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Addition and CE21

February 2, 2011 1 comment

Just got back from NSF’s CE21 meeting. CE21 is short for “Computing Education in the 21st Century”, so good thing they shortened it! It’s a new program that melds/merges/replaces a bunch of other NSF programs: the BPC (Broadening Participation in Computing) program, the CPATH (CISE Pathways to Revitalized Undergraduate Computing Education) program, and various education programs. I was there representing two BPC Alliances–A4RC and STARS–and it was our job to connect with emerging CE21 proposals to help them address their BPC needs. There was an interesting mix of people from all three communities, with the goal of developing collaborations toward creating interesting and fundable CE21 proposals.

Any time you have such addition of areas, the sum total is sure to be interesting…to point of chaos at times! The CE21 program solicitation is large and somewhat vague, and by some accounts it was intentionally so. (The NSF will sometimes create a vague solicitation, see what directions the field moves in, then fund the most promising directions.) There were lots of academic hook-ups, and I picked up a number of “maybes” for partnerships with A4RC and STARS.

Jan Cuny was one of the people in charge of the meeting: one thing she liked about CE21 was that it provided an avenue for CS researchers to engage in education/EHR research, which is underrepresented in GK-12, ITEST, and the like. There’s a large and significant body of literature that needs to be considered, and she encouraged everyone to avoid the typical “1-2 day summer workshop” or “4-hour afternoon at a school” approaches that she indicated might have minimal impact. (However, in the next session Mark Guzdial referred to literature suggesting that even the most brief engagement and encouragement can have positive and long-term effect…hmm.) Jan also said that diverse teams are a must, and that researchers pursuing this first round of CE21 funding need to forge new ground, define things like “computational thinking”, use CSTA/ACM curriculum standards, leverage the CS principles framework, and, did I mention, connect to the BPC Alliances!

Jan also noted that it’s an important time for re-defining BPC Alliances, pointing to NCWIT and Access Computing as the ones that best fit the CE21 mission. She highlighted alliances that focus on underrepresented groups as most problematic–why does each underrepresented group need its own alliance was the question. (One with some good and well-reasoned answers, IMO.) She also noted NSF’s new focus on “Broader Impacts”–it’s going to be taken much more seriously moving forward.

Much of my time at the meeting was spent with fellow BPC Alliance members, trying to re-tool A4RC and STARS to fit the CE21 mission. STARS may have it easier–there’s a big component of STARS that’s all about outreach to K-12 and K-14. It seems that STARS needs to be making promises to CE21 proposers that their students will receive STARS stipends and invitations to the STARS celebration for doing STARS things that connect with CE21 goals. But A4RC may be more vital–the pipeline of African-American students from HBCUs to graduate programs doesn’t fit so well into the CE21 vision that I can see. There’s some talk that the repository of videos and other materials might be the way to go.

So moving forward with A4RC, we’re looking at various approaches–a name change to AACER (Alliance for African-Americans in Computing Education and Research), more emphasis on the materials repository (including videos to encourage K-12/K-14 students to pursue computing), and a new hub-spoke model. And Jan wants us to connect to the BPC Portal. And Ed Fox wants us to leverage Ensemble to do indexing, searching, etc. And…whew, lots of possible directions.

One other interesting note: Jan wants more “highlights”–short descriptions of interesting projects that can be reduced to 2-3 lines and a tiny 1-inch high picture to appear in the congressional record. They’ve gotta appeal to “people”…not fellow scientists.

That’s it for now–Mark Guzdial provides his own perspectives in his blog, Jan promises to post all meeting material and notes, CS@VT has a Digital Education Research Group meeting Friday at 5 to talk about pursuing CE21s, and lots more is sure to emerge in coming weeks.

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