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Building a Virtual Community of Practice For K-12 CS Teachers

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CS10K project workshop

Participants in a CS10K project workshop at the University of Delaware.

Credit: Doug Baker / University of Delaware

Wenger and his colleagues8 have described engagement, imagination (or visioning) and alignment as modes of belonging to Communities of Practice (CoPs), or "social learning systems." Actionable elements of CoPs are events, leadership, connectivity, membership, learning projects, and artifacts. This idea was extended to include Legitimate Peripheral Participation, showing how newcomers join, belong, and learn. Brown and Duguid1 provided lessons and ideas for successfully creating, organizing, and growing communities and the shared social knowledge among them. Virtual CoPs, or vCoPs, have been proposed for computer science as possible teacher/community support mechanisms at both the college7 and K125,6 levels, including as part of a U.S. effort to place 10,000 qualified computer science teachers into high schools.2 This effort has become known as the CS10K project.

Improving high school education in computing has the support of many organizations: the National Science Foundation, ACM, Apple, Google, Microsoft, the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA),, and many higher education institutions. Teachers will need assistance to introduce computing to learners in K12: high-quality curricula, professional development, local administrative support, state standards, state certifications, and other teachers with whom they can interact. How a vCoP of computing teachers might be successfully grown was explored by a group of researchers at an NSF-funded workshop at Stanford University in November, 2013. This workshop's final report, Building a Virtual Community of Practice: A Report from a Working Meeting in Support of the CS10K Community, is available from the ACM Digital Library. This Viewpoint explores some of the ideas raised in this workshop.

The U.S. National Science Foundation supports local efforts to improve CS teaching in high school as part of the CS10K track of its CE21 solicitation.a NSF has been concerned both about the sustainability of projects after initial funding as well as the cumulative effects of project successes and failures on other CS10K projects. Mentoring and support are needed, especially for newcomers to the job. Many of these issues have been explored by the CSTA through advocacy and setting of standards and by helping teachers create local CSTA chapters (in the U.S. and Canada) and getting computer science to count as an important part of high school education. CSTA's efforts in North America are mirrored in many other countries attempting to address issues of teacher preparation and support: see the Computing at School project (, supported through the British Computer Society, as an example.b Likewise, the Israeli Ministry of Education is working toward these same goals.

There is hope that computer-based support for CoPs will help. In 2012, NSF awarded a grant to the American Institutes for Research (AIR) to create a Web portal to support a vCoP around NSF-funded projects toward building a community of 10,000 teachers (see for details). AIR's Web portal ( has yet to realize its potential, but the experiment continues. A well-designed website can support and nurture a vCoP if the affordances of technology are leveraged for interactivity, participation, and learning; the idea is to replace the coffee pot and water cooler as the site of informal but crucial diffusion of knowledge.1 The Web portal should:

  • facilitate easy sharing, search, and retrieval of relevant knowledge and resources,
  • help connect people and provide easy-to-use tools for collaboration, especially around curriculum design,
  • leverage social tools and data visualization techniques to highlight popular content as well as address burning issues and questions; provide members visibility into the relevant activities and projects, and avenues for active participation,
  • support curation of content and facilitation of the many activities the vCoP supports,
  • afford low barriers to sign-up and participation, and provide materials to help newcomers to get started, and
  • incorporate features to allow busy educators to keep up withand participate inongoing discussions and activity on the site.

The Stanford workshop identified a number of needs:

Get more input from the K12 teachers. CoPs should not be created top-down, but bottom-up. Of 60 workshop attendees, only three were K12 teachers. K12 teachers may not know what they want, but they must be in the conversation to describe the educational sites they use and like (and why). A useful site created for teachers by a well-meaning community with few teachers using it is a serious concern.

Scaling interventions and innovation nationally, and ultimately worldwide, is an enormous undertaking.

Leverage real-world CoPs for the vCoP. vCoPs are created from connections and interactions in the real world. These should be leveraged. Schools and districts are offering programs such as Exploring Computer Science (ECS) and Computer Science Principles (CSP); see for more details about ECS, and for more details about CSP). Workshops, teacher professional development activities and meetings should foster a sense of community at the local level. Relationships forged through in-person interactions between mentors and teachers, as well as among teachers who are peers, must grow and branch out in the vCoP. Interactions with the vCoP should be embedded into face-to-face professional development activities such as curriculum design. Online discussions for additional inputs from the broader community can create spaces for local discussion groups that form and grow online. The vCoP portal should provide a means for local communities to connect to other groups in the vCoP-at-large.

Produce a toolkit to assist teachers. Teachers need a toolkit to help get computing courses created at their schools. Such a toolkit should include materials that target school administrators (principals, superintendents, school boards, IT directors, and so forth), guidance counselors, students (and their parents), and the community. A toolkit can provide information concerning ECS and CSP courses, how computer science differs from technology and information literacy courses, the costs of computing education, the resources needed (computers, software, curricula, and so forth), professional development requirements, and ways to partner with local industry to obtain support.

Metrics to assess the programs and the vCoP. Validated instruments are needed to measure student learning. The College Board's AP CS exam, and Elliott Tew's validated instrument measuring student learning in CS13 help from the cognitive perspective. Moskal's validated instrument,4 and Weibe's unvalidated instrument9 help from an affective perspective. But more work is needed to understand student learning of computing in K12. SRI's assessments for ECS are a crucial first step, but assessments are needed for teacher professional development. It is necessary to show whether NSF-funded CS10K projects and other projects trying to meet similar goals work and how such projects compare to other projects. Varying project objectives, multiple evaluators, and multiple designs require common data collection and measurement of overall impact.

Continue the conversation. Most CS10K efforts involve CS education researchers and faculty from partnering universities. This community of educators in higher education has been instrumental in getting the many efforts off the ground in high schools around the country, and is a key constituency helping high school teachers. Ongoing conversations and collaborations are needed. Workshops like the one at Stanford generate energy, ideas, and a sense of community that goes beyond the "mandala of good intentions."c The CS10K vCoP will be successful only with the active involvement of K12 CS teachers themselves. A "partner vCoP" of researchers and CSEd faculty might be necessary for growth of the CS10K community.

To change computer science education in K12 in a fundamental way requires creating a community of practice that brings people together around focused interests and with the need for learning. Creating such a CoP is the means to the end of having an impact on practice. A vCoP can create opportunities for teachers to connect and to check in with others, and opportunities for teachers to lurk and observe. Teachers want a place that provides real benefit to them. Creating a vCoP can help CS instruction find its place in K12 education.

Scaling interventions and innovation nationally, and ultimately worldwide, is an enormous undertaking. It is one that will need to involve thousands of schools, and many different governmental entities at many different levels. It is our hope that a well-designed and well-constructed vCoP can begin to help address these challenges of scaling K12 computing education to a much wider audience than it is currently addressing.

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1. Brown, J.S. and Duguid, P. The Social Life of Information. Harvard Business Review Press, 2000.

2. Cuny, J. Finding 10,000 Teachers. CSTA Voice 5, 6 (Jan. 2010), 12.

3. Elliott Tew, A. and Guzdial, M. The FCS1: A language independent assessment of CS1 knowledge. In Proceedings of the 42nd ACM technical symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE '11). ACM, 2011, 111116.

4. Hoegh, A. and Moskal, B. Examining science and engineering students' attitudes toward computer science. In Proceeding of the Frontiers in Education Conference, San Antonio, TX, 2009.

5. Morrison, B., Ni, L. and Guzdial, M. Adapting the disciplinary commons model for high school teachers: Improving recruitment, creating community. In Proceedings of the Ninth Annual International Conference on International Computing Education Research (ICER '12) 2012, 4754.

6. Ni, L., Guzdial, M., Elliott Tew, A., Morrison, B. and Galanos, R. Building a community to support HS CS teachers: The disciplinary commons for computing educators. In Proceedings of the 42nd ACM Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE '11), 2011, 553558.

7. Tenenberg, J. and Fincher, S. Opening the door of the computer science classroom: The disciplinary commons. In Proceedings of the 38th SIGCSE Technical Symposium on Computer Science Education (SIGCSE '07), 2007, 514518.

8. Wenger, E., McDermott, R., and Snyder, W. Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge. Harvard Business School Press, Boston, MA, 2002.

9. Wiebe, E.N., Williams, L., Yang, K., and Miller, C. Computer Science Attitude Survey. Report No.: NCSU CSC TR-2003-1. Dept. of Computer Science, NC State University, Raleigh, NC, 2003.

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Steve Cooper ( is an associate professor in the computer science department at Stanford University, Stanford, CA.

Shuchi Grover ( is a Ph.D. candidate in the Learning Sciences and Technology Design Program at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, Stanford, CA.

Beth Simon ( is the senior associate director of Learning Sciences and Technology the Center for Teaching Development and tenured faculty in the Computer Science and Engineering Department at the University of California, San Diego.

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a. Simon Humphrey interview in which he describes teacher-support initiatives CAS; see

b. NSFComputing Education for the 21st Century (CE21);

c. Thanks to Roy Pea for that expression.

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UF1Figure. Participants in a CS10K project workshop at the University of Delaware.

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