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Communications of the ACM

Broadening participation

The Influence and Promise of Alliances


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The Influence and Promise of Alliances, illustration

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In early 2016, the White House announced a government-wide investment in computing educationComputer Science for Allto be included in the President's 2017 budget. Computer Science for All would give every P-12 student the chance to learn computer science and to be given the opportunities "that allow them to join the innovation economy, have the tools to solve our toughest challenges, and become active citizens in our increasingly technological world."2 A major component of the initiative is inclusion in computing by students from underrepresented groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans, and people with disabilities. The White House announcement stated that CS for All builds on computing education momentum at state and local levels.

Although the sources of this momentum were not named, we speculate that an important impetus for innovation and growth in computer science P-12 education comes from programs funded at the federal level, such as the NSF-funded CS 10K initiative, and community efforts, such as code.org. Predating these P-12 education efforts, the National Science Foundation launched the Broadening Participation in Computing (BPC) program in 2006 as a model to effectively address the issues of underrepresentation, as well as respond to the need to increase participation in computing education and produce computing professionals. Chubin and Johnson1 provided a description of the 11 alliances that constituted the core of BPC as of 2009. In total, 15 BPC Alliances (BPC-A) have been funded. These Alliances represent broad coalitions of academic postsecondary institutions, secondary and middle schools, government, industry, professional societies, and other not-for-profit organizations.

The goal of BPC-Alliances is to design and carry out comprehensive programs to reduce underrepresentation in the computing disciplines at various stages of the academic pathway from K-12 through the early faculty ranks. To this end, the BPC-Alliances have endeavored to create the best practices, educational resources, advocacy networks, and forums needed to address issues of engagement and education. While specifically charged with addressing the long-standing underrepresentation of many groups within the computing community, many, if not most, of the Alliances' activities also worked to increase awareness, access, engagement, and inclusion for all students. The Alliances' strategies encompass not only activity design and implementation but also promotion of computing education through workshops and information dissemination.


Alliances use diverse strategies to expose students to computing concepts and careers.


Considered together as a whole, the BPC Alliances are expected to have significant impact on both the quality of opportunities afforded to participants and the number of participants. To assess this collective impact, in 2012, EDC, Inc., was awarded a contract to evaluate the accomplishments and impacts of the BPC-A program as a whole. They partnered with Westat, Inc., and the College of Education at Kansas State University in the multiple-year evaluation to investigate the BPC-A program's creation of a national system of resources to support broadening participation in computing, focusing document review on the first five years (20062011) and empirical data collection on the second five years of program funding (20112016).

As of 2011, there were eight BPC Alliances:

The programs and resources offered by these Alliances have leveraged public and private partnerships to target computing education in K-20 grade levels, preparing diverse students for careers in computing and computer science. These activities built a foundational wealth of knowledge and practices for the field of computing education research and diversity education research. The foci for these Alliances are seen in the figure here.

Documenting and assessing the associations, relationships, outcomes, and influence among Alliances and with their partners was a significant undertaking because of the reach and depth of the Alliances' partnerships. In addition, the Alliances target different but overlapping audiences; implement a variety of strategies and activities; develop multiple types of resources and products; and partner with diverse organizations to reach their outcomes and objectives. In consideration of these challenges, the evaluation team utilized a multiple-method case study approach to answer a variety of evaluation questions related to the Alliances' influence on students, faculty, organizations and the infrastructure of computing education and efforts to broaden participation. This column describes a small part of the findings of the evaluation.

The evaluation team described the program accomplishments in two stages. The first five years of the Alliances were spent developing and testing models, such as courses, mentoring, service learning, workshops, summer programs, fellowships, webinars, and competitions. The second five years of the program focused more on leveraging knowledge and serving as national resources. Examples of activities during these years are influencing policies, serving as national resources, fostering research, facilitating networks of professionals and supporting a national infrastructure.

A cross-case analysis showed several findings related to the accomplishments and reach of the Alliances.

  • Alliance partnerships and activities reached every state in the U.S.
  • Alliances use diverse strategies to expose students to computing concepts and careers, influencing their interest and confidence in pursuing computing careers.
  • Through capacity-building workshops, conferences, and professional development, Alliances inspire faculty, teachers, and other professionals to develop collaborations and change the climate in computer science education.
  • Organizations across the computing education spectrum benefit from Alliances' resources, finding new approaches to teaching and learning, recruiting and retaining students, and developing public/private partnerships.
  • Alliances are well positioned to serve as national resources, disseminating promising practices, scaling tested models, and supporting national and regional efforts to broaden participation. In this capacity, they disseminate new knowledge and research about broadening participation in computing through publications, presentations, conferences, and Web-based dissemination strategies.
  • Evaluation at both the Alliance and the program level is critical for documenting Alliances' influence and outcomes. However, more and stronger data are needed to document the influence of the Alliances (individually and collectively) on broadening participation in computing.

The evaluation team discovered that BPC Alliances employ many different approaches, influencing people, organizations, infrastructure and ultimately the landscape of the field, demonstrating that there is no "one right way" to broaden participation in computing. Together, the Alliances for Broadening Participation in Computing are building a more equitable ecosystem for computer science education in the U.S.

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References

1. Chubin, D.E. and Johnson, R.Y. A program greater than the sum of its parts: The BPC Alliances. Commun. ACM 54, 3 (Mar. 2011), 3537; DOI: 10.1145/1897852.1897866

2. White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (Feb. 2016); www.whitehouse.gov/ostp

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Authors

Leslie Goodyear (lgoodyear@edc.org) is Principal Research Scientist at Education Development Center (EDC, Inc.). Her work includes multiple evaluations of NSF programs and projects focused on broadening participation in STEM.

Gary Silverstein (SILVERG1@westat.com) is an Associate Director at Westat, Inc. His work focuses on project monitoring and program evaluation of efforts to enhance educational opportunities at the K-20 levels.

Linda P. Thurston (lpt@k-state.edu) is professor of Special Education, Counseling, and Student Affairs in the College of Education at Kansas State University. She serves as Associate Dean for Research and Graduate Studies, is the Lydia E. Skeen Chair in Education, and is a co-principal investigator of the Kansas LSAMP program.

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Tables

UT1Table. Foci of Eight Broadening Participation in Computing Alliances

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The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2017 ACM, Inc.


 

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