Computing Education for the 21st Century

Today and tomorrow (Feb 2-3, 2012) I’m in Washington DC at a meeting hosted by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The meeting brings together researchers from around the country who’ve received funding from an NSF program to improve computing education.

What’s exciting is the broad range of research going on here: from middle school, to high school, to college, educators are working hard to figure out how to better teach computer science concepts. One important goal is to encourage more of our talented youth to choose computer degrees and careers, as a valued national economic strategy. A second goal is to improve computational literacy for everyone, regardless of their career path–after all, computer technology is everywhere (from our mobile phones to our microwaves, not to mention our personal computers, tablets, and e-readers).

I’m excited to be here because it’s a diverse and interdisciplinary group. There are professors of education, who know about psychology and how people learn. I’m happy to see many familiar faces from my colleagues in the learning sciences, such as Mitch Resnick, Uri Wilensky, Yasmin Kafai, and Kylie Pepper. But most of the researchers here are in departments of computer science, educators working hard to enhance their profession.

I’m here to represent a project I worked on at Washington University, to transform our undergraduate computer science major away from lecture classes and towards a more active style of learning, by using a “studio model” based on the types of group projects you might find in a design school, or an architecture school. It ties in perfectly with my latest research project, a study of teaching and learning at two different professional schools of art and design (SCAD and Washington University).

When I first saw how many people are here–about 100–my reaction was “This represents a lot of tax dollars at work!” After all, the taxpayers are paying for everything we’re doing here. I believe this is an important national goal, and I’m honored to be a part of this annual meeting.

Art and Technology

I’ve just returned from the bi-annual “Creativity & Cognition” conference at the High Art Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, hosted by Georgia Tech. The first C&C conference was held in 1996 at Loughborough University in England, and the event has thrived as a showcase for cutting-edge art-technology collaborations (the conference is affiliated with the Association for Computing Machinery or ACM). We got to see cool videos and demos of new technology, and creative performances in the evenings. Here’s a quick sampling of the cool things I saw:

* A creativity support tool that allows each member of a group to digitize their post-it notes, and then to display them on the floor and walls of a special room. As you walk around the room, your own ideas follow you, and you can mingle and exchange these visualized ideas with your collaborators. (see sijme.com)

* Software using Microsoft Kinect (sometimes more than one) that recognizes gestures and dance movements

* A program that uses improvisational theater principles to enhance user interaction (by Brian Magerko)

* A music performance using a new toy/instrument where notes are made by placing colored geometric shapes on a special surface

* Presentations about a new creative toolkit for children that allows them to make “intelligent clothing” (it contains conductive thread and colored LEDs) by Yasmin Kafai and Kylie Pepper

I believe I was the only one there representing my psychology of creativity colleagues; there isn’t much conversation between the psychologists and these computer scientists. But there were researchers there from Europe and Asia as well as the Americas; this is an international effort. In the U.S., a lot of this work has been funded by the NSF’s CreativeIT program.

I recommend that you check out these cutting edge technologies! They might be in your home in five years.