ENGINEERING NEWS

Mark Guzdial Calls for Computer Literacy at CS+X Colloquium

US students need more teachers, access to computer science education

The number of students exposed to computer science classes in the United States is staggeringly low. Fewer than one out of every 10 schools have a computer science teacher. And those schools with computer science teachers are among the most privileged.

Guzdial addresses a packed room in Ford.“It is our job to make a computer-literate society,” Mark Guzdial said during this week’s CS+X colloquium. “If people learn programming, they have this amazing power to automatically execute processes and understand things they wouldn’t otherwise.”

A professor of computer science at Georgia Tech, Guzdial discussed the challenges of and potential solutions for creating a more computer-literate world in his lecture, “Requirements of a Computer-Literate Society” on Tuesday, December 3.

While most high schools do not offer computer science, the ones that do rarely make it a requirement. Guzdial said a major barrier to computer literacy is that too few states require high school students to take a computer science class in order to graduate. And states that do have a computer science requirement, such as South Carolina, define the subject very broadly and rarely introduce students to skills like programming.

Another problem is that computer science jobs historically have been filled with white men. Underrepresented minorities may be less attracted to the field because they do not have their own role models. Out of all of the advanced placement (AP) exams administered in the United States, women are least likely to take the computer science exam. Guzdial underscored this fact by pointing to data from the state of Utah. In 2014, only four high school women in Utah took the AP test for computer science.

Guzdial added that experts often talk about underrepresented minorities, such as women, Hispanics, and African Americans, as if they are all one group. He said it’s important to come up with more compartmentalized approaches to address each community when encouraging them to pursue computer science.

Guzdial offered a handful of solutions to help improve computer literacy in the United States. First, he said the computer science community needs to conduct more research. Most available research examines why college undergraduate students succeed or struggle in computer science, ignoring younger children and older adults. Next, the community needs to offer computer education to adults who discover it later in life. Finally, schools need many more teachers. Because there are few computer science teachers across the country, they already lack community. Guzdial said teachers need a sense of identity and community in order to thrive. One way to remedy this is by organizing online support groups and opportunities for professional development to increase confidence in teaching.

“In terms of retention and development, that sense of confidence is more important than actually knowing a lot of computer science,” Guzdial said. “Teachers don’t need to be software developers. That’s not what their job involves. They need community, confidence, and more learning options.