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Communications of the ACM


High School CS Teachers as the New Computing Professionals

Georgia Institute of Technology Professor Mark Guzdial

At Georgia Tech's College of Computing, we have a relatively new PhD program in Human-Centered Computing.  The goal is to prepare students to study computing contexts from a human perspective.  Students in the program take courses in social science methods, as well as prototyping computer systems, and they learn to look at the cognitive, social, and cultural issues of computing.  Many of these students look like human-computer interaction (HCI) researchers, but not all of them.

When we were first creating the HCC degree, we talked about the prototypical dissertation topics for students in the program.  One of those ideas was studying the cultural contexts of software engineering.  There certainly are people who have done that and are doing that today.  What's the next computing professional area that's worth exploring from a socio-cultural lens?

Imagine that it was the late 1950's and early 1960's, and we had HCC researchers.  They would certainly be asking the question, "Who are these new-fangled 'software engineers'?  What makes them 'software engineers'?  What are the influences that draw someone in, or push someone away, from the community of 'software engineers'?"

Those are the same questions that my student, Lijun Ni, has been asking about a different, new group of computing professionals: High school computer science teachers.  High school computer science teachers are going to spend their whole careers working with computer science, thinking about what it means, working at communicating it better, and helping their students come to understand computing.  They're just not professional software developers.  They are a new group of professionals that we as computer scientists are also serving.

Lijun is an HCC student, and is defending her thesis on Tuesday, November 2. Her questions are the same as the mythical time-traveling HCC researcher who might look at software engineers in the early 1960's, but she studies this new category of computing professionals. What leads a teacher to see him or herself as a "CS teacher"? What influences that sense of identity as a CS teacher? How does a given intervention influence that identity?

Lijun's study is small, as you might expect from a set of case studies of a new category of computing professional might be. One of her studies involves multiple interviews with four high school computing teachers, over the course of a year, to understand how they develop their identity as a teacher.   I hope that others come along to do other studies, including the larger scale studies of the ground that Lijun is staking out. 

I believe that Lijun's study is the first one to study CS teacher identity.  I strongly believe that it is important for the health of our field to understand computing education at the secondary level and to support it, and that means, understanding the needs of the teachers and supporting them.  At a higher level, I'm excited about her dissertation as an exploration of what is Human-Centered Computing and how the types of computing professionals is growing and changing.


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