CoC receives $1.4 million from NSF for outreach program

Tech’s College of Computing received an additional $1.4 million from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for its Georgia Computes! (GC) program to extend the program for another 2 years.

GC, originally only 3 years long, is a statewide program working under the Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) program to improve computing education throughout all levels of education (from primary school to the undergrad and post grad levels).

“Our main goal is to broaden computer science education,” said Mark Guzdial, College of Computing professor and principal investigator of GC.

GC also has a focus on recruiting students typically underrepresented in the computing community.

GC works to recruit minorities, women and persons with disabilities and develop an interest in Computer Science (CS) in them so that they will continue an education in CS.

“This is important because computing technology surrounds us all the time and the way it is designed affects our day-to-day lives. A more diverse workforce can create computing applications that better meet the needs of the public,” said Dr. Amy Bruckman, associate professor at the College of Computing and coprinicpal investigator of GC.

GC’s strategy is to improve the overall quality of CS education. They run workshops and summer programs at the middle and high school levels to make experiences with CS more interesting so students want to explore CS further at higher levels of education.

GC also works in high schools to increase the number and quality of CS classes by training CS teachers and improve the quality of the curriculum taught in high schools.

“There is evidence that the people most hurt by a bad education are those in a minority group, because they are already question ‘Do I belong here? Do I belong in this field?’ and when things are bad, they are most likely to say ‘oh I really don’t belong here.’ We’re trying to make computer education better and by doing so broadening those who study it,” Guzdial said.

GC intends to use the $1.4 million to implement new programs. They intend to set up more online training for teachers as well as improve the process of getting online certification to teach Computer Science.

“We currently teach high school teachers in summer programs and through workshops during the year but if we can get it online through webinars and such it will be easier for them to get training,” said Guzdial.

There will also be a big push to track the progress of students.

“One of the things NSF wants to know is all of this working? Are we actually making things better? A teacher goes through the program and you would hope that they will be a better teacher and more students will be interested in CS but currently we don’t have any way of seeing if this is true,” said Guzdial.

Part of the plans for the next two years is to go through the University System of Georgia’s schools and survey the students in introductory CS courses to find out where if they took one of the GS workshops from a techaer that went through GS training.

GC also intends to use the $1.4 million to continue their existing programs which include helping other universities around the state start outreach programs. The universities can then offer summer programs to middle and high school students in CC, teach workshops to university faculty on how to run these kinds of summer camps, workshops with girl scouts and YWCA and various programs for training for high school teachers.

Among the current programs is a project called Glitch. Glitch targets African-American teenage males, who, while usually displaying an interest in video games and sports games, typically do not pursue a career in computer science.

Glitch attempts to leverage the passion of video games to an interest in CS.

Glitch provides the opportunity for these young men to work as video game testers and write bug reports for companies. The work with video games is integrated with introductory CS and over time participants are prepared for an education in CS as opposed to simple video game testing.

GC received its initial 3 year grant in 2006. At the end of the next two years, GC can apply for yet another extension to support the program for another 5 years. If GC gets this money, they intend to expand the program to other close by states.