IUSE/PFE:RED: A Model of Change for Preparing a New Generation for Professional Practice in Computer Science
In order to thrive and even survive in the globalized marketplace of ideas and innovation, the U.S. must aggressively meet the challenge of increasing the number of students who complete degrees in computing areas. It is critical for our economic and social health, as well as national security, to maintain a globally competitive computing workforce. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment of computer and information technology occupations is projected to grow faster than the average for all occupations (12% from 2014 to 2024). In order to keep our nation on the cutting edge of technology, we must retain more domestic students in computing programs. A 2012 report on undergraduate STEM education from the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST) cites "uninspiring" introductory courses and an unwelcoming atmosphere from faculty as major factors contributing to attrition. The project at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) aims to address the PCAST findings by re-imagining what it means to learn, whose knowledge counts, and what counts as knowledge in the context of Computer Science (CS). The UTEP model transforms faculty into change agents and fosters the development of positive student identities early in the curriculum to impact students' trajectories in CS and beyond. As important, the acquired skills and knowledge from the proposed effort are expected to transfer to other subjects in students' studies, decrease students' time to degree, and strengthen their preparedness for entry into the computing workforce. Further, the development of inclusive environments with members who value multiple and diverse experiences and perspectives is needed to address global challenges and opportunities.
The overarching goal of the project is to cultivate socially conscious connectedness among students, faculty, and industry. This will be accomplished by expanding a curriculum centered on heightened social interaction driven by an understanding and appreciation for the cultural contributions of diverse students to CS in a globalized world. The project objectives are to (1) transform the CS curriculum (i.e., content, pedagogical principles, social interaction, and faculty beliefs) to one that builds students' identities as computer scientists and considers societal and global contexts in problem solving; and (2) develop a climate of connectedness through a shared sense of purpose among faculty focused on establishing cultural competence and inclusive environments. The outcome will be twofold: (i) a program of study that motivates, connects, and immerses students from diverse backgrounds in the profession throughout their plan of study; and (ii) faculty with deep cultural competence who use professional practice-based learning to foster systemic change. The resulting model transforms CS teaching and learning through deep change to curriculum grounded in social consciousness, cultural competency, and practice informed by the department's unique expertise and experiences as a Hispanic-serving institution and leader of the Computing Alliance of Hispanic-Serving Institutions (CAHSI). The theoretical underpinnings of the project are framed on theories of learning informed by situated cognition, derived from sociocultural theory. In order to generate new knowledge about a process-oriented approach to deep educational change in CS, the effort includes ethnographic research on the change process and the education process paying particular attention to diversity, inclusion and professional practice.