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Computer Science Education Recharged!

March 11, 2014

Posted by Maggie Johnson, Director of Education and University Relations

A few days ago, I attended the annual SIGCSE (Special Interest Group, Computer Science Education) conference in Atlanta, GA. Google has been a platinum sponsor of SIGCSE for many years now, and the conference provides an opportunity for thousands of CS educators to come together, share ideas and engage in the resurgence of activity and interest in CS education.

Seven years ago, the number of CS majors at the undergraduate level hit an all time low; the number of students taking the Advanced Placement CS exam fell 15% between 2001 and 2007, and the number of college freshmen intending to major in CS plummeted more than 70% during the same period. This was a concern for CS educators, as advancing U.S. students' understanding of the principles and practices of computing is critical to developing a globally competitive workforce for the 21st century.

Since 2007, though, many significant things have happened. First, a commission of ten secondary and higher education faculty came together to design a new Advanced Placement CS course called CS Principles. This reinvention of AP CS not only introduces students to programming, but also gives them an understanding of the fundamental concepts of computing, its breadth of application and its potential for transforming the world. Additionally, since 2007 the Computer Science Teachers Association (CSTA), a community that plays a key role in professional development, CS standards definition (another critical stake in the ground), and scaling of the new AP CS, has grown to 16,000+ members.

Finally, late last year, code.org launched Hour of Code with over 29 million students participating, which is an unprecedented scale in CS education. This event raised awareness and provided enormous opportunity for follow-on with teachers and students who realized that coding is not only accessible, but fun. Their next step is to scale Exploring Computer Science this fall to 30 school districts (and counting) including some of the biggest districts in the country, in addition to developing K-5 and middle school curriculum.

Last week at SIGCSE, Google had an opportunity to present two new programs and a transition of an existing program:

  • CS First is a pilot program in South Carolina introducing students to CS in a social, collaborative after-school environment. The focus is on raising awareness and helping students understand their potential in the field.
  • Engage CS Edu will provide curriculum resources for introductory CS1/CS2 courses that are engaging to both women and men.
  • CS4HS continues to experiment this year with online professional development opportunities for teachers. We still support face-to-face CS4HS workshops, but given the success of our MOOC experiments last year, we’d like to continue to see how we might scale to more and more teachers.

The growth in awareness and activity in CS education over the past two years has been amazing and it continues to grow rapidly, thanks to the hard work of many. Google is proud to work with the many organizations in CS education to support and scale their work, through programs and funding. We strive to develop new programs where there are gaps, utilizing our technical infrastructure, our experience with scale, and a deep understanding of the potential of CS to transform the world in positive ways. This has been core to Google’s philosophy since we started 16 years ago.