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Online Course Targets High-School Teachers of Computer Science

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Jeff Gray of the University of Alabama

Online courses are "the only realistic way to do this type of training when the teachers are geographically dispersed," says University of Alabama Professor Jeff Gray.

Credit: University of Alabama

Jeff Gray, professor of computer science at The University of Alabama, will lead a free, online course, sponsored by Google, this summer to train high-school teachers in a new computer-science course and future College Board Advanced Placement exam.

An estimated 1,500 teachers from across the United States are expected to sign up for the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC).

Google is also sponsoring programs in five other states — California, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, and Texas — that will use Gray's course as an online foundation with teachers meeting with specialists in their home state for a week-long, face-to-face meeting that provides additional instruction.

Tuscaloosa will host the training for 50 Alabama teachers June 22-26.

The online course begins the first week of June.

This is the second year Gray has led this national online course for Google. It began with his efforts to reach teachers in Alabama through a National Science Foundation (NSF) project, but Google provided a grant to broaden the reach through the web-based MOOC delivery method.

Last year, more than 1,200 teachers enrolled from 46 states and 12 countries.

"This is the only realistic way to do this type of training when the teachers are geographically dispersed," Gray says. "The financial cost, and the extensive commitment by teachers to be away from their family, makes an extended, face-to-face training unfeasible."

With support from the Google CS4HS program and the NSF, Gray will lead the six-week course that offers free online instruction to educators interested in learning more about CS Principles, a new Advanced Placement Course under development by the College Board designed to increase secondary and post-secondary educational interest in computer science and to improve collegiate preparation.

The CS Principles course will be a new AP exam in the 2016-2017 school year, and many teachers are beginning to pilot the course in preparation for the first exam, Gray says.

The course assumes participants are secondary teachers with no or limited training in computer science.

However, current primary and secondary computer-science teachers, along with college faculty, may also find parts of the course helpful toward understanding the topics covered in the CS Principles curriculum framework. A certificate will be provided to those who complete the course.

The online course parallels the CS Principles professional development instruction of the CS4Alabama project, which is an NSF-sponsored project, in collaboration between UA and A+ College Ready, with external project assessment conducted by Haynie Research and Evaluation.

The CSP4HS curriculum has been adopted from a CS Principles Pilot course taught at the University since 2011.

The online course will be assisted by several UA students including Jonathan Corley and Brian Eddy, doctoral students in computer science; Jake Trower, a graduate student in computer science; Rachael Giles, an undergraduate student studying media production; and Lydia Eubanks and Lauri Springer, math majors specializing in secondary-math education.

Additionally, four teachers from within Alabama and the U.S. who have piloted the new AP computer-science course will help train the teachers online. Also, guest speakers from across the nation will also offer guest appearances as part of the UA-based summer course.

"Computer Science is often the major across college campuses with the most number of job offers for graduating students," Gray says. "A national movement is emerging that is raising the awareness of opportunities in computing. CS Principles brings the excitement of computing to a much broader group of diverse students."

In the 50 high schools in Alabama already offering the course, 46 percent of the students are female or underrepresented minorities, Gray says.

Gray has been instrumental in development of the new high-school course, currently training teachers in Alabama through Google and NSF grants.

In fall 2015, four Tuscaloosa-area schools will join the other schools throughout Alabama offering the new CS Principles course: Hillcrest High School, Northside High School, Tuscaloosa County High School, and Tuscaloosa Career and Technology Academy.

The coverage of computer science in Alabama schools now spans from kindergarten to high school. Gray recently led a statewide effort to help elementary teachers introduce computer science to their classrooms. Over 500 elementary school teachers have been trained on 20 different workshops across Alabama.

In the past, Gray has worked to introduce computer science to urban school districts and, for over a decade, he has taught a series of multi-week computer science summer camps and hosted similar science contests for students in K-12.

He helps organize an annual Alabama Robotics Competition at The University of Alabama for elementary, middle, and high-school students.

Gray is a national leader in computer science education, and he is a member of's Education Advisory Council, as well as an ACM Distinguished Educator.


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